Classic History Books


The Path of Empire. A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power
by Carl Russell Fish

retiring at sixty-four. The unwonted strain of active service naturally proved too great. At the most
critical moment of the campaign in Cuba, the commanding general, William R. Shafter, had eaten

nothing for four days, and his plucky second in command, the wiry Georgian cavalry leader of 1864 and

1865, General "Joe" Wheeler, was not physically fit to succeed him. There is not the least doubt that the

fighting spirit of the men was strong and did not fail, but the defect in those branches of knowledge

which are required to keep an army fit to fight is equally certain. The primary cause for the melting of the

American army by disease must be acknowledged to be the insufficient training of the officers.

This hit or miss method, however, had its compensations, for it brought about some appointments of
unusual merit. Conspicuous were those of Colonel Leonard Wood and Lieutenant Colonel Theodore

Roosevelt. The latter had resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a position in which he had

contributed a great deal to the efficiency of that Department, in order to take a more tangible part in the

war. After raising among his friends and the cowboys of the West a regiment of "Rough Riders," he

declined its command on plea of military inexperience. Roosevelt made one of those happy choices

which are a mark of his administrative ability in selecting as colonel Leonard Wood, an army surgeon

whose quality he knew through common experiences in the West.

To send into a midsummer tropical jungle an American army, untrained to take care of its health, for the
most part clothed in the regulation army woolens, and tumbled together in two months, was an

undertaking which-could be justified only on the ground that the national safety demanded immediate

action. In 1898, however, it seemed to be universally taken for granted by people and administration, by

professional soldier as well as by public sentiment, that the army must invade Cuba without regard to its

fitness for such active service. The responsibility for this decision must rest upon the nation. The

experience of centuries had proved conspicuously that climate was the strongest defense of the Caribbean

islands against invasion, and it was in large measure the very sacrifice of so many American soldiers that

induced the study of tropical diseases. In 1898 it could hardly be expected that the American command,

inexperienced and eager for action, should have recognized the mosquito as the carrier of yellow fever

and the real enemy, or should have realized the necessity of protecting the soldiers by inoculation against

typhoid fever.

Fixed as was the determination to send an army into Cuba at the earliest possible moment, there had been
a wide diversity of opinion as to what should be the particular objective. General Miles wavered between

the choice of the island of Porto Rico and Puerto Principe, a city in the interior and somewhat east of the

middle of Cuba; the Department hesitated between Tunas on the south coast of Cuba, within touch of the

insurgents, and Mariel on the north, the seizure of which would be the first step in a siege of Havana. The

situation at Santiago, however, made that city the logical objective of the troops, and on the 31st of May,

General Shafter was ordered to be prepared to move. On the 7th of June he was ordered to sail with "not

less than 10,000 men," but an alarming, though unfounded, rumor of a Spanish squadron off the north

coast of Cuba delayed the expedition until the 14th. With an army of seventeen thousand on thirty-two

transports, and accompanied by eighty-nine newspaper correspondents, Shafter arrived on the 20th of

June off Santiago.

The Spanish troops in Cuba - the American control of the sea made it unnecessary to consider those
available in Spain - amounted, according to returns in April, 1898, to 196,820. This formidable number,

however, was not available at any one strategic spot owing to the difficulty of transporting either troops

or supplies, particularly at the eastern end of the island, in the neighborhood of Santiago. It was estimated

that the number of men of use about Santiago was about 12,000, with 5000 approaching to assist.

 

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