New Mexico in the Spanish American War, 1898
New Mexico's part in the Civil war, when the Territory was very young and its citizens and its interests less thoroughly American than now, is only dimmed by the lustre shed on her military annals by the performance of her sons in the war with Spain. The deeds of the famous regiment of "Rough Riders." to which New Mexico furnished a large share of volunteers, will be a cherished heritage to the Southwest as long as men are stirred to enthusiasm by the exploits of war.
At the opening of the Spanish-American war, in 1898, Congress authorized the raising of three cavalry regiments from among the rough riders and riflemen of the Rockies and the Great Plains. The command popularly known as the "Rough Riders" the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, was recruited principally from these western states, and the mustering places for the regiment were appointed in New Mexico, Arizona. Oklahoma and Indian Territory. Before the detailed work of organization was begun. Dr. Leonard Wood was commissioned colonel, and Theodore Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of war, lieutenant-colonel of the regiment.
Within a day or two after it was announced that such a unique command was to be organized, the commanding officers were deluged with applications from every part of the country. While the only organized Bodies they were at liberty to accept were those from the four territories, the raising of the original allotment of seven hundred and eighty to one thousand men allowed them to enroll the names of individual applicants from various other sources, from universities, aristocratic social clubs and from men in whose veins flowed some of the most ancient blood in America.
The regiment gathered and was organized at San Antonio, Texas. The bulk of the regiment was made up of men who came from New Mexico, Arizona. Oklahoma and Indian Territory. "They were a splendid set of men, these southwesterners," wrote Colonel Roosevelt, "tall and sinewy, with resolute, weather-beaten faces, and eyes that looked a man straight in the face without flinching. They included in their ranks men of every occupation: but the three types were those of the cowboy, the hunter and the mining prospector, the man who wandered hither and thither, killing game for a living, and spending his life in the quest for metal wealth. In all the world there could be no better material for soldiers than that afforded by these grim hunters of the mountains, these wild rough riders of the plains. They were accustomed to handling wild and savage horses; they were accustomed to following the chase with the rifle, both for sport and as a means of livelihood. Varied though their occupations had been, almost all had, at one time or another, herded cattle and hunted big game. They were hardened to life in the open, and to shifting for themselves under adverse circumstances. They were used, for all their lawless freedom, to the rough discipline of the round-up and the mining company. Some of them came from the small frontier towns; but most were from the wilderness, having left their lonely hunters' cabins and shifting cow-camps to seek new and more stirring adventures beyond the sea.
"They had their natural leaders, the men who had shown they could master other men, and could more than hold their own in the eager, driving life of the new settlements.
"The captains and lieutenants were sometimes men who had campaigned in the regular army against Apache, Ute and Cheyenne, and who, on completing their service, had shown their energy by settling in the new communities and growing up to be men of mark. In other cases they were sheriffs, marshals, deputy sheriffs and deputy marshals, men who had fought Indians, and still more often had fought relentless war upon the lands of white desperadoes.'' There was Captain Llewellyn, of New Mexico, a good citizen, a political leader, and one of the most noted peace officers of the country; he had been shot four times in pitched fights with red marauders and white outlaws. There was Lieutenant Ballard, who had broken up the Black-jack gang of ill-omened notoriety, and his captain, Curry, another New Mexican sheriff of fame. All easterners and westerners, northerners and southerners, officers and men, cowboys and college graduates, wherever they came from, and whatever their social position, possessed in common the traits of hardihood and a thirst for adventure. They were to a man born adventurers, in the old sense of the word."
On Sunday, May 29, the regiment broke camp and proceeded by rail to Tampa, Fla., the trip consuming four days. On the morning of June 14 the troops proceeded, on board the transport Yucatan, for Cuba. For six days the thirty or more transports which had left Tampa steamed steadily southwestward, under the escort of battleships, cruisers and torpedo boats. On the morning of June 22 the troops began disembarking at Daiquiri, a small port near Santiago de Cuba, after this and other nearby points had been shelled to dislodge any Spaniards who might be lurking in the vicinity.
Before leaving Tampa the Rough Riders had been brigaded with the First (white) and Tenth (colored) Regular Cavalry under Brigadier-General S. B. M. Young, as the Second Brigade, which, with the First Brigade, formed a cavalry division placed in command of Major-General Joseph Wheeler. The afternoon following their landing they were ordered forward through the narrow, hilly jungle trail, arriving after nightfall at Siboney.
Before the tired soldiers (men who had been accustomed to traveling on horseback all their lives, for the most part, but now compelled to proceed on foot) could recuperate, the order to proceed against the Spanish position was given, and the first actual fighting was on. This was on Tune 24. During the advance against the Spanish outposts Henry J. Haefner, of Troop G., fell, mortally wounded. This was the first casualty in action. Haefner enlisted from Gallup, New Mexico. He fell without uttering a sound, and two of his companions dragged him behind a tree. Here he propped himself up and asked for his canteen and his rifle, which Colonel Roosevelt handed to him. He then began loading and firing, which he continued until the line moved forward. After the fight he was found dead.
After driving the enemy from their position at the American right a temporary hill followed. Fighting between the Spanish outposts and the American line was soon resumed, however. A perfect hail of bullets swept over the advancing line, but most of them went high. After a quick charge the enemy abandoned their main position in the skirmish line. The loss to the Rough Riders was eight men killed and thirty-four wounded; the First Cavalry lost seven men killed and eight wounded; the Tenth Cavalry lost one man killed and ten wounded. The Spaniards were under General Rubin. This fight, the first on Cuban soil, is officially known as the Battle of Las Guasimas.
On the afternoon of June 25 the regiment moved forward about two miles and camped for several days. In the meantime General Young was stricken with the fever. Colonel Wood then took command of the brigade, leaving Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt in command of the regiment. On June 30 orders were received to be prepared to march against Santiago. It was not until the middle of the afternoon that the regiment took its position in the marching army, and eight o'clock that night when they halted on El Paso hill. Word ^vent forth that the main fighting was to be done by Lawton's infantry, which was to take El Caney, several miles to the right, while the Rough Riders were simply to make a diversion with the artillery.
About six o'clock the next morning, July 1, the fighting began at El Caney. As throughout the entire campaign, the enemy used smokeless powder, which rendered the detection of their location well-nigh impossible. Soon after the beginning of the artillery engagement. Colonel Roosevelt was ordered to march his command to the right and connect with Lawton, an order impossible to obey. A captive balloon was in the air at the time. As the men started to cross a ford, the balloon, to the horror of everybody, began to settle at the exact front of fording. It was a special target for the enemy's fire, but the regiment crossed before it reached the ground. There it partly collapsed and remained, causing severe loss of life, as it indicated the exact point at which other troops were crossing.
The heat was intense, and many of the men began to show signs of exhaustion early in the day. The Mauser bullets drove in sheets through the trees and jungle grass. The bulk of the Spanish fire appeared to be practically un-aimed, but the enemy swept the entire field of battle. Though the troopers were scattered out far apart, taking advantage of every scrap of cover, man after man fell dead or wounded. Soon the order came to move forward and support the regulars in the assault on the hills in front. Waving his hat aloft. Colonel Roosevelt shouted the command to charge the hill on the right front. At about the same moment the other officers gave similar orders, and the exciting rush up 'Kettle hill" began. The first guidons planted on the summit of the hill, according to Roosevelt's account, were those of Troops G, E and F of his regiment, under their captains, Llewellyn, Luna and Muller.
No sooner were the Americans on the crest of the hill than the Spaniards, from their strong entrenchments on the hills in front, opened a heavy fire, with rifles and artillery. Our troops then began volley firing against the San Juan block-house and the surrounding trenches. As the regulars advanced in their final assault and the enemy began running from the rifle pits, the Rough Riders were ordered to cease firing and charge the next line of trenches, on the hills in front, from which they had been undergoing severe punishment. Thinking that his men naturally would follow. Colonel Roosevelt jumped over the wire fence in front and started rapidly up the hill. But the troopers were so excited that they did not hear or heed him. After leading on about a hundred yards with but five men, he returned and chided his men for having failed to follow him.
"We did not hear you. Colonel," cried some of the men. "We didn't see you go. Lead on, now; we'll sure follow you."
The other regiments joined the Rough Riders in the historic charge which followed. But long before they could reach the Spaniards the latter ran, excepting a few who either surrendered or were shot down. When the attacking force reached the trenches they found them filled with dead bodies. There were few wounded. Most of the fallen had bullet holes in their heads which told of the accurate aim of the American sharpshooters. "There was great confusion at this time," writes Colonel Roosevelt, "the different regiments being completely intermingled, white regulars, colored regulars, and Rough Riders. We were still under a heavy fire and I got together a mixed lot of men and pushed on from the trenches and ranch houses which we had just taken, driving the Spaniards through a line of palm trees, and over the crest of a chain of hills. When we reached these crests we found ourselves overlooking Santiago."
Here Colonel Roosevelt was ordered to advance no further, but to hold the hill at all hazards. With his own command were all the fragments of the other five cavalry regiments at the extreme right. The Spaniards had fallen back upon their supports, and our troops were still under a very heavy fire from rifles and artillery. Our artillery made one or two efforts to come into action on the infantry firing line, but their black powder rendered each attempt fruitless. In the course of the afternoon the Spaniards made an unsuccessful attempt to retake the hill. A few seconds' firing stopped their advance and drove them into cover of the trenches.
The troops slept that night on the hill-top, being attacked but once before daybreak, about 3 A. M. and then for a short time only. At dawn the attack was renewed in earnest. The Spaniards fought more stubbornly than at Las Guasimas, but their ranks broke when the Americans charged home.
In the attack on the San Juan hills our forces numbered about sixty-six hundred. The Spanish force numbered about forty-five hundred. Our total loss in killed and wounded was one thousand and seventy-one.
The fighting continued July 2, but most of the Spanish firing proved harmless. During the day our force in the trenches was increased to about eleven thousand, and the Spaniards in Santiago to upwards of nine thousand. As the day wore on the fight, though raging fitfully at intervals, gradually died away. The Spanish guerrillas caused our troops much trouble, however. They were located, usually, in the tops of trees, and as they used smokeless powder it was almost impossible to locate and dislodge them. These guerrillas showed not only courage, but great cruelty and barbarity. They seemed to prefer for their victims the unarmed attendants, the surgeons, the chaplains and hospital stewards. They fired at the men who were bearing off the wounded in litters, at the doctors who came to the front and at the chaplains who held burial service.
The firing was energetically resumed on the morning of the 3rd, but during the day the only loss to the Rough Riders was one man wounded. At noon the order to stop tiring was given, and a flag of truce was sent in to demand the surrender of the city. For a week following peace negotiations dragged along. Failing of success, fighting was resumed shortly after noon of the loth, but it soon became evident that the Spaniards did not have much heart in their work. About the only Rough Riders who had a chance for active work were the men with the Colt automatic guns and twenty picked sharpshooters who were on the watch for guerrillas. At noon, on the nth, the Rough Riders, with one of the Gatlings, were sent over to the right to guard the Caney road. But no fighting was necessary, for the last straggling shot had been fired by the time they arrived.
On the 17th the city formally surrendered. Two days later the entire division
was marched back to the foothills west of El Caney, where it went into camp with
the artillery. Here many of the officers and men became ill, and as a rule less
than fifty present were fit for any kind of work. All clothing was in rags; even
the officers had neither socks nor underwear. The authorities at Washington,
misled by reports received from some of their military and medical advisers at
the front, became panic-stricken and hesitated to bring the army home, lest it
might import yellow fever into the United States. The real foe, however, was not
yellow fever, but malarial fever. The awful conditions surrounding the army
finally led to the writing of the historic "round robin," in which the leading
officers in Cuba showed that to keep the army in Santiago meant its complete and
objectless ruin. The result was immediate. Within three days orders came to put
the army in readiness to sail for home. August 6 the order came to embark, and
the next morning the Rough Riders sailed on the transport Miami which reached
Montauk point, the east end of Long Island, New York, on the afternoon of the
14th. The following day the troops disembarked and went into camp at Camp
Wyckoff. The regiment remained here until September 15, when its members
received their discharges and returned to civil life.
Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume II, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.
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