Harvard Stars, Indian Fighters Join Rough Riders: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898." The book is the latest by Evan Thomas. Source: Little, Brown and Company via Bloomberg

May 8 (Bloomberg) -- Theodore Roosevelt couldn’t wait to see combat. As war against Spain loomed and U.S. President William McKinley called for volunteers, Roosevelt ordered his uniform from Brooks Brothers and joined the army.

He quit his desk job as assistant secretary of the navy, and had no qualms (perhaps the opposite) about abandoning his ailing wife and five children.

His Rough Riders regiment included tough sheriffs and Indian fighters with names like “Rattlesnake Pete.” There was also a contingent from the snooty Knickerbocker Club in New York and Boston’s Somerset Club, as well as Ivy League stars like Harvard footballers Woodbury Kane and Dudley Dean. Some men brought walking sticks, golf clubs and evening clothes, and one brought a valet to the Texas training camp, en route to Cuba.

Hamilton Fish, ex-captain of the Columbia University crew team, was cut down by snipers during an ambush early on. As he charged up to the San Juan Heights with death all around him, Roosevelt was showered with Mauser bullets and hit twice. Exhilarated, he shouted, “Holy Godfrey, what fun!”

I spoke with Evan Thomas, author of “The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898” (Little, Brown), on the following topics:

1. War Fever

2. Harvard Hawks

3. Fear of Effeminacy

4. Rough Riders

5. Expanding Empire

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.