The Roughest Riders: The Untold Story of the Black Soldiers in the Spanish-American War

The Roughest Riders: The Untold Story of the Black Soldiers in the Spanish-American War

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 1613730462

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Americans have long heard the story of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. But often forgotten in the great swamp of history is that Roosevelt’s success was ensured by a dedicated corps of black soldiers—the so-called Buffalo Soldiers—who fought by Roosevelt’s side during his legendary campaign. Roosevelt admitted that the black troops actually spearheaded the charge, beating him to the top of Kettle Hill ahead of San Juan Hill, but later changed his story, claiming their perfor­mance was due to the superior white officers under whom the black troops served.
 
The Roughest Riders takes a closer look at common historical legend and balances the record. It is the inspiring story of the first African American soldiers to serve during the post-slavery era, first in the West and later in Cuba, when full equality, legally at least, was still a distant dream. They fought heroically and courageously, making Roosevelt’s campaign a great success that added to the future president’s legend as a great man of words and action. But most of all, they demonstrated their own military prowess, often in the face of incredible discrimination from their fellow soldiers and commanders, and rightfully deserve their own place in American history.

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arduous climb to follow them. With rifles that had been thrown aside by deserting Spaniards or retrieved from the wounded enemy soldiers left behind, they fired with relish at the retreating troops, now in open disarray. But the battle for San Juan Hill itself was still in progress, with five thousand American troops engaged in the action, including the Buffalo Soldiers of the Twenty-Fourth Infantry, who had made the climb from Siboney and another hill called El Pozo. Black and white soldiers

plan was set after several agonizing days of waiting while the Spanish built up their positions on the hills. Shafter came to the conclusion reached earlier by his subordinates that it was better to go straight at the Spanish on their northernmost encampments before attacking their main stronghold in Santiago. They all reasoned, erroneously as it turned out, that American losses would be kept at a minimum with that line of attack. 17 Examining the terrain more closely, the officers noted that

who otherwise treated him with respect in private. “In short, there is a fearful lack of backbone,” he wrote home. The whites for the most part were afraid to befriend him in front of other whites and ostracized him from their clubs. “There was no society for me to enjoy—no friends, male or female, for me to visit, or with whom I could have any social intercourse, so absolute was my isolation.” He was simply “the colored cadet.” In July 1875, sections of the Tenth Cavalry and the Twenty-Fourth

ensnared by an American blockade—or worse, watch their ships being sunk by the advancing American armada? The Spanish naval defenses fell under the command of Admiral Pascual Cervera, whose fleet consisted of several cruisers and destroyers, none of which were in particularly good condition. The cruiser Cristóbal Colón lacked much of its armature, and another, the Vizcaya, was hampered by a porous bottom. Also at Cervera’s disposal were his flagship, the Infanta Maria Teresa, the cruiser

military outpost in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor. The action caught the United States largely unprepared for another major conflict after nearly two decades of downsizing its military strength. The army alone was severely understaffed, with the white ranks thinned out and only four thousand remnants of the Buffalo Soldiers in uniform. Another three thousand black men served in the National Guard. Those numbers would soon change, however, with the inauguration of a new military draft that would pull

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