First United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment was organized
by Theodore Roosevelt and Leonard Wood, M.D.
who was Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the McKinley
administration, and a leading advocate of the liberation
of Cuba, the Spanish colony then fighting for its independence,
asked the Department of War permission to raise a regiment
after Spain declared war on the United States on April
24, 1898. Wood, an army doctor who had won the Medal of
Honor fighting the Apaches in the 1880s, was President
William McKinley's physician, and a close friend of Theodore
Because he lacked military experience, Roosevelt suggested that
Leonard Wood be given command of the volunteer cavalry regiment;
and accordingly Wood became colonel, and TR was made lieutenant
colonel, of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, soon popularly
known as the "Rough Riders.".
regiment, consisting of over 1,250 men, from all over the United
States was mainly composed of cowboys, Indians, and other Wild
West types, and Ivy League athletes and aristocratic sportsmen
from the East. What did these two very different groups have
in common ?
could ride and shoot and were in shape, and thus could be ready
for war with little training. The regiment was assembled at
San Antonio, Texas in May, and shipped out to Cuba from Tampa,
Florida-minus the horses-on June 14, 1898.
Riders with Colonel Roosevelt at San Juan Heights, 1898
Rough Riders were landed at Daiquiri, Cuba on June 22, and saw
their first action in the Battle of Las Guasimas on June 24.
The Rough Riders were part of the large American force that
assembled for the assault on the Spanish fortifications protecting
the city of Santiago. On the night of June 30, the eve of the
big battle, Colonel Leonard Wood was promoted in the field to
Brigadier General and Theodore Roosevelt was made Colonel of
the Rough Riders.
July 1, 1898 TR on horseback led the Rough Riders and elements
of the Ninth and Tenth Regiments of regulars, African-American
"buffalo soldiers," and other units up Kettle Hill. After that
hill was captured, TR, now on foot, led a second charge up the
San Juan Heights.This was what TR called his "crowded hour,"
his great moment.
the capture of San Juan heights, overlooking Santiago, the city
surrendered, and the war was virtually over. The toll from tropical
diseases soon became worse than the losses in battle, and Roosevelt
and other officers called for the American troops to be brought
home quickly in order to save lives. The Rough Riders were shipped
to Montauk, at the end of Long Island, and there the much-publicized
and celebrated regiment was mustered out on September 16, 1898,
after 137 days of service in the Army.
at Camp in Montauk Point, Long Island, New York
where the Rough Riders spent time in quarantine after returning
Carrington Jones, in his book Roosevelt's Rough Riders (1971),
writes of Roosevelt's regiment: "In the period of about four
and a half months they were together, 37 percent of those who
got to Cuba were casualties. Better than one out of every three
were killed, wounded, or stricken by disease. It was the highest
casualty rate of any American unit that took part in the Spanish-American