Chapter seven african and european tour

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By Lawrence F. Abbot

WHEN Roosevelt made his plans in the autumn of 1908 and the early winter of 1909 to explore the African jungle as a hunter-naturalist, to use his own phrase, I arranged, with his approval, to accompany him as far as Mombasa, on the western shore of the Red Sea, whence he was to enter the wilderness. He was to sail on Tuesday, March 23rd, on the North German Lloyd steam­ship Hamburg, bound for Naples. I had arranged my passage and bought my tickets when he wrote me as follows from the White House on February first:

After considerable thought I told the Associated Press people that I did not wish even you to go with me on my trip. I don't want any people able to say that I am respon­sible for any newspaper man or magazine writer accompany­ing me on my trip. I want to be able to say that I have done my best to keep every representative of the press from accompanying me or from advertising the trip in any way and that beyond the formal exchange of courtesies I have had no communication with any newspaper man while on the trip.

Of course I cheerfully, but regretfully, cancelled my passage and stayed behind.
When Roosevelt left New York he had arranged to make three formal public speeches during his return home through Europe in 1910—the address at the Sorbonne (referred to in the preceding chapter), an address at the University of Berlin, and the Romanes Lecture at Oxford University. The three addresses, which were to be not political but academic in character, had been written before he left America. I was anxious to hear them be­cause I believed that the occasions of their delivery would prove to be university events of the first importance. So during the autumn of 1909 I wrote and asked him whether he had any objection to my joining him in France the following spring, in order to hear these three addresses.
There lies before me, as I write, an autograph letter from Roosevelt—dated "On Safari, De­cember 2, 1909"—which was chiefly devoted to the controversy about the record of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill. It may be of interest to quote here what he said of this con­troversy:

About B 's letter concerning the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill my own idea is that a public controversy on the subject would be unwise. You can write B ----what I now say: Mr. B , by his own letter, shows that I stated the facts exactly in the volume I wrote. ["The Rough Riders."] There is no misapprehension in the matter at all, except in minds like Mr. B 's. The San Juan Block House was simply one of the points of attack; the rest of the San Juan Ridge, and the hills near by, like Kettle Hill, form other points of attack. The cavalry charged at "San Juan Hill" just as much as the infantry; to deny this is merely to quib­ble—and to quibble untruthfully at that; and they charged "over the hill at San Juan." The titles of the pictures to which Mr. B objects are absolutely accurate. Let him for a moment think of the Battle of Gettysburg. This took its name from the village of Gettysburg, where there was much hard fighting. But there was also hard righting at Gulp's Hill, at Round Top, and at the stone wall facing Pickett's charge. To say, as Mr. B does ,that the Rough Riders and the regular cavalry "had no hand in the matter" of the San Juan charge is as foolish and untruthful as to say that Pickett's Virginians and all the men who fought at Round Top and Gulp's Hill "had no hand in the fight at Gettysburg."

The infantry brigades which went up the Blockhouse Hill at San Juan did admirably; they deserve no less, and no more, credit than the cavalry brigades who at the same time did their share in the charge, that is the battle, of San Juan (it was all a charge and then holding the ground we had taken). Only one of the five or six regiments in the two infantry brigades which charged at the Blockhouse Hill suffered as heavy a percentage of loss in the Santiago fighting as the Rough Riders did. The first position captured on the "San Juan Heights"—that is the hills, loosely so-called, which defended the town—was Kettle Hill, by the cavalry. To try to start a quarrel over the relative credit of the regiments who fought in this fight is foolish and wrong; "the famous charge up San Juan" as Mr. B calls it, was made by both cavalry and infantry, at different points, and Mr. B 's position is merely a disingenuous quibble.


The special interest about this letter is that it was written in the jungle, under circumstances that make some of the handwriting very hard to decipher and, like the article on the Pigskin Library, referred to later, without access to any maps or books of reference. It is one of many evidences that Roosevelt's mind was stored with facts of all kinds—historical, geographical, and scientific—and that he could take these facts out, often with literal and accurate quotations, from their various mental pigeon-holes.
In a postscript to this letter he added: "I hope you will meet me at Khartum on March fifteenth." So on February 10, 1910, I took passage for Naples, whence I proceeded via Alexandria, Cairo, and the upper reaches of the Nile, to Khartum. I found that Mrs. Roosevelt and Ethel Roosevelt, now Mrs. Derby, were going on the same steamer; I was therefore, happily for myself, able to act as their escort.
It was typical of Mr. Roosevelt's exactness in planning and carrying out his engagements that he should have arrived at Khartum on March I4th, the day before that which, in the previous December, he had appointed as the date of our meeting. On reaching Khartum I learned that through the considerate thoughtfulness of either Mr. or Mrs. Roosevelt—perhaps of both—I was to be their fellow guest at the Governor-General's palace, a really beautiful and delightful establishment built in the custom of tropical countries round three sides of a patio or courtyard filled with flowers and shrubs.
The Roosevelt party consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt, and their daughter and son, Ethel and Kermit. I found that Mr. Roosevelt proposed to buy the tickets, check the trunks, write his own letters, and keep track of his own engage­ments. In a word, he expected to make the journey from Khartum through Europe like any American tourist.

I was with him only three or four hours when I foresaw that fulfillment of this programme would be absolutely impossible. It was apparent that he was going to be treated like a "royal ambassa­dor, and that it would be necessary for him to have some kind of secretarial assistance. I vol­unteered to help him and I think he was glad to get my help, for almost every one of his waking hours was fully occupied from the very moment of his arrival within the precincts of civilization. Indeed he said in accepting my offer, and employ­ing a characteristic exclamation associated with him in the mind of every contemporary American newspaper writer and cartoonist, that he was "delighted!"

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