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San Juan Hill

During the Spanish-American War, the first battle involving Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders took place on June 24, 1898. Author Stephen Crane said “Teddy’s Terrors” were full of adventure as they set out that morning. “Babbling joyously, arguing, recanting, and laughing.” However, the laughter ended near Las Guasimas, where Spanish gunfire led to a fierce engagement that lasted more than two hours. It was the first land battle of the war.


One week later, on this date, the Rough Riders participated in a full-scale attack on the town of Santiago de Cuba, advancing through a well-fortified area consisting of Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill.


Two divisions of 8,000 men, led by the Rough Riders, advanced on Kettle Hill. During the opening hours, Teddy’s men became sitting ducks for the Spanish sharpshooters above. With 100-degree heat and mounting casualties, the men were pinned down until noon, when the order to advance finally came. Waving his hat from atop his horse, Roosevelt led the advance to the base of the hill. When no further orders came, he took the bull by the horns and charged.


Jessie Langdon, 17-year-old Rough Rider from North Dakota said it was “… open grass all the way … We’d run a ways and then stop… One part of the line would be lying down, and another part would be going up. … Roosevelt went on and overran the trenches, and he was maybe 75 yards ahead of us – he was always ahead of us.”


With the Spanish now on the run, Roosevelt had what he called a “splendid view” of the assault on San Juan Hill to the south. T.R. dismounted and, on foot, led his troops through the valley to join the fight. By 2:30 that afternoon, the Americans controlled the San Juan Heights. Two days later, the American Navy destroyed the Spanish fleet and the war was over. Roosevelt later said, “I’ve had a bully time and bully fight. I feel as big and strong as a bull moose.”


But the dying wasn’t over. The toll from disease during the following month rose at an alarming rate and, horrified, Roosevelt led a campaign for their earliest possible return to the U.S. And on August 7, merchant steamers finally began to carry the Rough Riders home.


Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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