Chapter 17 - American Boy's Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward Stratemeyer

Devotion of the Rough Riders to Theodore Roosevelt—His Kindness to His Men—Last of the Fighting—The Truce and Treaty of Peace

With the defeat of Admiral Cervera's fleet, a flag of truce was sent into Santiago by the commander of our army, demanding the surrender of the city. While these negotiations were pending, all fighting came to an end, and the Rough Riders had but little to do outside of making themselves comfortable and caring for the many who were getting sick because of the lack of shelter and proper food. Food was now coming in more rapidly, and soon all were supplied with tents and blankets. During this time Theodore Roosevelt's personal baggage appeared, and he celebrated the arrival by treating himself to a shave and a change of linen, something impossible to do since the fighting had begun.

In his own writings, Mr. Roosevelt has spoken at great length of the devotion which all of the Rough Riders displayed toward him. They were anxious to wait on him at all hours of the day and night. Some would pitch his tent, others would clean his weapons, and still others would go hunting and bring in such game as the vicinity afforded. When ordered to do anything, there was rarely a grumble. Those in the hospital bore their sufferings with remarkable fortitude.

In return for this, Theodore Roosevelt did all he could to make life less hard for those under him. The game that was brought to him he sent to the hospital, that the wounded might have proper nourishment; and he either went himself or sent somebody to the seacoast, to purchase food which the commissary department possessed, but which, through lack of organization, it was slow in distributing. When no shelter was to be had, he slept on the ground with his men, and when they had to work on the trenches at night, he was up and around superintending the labor.

"He was one of us, and he let us know it," was said by one of the Rough Riders. "He ate the same food we did, and he was mighty good to the sick and the wounded. He paid for lots of things out of his own pocket, and I don't believe he has ever asked Uncle Sam to pay him back."

There was no telling how soon the truce would come to an end and fighting would begin again, and night after night the Rough Riders were kept on guard. There was a standing order that each fourth man should keep awake while the others slept, and no matter how dark or rainy the night, Theodore Roosevelt tramped around from one trench to another, seeing to it that this order was obeyed. He also visited the intrenchments of other commands, to compare them and make certain that the grade of service was equally high among the Rough Riders. This shows distinctly that he was a natural-born military commander.

The truce lasted a week, and while all operations were supposed to have come to an end, both the Americans and the Spaniards spent the time in strengthening their positions. At one time the Americans constructed a fairly good defence, in which they placed two Gatling guns and two automatic Colt guns, and this was named Fort Roosevelt, in honor of the Rough Rider commander.

On the tenth of July the fighting began once more, and again the batteries on both sides sent shot and shell into the camps of the enemy. It was largely fighting at long range, and the only Rough Riders who took part were those who manned the Colt's guns, and a small body of sharpshooters stationed in a trench well to the front.

On the next day the Rough Riders were ordered northward, to guard the road running from Santiago to El Caney. Here some fighting was in progress, and the troopers expected to get into battle once more. But the skirmish came to an end before they arrived, very much to their disappointment.

Hardly had the Rough Riders settled in their new position than a storm came up which proved to be the heaviest yet experienced during the campaign. While Theodore Roosevelt was sleeping in his tent, the shelter was blown down and away, and all of his personal effects were scattered in the mud and wet. As best he could, he donned his clothing, saw to it that his men were safe, and then betook himself to a kitchen tent, where he finished the sleep of that night on a rude table recently taken from an abandoned Spanish home in that vicinity.

"On that night it rained cats and dogs and hammer-handles," said one of the soldiers afterward. "It was inky dark—darker than I have ever known it to be anywhere on the plains. The water made a muddy pond of the whole camp, and the trenches were half filled in no time. Everything was blown helter-skelter by the furious wind, and some of our outfits we never recovered. In the midst of the confusion some fellows reported that the Spaniards were trying to break through our lines, but the report was false,—the outsiders were starving Cubans who had come in looking for shelter and something to eat. We gave them what we could—which was precious little, for we had next to nothing ourselves—and then got them to help us get things together again. One of the Cubans was an old man, who could speak a little English. He said he had lost two daughters and three grandchildren by starvation since the war between Spain and Cuba had started. He himself was little more than a skeleton."

That Theodore Roosevelt was warmhearted enough to look out for other soldiers besides those of his own command is proven by what took place on the day following the big storm. Next to the Rough Riders were located a regiment of Illinois Volunteers. Because of the muddy roads and swollen streams, they could get no rations, and scant as were their own supplies, Colonel Roosevelt had the Rough Riders furnish them with beans, coffee, and a few cases of hardtack, for which they were extremely grateful. Later in the day the commander of the Rough Riders also got to them part of a mule train of provisions.

The American position had been greatly strengthened, and many additional troops were now at the front. It was felt that an advance upon Santiago would surely result in victory, although the losses might be large. But the Spaniards were no longer in a position to continue the struggle, and on July 17 the city formally surrendered. The surrendered territory covered many miles, and the Spanish soldiers to lay down their arms numbered upward of twenty thousand.

There was great cheering in the American trenches when the glad news was brought in, and soon Old Glory was planted on every height, while the trumpets sounded out triumphantly. Possession of Santiago was immediate, and in a few hours the Stars and Stripes floated from the flagstaff of the civil government buildings. Our gallant army had won on the land just as our gallant navy had won on the sea. The war had been, for us, one of triumph from start to finish.

In foreign countries the news was received with an astonishment that can scarcely be described. After Dewey's wonderful victory in Manila Bay, many naval experts said that such a fight could not be duplicated, yet it was duplicated two months later off Santiago Bay in a manner that left no doubt of American supremacy on the sea. Then when it came to fighting on land, our army was designated as "paper" soldiers, that is, soldiers on paper or in name only, and it was said that their guns would be found of little use against the Mausers of Spain. But this was likewise false; and to-day the army and navy of the United States are respected everywhere. And more than this, foreign powers have come to our country for many of their war-ships, asking us to build and equip them, and also asking us to make cannon and rifles for them.

While the war was on in Cuba, a part of the United States army under General Miles was sent to Porto Rico, another island belonging to Spain. Here the inhabitants hailed the Americans with delight, and the resistance by the Spanish soldiers was only half-hearted.

With the downfall of the navy and Santiago, Spain knew not what to do next, and gladly received the terms of peace offered by President McKinley and his advisers. The terms were accepted on August 9, and thus the short but sharp war came to a termination. By the treaty of peace Cuba was given her liberty, and Porto Rico and the Philippines passed into the possession of the United States.