Mark Lee Gardner. Rough Riders. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, May 10th, 2016. 336 pp.
4 out of 5
This was quite a fun read. The author Mark Gardner gives us a fast paced account of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous Army volunteer unit nicknamed the Rough Riders that fought during the Spanish American War. The book was not just only about Teddy Roosevelt; it was also about the men who comprised the unit.
The author’s narrative of events left me glued. The book begins with the excitement of war that spread across America after the US Navy Ship USS Maine was blown up in Cuba. Thirst for revenge mobilized many men to join the Army in hopes of an adventure and the book covered different men who wanted to join the military to be a part of the upcoming war. I thought it was interesting how many of the men were afraid that they would miss an adventure of a lifetime, afraid that the war would past them by leaving them untried and untested. There’s quite a bit of machismo here and it wasn’t only among the enlisted men that eventually became the Rough Riders, it was also true of the officers of the unit. It was insightful seeing how Roosevelt was at this time the assistant secretary of the Navy and he dropped that office in order to seek more direct participation of the war effort. As the book reveals from Roosevelt’s writing, he was seeking glory of being a participant of the combat that is to come. It seems like then as well as now we see young men desiring to go to war. Meanwhile there are some who try to caution these men to reconsider. Roosevelt himself was told by friends and family to consider his station in life, his wife and his children. Yet Roosevelt was determined to go to war. Against all odds and competition between regular Army units and volunteer outfits Roosevelt had to pull on some strings using his political capital to be able to go to Cuba for the war.
One get the sense of the Swashbuckling attitude of the Rough Riders. The author also did a good job portraying the many colorful personalities in the unit. You have your cowboys. You have your Ivy League college boys. The unit even had a former law enforcement officer in the unit that was together with a fugitive which ironically the officer before the war was trying to apprehend. Then you got the interesting pets that the unit brought along with them.
The actual battle of San Juan Hill was shorter than I expected in the book. Much of the book covered the journey to the war. I suppose that was expected given the Spanish American War went relatively quick. There’s a sense of romanticism with the glory of war one that the characters involved would have enjoyed less if it was a more prolonged and total conflict like the World Wars that would follow a few decades afterwards. As I read the book I thought about the days in 2003 when I was a young Marine among other Marines, many of whom were heading off to war for the first time as well. While technology and means of transportation has changed, it seems the human condition and human nature stays much the same.
The book also had a neat epilogue in which the author discussed about the men after the war with their pride in accomplishment, their relations to Teddy and for some how they sought the President for favors or to get out of trouble. This was very interesting for me to read. I appreciated the bravery of Roosevelt and others in the book and reading of the camaraderie among the men of the unit.