- Historic Sites
Before The Colors Fade
Last of the Rough Riders
August 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 5
Then we started up over the canebrakes. Woodbury Kane was our captain, and he insisted on carrying a sabre with him. It got between his legs, and he had to carry it over his shoulder with a six-shooter in the other hand. He says, “Oh, Jesus, I’m scared.” He says, “But, by God, I’ll stay with it.” Imagine it! He was president of the American Tobacco Company at that time and a multimillionaire. But, boy, he meant it. He didn’t follow us. He was like Teddy. It was “Come on, boys” with him. He had what it takes.
We went up across the canebrakes. Our path led right into another loop of the river, so we were told to go straight ahead. When we got across, there was a kind of an open place, and a sharpshooter had our range, and it was pretty hot in there—he didn’t hit any of us, but bullets were coming all around us into the mud, so we had to go back to the canebrakes because there was no way to go ahead.
We went back across the river, and I stuck my gun into the clay embankment, and I climbed up on my gun and crawled out.
Well, I was laying there—I took the ramrod out of my gun, and I was taking the muck out of the barrel, and General Chaffee came along on a horse. I didn’t know who he was, but I found out afterward. He says, “What are you doing—hiding?”
I says, “No, goddamn you, I don’t have to hide from anybody.”
General Adna R. Chaffee commanded the brigade containing the corps with which the Rough Riders served.
After leaving General Chaffee, I went along and I could hear yelling up ahead of me, so I ran to beat the band. It was the members of the Ninth Regular Cavalry. I knew some of them were mixed up with it.
The 9th, a Negro regiment, was part of the ist Brigade. Along with the Rough Riders they had been waiting for orders at the foot of Kettle Hill. When Roosevelt, impatient with the delay, led his troops through the yth before making the charge, the officers of the 9th ordered their men to go up the hill in support of the Rough Riders, so that there has always been some question as to which regiment reached the top first.
I got up to the Ninth and I caught up with a bunch of white people, and we went up the hill. There was a pond at the bottom of the hill—sort of between San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill. The pond was about an acre or so, I guess, and we went up on the right-hand side of it because we were following Teddy.
Incidentally, we had been ordered to retreat before that, but it wasn’t authenticated. Teddy didn’t pay any attention to it anyhow. He went ahead, and we started to go up the hill. We got everybody together- cavalry and some infantry—I don’t know who they were. We were all mixed up there along the bottom.
We went up the hill, and we went up to the right—open grass all the way, it was wide open. We didn’t run all the way. We’d run a ways and then stop. You had to because you couldn’t run uphill forever. We didn’t run in a regular line. One part of the line would be lying down and another part would be going up. It was just like a mob going up there. Some men got over on the other side of the pond and they actually went up San Juan Hill, but we were on Kettle Hill.
In Langdon’s memory of the charge, one incident stands out that is not mentioned elsewhere: that Roosevelt’s glasses were shot off while he was riding his horse up the hill.
I can see him there yet, fumbling in his pocket for another pair. He found them and put them on and kept going. He was right there in the middle of it. He was fearless. If he had fear, nobody knew it.
Roosevelt makes no mention of the incident in any of his writings. Had the glasses been shot off he probably would have recorded it, as he did other brushes he had with enemy fire. Because of nearsightedness, he usually kept several pairs of glasses of the pince-nez type at hand, and in the excitement of battle he doubtless lost the pair he was wearing when he started the charge.
We were exposed to the Spanish fire, but there was very little because just before we started, why, the Catling guns opened up at the bottom of the hill, and everybody yelled, “The Catlings! The Catlings!” and away we went. The Catlings just enfiladed the top of those trenches. We’d never have been able to take Kettle Hill if it hadn’t been for Parker’s Catling guns.
I don’t know of one of the Rough Riders who was killed during the charge—by a Spanish bullet. If I may say so, they were all shot from behind. They were killed. That’s the truth. I got behind one of those huge sugar kettles on top the hill and found the gunfire was coming from behind.
Most of the Rough Riders were dressed in somewhat nondescript khakis instead of the blue uniform worn by other regiments. During the battle, some of the regulars apparently mistook Roosevelt’s men for the enemy. Uniforms are still a sore subject with Langdon.
We actually never had any uniforms—just these winter fatigue outfits. The only uniforms the Rough Riders got—except the officers—were issued them on Long Island after they got back. I went home in my old brown jeans, my old stinking brown jeans. They were like overalls, and the dye in them had a foul smell. They also gave us those damned blue woolen shirts. They almost killed us with heat. I took my shirt off and tied it around my neck and let it hang down my back.