"Hostilities formally began when Spain declared war on the United States on April 24th, 1898. Across the country regiments began to form. Theodore Roosevelt immediately resigned as assistant secretary of the navy, ordered a fancy uniform, and accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel of a volunteer calvary regiment soon to become famous as the Rough Riders" (America, p.639).
Perhaps the most publicized and well-known volunteer fighting force from the Spanish-American war is Theodore Roosevelt's famous "Rough Riders." Roosevelt had been the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but resigned in order to form a volunteer calvary regiment to fight in the Spanish-American war. With the help of Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt began publicizing the regiment and recruitment. Thanks to his notoriety and colorful nature, Roosevelt's new regiment had twenty three hundred men volunteer in the first twenty-four hours, but only a fraction of them could be accepted.
Due to his lack of combat experience, Roosevelt initially positioned himself as Lieutenant-Colonel of the new regiment, relegating command duties to Colonel Leonard Wood. The regiment was made up of men from all over the country, with all different backgrounds ranging from Ivy-league educated to ranch-hands. The common thread that landed all these men in the Rough Riders was their ability to ride horses and shoot, as well as their physical fitness. The regiment was organized in San Antonio, TX and set sail for Cuba on June 14th, 1898. Unfortunately, due to poor organization and logistics, the Rough Riders arrived in Cuba on June 22nd without any of their horses.
Only two days after arriving in Cuba, the Rough Riders saw action in the field, during the Battle of Las Guasimas. Shortly thereafter, Colonel Leonard Wood was promoted to Brigadier General and Roosevelt was made Colonel of the Rough Riders. The Rough Riders would become famous through Roosevelt's writings of the war afterwards, and the amazing bravery and tenacity of the Rough Riders, particularly in the famous battles of "Kettle" and "San Juan Hill," positioned just outside the city of Santiago. Led by Colonel Roosevelt, the Rough Riders took Kettle Hill, and continued on to San Juan Heights. Along with help from the Ninth and Tenth Regiments, the "Buffalo Soldiers," and other regiments of the U.S. Army, the Rough Riders took the city of Santiago. It was a major achievement in the war, and directly contributed to the surrender of the Spanish.
The Rough Riders were quickly sent back to the United States in order to escape the tropical diseases beginning to take hold of the troops. They were shipped back to Montauk, Long Island, where they received a hero's welcome. By this time, the Rough Riders had been highly publicized in the United States and were already becoming legends in their own right. Roosevelt was nominated for a medal of honor (although he did not receive it at the time, he was awarded it in 2001, posthumously) and was elected Governor of New York later that year. He would serve as Vice President to William McKinley and eventually became the President of the United States when McKinley was assassinated in 1901.
Theodore Roosevelt Association
Library of Congress
Spanish American War Centennial