Colonel Roosevelt Testifies



It has been a splendid little war, begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that Fortune that loves the brave. It is now to be concluded, I hope, with that fine good nature, which is, after all, the distinguishing trait of the American character.

John Hay, US Ambassador to Great Britain, letter to Theodore Roosevelt, July 1898


In many ways, Theodore Roosevelt’s  future Secretary of State was correct.  The War was short and victorious for the US, with the divisions of the Civil War largely forgotten by white Americans, North and South,  unified in the fight against Spain.  This was symbolized by the rapturous reception the 6th Massachusetts received from the citizens of Baltimore as it passed through on its way to ship out, box lunches were given to the men in a huge celebration, a stark departure from the bloody greeting received by the regiment from the citizens of Baltimore on its way to Washington in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War.

However, in the aftermath of the War journalists and returning veterans told tales of rampant mismanagement, of appalling rations, inadequate uniforms and chaotic transport.  A political storm arose and President McKinley appointed a commission to investigate the conduct of the War.  Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, who had been unsparing in his private comments about the mismanagement of the Cuban campaign, appeared before the Committee on November 22, 1898, a few weeks after his election as Governor of New York.  Go here to read his testimony.  Roosevelt was restrained in his testimony, noting that the rapid expansion of the Army was bound to encounter problems, and that these problems could be partially alleviated by large scale maneuvers in peace time.   (more…)

Published in: on August 16, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Colonel Roosevelt Testifies  
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Hero of the Maine

Monsignor Chidwick

The Maine

Night, February 15, 1898, the American battleship USS Maine lay at anchor in the harbor of Havana.  Although tensions were running high between the US government and Spain, the colonial power occupying Cuba, the night was calm.  Suddenly, at 9:40 PM,  a huge explosion devastated the forward section of the Maine, an external explosion setting off the powder in the magazines of the Maine.  Into this vision of hell on Earth strode the Catholic Chaplain of the Maine, John P. Chidwick.

Born in New York City on October 23, 1863,  John Chidwick graduated from Manhattan College with a BA (1883) and an MA (1885).  Ordained at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York in 1887,  he spent several years serving as a parish priest before being commissioned in 1895 as the third Catholic Chaplain in the history of the United States Navy.  He was eventually assigned to the Maine.  He rapidly became popular with the members of the crew, no matter their religion.  Friendly and outgoing, he did whatever he could to help the crew and was always available to listen to their problems.

When he arrived on deck on the night of the destruction of the Maine, Father Chidwick instantly gave a mass absolution.  He then sprang into action, rescuing wounded, giving first aid, and giving the last rites.  He seemed to be everywhere that grim night.  W. T. Culverius, who was serving on the Maine as a naval cadet and who later rose to the rank of Rear Admiral had this to say about Chaplain Chidwick :  On that dread night in 1898 when the MAINE was destroyed, Chaplain Chidwick was everywhere present.  He had a word of cheer to the injured which soothed their pain.  Without thought of himself he helped the helpless and he ministered to the dying who will welcome him now in that Great Ship’s Company above, where shipmates never part.”   It should be remembered that Chaplain Chidwick and the other men engaged in the rescue of their stricken crewmates had no way of knowing that at any moment further blasts might send them all to eternity.  Father Chidwick was one of the last men to leave the Maine that night. 266 sailors died in the sinking of the Maine and 89 survived.

The funeral of the dead of the Maine was held in Havana on February 17, 1898 in the Christobal Colon cemetery in ground donated by the Spanish government.  Father Chidwick conducted the burial service.



Published in: on October 26, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hero of the Maine  
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War Comes to the Silver Screen With Theodore Roosevelt as the Leading Man

An interesting video on war films made during the Spanish-American War.  We sometimes forget just how rapid technological change was in the 19th century.  A young man who fought in the Mexican War, one of the first wars with widespread use of photography, could have still been alive as an old man watching the war films of the Spanish-American War.

One of the major beneficiaries of the cutting edge technology of motion pictures was Theodore Roosevelt. He had received massive newspaper publicity when he formed the Rough Riders and movie goers were hungry to see his exploits.  Here is a Thomas Edison film showing the Rough Riders in action at the battle of  El Caney, or so the movie goers thought.  The movie was actually filmed in New Jersey by the Wizard of Melo Park’s film company!


Published in: on February 19, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on War Comes to the Silver Screen With Theodore Roosevelt as the Leading Man  
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There’ll Be A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

Something for the weekend.  Hands down the favorite song of the troops during the Spanish-American War was the ragtime hit There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Time Tonight.  This presented something of a generational music gap as most of the older officers were used to the more sedate melodies of the earlier Nineteenth Century, but most of the men in the ranks and the younger officers were more attuned to ragtime and its syncopated style.  (more…)

Published in: on September 24, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on There’ll Be A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight  
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Debating Empire: 1898

There is little new under the sun.  In the aftermath of the Spanish-American war debates raged about what to do about the Philippines, mirroring current debates about American involvement in foreign lands.  America ultimately fought a savage war to suppress the Filipino Insurrection.  A few years afterwards an elected Philippine legislature was created.  In 1935 the Philippines were granted Commonwealth Status, with a promise of independence in 1946.  In World War II Americans and Filipinos fought and died together against the Japanese invader, with the Filipinos never surrendering and conducting the most successful guerilla struggle of the War against the forces of Japan until liberation by  MacArthur in 1944-1945. (more…)

Published in: on September 15, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Debating Empire: 1898  
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Theodore Roosevelt: They Don’t Come Any Tougher

A recording of a speech by that force of nature otherwise known as Theodore, he hated being called Teddy, Roosevelt during his “Bull Moose” campaign for president in 1912.  Note the clear delivery and diction.  Note also his references to French history:   politicians did not assume that they had to talk down to the average voter in those days.  By splitting the Republican vote, Roosevelt getting the larger share, Roosevelt’s third party campaign ensured the election of Woodrow Wilson.  Although he failed to win, during the campaign Roosevelt established beyond doubt that he was one of the toughest men ever to be president. (more…)

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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The Spanish-American War and National Unity

As the scene from the movie the Rough Riders indicates above, troops on their way to fight in the Spanish-American War received an outpouring of love and patriotism from Southerners.  The War was popular in the South, as it was in the other sections of the nation, and animosities decades old from the Civil War were set aside in a wave of national unity.  This was perhaps typified when the 6th Massachusetts passed through Baltimore.  In 1861 it had fought its way through a horde of pro-Confederate rioters and blood was spilled.  The regimental history tells how different the reception was in 98:

After a night and part of the next day on the train the Regiment arrived at Baltimore, Maryland, the city in which a mob had greeted the 6th Mass. Regiment in the Civil War, in 1861, and where the first men to lose their lives in that War had been killed. The citizens of Baltimore had sent an invitation to the Regiment to parade through the City, which invitation was accepted. Arriving at that city about 4:30 P.M. on May 21, the Regiment detrained, and marched about four miles through streets lined six or eight deep with cheering citizens. The Mayor welcomed the soldiers in the name of the city, officers and men were given box lunches, bands of music were provided, and in every way the city did its best to wipe out the remembrance of 1861.

The regiment received a huge bouquet of flowers which read:  Bullets in ’61, Bouquets in ’98. 


Published in: on March 3, 2010 at 6:40 am  Comments (3)  
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