Francis McArty Talks of The Rough Riders in Cuba

Contributed by Judy Brown (Granddaughter of Francis McArty)
Click here to read the biography of Frank McArty


The following newspaper article was written by Francis McArty (listed in rosters as Frank McCarty or McCarthy) of Troop A of the Rough Riders. The article is dated the day following the mustering out of the Rough Riders. It was apparently written while McArty was on leave and present for a visit while the unit awaited muster out at Camp Wikoff, Montauk Point, New York.

The article in interesting in many ways. It gives a wonderful, unadorned view of the war, Roosevelt and conditions from inside the unit. It also shows some of the misconceptions that army had. For instance, that they had to wait in Cuba to disembark because the navy had not made preparations. In fact, the army leadership had failed to plan adequately for disembarkation plans, and the navy had to come to the rescue.

The Report:

Friday, September 16, 1898

THE STORY OF SAN JUAN (By One of the Rough Riders)

F.M. McArty of Troop A, Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, Says That He Would Not Fight For The Cubans A Second Time But Would Prefer To Fight Against Them—Tells Of The Fight In Front Of Santiago Before That City Was Taken—The Use of the Machete.

“Would I enlist again in case of further trouble in Cuba?” echoed F. M. McArty, member of Troop A, Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.  “No, I don’t think I would to fight the Spanish, but if I got a chance to go back to whip those dirty, thieving Cubans, who will neither fight nor work, I think that I would embrace the opportunity.  That is the way I feel about the Cubans.  We have no use for them” McArty is here on a visit to friends for a few days.  He is quite well known in the city, having been a frequent visitor here while formerly employed as school teacher at Cisco, in Piatt county.  He is a man of intelligence and the opinion that he expressed of the Cubans is generally shared by the men who bore the brunt of the late war.  At the time of his enlistment McArty was living in Arizona.  He is a muscular looking fellow, despite the sickness he has undergone but from which he is now recovering.  In detailing the Rough riders’ experience in the war he said:  “Two companies of Rough Riders were organized in Arizona, and I enlisted at Fort Ripple* and from there went to the rendezvous at San Antonio.  We camped there till May 20, and then went to Tampa, Fla., remaining until June 8, when we embarked on the Yucatan on June 14 and with other transports carrying the army of invasion reached Santiago on the 20th, but did not land because the navy had not made preparations for us.  We pulled out to sea and remained until the 22nd and on the afternoon of that day again pulled into the harbor and made our landing.  That night we slept on our arms, and on the following afternoon began a march to the interior.


“We marched twelve miles to Siboney and remained that night, resuming our march at daylight on the next day.  It was on the 24th day of June that we ran across the first Spaniard and received our baptism of fire.  They had about 4,000 men and they claimed that we had with us 60,000 but in reality we had about 900.  General Wheeler was in command and the fight that followed was of the hide and seek order.  We could not see the Spanish and they could not see us.  We knew that they were located on the crest of a hill and had us between cross fire, but they generally overshot us.  It was a brisk engagement though and we had nine men killed and thirty-two wounded.   Among the killed were Captain Capron, the gallant captain of Troop L.  He was as brave a man as ever fell in battle.  When he went down some of the boys stopped but he had breath enough left to tell them that he was done for and to go on with their fighting and pay not attention to him.  It was here that Hamilton Fish fell.  He was the first man killed, falling at the very first volley.  When the engagement opened we were about 200 yards apart, but we kept up a steady advance and finally were within one hundred yards of the enemy.  They began to retreat while we kept pressing forward.  After this skirmish we were sent out on the line to do picket duty until the middle of the afternoon.  At night we went back and camped on the battlefield, sending out detachments to look after the wounded and gather up the dead.  The killed were buried on the following morning.  We buried 104 Spaniards, although their loss in killed is said to have been 180.  That night, on June 25th, we moved three miles to the front expecting to go into camp for a month, but on June 30th we got orders to push on and went three miles further toward Santiago, camping at an old cathedral about two miles from the Spanish lines.


“On the following morning our troop, A was sent out scouting but were shortly called back, it having been determined to storm San Juan hill.  The fight began about 9 o’clock.  Near the cathedral we had a battery plated and it drew the fire from the Spanish battery.  One of their shells exploded amidst our men, killing some of our men, including one of my own company.  We advanced on the enemy’s line and at the foot of the hill crossed the river and then deployed as skirmishers, going to the right of what is known as the King’s road.  While in line waiting for the order to charge Captain O’Neill of our company was hit by a Spanish bullet and instantly killed, and this disconcerted us for a time, but we finally began a general charge, catching up with the 9th and 10th cavalry, and connecting ourselves with the line.  Presently Roosevelt came up and ordered a general charge and we rushed up the hill.  There was no company formation.  The officers were on foot and mingled with the men.  We would make a rush of twenty or thirty yards at a time, and in this way took San Juan and other hills.  The enemy began to retreat and after we once got them started they were not allowed to stop.  We beat them back into the city but in doing this we lost seventeen killed and sixty-one wounded.


“Then we advanced to the hills back of San Juan and dug our entrenchments all that night, except when we were fighting which was kept up intermittently during the night.  On the morning of July 2 we resumed the fighting and kept it up all day.  Occasionally we got a shell from Cervera’s fleet but we got under shelter and held our ground.  The gunners on these ships were more accurate than those manning the batteries in front of us.  We ceased firing at dark, but at about 10 o’clock the Spanish attempted a general charge and for two hours the fighting was very severe, and we had five men wounded.  Eight hundred Spanish prisoners were taken, and the battle did not end until midnight when the enemy retreated to their trenches.  On the following day, Sunday, the Spanish resumed the battle from their trenches and the battle was kept up until 9 o’clock.  During this time we were under a heavy fire.  Then we heard a heavy cannonading as we thought in the bay but it was in reality out in the ocean and proved to be the famous naval battle which ended in the annihilation of Cervera’s fleet.


“We thought then that Sampson had entered the bay.  A flag of truce was raised at noon and the Spaniards came between the lines and secured their dead.  We lay in the trenches all day listening to that incessant thundering of the big guns on the war vessels twelve miles away.  At 3 o-clock we got word that Cervera had left the bay, that three of his ships had been destroyed and that our fleet was then after the last one, the Christobal Colon.  We were told that when she was captured rockets would be sent up.  Then there was anxious waiting for this signal, and when it came about 5 o’clock pandemonium broke lose.  Men danced and cheered, bands began to play and there was a wild demonstration all along the line.  From that time until the evening of the 9th we lay in our trenches but did not fighting.  Then the siege guns were turned loose and kept going for twenty-four hours.  After that the flag of truce went up and we did nothing more but stay in the trenches until the day of surrender.  After the surrender we moved back to the foot hills, five miles, and then came the sickness.  Every man in our regiment had malaria in a more or less degree.  It rained every day, the food was not the best and our protection against the weather was not good.  We sailed on the Miami on the 8th, reached Montauk Point on the 16th, were detained there for five days in the camp, and after a few days I got my furlough on account of sickness, and came home.  My furlough expires on the 26th.  I have been mustered out with the rest of my regiment and will get my papers at Fort Sharidan.”


“Our food supply,” said McArty, “while before Santiago, was not plentiful and it was not the best.  We got canned tomatoes, canned beans, bacon, canned corn, beef and coffee, which was brought to us by men with pack pules.  Some days there was not half rations but we had to put up with it.  I can hardly say how a man feels when in action or what he thinks about.  The fact is you don’t have time to think.  Your consuming ambition is to get at the enemy and you lose sight of everything else.  When a man fell we stopped to see if he was wounded or dead.  If wounded we did what we could to make him comfortable.  If dead we mentally said   ‘Another poor fellow gone, may be my turn next,’ and pushed on.  I escaped without a wound but had one close call before Santiago.  A bullet hit a tree and rebounding struck me between the shoulders as I was lying on the ground.  I felt like some one had thrown a base ball at me with all their strength.  I really thought that I had been shot thought, but a colored soldier next to me told me not to worry, that there was plenty of fight left in me.  For a week or more there was a black and blue spot on my back as big as a silver dollar.  On the 2nd of July a shell passed just over me.  There were three lines back of the trenches, the lines being about twenty paces apart.  The shell stuck the ground in front of the second line, bounded up and exploded over the third line, killing three men.  The shell came from the fleet in the bay, and the aim of the gunners was accurate.  The Spanish had a tremendous advantage over us in being able to see the smoke of our black powder, while their smokeless powder made it difficult for us to locate them.


“We saw the exchange of Hobson.  It took place about 400 yards from our line.  We could not recognize his features but knew what was being done and could recognize the uniforms.  A captain was traded for Hobson, and it was reported that this man, with seventy-five men, afterward surrendered to the American army.  How true this is I don’t know.


“Our news of the naval battle came to us from Siboney by telephone.  The signal corps had put up a line which connected our headquarters.  This work is done with great rapidity.  The men cut trees and make them in poles, and get the line in working order in an incredibly short space of time.


“We had one sight of Garcia.  He drove along the lines on the eight or ninth of July seated on a buckboard.  About the Cubans!  They are absolutely no good except to feed.  They are a full hand at that.  They would not fight and would not work.  At first we gave them full rations and when we learned what kind of cattle they were we quit.  Then they stole from us, taking anything we had, clothing, blankets, tents or anything that they could get their hands on.  They are absolutely worthless, and it is my firm belief that they will give this country trouble.  The Cubans are made up of whites, negroes and half-breeds and are more ignorant than the American negro.  Garcia’s army was composed of the rag-tag and bob-tail element.  Some of them looked like they were not more than 12 years old and others looked like they were 80.  Caste is very strictly observed on the island.  First the white Cuban is taken and after him the full-blooded negro.  The half-breeds are at the bottom of the scale.  The people there have but little use for the half-breed.


Roosevelt was adored by his men.  The stories of his gallant riding up and down the line are not so.  He had an old mule but at San Juan when we struck a barbed wire fence he dismounted and tied the beast and led us on foot.  About his personal bravery there is no question.  He was up in the front cheering us.  He is not foolhardy.  He calculates his chances and takes advantage of it.  If it remained with his regiment he would be the governor of New York and no questions asked.  With his men he was just familiar enough to show them that he appreciated their services.  He knew them personally and called them by name, but in a way that always left the opinion that a man could go so far with him, but no farther.  He roughed it with us and underwent the same hardships that we did.  General Joe Wheeler is another man whom we idolized.  He is a fighter.


“The New York dudes you heard about were not in that regiment in the way that many imagine.  There were a few of them, but the men generally called dudes, were sons of wealthy New Yorkers who had been west on their father’s ranches and knew the game of riding and shooting and fighting just as we did.  In our company we had a young man by the name of Guy Merchie, champion oarsman at Harvard, and Bob Wrenn, the champion tennis player and  number of that class.  They were all good soldiers and brave men.


“With the Spaniards we were favorably impressed.  After the fighting they were extremely courteous and when we went where they were it seemed like they were constantly exerting themselves to do something for us.  Santiago covers about the area that Decatur does but I judge that it has twice as many inhabitants.


“The Cubans depended largely on the machete, or ‘machet’ as they call it.  We had a Cuban colonel with Roosevelt who talked all the time about the necessity of our having this weapon.  When we got into an engagement he used his ‘machet’ to cut his way through the underbrush to the rear.  The Cubans never could have whipped the Spaniards.  They never did anything more than harrass small bodies of the troops.”

*Ripple was a misprint by the paper, I think it should have been Whipple.


Herald Dispatch, Decatur, Illinois, Friday, September 16, 1898.

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