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.

The Commission, commonly called the Dodge Commission after its Chairman General Grenville M. Dodge, would publish its report on February 9, 1899.  While exonerating the War Department it implied that Secretary of War Russell A. Alger, a Civil War combat soldier who rose from private to Colonel, had been incompetent.  Alger denied this, but resigned on July 19, 1899.

 

 

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May 10, 1917: Pershing Appointed to Lead the AEF

After the death of Frederick Funston on February 19, 1917, it was inevitable that the newly promoted Major General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing would command the American Expeditionary Force that would be sent to France.  It must have seemed somewhat dizzying to him.  Nineteen years before he had been an overage thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant who would be lucky to make Major before retirement.  In 1893 he obtained a law degree in case he decided to leave the Army, fed up by the slow promotions offered by the minuscule peace time Army.

The Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt made him.  At the battle of San Juan Hill he made a lifelong friend of Theodore Roosevelt.  Under fire he was as “cool as a bowl of cracked ice”, as one observer noted.  Rising to the temporary rank of Major of Volunteers he gained a reputation as a good combat officer in both Cuba and the Philippines and would serve as Adjutant General of the Philippines Department.

After the Spanish-American War he reverted to the regular army rank of Captain.  In 1905 Captain Pershing was promoted to Brigadier General Pershing by President Roosevelt over the heads of 835 officers more senior than him.  Surprisingly there was not much animosity over this, Pershing enjoying a reputation of extreme professional competence in the Army, a soldier’s soldier. Continue Reading

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Fearless Freddie Dies

Frederick_Funston_001

All but forgotten today, Major General Frederick Funston would almost certainly would have led the American Expeditionary Force in World War I if he had not died at age 51 of a heart attack on February 19, 1917.  Nicknamed “Fearless Freddie” he was perhaps the most famous American soldier between the Civil War and World War I.  He had a very unique career.  Always in ill health, he was a physically small man, 5 foot, 5 inches, and throughout his life never weighed more than 120 pounds.  After failing an admissions test to West Point in 1884 he pursued a career in botany.  Tiring of the quiet life he enlisted in the Cuban Revolutionary Army fighting against Spain.  Contracting malaria his weight fell to an alarming 95 pounds and he was granted medical leave in the United States.

After the declaration of war against Spain he was commissioned colonel of the 20th Kansas Infantry.  Fighting against the Filipino Insurrection, he became a national hero by capturing the Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo.  A separate action earned him a Medal of Honor.  Playing a leading role in putting down the Insurrection, Funston came under attack by critics for the severe measures he took.  The pen of Mark Twain was enlisted against him:

If this Funstonian boom continues, Funstonism will presently affect the army. In fact, this has already happened. There are weak-headed and weak-principled officers in all armies, and these

are always ready to imitate successful notoriety-breeding methods, let them be good or bad. The fact that Funston has achieved notoriety by paralyzing the universe with a fresh and hideous

idea, is sufficient for this kind—they will call that hand if they can, and go it one better when the chance offers. Funston’s example has bred many imitators, and many ghastly additions to

our history: the torturing of Filipinos by the awful “watercure,” for instance, to make them confess—^what? Truth? Or lies ? How can one know which it is they are telling ? For under

unendurable pain a man confesses anything that is required of him, true or false, and his evidence is worthless. Yet upon such evidence American officers have actually—but you know about

those atrocities which the War Office has been hiding a year or two; and about General Smith’s now world-celebrated order of massacre—thus summarized by the press from Major Waller’s

testimony:

“Kill and burn—this is no time to take prisoners—the more you kill and burn, the better—Kill all above the age of ten—make Samar a howling

wilderness!

Funston was completely unrepentant:

I personally strung up thirty-five Filipinos without trial, so what was all the fuss over Waller’s ‘dispatching’ a few ‘treacherous savages’? If there had been more Smiths and Wallers, the war would have been over long ago. Impromptu domestic hanging might also hasten the end of the war. For starters, all Americans who had recently petitioned Congress to sue for peace in the Philippines should be dragged out of their homes and lynched. Continue Reading

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There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town

Something for the weekend.  Hands down the favorite song of the troops during the Spanish-American War was the ragtime hit, written in 1896 by Theodore August Metz, 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.  Continue Reading

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Grover Cleveland and the Great Confederate Battle Flags Furor

During the Civil War, the flags carried by military units had intense emotional significance for the men who fought and died under them.  The flags not only symbolized the nation or state, but also stood for the units that carried them and the men who bled in their defense.  At the end of the War hundreds of captured Confederate battle flags were held by the Federal government and the victorious Union states.  Objects of pride for the men who had fought for the Union, their treatment as war trophies by the victorious North was a sore point in the vanquished South.

In 1887 Grover Cleveland was President.  The first Democrat elected to hold the office since the Civil War,  Cleveland was also the only non-Civil War veteran to hold the office since the end of the War.  During the War he had hired a substitute to fight in his stead, a perfectly legal, albeit unheroic, method of not having to fight one’s self in the conflict.

In 1887 the Secretary of War mentioned to Cleveland that the Adjutant General of the Army had suggested that the return of the battle flags to the Southern states would be a graceful gesture that would be appreciated in the South.  No doubt thinking that after more than two decades wartime passions had subsided, Cleveland ordered the return of the captured flags to the Southern governors.  This was a major blunder. Continue Reading

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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.

On October 14, 1912, Roosevelt was giving a speech in Milwaukee.  A deranged saloonkeeper, John Schrank, shot him in the chest.  Roosevelt refused to cancel a scheduled speech.  His opening is perhaps one of the most memorable for any speech:

Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet – there is where the bullet went through – and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best. Continue Reading

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The Fighting Chaplain

William Henry Ironsides Reaney was a cradle Catholic.  He was also cradle Navy, having been born to Commander Henry Aubrey Vailey Reaney and his wife Anne on July 21, 1863.  His middle name was Ironsides after the steamer his father was serving aboard.  Some accounts say that his birth came unexpectedly as his mother was visiting his father aboard ship.  The proud father then asked the crew what name they should call the baby boy and they shouted out, “Ironsides”!  Probably apocryphal, but it was a fitting beginning for the man if true.

After the Civil War, Henry Reaney stayed in the Navy, eventually reaching the rank of Captain, while he and his wife had six children in addition to their first born, William.  The family settled in Detroit, and William graduated from Detroit College.  Deciding on becoming a priest, William enrolled at the Saint Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.  He was ordained by Cardinal Gibbon at the Cathedral in Baltimore in 1888.  From 1889-1891 he was pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

The ancestral lure of the sea called to Father Reaney, and in 1892 he was appointed a chaplain in the Navy, the second Catholic chaplain in that branch of the service.  He served on many ships as a Navy Chaplain, perhaps the most notable being the Olympia, the flagship of Admiral Dewey during the Spanish-American war.

Continue Reading