Chapter 16 - American Boy's Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward Stratemeyer

Results of the Fight—Life in the Trenches—The Spanish Fleet in Santiago Harbor—Another Great Naval Victory—The Rough Riders and the Spanish Guerillas

The fight had been a hard and heavy one. The Rough Riders had gone into the engagement just 490 strong, and of that number 89 were killed or wounded. The total loss to the Americans was 1071 killed and wounded. The loss to the Spanish was also heavy, but the exact figures will probably never be known.

Utterly tired out with their marching and fighting, the Rough Riders intrenched as best they could, cared for their wounded and dead, and then dropped down to get a well-earned rest. The night was misty and cold, and many who had been bathed in perspiration suffered accordingly. Theodore Roosevelt had a blanket taken from the Spanish, and in this he rolled himself, and slept with others of his command.

At three o'clock in the morning came an unexpected alarm. The Spanish skirmishers were out in force, trying to drive the Americans back. But there was no heavy attack, and presently all became as quiet as before.

"They'll not give up yet," said one of the officers of the Rough Riders. "They mean to retake this hill if they can."

Just at daybreak the Spaniards opened the attack on San Juan Hill once more. Theodore Roosevelt was resting under a little tree when a shrapnel shell burst close by, killing or wounding five men of the command. He at once ordered the eight troops under him to a safer position, where the Spanish battery and the sharpshooters could not locate them so readily.

If the fight had been hard, guarding the trenches was almost equally so. The sun beat down fiercely, and the newly turned up earth made many of the Rough Riders sick. Added to this, provisions were, as usual, slow in arriving. Those in the trenches were kept there six hours, and then relieved by the others who were farther to the rear.

"Running from the cover of brush to the trenches was no easy matter," says one Rough Rider who was there. "We had dug the trenches in a hurry, and had no passages from the rear leading to them. All we could do was to wait for a signal, and then rush, and when we did that, the Spaniards would open a hot fire and keep it up for perhaps fifteen minutes. The sun was enough to turn a man's brain, and more than one poor fellow caught a fever there that proved fatal to him."

Through the entire day the firing continued, but no advances were made upon either side. The Americans were waiting for reinforcements, and the Spaniards were doing likewise. On our side a dynamite gun and two Colt's guns were used, but with little success. But the Gatling guns proved very effective, and caused a great loss to the enemy.

The city of Santiago lies on the northeast coast of a large bay of the same name. This bay is shaped somewhat like a bottle, with a long neck joining it to the Caribbean Sea.

In the harbor, at the time of the battles just described, the Spaniards had a fleet of war-ships under the command of Admiral Cervera, an old and able naval commander. In the fleet were four large cruisers and two torpedo-boats. Three of the cruisers were of seven thousand tons burden each, and all could make from eighteen to nineteen knots an hour. Each carried a crew of about five hundred men, and all were well supplied with guns and ammunition.

To keep this fleet "bottled up," our own navy had a fleet of its own just outside of the harbor, where it had been stationed ever since Admiral Cervera had been discovered within. The American fleet consisted of the cruiser Brooklyn, which was Commodore Schley's flag-ship, the battleships Texas, Iowa, Indiana, and Oregon (the latter having sailed all the way from the Pacific coast around Cape Horn to get into the fight), and the converted yachts Gloucester and Vixen. There were also close at hand, but not near enough to get into the fight, the cruiser New York, Admiral Sampson's flag-ship, and several other vessels of lesser importance.

For a long time it had been thought that Cervera would try to escape from the harbor, in which he could not be reached because of the strong forts that protected the entrance. To bottle him up more effectively, the Americans tried to block up the harbor entrance by sinking an old iron steamboat, the Merrimac, in the channel. This heroic work was undertaken by Lieutenant Hobson with a crew of seven daring men, but the plan failed, for the Merrimac, instead of sinking where intended, swung to one side of the main channel.

When it was reported to him that the Americans had taken the heights of El Caney and San Juan and were strongly intrenched in their positions, Admiral Cervera concluded that Santiago Bay might soon become too hot to hold him. The capture of the city would be followed by the taking of the forts at the harbor entrance, and then there would be nothing left for him to do but to surrender.

San Juan and El Caney had been taken on Friday, and all day Saturday occurred the shooting at long range, as already described. In the meantime the war-ships outside of the harbor kept up a close watch on the harbor entrance, lying well out during the day, but coming in closer at night, and using their powerful search-lights from sundown to sunrise.

Sunday dawned bright and clear, and for the time being all was quiet both ashore and afloat. In the trenches the Rough Riders and other soldiers were still on guard, doing what they could for their wounded, and trying to get the rations which were still delayed.

Presently, those on board of the American fleet noticed a thick cloud of smoke hanging over the harbor, coming from the funnels of the Spanish war-ships. Then one of the enemy's vessels showed itself, quickly followed by the others, and all turned westward, to escape up the coast.

"The enemy is escaping!" was the signal hoisted. And then one cannon after another boomed out, giving the signal to all our ships in that vicinity. The booming of the cannon was heard away eastward at Siboney, whither Admiral Sampson had gone with his ship to confer with General Shafter, and without delay the New York raced madly back to get into the fight that followed.

"Remember the Maine!" was the cry. "Down with the Spanish ships! Give 'em what Dewey did!" And this cry, "Give 'em what Dewey did!" was heard on every hand.

The first vessel to go down was a torpedo-boat, sunk by the Gloucester, and this was quickly followed by the sinking of the second torpedo-boat. In the meantime the larger vessels were pouring in their rain of steel upon the Spanish cruisers with deadly effect, knocking great holes into the ships and killing scores of those on board.

The Spanish cruiser Teresa was the first to succumb to the heavy attack, and soon she turned in to shore to save her crew from drowning. Then the Oquendo caught fire in several places, and burning fiercely from stem to stern, she, too, turned in.

But two ships were now left to Admiral Cervera, the Vizcaya and the Colon, and each had suffered much. Both were doing their best to get out of reach of our guns and the marvellous accuracy of our gunners.

"Don't let 'em get away!" was the cry. "Give 'em what Dewey did!" Forward went the war-ships of Uncle Sam, the powerful Oregon leading, with the Brooklyn and Texas not far behind. The rain of steel continued, and at last, burning like her sister ships, the Vizcaya turned shoreward, and many of her crew leaped overboard to save their lives.

Only the Colon now remained. She was still in fair condition, and it was the Spaniards' ardent hope to save at least one ship from the dire calamity that had overtaken them. But this was not to be, and after a run of a few miles, during which the Oregon and Brooklyn continued to pound her with shot and shell, the Spanish flag was lowered, and the Colon also ran ashore.

It was assuredly a mighty victory, a fitting mate to the great victory won by Admiral Dewey, and when the news reached our country there was such a Fourth of July celebration everywhere as will never be forgotten. Twice had our navy met the ships of Spain, and each time we had sunk every vessel without losing any of our own. More than this, while the Spaniards had lost many men through shot and fire and drowning, our total loss was but one man killed and a handful wounded.

The loss of her second fleet was a bitter blow to Spain, and many predicted that the war would not continue much longer, and this prediction proved correct.

During the rush made by the Rough Riders and our other soldiers, they had gone right through several bodies of Spanish guerillas who were secreted in the trees of the jungle. These guerillas, really lawless fellows belonging to no particular command, could not get back into Santiago because of the strong American guard at the intrenchments, and consequently they contented themselves with remaining out of sight and peppering our soldiers whenever the opportunity offered.

"This will not do," said Theodore Roosevelt. "They are shooting down our men without giving them a chance to fire back. We'll have to get after them." And without delay he sent out a detachment of the best Rough Rider shots to be found. These sharpshooters searched the jungle back of the intrenchments thoroughly, and as a result killed eleven of the guerillas and wounded many more. After that the guerillas kept their distance, satisfied that the Yankees could beat them at their own game.