A letter from Roosevelt

Reprinted from: Bully! Colonel Theodore Roosevelt

The Rough Riders & Camp Wikoff Montuak, N.Y. (1898)

Edited by Jeff Heatley

Army Will Die Like Sheep...

Thursday, August 4
(New York Evening Journal)

(Roosevelt’s letter accompanied the "Petition to Gen. Shafter" which became known as the "Round Robin.")

Major-General Shafter:

Sir – In a meeting of the general and medical officers called by you at the palace this morning, we were all, as you know, unanimous in view of what should be done with the army. To keep us here, in the opinion of every officer commanding a division or a brigade, will simply involve the destruction of thousands. There is no possible reason for not shipping practically the entire command North at once.

Yellow fever cases are very few in the cavalry division, where I command one of the two brigades, and not one true case of yellow fever has occurred in this division, except among the men sent to the hospital at Siboney, where they have, I believe, contracted it.

But in this division there have been 1,500 cases of malarial fever. Not a man has died from it, but the whole command is so weakened and shattered as to be ripe for dying like rotten sheep when a real yellow fever epidemic, instead of a fake epidemic like the present, strikes us, as it is bound to if we stay here at the height of the sickness season, August and the beginning of September. Quarantining against malarial fever is much like quarantining against the toothache.

All of us are certain, as soon as the authorities at Washington fully appreciate the conditions of the army, to be sent home. If we are kept here, it will in all human possibility mean an appalling disaster, for the surgeons estimate that over half the army, if kept here during the sickly season, will die. This is not only terrible from the standpoint of the individual lives lost, but it means ruin from the standpoint of the military efficiency of the flower of the American army, for the great bulk of the regulars are here with you.

The sick list, large as it is, exceeding 4,000, affords but a faint index of the debilitation of the army. Not 10 percent are fit for active work. Six weeks on the north Maine coast, for instance, or elsewhere where the yellow fever germ cannot possibly propagate, would make us all as fit as fighting cocks, able as we are and eager to take a leading part in the great campaign against Havana in the Fall, even if we are not allowed to try Porto Rico.

We will be moved North, if moved at once, with absolute safety to the country, although, of course, it would not have been infinitely better if we had been moved North or to Porto Rico, two weeks ago. If there were any object in keeping us here, we would face yellow fever with as much indifference as we face bullets. But there is no object in it. The four immune regiments ordered here are sufficient to garrison the city and surrounding towns, and there is absolutely nothing for us to do here, and there has not been since the city surrendered.

It is impossible to move into the interior. Every shifting of camp doubles the sick rate in our present weakened condition, and, anyhow, the interior is rather worse than the coast, as I have found by actual reconnaissance. Our present camps are as healthy as any camps at this end of the island can be.

I write only because I cannot see our men, who have fought so bravely, and who have endured extreme hardship and danger so uncomplainingly, go to destruction without striving, so far as lies in me, to avert a doom as fearful as it is unnecessary and undeserved.

Yours respectfully,
Theodore Roosevelt
Colonel Commanding
Second Cavalry Brigade

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