[Illustration: Captain “Buckey” O’Neill.]
Some time after the return of the “Rough Riders” to the United States, Colonel Roosevelt told some interesting experiences:
“I recollect, as I was sitting, I gave a command to one of my orderlies, and he rose up and saluted and fell right forward across my knees dead. The man upon whom I had most to rely—I relied upon all of those gallant men, but the man upon whom I most relied, Buckey O’Neill—was standing up, walking up and down in front of his men, wanting to show them by his example that they must not get nervous, and to reassure them.
“Somebody said, ’Captain—Captain O’Neill! You will be struck by a bullet as sure as fate; lie down! lie down!’ and he laughed, and said, ‘Why, the Spanish bullet is not made that will kill me!’ And the next minute a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out the back of his head and he was killed right there.
“Captain Jenkins crept up beside one of his sharpshooters and said to him, ’I see a Spaniard over in that tree, give me your rifle for a moment.’ He fired two or three shots and then turned around and handed the rifle back to the man, and the man was dead—had been killed without making a sign or sound as he stood beside him.
“I was talking to a gallant young officer, asking him questions, and he was answering. I turned around and he had been shot through the stomach.”
But General Shafter, still at headquarters some miles away, did not know how the men felt, and thought they ought to retreat to some safer point, and wait for more troops from the United States. Early the next morning—Sunday, July 3d—General Shafter sent a telegram to the War Office at Washington, saying that he thought of withdrawing his forces from the neighborhood of Santiago. An answer was sent to him, asking him to try to hold his present place, and more troops started for Cuba.
Fortunately, there were brave commanders in the American army who did not think as General Shafter did.—They had been doing the fighting, while he hadn’t, and they had no idea of giving up an inch of the ground they had gained. One of the most prominent of them was General Joseph Wheeler. He had a splendid record in the Civil War, fighting on the side of the Confederacy. He was a bold and tireless fighter, and before he was thirty years old he was the commander of all the Confederate cavalry. His sabre had flashed in the thickest of many fights and he had led his splendid horsemen in many a furious charge.
When the war with Spain broke out, General Wheeler offered his services to the Government and was sent to Cuba, and when there began to be talk of retreat after those terrible days of fighting before Santiago, the splendid old Confederate counselled holding the army where it was, and fighting the Spaniards again, if necessary. He said, “American prestige would suffer irretrievably if we gave up an inch; we must stand firm!”