Historian Elting E. Morrison wrote that Theodore
Roosevelt "is certainly the only president who read 'Anna Karenina' while on a
three-day search for cattle thieves." The road to the wonders of Russian literature
and the Badlands of the American West was as arduous as it was winding.
As a child, Roosevelt was a frail, asthmatic child
with poor eyesight who pledged to his father he would become strong - and through
extraordinary will power and effort, Teddy achieved his goal, in mind and spirit as well
as in body. Roosevelt had a probing intellect, and while in his 20s began to write
history, one of many subjects in which he was to immerse himself. He was to author more
than two dozen books, many of them dealing with his life as a soldier and explorer, and
many dealing with lives he would have liked to live. With the possible exception of Thomas
Jefferson, no other president was to read as much as Roosevelt, who enjoyed surrounding
himself with writers, intellectuals and experts in many fields.
New York publisher George Haven Putnam, in a 1919
memorial address delivered shortly after TR died, said his dear friend "was an
explorer by nature, and his explorations were, as we all realize, not restricted to things
geographical." Putnam pointed out that TR - in continual quest of the new and the
unknown, even as a child - had his first book published while in his early 20s, "The
Naval War of 1812." Written as "the result of most careful research," the
history "was accepted at once as authoritative" and "had none of the
characteristics of a first book." Today, though more than a century has passed, the
book is still considered a classic in its field. Years later, Roosevelt wrote another
historical classic, full of insight and compelling narration, the four-volume,
"Winning of the West."
Roosevelt the soldier loved the sea and the American
Navy. Before he resigned as assistant secretary of the Navy to organize a cavalry regiment
for the Spanish-American War, he had already begun to take steps to modernize the Navy and
transform it into a potent international force. Although he held his Navy post for only
one tumultuous year, what he had started he would continue as president three years later.
Historian William R. Braisted wrote that Roosevelt "was perhaps more responsible than
any other individual . . . for the shaping of the Navy into an effective instrument of war
and diplomacy" between the years of 1897 and 1909.
When the nation learned that Roosevelt was
organizing the First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, 23,000 applications flooded in from all
parts of the country. Those chosen included hundreds of cowboys, Native Americans,
ranchers, farmers and Ivy League athletes. The New York contingent was among the largest
represented in the regiment, nicknamed the "Rough Riders" by the press.
Roosevelt's troops trained for war in Texas.
Historian William Henry Harbaugh notes that when TR "detrained in San Antonio late in
April , he responded warmly to the uproarious cheers of troops who should have
received him in a formal ceremony. A few weeks later, [Col. Leonard Wood, TR's superior]
was forced to rebuke him for buying his men all the beer they could drink after a hot
march in the saddle."
But how they could fight! Roosevelt and his
volunteers displayed extraordinary courage in their successful charge up Kettle Hill, part
of the larger battle of San Juan Hill. TR saw his regiment for the last time weeks after
they had disembarked at Montauk Point, Long Island. He was called from his tent, and his
enlisted men gave him a reproduction of Frederick Remington's sculpture, "The
Bronco-Buster." A surprised and emotional Roosevelt declared, "I am proud of
this regiment beyond measure. It is primarily an American regiment, and it is American
because it is composed of all the races which have made America their country by adoption
and those who have claimed it as their country by inheritance."
Some historians believe Roosevelt should have
received the Medal of Honor for his valor in Cuba. Almost one-half century later, however,
Teddy Roosevelt's oldest son - Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was posthumously
awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry on a Normandy beachhead where he was killed