Simon and Garfunkel. Antony and Cleopatra. Abbott and Costello. John and Yoko.
Okay, not John and Yoko. No one actually liked Yoko, did they?
But my point still stands! History has a way of bringing people together, people with compatible strengths and weaknesses who, together, can forge their way through the world and make their mark.
Partners in crime. Partners in comedy. Partners in song. And partners in command.
Part of me would very much like to imagine President Roosevelt, lieutenant colonel of the Rough Riders at the time, dressed in black polyester and Kevlar, mask covering his face, cape fluttering in the wind, riding his trusty Bat-Steed off towards the Bat Signal glaring over San Juan Hill. And who is by his side? Commanding colonel and boy wonder Leonard Wood.
I know, I know, it’s a weird image – Leonard Wood could totally be Batman, and Roosevelt be Robin. I don’t think there’s a right way to sort it. But if I didn’t compare Roosevelt and Wood to the greatest (sadly fictional) duo ever, well, to quote Roosevelt, I would “consider myself the damndest ass within ten miles of this camp!”
How we handle the extraordinary circumstances life so often dumps us in is the true showing of our character. Roosevelt and Wood’s bond in Partners in Command showcases the way that two vastly different people can do more together than they ever could have alone. Each with an insatiable ambition and overwhelming zeal for the United States, together the two men make history and propel themselves and their country to a better standing.
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of Teddy Roosevelt and Leonard Wood: Partners in Command by John S.D. Eisenhower:
Leonard Wood knew that his appointment as a line officer, even of volunteers, would cause resentment in the Regular Army. However, his ambition far overcame his inhibitions. He knew he was prepared for that transition, for in his off hours throughout his years of doctoring he had been studying tactics and military history with a view to this end. On learning of the sinking of the Maine, therefore, he had lost no time in approaching President McKinley and volunteering his services as a line officer of any grade. McKinley refused the request, primarily because he hated to lose the services of the doctor upon whom his sick wife was so dependent. The president, however, promised not to stand in Wood’s way if he could attain his goals by dealing directly with the Army authorities.
Wood’s task in convincing the Army authorities was more difficult than manipulating McKinley, for the regulars, especially the West Pointers, believed they had a monopoly on military knowledge. Wood’s recent award of the Medal of Honor, which had been pending for a dozen years, did little to further his cause, because his services in earning it had involved duties other than those of a line officer.
Unable to sell himself to the War Department, Wood resolved to attain his ends as a volunteer, the appointee of a state governor. Armed with lavish recommendations from Roosevelt, Army chief Nelson Miles, and even Secretary of War Alger, he approached the governor of his home state of Massachusetts. The governor, however, had no intention of organizing such a regiment. Wood also met failure in New York, but for another reason: that governor had his own favorite son in case such a unit should be called up.
Finally, fortune smiled from two directions. Roosevelt had begun his campaign, and the governor of Arizona, where Wood was still a big hero, decided to contribute a volunteer unit as a gift to the nation. Senator Francis Warren of Wyoming was also creating a similar unit. Secretary Alger finally agreed to organize several volunteer regiments, of which three would be cavalry. The first would be commanded by Wood, with Roosevelt as his lieutenant colonel. It was really a political act; the professional head of the Army, General Miles, appeared to lack interest in organizing any volunteer regiments at all.
But Roosevelt had broken the bureaucratic barriers, and Wood’s greatest ambitions had been exceeded: he was to be the colonel of a regiment. He was ready. Once his appointment had been confirmed, he flew into action. He even knew the location where he wanted the regiment to be recruited and trained: a large piece of unoccupied territory near San Antonio, Texas. He also knew what he wanted in other matters. He insisted, for example, on issuing his troopers a lightweight tan uniform, far different from the heavy blue of the regulars. He also knew the type of boots he wanted, based on the report he had sent to Washington from Arizona many years previously. In the matter of armament, he would accept only the best. He demanded that his men be issued the same rifles as those of the regulars, the new Krag Jørgensen. Wood made all these arrangements informally with the chief of ordnance and the quartermaster general, but to implement them officially he needed to have them ordered formally by the secretary of war. Taking no chances on Alger’s shillyshallying, Wood brought the stack of orders for his requests into the secretary’s office all at once. In a short period, a be-wildered Alger had given Wood all that he wanted. Wood was then ready to depart Washington for San Antonio.
On arriving at his destination, Wood had many urgent tasks to accomplish. Although there would be overlap, he had a set of priorities. First was sanitation, second was housing, third was the reception of incoming packets of troops, then came the issue of clothing and equipment, and finally came the instruction of noncommissioned officers. Mixed with all these activities were training of new recruits, care of mounts, drill, and ceremonies. Wood performed this program with quiet dignity and intensity. Occasionally, Wood slipped out of his role. On one occasion, when a young soldier was flung against a tree by a recalcitrant mount, the colonel was quickly on his knees beside him: the commanding officer had temporarily been transformed into a physician. He took pride in the regiment and his role as its commanding officer. It was always, despite public perception, Wood’s regiment.
Although Roosevelt’s appointment as Wood’s lieutenant colonel was effective in early–May 1898, he did not leave Washington for Texas immediately. He and Wood had decided that he would be more useful for the moment by staying behind to see to it that the War Department came through with its promises— even written orders. It was well that Roosevelt did so, because the administrative services were slow to respond. On May 10, however, Roosevelt was able to send a message to the friend he now called “Colonel Wood”: “I spent a good deal of yesterday and today fussing with the Ordnance and Quartermaster General’s Department. They have sent out tracers and tell me that by day after tomorrow the rifles and most of the supplies will be at San Antonio. I hope you got your horses pretty well purchased by this time. The enclosed letter shows that you are allowed to purchase over the number if necessary.”
Roosevelt had another incentive to stay in the East for a while. He was re-solved to do some recruiting among men he particularly wanted. He made visits to the campuses of Ivy League universities, especially his own alma mater, Harvard. His theme, which seems startling today, was that the privileged classes of American society must take the lead in fighting the war. So effective were his efforts that he found himself somewhat embarrassed by the fact that he was overwhelmed with men intent on joining him. He finally selected about fifty, among them two star football quarterbacks from Harvard, a champion high jumper, a former US tennis champion, and a group of polo players. He did not, however, restrict himself to the universities; he also signed up some former members of the New York Police Force. He took great pride in the fact that almost none of these volunteers asked to come in as commissioned officers; they were content to serve as privates.
The easterners whom Roosevelt had recruited would actually constitute only a small fraction of the twelve hundred men of the Rough Riders, but Roosevelt’s visibility in recruiting them gave the public the impression that the regiment was Roosevelt’s. At one point, a friend of Wood’s from New York wrote in protest. “The newspapers about here keep talking about Roosevelt’s regiment. Give the reporters a bit of discipline and have things called by their right name.” This type of thing did not make Wood happy, but he took it philosophically. Not long after, Wood wrote a friend: “It was not long after I had been joined by Roosevelt at San Antonio, when I realized that if the campaign lasted for any considerable length of time I would be kicked upstairs to make room for the promotion of Roosevelt. I decided that, if that should happen, I would see to it that no matter in what situation I found myself, I would find justification of my being there and find a job that needed doing and would do it with all my power.”
Despite the publicity engendered by Roosevelt’s activities in the East, the basic character of the regiment followed the style of rough men from the Southwest. Most were cowboys and ranchers, although the roster also included professional men. To take them in, Wood had asked the local governors to set up about a dozen reception centers. Once his men were inducted and sworn in, they were subjected to extensive training, so intensive that the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment became known as the “Rough Riders,” the name that has lived on in history.
Roosevelt, despite his time in the Dakotas, was highly impressed by the sturdiness of the men of the regiment. In a letter to Senator Lodge, he bub-bled with enthusiasm:
It is as typical an American regiment as ever marched or fought. I suppose that about 95 per cent of the men are of native birth, but we have a few from everywhere, including a score of Indians and about as many men of Mexican origin from New Mexico, then there are some fifty Easterners—almost all graduates of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc,—and almost as many southerners, the rest are from the plains and the Rocky Mountains. Three fourths of our men have at one time or another been cowboys or small stockmen, certainly two thirds have fathers who fought on one side or the other in the civil war. . . . These men are in [the Army] because they want to be in it. They are intelligent as well as game.
Roosevelt was also content with the quality of his officers. Many of them were veterans of the Regular Army, who had fought against Apache, Ute, and Cheyenne. Some had previously been federal marshals. One individual whom Roosevelt singled out for praise was Bucky O’Neill, the current mayor of Prescott, Arizona. O’Neill had taken a leave of absence from civic duties to command Troop “A.” Roosevelt described him as “a famous sheriff throughout the West for his feats of victorious warfare against the Apache, no less than against the white road–agents and man–killers. His father had fought in Meagher’s Brigade in the Civil War, and he himself was a born soldier, a born leader of men. He was a wild, reckless fellow, soft spoken, and of dauntless courage and boundless ambition; he was staunchly loyal to his friends, and cared for them in every way.”
Roosevelt even evaluated himself. “I have been both astonished and pleased,” he wrote to Lodge, “at my own ability in the line of tactics. I thoroughly en-joy handling these men, and I get them on the jump so that they execute their movements at a gallop.”
Roosevelt had harbored one concern in gathering such a group of individuals. How would they tolerate the discipline that the Army would necessarily impose on them? In this matter, however, he described himself as “agreeably disappointed.” By and large, the men realized the difference between an army and a mob. But to keep them in such a frame of mind, the leaders—meaning himself—had to be strong. He and Wood quietly but firmly corrected infractions of protocol that would seem trivial in the more relaxed Army of later years. For example, a man would be corrected if he said, “Good evening, sir,” when saluting the colonel. The salute was sufficient in itself. On one occasion, a mess sergeant, in calling dinner, was corrected for referring to the officers as “you fellers.” All these small admonitions were taken in good part.
But Roosevelt himself still had to absorb some of the ways of the military hierarchy. One incident, which he chose not to describe to Lodge in his letters, involved his natural generosity, exuberance, and love of applause. One day, after finishing a drill with one of his units, he ordered the men to dismount and then shouted, “The men can go in and drink all the beer they want, which I will pay for.” This gesture elicited such a response that Roosevelt got carried away. He joined them for a couple of hours.
Nearly everyone in the camp thought well of Roosevelt’s boyish enthusiasm, but one who did not was Leonard Wood. That evening Wood sent for his lieutenant colonel and pointed out that, in the interests of discipline, officers did not drink with enlisted men. Roosevelt accepted the chiding seriously and left Wood’s tent. In a few seconds, however, his embarrassment overcame him. He returned to the tent, stood rigidly at attention, saluted, and made a stiff speech that ended, “Sir, I consider myself the damndest ass within ten miles of this camp! Good night, sir!”
Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for his military activities was admirable for a soldier, but in broader matters it beclouded his judgment. His obsession to see battle with the Rough Riders, for example, caused him to forget that the purpose of an army is to enforce the national will. In one letter, he exhorted Senator Lodge to do everything possible to prevent any successful negotiations between Washington and Madrid, even if such negotiations would grant the Americans everything—the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, and even Cuba—without a fight. He, Roosevelt, must defeat the Spanish in battle for the sake of the battle itself.
As is always the case when a unit prepares to break camp, Wood was involved in so many administrative matters that he was forced to turn over much of the training to Roosevelt, who relished the activity. He began by drilling the men on foot, which in itself is difficult enough. Then, when he was satisfied with his men’s precision, he began practicing maneuvers on horseback. The fact that many of the horses were not broken in caused very little problem; many of the Rough Riders were sufficiently strong and adept that no horse could remain unbroken. As for weapons, Wood had decided to rely on only the Krag carbine, which he had successfully obtained, and the revolver. To the disapproval of more formal Regular Army cavalry officers, the Rough Riders dispensed with the saber. They were, after all, expecting to do a great deal of their fighting on foot, with their mounts being held by horse holders in the rear.
Although Wood and Roosevelt had trained hard during the month of May 1898, they were still uncertain whether they would ever be employed in actual fighting. Their worries dissipated, however, at the end of the month, when a cablegram arrived at San Antonio, ordering the regiment to leave by train for Tampa, Florida, to join a force being assembled, presumably for an invasion of Cuba. Wood, on receiving the message, showed no emotion; he simply stood up, shook Roosevelt by the hand, and disclosed its contents. Roosevelt showed no such restraint; he whooped and hollered, and in no time the entire camp had the news. As the scene was described, “hats, blankets, tin cups, even saddles, skyward and made a bedlam of Colonel Wood’s decorous camp of subjugated wild men.”
They had every cause to be proud. Among all the units scheduled for inclusion in the expedition, the Rough Riders were the only volunteer regiment. The other two volunteer cavalry regiments were not yet ready to go. The personality and influence of Theodore Roosevelt may also have been a factor in its selection—one suspects that it may have been critical.
On Sunday, May 29, the first three of seven sections, under the direct command of Wood, left the camp at San Antonio for the railroad station. With all the confusion, including the failure of trains to show up, Wood’s contingent was forced to wait until midnight before pulling out. Roosevelt, in charge of the other four sections, arrived at the station about the time that Wood left; they were off by the next morning. Once under way, the sections spaced out. When one section stopped to allow the troopers to water and feed their horses, it would be the only one at that station.
Eventually, both officers and men were exhausted from the heat and lack of sleep. As usual the quartermaster seldom delivered enough water and for-age to any one station. Wood therefore faced a continual battle. According to a letter he wrote home, he was forced to take “armed possession” of one train not assigned to him, though he did not specify details. Still, there were bright aspects. All along the line, people were aware that the famed Rough Riders were coming through and were out beside the tracks to greet them. In New Orleans, the crowds were particularly enthusiastic, and the sight of the American flag on proud display gave Wood a lift to realize that the hurts of the Civil War thirty years previously had been largely healed.
After four grueling days of travel, the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment reached Tampa at midnight on June 3, only to find the camp in a state of confusion. Veterans of the campaign later recalled their arrival as one of the blackest moments in the history of the US Army. According to Roosevelt:
Tampa lay in the pine–covered sand–flats at the end of a one–track railroad, and everything connected with both military and railroad matters was in an almost inextricable tangle. There was no one to meet us or to tell us where we were to camp, and no one to issue us food for the first twenty–four hours; while the railroad people unloaded us wherever they pleased. . . . We had to buy the men food out of our own pockets, and to seize wagons in order to get our spare luggage taken to the camping ground which we at last found had been allotted to us.
Soon, however, Wood established a semblance of order. The area was soon cleaned up, and drill had been instituted immediately. Wood arranged the camp in the standard manner: a rectangle with the twelve troops lined along the long sides with the officers’ tents located at one end of the rectangle and the mess tents at the other. Everyone, especially the officers, worked hard and took no time for leisure, even though the town of Tampa was full of generals, members of the press, and fine ladies. Their industry was noticed, however, and attachés of various countries—English, German, Russian, French, and even Japanese—came out to visit them. Chapel services were held on the one Sunday the Rough Riders were at Tampa. The regiment was outstanding, even among the regulars.