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The Rough Riders Essay Sample

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The Rough Riders Essay Sample

The 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, or the “Rough Riders”, were mustered into service between May 1st and May 21st, 1898 in locations in Texas, New Mexico, and the “Indian Territories”.  The difficulties encountered in mustering the men had nothing to do with finding volunteers, but everything to do with rejecting them.  Within two days, Wood and Roosevelt were deluged with applications (Roosevelt 15).  After mustering in, the new volunteers would board trains for San Antonio, Texas (McSherry 2).  This very diverse group of independent minded volunteers would have to be somehow worked into a cohesive military unit.

            On May 5th, Colonel Wood arrived in San Antonio earlier than expected.  The first troopers arrived by train from Arizona on the morning of Saturday, May 7th (Walker 113; Jones 30).  Later that day, eighty-three troopers arrived from Okalahoma.

By May 11th, Troopers had arrived from New Mexico and the East Cost.  On this day Wood announced that the regiment was formed of three squadrons with four troops each, for a total of twelve troops.  Each troop originally had 65 men, for a total of 780 under arms.  This number was later increased.  Rosters on file with the National archives list more than 1200 names, although some of these may not have seen service (Jones 32).   A muster list dated May 17th showed men from over 40 states, the four territories, and several foreign countries (Walker 119).

            Equipment issue was accomplished as the stores arrived in San Antonio.  The uniforms arrived on May 13th, at a cost to the government of about seven dollars each, including hat and shoes (Jones 35).  To the press, they appeared to be functional brown canvas, trimmed with the yellow insignia of the Cavalry, although one newspaper reported that they appeared to be cut out with an axe.  The riders, however, saw them more as overalls.  Regardless of the appearance, the uniforms were more comfortable by a fair margin then the heavy blue coats worn by the infantry (Jones 34-35).

Along with the uniforms came ponchos, cartridge belts, mess pans and canteens, and a shelter half.  Two of these shelter halves would be snapped together to form a six foot long by four foot wide tent for two men.  Also issued were the saddle, saddle bags, and other harness and tack (Walker 114).

            The standard issue firearm was the Krag-Jorgensen .30-40 caliber bolt-action carbines.  Also issued were Colt .45 caliber revolvers and machetes (Walker 114-115).  Roosevelt and wood believed it would be “worse then a waste of time” to train them in the saber, regarded as the signature weapon of the cavalry (Roosevelt 36).

There was a developing opinion among cavalry leaders that the revolver would be a more effective weapon regardless.  Roosevelt felt that it obviously would be more effective for the regiment to use weapons they were already familiar with (Roosevelt 36).  With this in mind, there were many troopers who had brought personal firearms.  They were allowed to keep and utilize these firearms (Walker 115).

            Among the regimental weapons that were acquired were two Colt rapid fire guns.  These weapons cost over ten thousand dollars apiece and had a rate of fire of 500 rounds a minute.  They were gifts from two of Roosevelt’s friends from New York, Woodbury Kane and William Tiffany (Walker 123).

            The regimental horses were acquired throughout the stay in San Antonio.  By May 8th, there were enough horses to equip two full squadrons.  Enlisted men were issued these horses, but officers were required to purchase their own. (Jones 34).  Roosevelt, in retrospect, did not believe that they purchased heavy enough horses (Roosevelt 34).

Adding to this issue, fully one half of the horses bought were not broken, and had never been shod.  They had to be roped and held down by force in order to have horseshoes applied.  After this was accomplished, the troopers with the most experience breaking horses were assigned to that task.  Even with these difficulties, the horses were mastered (Roosevelt 34).

The routine of military life took hold immediately for the arriving troopers.  A Guard was established, and the necessity for vigilance could not be overstated.  Policing the camp was a priority.  Both Roosevelt and Wood stressed the importance of a hygienic camp. Reveille was blown by bugle at 5:30, with stable call for the care of the horses at 6:10.  Breakfast was at 8:30, followed by watering of the stock and then drills (Walker 122; Jones 32-25).

Training began on May 8th.  There was enough manpower on hand to form two troops (Jones 32).  The training at the beginning consisted of foot drill and ceremonies.  Officer’s instruction was held each night. The sergeants were trained by their respective lieutenants and captains.  The training was by the squad, then by troop, then by squadron (Roosevelt 33).

Once the close order drill was being performed to an acceptable level, open order drill was initiated.  This consisted of maneuver, skirmishing, and firing on the move.  The troopers took to the skirmish naturally, which Roosevelt felt was very fortunate, seeing that almost all of the combat they would see would be in skirmish order (Roosevelt 34).

Following the foot training they started the mounted drill.  The drilling started much the same as foot drill, with the horse mounted soldiers forming lines and columns.  The object was to stay in these lines and columns.  This was met with varying degrees of success.  The rough requirements of mounted drill were mastered easily enough.  The troopers enjoyed the mounted drills much more than those on foot.  They became adept at open order cavalry skirmish in the terrain they would face in Cuba (Roosevelt 36).  All of this training was for naught, though, as the regiment would not embark to Cuba with their horses.

The intense training lasted only two or three weeks, depending on when each trooper had arrived at San Antonio.  Roosevelt was astonished at how far they had come along in such a short period of time.  The policing of the camp and the guard duty had helped to turn this unit into a disciplined functioning military unit.  The troopers and officers had been diligent in their drill and studies.  They believed they were ready for the task at hand (Roosevelt 37).

Wood received official orders to depart for Tamps, Florida on May 27th.  He notified the Southern Pacific Railway that he would need twenty-five coaches, two Pullman cars, eight box cars, five baggage cars, and sixty livestock cars.  This was suitable to transport the 1,060 troopers and officers along with their 1,258 horses and mules, and all of the regimental equipment.  It took the entire day of May 29th to load the regiment into the rail cars that were provided (Walker 128-130).  The trains were split into seven sections, with Wood commanding the first three and Roosevelt the last four. They left for Florida On May 30th (Roosevelt 46).

The trip to Tampa took all of about four days.  The sections of the trains had been so spaced as to allow the unloading of each section to be completed before the next section arrived.  There were the inevitable delays, however.  The inexperienced officers had to be monitored to make sure they loaded enough feed and water at each stop for the horses.  The longest of these stops occurred at night, requiring the troops to be up all night long (Roosevelt 46).

The regiment disembarked in Tampa in “perfect confusion” (Roosevelt 47).  Confusion led to organization, and in a short time the regimental tents were erected and routine was once again established.  The horses were allowed to rest for thirty-six hours.  During this time, training on foot was once again the order of the day.  Skirmish training by each troop was accomplished in the woods.  Once the mounts were rested mounted training started again, with one or two mounted regimental drills (Roosevelt 38).

The stay in Tampa was only about five days.  They were ordered to a destination unknown, but their horses, due to space constraints, would have to be left behind.  This effectively turned the cavalry into a glorified infantry unit.  All the mounted training had been wasted time, but the insistence for the skirmish training was going to pay dividends (Roosevelt 48).

Each of the regiments at Tampa closed and policed their camps.  The rough riders were ordered to take their sleeping bag, shelter half, cartridge belt, weapons, and what ever creature comforts they could.  There was no allotment of transports to move the regiment to the port.  They attempted to board the rail cars that were present, but to no avail.  Finally at 5:00 MA the next day they were loaded into coal cars and arrived at the piers in about an hour (Freidel 64).  The regiment loaded into transports at the pier.

Seeing that there was not enough space, and also that several regiments had been assigned to the same transport, Roosevelt loaded what he could into transport, believing that once on board they would not be forced to unload.  In the end, only eight of the twelve troops would be loaded.  The rest would remain behind at Tampa (McSherry 2).

Works Cited

Freidel, Frank. The Splendid Little War.  Boston:  Little, Brown, and Company, 1958.

Jones, Virgil. Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.  Garden City, NY: Double Day & Company,


McSherry, Patrick. “A Brief History of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry”.  The

    Spanish American War Centennial Website. 1998. 5 Apr 2007


Roosevelt, Theodore. The Rough Riders, an Autobiography.  New York:  Library

  Classics, 2004.

Walker, Dale. The Boys of ’98.  New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1998.

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