The very day he is named to command the Rough Riders.
In April of 1897 Roosevelt was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy as a reward for his tireless campaigning for the newly elected President, William McKinley. He foresaw that war could develop with Spain, as Spain’s holdings in the Caribbean and its simmering war with Cuban nationalists just 90 miles off U.S....
In April of 1897 Roosevelt was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy as a reward for his tireless campaigning for the newly elected President, William McKinley. He foresaw that war could develop with Spain, as Spain’s holdings in the Caribbean and its simmering war with Cuban nationalists just 90 miles off U.S. shores became ever more thorns in the side of American goals for the hemisphere. Then the U.S.S. Maine blew up in Havana harbor, the Spanish were blamed and an outcry for war arose. From that moment, Roosevelt believed that trying to prevent the war would be impossible. He sprang into action, moving ammunition, readying ships for action, and moving to have Congress allow for enlisting unlimited sailors. He even cabled Admiral Dewey to be ready if war were to break out and gave him his objectives. TR also made it known to the President and others that if war came, he wanted to leave his post behind a desk in Washington and head for the front.
On April 20, 1898, the President opted for conflict and gave an ultimatum requiring that the Spanish Government free Cuba in three days. On April 23, that ultimatum expired and the machinery was set in motion for an official declaration of war two days later. Also on the 23rd, Secretary of War Russell Alger offered Roosevelt command of a special regiment to be known as the Rough Riders. TR accepted immediately and set about preparing to assemble, train and lead the regiment, which was made up of an odd but effective assemblage of Western cowboys and frontiersmen, and Eastern athletes and sons of prominent citizens. Having a keen sense of history, TR knew that if the war did not end before he saw active service, his career and future would depend on his performance and how it was perceived. Then his friend, Caspar Whitney, asked him to assist in securing a prime reporting slot with the troops going to the theater of war, and Roosevelt was pleased to try and arrange it. Whitney was on the staff of Harper’s Weekly where he had the sports beat and had invented for football the concept of the “All-America Team,” so his request for a combat posting was a bit unusual. Still, reporters shape the perceptions of their readers, so having a friend covering the war could only be helpful to the new Rough Riders chief.
Typed Letter Signed on his Navy Department letterhead, Washington, April 23, 1898 (the very day he accepted leadership of the Rough Riders), to General Nelson Miles, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army. “Permit me to introduce Mr. Caspar Whitney of New York. Mr. Whitney is an old personal friend of mine, and the leading authority on amateur sport in this country. He is a great hunter and explorer, having gone about everywhere from the Arctic Zone to Burmah. Harper’s Weekly is now anxious to have him represent them with the Army if it goes to Cuba. No better man could be sent.”
Whitney became one of the foremost reporters of the conflict. He and his colleagues (like Stephen Crane, John Fox and Richard Harding Davis) proved interested in what was most dramatic and picturesque about the brief war. The fact that the Rough Riders sang "Fair Harvard" in the rifle-pits, within easy ear-shot of the enemy, was of as much value to them as the movements of an infantry regiment or the terms of the surrender. The Rough Riders and their carismatic leader provided the drama and in turn received heavy, favorable coverage. Roosevelt became a celebrity; in less than three years he would be President.
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