There are many things that I fervently admire about our 26th president of the United States. Topping that list, he was awarded the congressionally mandated Medal of Honor, frequently termed “the Medal of Honor (MOH),” and the highest award in the U.S. military for selfless bravery.
As with many soldiers, the award is often awarded posthumously (after deceased) because the effort of bravery required to achieve such an accolade often costs the recipient their life. A posthumous award is no less an award, one that no other American president was awarded before or ever since Roosevelt, who received his medal as recently as 2001.
“Facing the enemy’s heavy fire, he displayed extraordinary bravery throughout the charge, and was the first to reach the enemy trenches, where he quickly killed one of the enemy with his pistol, allowing his men to continue the assault. His leadership and valor turned the tide in the battle for San Juan Hill.”Presiden Theodore Roosevelt’s Medal of Honor citation
Roosevelt’s Medal of Honor
The then-Colonel Theodor Roosevelt was placed in command of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, a hodgepodge of the most eclectic and diverse personalities imaginable — all formidable with rifle and horse — named the Rough Riders. Roosevelt and his Rough Riders played an absolutely key role, along with a battery of Gatling guns commanded by Lt. John Henry “Gatling gun” Parker, in the victory of the Spanish-American War.
Roosevelt’s Rough Riders took part in the famous Battle of San Juan Heights, initially in support of the 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers), up what the Americans called Kettle Hill, just to the south of the San Juan Heights. The Heights consisted of two hills, the largest of which carried their namesake. In support of the Buffalo soldiers and Roosevelt’s assault on Kettle Hill was Gatling gun Parker’s battery, affecting deadly fire onto the Spanish defenders of the hill. As some of the Rough Riders put it:
“We were exposed to the Spanish fire, but there was very little because just before we started, why, the Gatling guns opened up at the bottom of the hill, and everybody yelled, ‘The Gatlings! The Gatlings!’ and away we went. The Gatlings just enfiladed the top of those trenches. We’d never have been able to take Kettle Hill if it hadn’t been for Parker’s Gatling guns.”Lt. John H. Parker and trooper Jesse D. Langdon of the 1st Volunteer Infantry
Gatling Guns Save the Day
This was the first use of the Gatling gun in combat with the U.S. Army. Many senior officers had zero expectations of positive results from the new weapon. John Henry Parker was granted a role in the war by higher command by sheer virtue of his motivation and amazing attention to detail with regard to tactical plans when it came to deploying his weapons.
In summary, we can see that by the time Ted Roosevelt “charged” up San Juan Hill, the fighting was over and the San Juan Heights were all but secure. Upon Roosevelt’s arrival to the San Juan crest, an agitated General Summer immediately ordered him and his Rough Riders back to Kettle Hill for an inevitable counterattack from the Spanish.
Parker’s Gatling Battery saved the day both at the Heights and Kettle Hill, with his keen eye for tactically working a parcel of ground, seeing and taking the initiative before the Spanish could act, and skillfully employing his guns in an uncanny maneuver of mobility. When Roosevelt did make it back to Kettle Hill where a Spanish counterattack did indeed take place, Parker’s Gatlings eliminated all but 40 of a 600-man attack.
Roosevelt’s intense charge up Kettle Hill was in support of the primary attacking force, the all-black 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers.
“The entire command moved forward as coolly as though the buzzing of bullets was the humming of bees. White regiments, black regiments, regulars and Rough Riders [i.e. volunteers], representing the young manhood of the North and the South, fought shoulder to shoulder, unmindful of race or color, unmindful of whether commanded by ex-Confederate or not, and mindful of only their common duty as Americans.”1st Lieutenant John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, on the charge of San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American war in Cuba.
By Almighty God and with honor,