The Rough Riders are a rare example of a unit that was famous even before it had actually been formed. Theodore Roosevelt was already a national figure, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and a vocal supporter of American intervention in Cuba, when the Spanish-American War of 1898 broke out. He resigned from the government and volunteered, becoming a lieutenant colonel in the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment on 6 May 1898. Even though he wasn't the unit's commander it soon gained the nickname 'Roosevelt's Rough Riders'.
Roosevelt's fame attracted a vast number of volunteers to the unit. Although it was officially being raised in the south-west it eventually contained men from all 45 US states of 1898, the four territories and sixteen other countries. It also contained sixty Native Americans, with Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws and Creeks mentioned by Roosevelt.
The Rough Riders had a short but successful military career, the core of which lasted from the battle of Las Guásimas on 24 June to the battle of San Juan Heights on 1 July, where the unit ensured its fame with a desperate attack up the hill towards Spanish trenches. Less intense fighting continued until peace was agreed on 17 July.
Although de Quesada does include sections on the background to the war and the Rough Rider's brief combat career this book focuses on the unit's recruitment, training, equipment and motivation. There is also a useful section on collecting Rough Rider memorabilia, with some useful words of warning for the collector.
The text is supported by a good selection of photographs of the Rough Riders and Teddy Roosevelt (including one in which the resemblance to Robin Williams is uncanny (p.26) and probably helps explain his recent casting in that role). The impact of the unit in popular memory is well illustrated by the range of photographs from later films and re-enactments
De Quesada is fortunate that so many of the Rough Riders wrote memoirs (starting with Roosevelt himself), and he has avoided the danger of including too many direct quotes in his text, striking a good balance between his own text and the quotes.
Recruitment and Enlistment
Weapons and Equipment
Conditions of Service
Belief and Belonging
Life on Campaign
Experience of Battle
Collections, Museums and Living History
Author: Alexandro de Quesada