Rough Riders: A Movie Review SAR Style

By Rick Cartledge

Some say that Hollywood in recent years has produced more bombs than fell on Ploesti. It comes as no surprise to this writer that John Milius and Tom Berenger teamed up on a notable exception. Their stirring mini series collaboration now stands ready for rental or purchase. After reading what follows, those who saw ‘Rough Riders’ on Turner Network Television may wish to revisit it. For readers unfamiliar with ‘Rough Riders’, Small Arms Review will introduce you to the film whose opening frame reads: ‘To the American citizen soldier, Who answered the call, Climbed the hill, Paid the price, And never let us down.’

Viewing without commercial interruption imparts the full power and majesty of this extraordinary work. This movie gives us the Cowboy Cavalry packing Colt’s machine guns. For us, movies don’t get much better than that. Small Arms Review assumes the intelligence of our readers. Herein we will explore depth and background that will enhance the viewing of this truly wonderful film.

Mr. Tom Berenger originated this project. His research told him that he wanted to accurately portray arguably our greatest President at the pivotal moment in Theodore Roosevelt’s magnificent life. In doing so, Mr. Berenger knew he would celebrate in celluloid the virtues and character of that unique race of people called ‘Americans’. To accomplish this, Tom Berenger thought of only two people — John Milius and Hugh Wilson. Few who viewed the John Milius film ‘The Wind And The Lion’ starring Brian Keith and Sean Connery have ever forgotten it. ‘Rough Riders’ gifted screenwriter Hugh Wilson wrote the first draft. He and John Milius wrote the final script. Turner Network Television, to its great credit, backed ‘Rough Riders’ enthusiastically. For their courage, TNT received more than high ratings and excellent reviews. They financed a modern classic that will stand the test of time.


From the opening frame, John Milius draws the viewer into the epic world of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. On viewing this film for the first time, many will think that it came from John Ford. This does not suggest that John Milius copied John Ford. He did not. The man who gave us ‘Dirty Harry’ built on the firm foundation laid by John Ford. Mr. Milius expanded upon a number of innovations that John Ford incorporated in his films. In terms of historical accuracy, ‘Rough Riders’ far exceeds ‘My Darling Clementine’. Were he alive today, Mr. Ford would have been very proud of Mr. Milius. The following gives some examples of Mr. Milius’ mastery of his craft openly displayed in ‘Rough Riders’.

John Milius tapped award winning composer Elmer Bernstein to write the ‘Rough Riders’ theme. Peter Bernstein conducted it. No composer handles heroic brass and violins better than Elmer Bernstein. Peter Bernstein employs massed violins when needed and at other times lets a single sing like a solitary Moore around a Kentucky campfire. As the opening credits roll, the music establishes the heroism of the Rough Riders against the most appropriate and beautiful artwork imaginable — original Spanish American War paintings and drawings from then Hearst war corespondent Frederic Remington.

John Milius selected artists who correctly matched the scale of the story that he was about to tell. John Ford did this on a smaller scale in ‘The Searchers’. In the opening of ‘The Searchers’, a lone woman framed by a doorway gazes into Monument Valley, Utah doubling for Texas. She strains to see an approaching distant rider. Composer Max Steiner led in with a single woodwind playing the melody of ‘Loraina’ and followed with a lone violin singing ‘The Bonnie Blue Flag’. Those of Southern birth knew the character of Ethan Edwards before John Wayne ever came into clear view or uttered a word. In ‘Rough Riders’ John Milius established the character of the then forming G Troop through Sam Elliott playing Prescott, Arizona’s legendary lawman William ‘Bucky’ O’Neil. Bucky introduces ‘The Minstrel Boy’ as the troop song of G Troop and bids the troopers to draw strength from it. The melody recurs in the film. In the second decade of the 20th century, ‘The Minstrel Boy’ became a song of Easter Rising and the Irish Rebellion. This writer suspects that it’s still sung in Donegal.

The Collaborative Effort

This picture belongs to Tom Berenger. Illeana Douglas perfectly complements him as Theodore’s wife Edith. Mr. Berenger received high praise for his masterful portrayal of the young Roosevelt. Many feet of original film and many recordings of Theodore Roosevelt survive to this very day. Those who have seen or heard any of them (and this writer has) will appreciate what a truly fine actor Mr. Berenger is. He not only captures the look and mannerisms of Theodore Roosevelt, he captures TR’s voice. Sickly and asthmatic as a child, Theodore Roosevelt developed a unique pattern of enunciation. Mr. Berenger explained it thusly, ‘ He’d take a huge breath and then rattle off words until he’d start to lose breath; it gave him his machine gun speaking delivery.’ From his opening frame to his last, Tom Berenger precisely duplicates Theodore Roosevelt’s voice. His tour de force performance begins with Roosevelt’s speech to the Naval Academy cadets on March 9, 1898.

Movie making is a collaborative effort. Magic on the set is rare. Set magic that makes its way to screen is rarer still. ‘Rough Riders’ delivers the rarest of the rare. The entire cast and crew enjoyed making this picture. They put that enjoyment on the screen. The joy begins with costars Sam Elliott and Gary Busey. Though both men list credits longer than we have space for, this writer’s personal favorites are Mr. Elliott’s ‘The Quick And The Dead’ and Mr. Busey’s ‘The Buddy Holly Story’. We begin with Sam Elliott’s portrayal of G Troop Capt. William ‘Bucky’ O’Neil. Sam Elliott gives us many truthful scenes as 1886 and 1895 Winchester packing lawman Bucky O’Neil. In the following, we will discuss only two wonderful scenes. The many others await the viewer.

Bucky O’Neil takes G Troop for its first day at the firing range. The weapons instructor demonstrates the Springfield 30-40 Krag-Jorgenson smokeless repeating carbine Model of 1896. G Troop forms lines for target practice. Bucky O’Neil and author turned war corespondent Stephen Crane, played by Adam Storke, observe them. The troopers shoot miserably. Bucky O’Neil orders G Troop down range to bash the watermelon topped targets with their gun butts. As the troopers rush the targets, Stephen Crane and Bucky O’Neil discuss gunmen, war, and gun fighting. Crane asks, ‘It really is murder isn’t it?’ Bucky cracks a knowing smile and replies, ‘You betcha.’

Bucky explains that John Wesley Hardin and Clay Allison were not great shots but ‘drunken louts’. Their survival rested not in marksmanship but in their ‘ability to murder their fellow man.’ Those familiar with Knob Creek (see March 98 SAR) should know the following. A pistol oriented member of the Alabama Cavalry and this writer had exactly that conversation around a campfire at the Creek four years ago. We came to the same conclusion. Hugh Wilson and John Milius know how to write truthful lines. Sam Elliott knows how to deliver them in high style.

Sam Elliott gives us his most poignant scene when he portrays the death of Bucky O’Neil. Official reports recount the murderous fire that poured down hill from the San Juan Heights. Bucky O’Neil stood up in combat to give his men confidence and urge them onward. At the bottom of Kettle Hill he stood erect, oblivious to the fire around him. He bends down to admonish Brad Johnson’s character Henry Nash who came unarmed from a hospital bed to the front lines. Bucky hands Nash his 1895 Winchester in 30-40 Krag and then again stands up. Nash tells him to get down. Bucky replies that, ‘The Spanish bullet hasn’t been made that can kill me!’. Shortly, a Spanish bullet finds the Captain of G Troop. Bucky O’Neil falls dead on the field.

Though physically much larger than Joe Wheeler, Gary Busey gives what is this writer’s favorite performance in ‘Rough Riders’. This favoritism comes from a personal bias openly admitted by the writer. Standing on the steps of 5th Corps HDQ in Tampa, Joe Wheeler is greeted by Col. Horatio Swayles, well played by veteran actor Larry Randolph. Col. Swayles reminds Gen. Wheeler of the Atlanta Campaign. Fighting Joe replies that Atlanta ‘was not one of my fondest memories!’. The Southern part of that campaign is a favorite of this writer. This fondness comes from Wheeler stories told to me in boyhood and from regularly passing a still extant stately white house in Griffin, Georgia. The stone on its left corner read ‘H’QTS GEN. JOE WHEELER’.

After the battle at Jonesboro, the Orphan Brigade walked to Griffin, Georgia. Here the Orphans became a mounted unit thanks to captured Yankee horses courtesy of Joe Wheeler. The Union Army sent a southward tentacle toward Griffin bent on burning the town, kidnapping the staff at the five Confederate hospitals here, and taking that staff to Camp Sumter (Andersonville). The Orphans stopped the Union Army cold at Bear Creek Station. The Blue Coats took a savage beating at the spot on which the Atlanta International Raceway now stands. NASCAR finishes the Grand National season on ground where Union town burners met stalwart Kentucky grey riders and found themselves wanting.

A Union General later attempted to pull the same torch and kidnap job on the Confederate hospitals at Newnan, Georgia, hometown of the songwriters and singers Doug Stone and Alan Jackson. Alan Jackson once wrote that, ‘Love grows best in small houses’. General Wheeler saved not only the small houses but the big ones. Outside Newnan lies a subdivision named for Wheeler’s friend — ‘Bedford Forrest’. Joe Wheeler rode 25 miles west and engaged the enemy at Brown’s Mill Station outside Newnan. Expecting to encounter defenseless civilians, The Union General found that he faced Joe Wheeler’s mounted pistol fighters backed by Tredegar guns. The ensuing fray proved to be the largest cavalry engagement of the Atlanta Campaign. In fairness, it should be reported that the Union General did make his way to Andersonville. After a crushing defeat, he accepted Joe Wheeler’s sword point invitation to tour the Confederate Prison System.

At the end of the Atlanta Campaign, Joe Wheeler rode west of Griffin and camped at Double Cabins, an Indian trading post turned stagecoach stop that dates from the 1830’s. From there Joe Wheeler left us, pursued Sherman’s western flank, and rode into history. At the end of hostilities, Fighting Joe Wheeler stood as one of the few Southern boy Generals to survive the war. Joe Wheeler rebuilt his life and served with distinction in the United States Congress, thinking that he had sheathed forever his terrible swift sword. Thirty three years later, his country asked once again for his leadership in the War with Spain.

Interestingly, a Bedford Forrest co-biographer and friend preceded Wheeler into Cuba. Gen. Thomas Jordan served with the Cuban insurrectos before his death in New York in 1895. When Joe Wheeler arrived in Cuba in 1898, he suffered from bouts of malaria. General Wheeler reverted to the tactics that had served him so well in his youth. In so doing he well served this nation. Gary Busey correctly captures the spirit and character of the 5’6” soldier who still holds legendary status in the Piedmont of Georgia. This writer has already praised Gary Busey’s performance in a previous article (see SAR February 98). Now the reader knows why. Well done Mr. Busey.

For a good laugh, don’t miss the recipe for ‘footless animal stew’ given by veteran actor Geoffrey Lewis. For two stunningly realistic performances, pay particular attention to Marshall Teague as Lt. John Pershing and Dale Dye as Col. Leonard Wood. Both actors bear startling physical resemblance to the men from history whom they portray. West Point lists only three soldiers who graduated with perfect records — Robert E. Lee, John Pershing, and Douglas MacArthur. In Marshall Teague’s performance, the reader will view the metal of the man in 1898. John Pershing twenty years later would lead the American Expeditionary Force to victory in Flanders Fields.

Julie Alter, CSA’s casting of accomplished actor Dale Dye as Col. Leonard Wood shows sheer brilliance. Two slots on Dale Dye’s report card on life read ‘Capt. USMC (ret)’ and ‘military historian’. Three weeks before anything went on film, Dale Dye set up a boot camp for the actors. He taught them the authentic drills, gun handling, and commands of the 1890s. When the cameras rolled, the actors functioned as a team rather than a group of individuals. On film, not only do the actors look like a cavalry unit, they move like one.

When Mr. Dye stepped before the camera he gave depth to the lesser known Leonard Wood. When Colonel Wood arrived in Cuba he already stood as a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and a universally respected professional soldier. Readers will be fascinated by the exchange of authentic commands between Leonard Wood and John Pershing before the attack on a cabin. Inside the captured cabin, Col. Wood explains the superiority of the Mauser rifle to his assembled men and a Spaniard in a tree. Then, without blinking, he asks them to find El Poso Hill on the map. After viewing Dale Dye’s characterization, readers will know why a military base near the Missouri Ozarks proudly carries the honored name ‘Leonard Wood’.

Class 3 On The Field

You are reading Small Arms Review. We know that you want a tour of ‘Rough Riders’ Title 2 world. Veteran actor Geoffrey Lewis, through his character Eli, opens the tour. Eli carries a man’s gun for settling disputes up close and personal — a sawed off Remington hammered 12 gauge double. Mr. Lewis deftly handles this persuader in a number of scenes. In so doing, he demonstrates the shotgun’s strengths and weaknesses. Armies did not ban shotguns from combat until the Geneva Convention. Smooth bores fought in Cuba and in the Argonne Forest. Special Forces carried pump shotguns in Vietnam as Victor Charlie had not signed the Geneva Convention. Eli’s gun might have met the requirements of the 1934 Gun Control Act but other smooth bores that actually fought in Cuba might not.

DDs played a major role in the battle at San Juan Heights and played a major role in the Tom Berenger film. Krupps, Hotchkiss, and a French 75 took the field to add authenticity to the movie. Second Unit Director Terry Leonard captured many nuances of 1890’s artillery. He caught the precision movements of the reenactor artillerists. Bag guns illustrate Mr. Leonard’s skill. Though much smaller, bag guns operate like coastal artillery. The artillerists insert a ram assisted HE shell and bag of powder, close the breach, and fire. In 1898, the Americans shot 3.2 inch white smoking breech-loaders. A French 75 sans shield does a credible stand-in for the movie.

Those who journey to Knob Creek in the Spring of 97 viewed and heard a massive two inch Hotchkiss revolving cannon fabricated by Thunder Valley Arms. Rich Pugsley correctly stated that this type of gun ‘served in the 1890s.’ I took up a position and watched Rich fire down range. Rich fired at a target at about the same distance as the blockhouse on San Juan Heights was from the Rough Riders. Rich fired live ammo. The movie artillerists fired blanks. Those fortunate enough to have viewed this rare weapon in live fire will applaud the accuracy of Terry Leonard’s footage. The Hotchkiss did fight in Cuba. It just wasn’t as pretty as Rich’s gun.

A brace of Krupp guns provides one of the most interesting historical footnotes to the film. Like the 30-40 Krag carbines, these field guns are not replicas. They are real guns that predate the Spanish American War. The 2.5 inchers carry the model number of 1891. They play an important part in the final battle scenes at San Juan Heights. Reenactors man them as a German gun crews. To view the Krups and the Hotchkiss mountain cannon would prove sufficient, but there is more. Writer Dan Gagliasso reports the following intriguing Hollywood rumor in his article ‘Guns of The Rough Riders’ (see Guns and Ammo, August 97). The rumor states that the movie Krupps actually came to the United States as captured ordnance from Cuba in 1898.

The film shows the guns of three American geniuses at work on the battlefield — John Moses Browning, Sir Hiram Maxim, and Dr. Richard Gatling. In 1898 only two answered muster at San Juan Heights — Browning and Gatling. In the movie, two Gatlings in 45-70 serve under Lt. Parker played by James Morse (see SAR February 98). The 1898 brass Maxims, though contemporary, did not fight that July afternoon. John Milius introduced the venerable belt feds for dramatic effect. Faithful readers know of this writer’s affection for the beautifully crafted 98. If I were able to have several brass Maxims hang around for a month or so, I would. By this writer Mr. Milius is both forgiven and applauded for the 98s. In one scene a Maxim gunner experiences a problem with elevation at full bottom stop. Knob Creek attendees know the immediate remedy.

Most interesting of the belt feds are the 1895 Colt Automatic Guns. In 1914, this gun added a changeable barrel and became the 1895/1914 model. That model accompanied Capt. Herbert McBride and the 21st Canadian into Flanders Fields. Capt. McBride reported that a Colt gun could hold a burst of 10 in the bullseye at 1000 yards. He proved it more than once. The Rough Riders carried the 1895 guns into combat. They acquired them in just the way that John Milius filmed it.

William Tiffany, courageous son of the prominent family, joined the Rough Riders. The Tiffany family presented the Cowboy Cavalry with two 1895 Colt Automatic Guns chambered in 30-40 Krag. Watching the gun crews advance the guns in the jungle and up Kettle Hill provides some of the most interesting frames in the movie for the dedicated emma gee. Properly advancing gun and tripod with precision challenges soldiers, not to mention actors. James Parks in the role of William Tiffany and the other actors handle the gun movement well. The filmed advances remind one of those described in ‘O’Ryan’s Roughnecks’ by the 27th’s William F. Clarke. This writer suspects the skilled hand of Dale Dye. The Colt guns went to Cuba with Rough Rider William Tiffany and served well. Tiffany did not return.

For Our Falcons Yet To Come

Michael Greyeyes plays Delchaney, an Apache warrior and Carlisle University student, who assisted in Rough Rider basic training. Bob Primeaux plays Indian Bob, a Souix who volunteered. Francesco Quinn gives a stirring performance as Rafael Castillo, who left the safety of the hacienda and the love of his life to ride with Teddy Roosevelt. Hamilton Fish played by Holt McCallany, B. F. Goodrich by Titus Welliver, and Craig Wadsworth by Chris Noth joined their friend William Tiffany in harness with the Rough Riders. They, Fifth Avenue boys, could all ride and shoot. When Hamilton Fish reported for duty he was arguably the wealthiest young man in America. He forsook all to ride with Teddy. Hamilton Fish sailed to Cuba and did not return.

Though General Shafter respected Joe Wheeler, Leonard Wood, and John Pershing, he and his staff considered their men amateurs. Joe Wheeler did not share the Corps Commander’s opinion. Fighting Joe had commanded an integrated cavalry during the War Between the States. He knew the 9th and 10th Cavalry could fight and suspected that they might be the most professional soldiers currently in the United States Army. Leonard Wood had trained the Rough Riders.

The real General Shafter tipped the scales at 320 pounds. His gut hung half way to his knees. His aids constructed a portable crane to put him on his horse. He got sea sick on the Cuban passage and stayed on the beach for two days. Joe Wheeler commanded all cavalry and answered only to Shafter. For an ex Confederate who had spent much of his time behind enemy lines, absence of command presented no problem. Joe Wheeler simply rounded up the amateurs, sent out skirmishers, and proceeded to wage war on the Spaniards. ‘Find them, turn their flank, and kick ‘em in the teeth!’

On that fateful day in July, the Black Troopers and the Cowboy Cavalry stood together at the bottom of San Juan Heights under murderous fire. The Rough Riders attacked Kettle. The 9th and 10th, backed by New York infantry, assaulted the larger and more fortified San Juan Hill. Their unflinching slow walk through death’s door inspired all who saw it. John Milius filmed it exactly as it happened. Surely the hearts of 9th and 10th descendants will soar on viewing this. They will soar as surely as do Celtic hearts when Mary Black sings the ‘Song For Ireland’. Therein, free falcons mount Eire’s Atlantic wind and ‘twist and turn in e’re blue sky’. At San Juan Heights, American falcons soared up two death laden hills. Theodore Roosevelt wrote in dispatches that the Black Troopers were the bravest men that he had ever seen. Under Joe Wheeler and Leonard Wood these American falcons won victory together. Members of that unique race known as Americans threw the cruel Spaniards off their well-defended hills.

This film accurately tells the history of America. It tells our history at a pivotal point in our time among nations. With a few concessions to drama, the firearms and their uses rate as excellent. A number of museum quality pieces come into view in close-ups. The Mauser rifle carried by George Hamilton as William Randolph Hearst is but one of many examples. A number of scenes in this film will stun the viewer. The following gives the most impressive example. In ‘The Searchers’ final scene, we see Ethan Edwards standing in light, framed by a darkened doorway. He takes his left hand and clasps his right elbow. At that moment he is John Wayne paying tribute to his long time friend Harry Carey. In so doing, he also honors his costar Harry Carey Jr. That gesture speaks of Harry Carey and how grateful the Duke was to have known him.

In ‘Rough Riders’ we see Teddy Roosevelt sitting on the porch of the blockhouse atop San Juan Hill. He is humbled by the victory won. As the camera catches him we see a fewer starred Old Glory gently waving behind him. At that moment he is Tom Berenger paying tribute to America. His gesture reminds us all of America and how grateful we all are to have known her. All of the above would be good enough reason to watch this movie. It truly does celebrate America. But there is more.

‘Rough Riders’ comes on two cassettes. It lasts more than three hours. It is the kind of movie for a Sunday afternoon. Father and son, uncle and nephew, grandfather and grandson should view this film together. At viewing’s end they should talk about America and being an American. As to why, I will leave the reader with two reasons. First, Gary Busey said, ‘This film is a piece of American history that no one has seen before on the screen.’

As a professional writer I am confident that I could write the second reason. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, I could choose the right words and place them in the right order. On this occasion I will heed the words of Dirty Harry written by Harry Julian Fink. Harry Callahan said, ‘a man must know his limitations.’ To find the second reason we turn to the finest writer in the English language. William Shakespeare wrote, ‘This story shall the good man teach his son’ — Henry V — Act 4, Scene 3, Line 58.

In celluloid, John Milius has captured the Rough Riders. Therein he reminds us of how close to each other and how truly magnificent they all were. Tom Berenger said of Theodore Roosevelt, ‘The Rough Riders worshipped him, and he truly loved them. These men stayed a part of Roosevelt’s life until he died.’ In the telling of the Rough Rider story, John Milius reminds us of all of the above. His film says something else to the readers and the writers of the Small Arms Review. ‘Rough Riders’ speaks to all who enjoy the freedom of the Title 2 world. It reminds us of who we truly are. It simply reminds us that We few, we happy few, are the archers of Harry the King.

America’s Agincourt

In one of the opening scenes, Hugh Wilson threw a couple lines like high hard fastballs worthy of John Smoltz. When Hamilton Fish uttered the first line, like a rookie called up from Richmond, I said ‘That sounded like a strike.’ Then Hugh Wilson threw the second one through Craig Wadsworth and I said, ‘That was a strike and I’ve heard it more than once before!’ After a first viewing of ‘Rough Riders’ I could not rest until I knew the origin of the lines. I knew the lines were chivalric, but more. These lines came from the birth of chivalry, chevalier — mastery of the horse. The phrasing reminded me of the manner in which our suppresser guys competed last May. At match end, one gentlemanly spoke for all to the winner. In the most chivalrous fashion he said, ‘You fought the good fight and won fairly. I’m going home and get better!’

One out of eight who nominated the current occupant of the White House in 1992 belonged to the NEA. For those who earned a sound education before the NEA turned public into government schools, Hugh Wilson will take you back decades and you will be grateful for it. For those not so old, if you read Small Arms Review you have initiative. The following will also assist you. I first went to ‘Le Morte d’ Arthur’ and missed the target. I found the target in Shakespeare’s histories. I cut the outside circle with The Bard’s only epic history ‘Henry V’. I hit the ten ring with Act 4, Scene 3. If you wish to stack one behind the other, read Henry’s speech to his men before the battle at Agincourt. The reader should do so before viewing this film. The destiny filled lines of Henry’s speech reverberate throughout ‘Rough Riders’.

A surface viewing provides fine entertainment. If one knows Shakespeare’s lines and their attendant history in advance, one finds ‘Rough Riders’ to be an even finer film. A second viewing showed that Hugh Wilson and John Milius wrote in layers. The viewer can wet his feet and measure it in inches or dive in and measure it in fathoms. Brad Johnson (star of the action drama ‘Soldier of Fortune, Inc’) carries the upper narrative through his character Henry Nash. He opens the plot as an old man reminiscing in his attic about when he was young and so was America. As he goes back in time, he tells of how he joined the Rough Riders. While we follow his story, we also pick up that of the Fifth Avenue college athletes and hear Henry V’s lines. These lines carry the under narrative throughout the picture. Though Henry V’s lines establish the Fifth Avenue boys as ‘educated men’, Hugh Wilson and John Milius are not talking about Fifth Avenue. They are talking about America. And they have much to say.

The brothers Crispis and Crispianus fled religious persecution in Diocletian’s Imperial Rome. They hid in the guise of cobblers and did good works. When finally captured in A.D. 289, the Romans threw the Christian brothers into boiling lead. The Catholic Church elevated the martyrs to sainthood and designated October 25 as Saint Crispin’s Day. In the 15th century England’s newly crowned Henry V, Harry the King, felt he possessed a legitimate claim to the crown of France. He felt his claim more legitimate than that of the Frenchman who squatted on the throne. Between 1413 and 1415, Henry busied himself securing money for his army by taxes, loans, and hocking the crown jewels. In August 1415, Henry assembled the small army that he could afford and set sail to rectify the French affront to himself and the sovereign crown of England. The 7000 man army landed in France, hefted their long bows, and marched ashore following Harry the King. The tiny army won several small victories and caught dysentery. Henry fell back and camped at Agincourt.

An army of 30,000 bore down on Henry’s men. The Frenchmen poised for battle near the Calais road on October 24, 1415. Henry faced two divisions of infantry and one of mounted armored French knights. Against them he could throw 6000 archers and 900 men at arms. That night Henry personally surveyed the looming battlefield. He viewed his only two advantages — deep mud to slow the French horses and a place to skillfully deploy his archers.

The French outnumbered Henry five to one. The trained soldier whom Richard II had knighted for bravery in the Irish rebellion of 1399 decided to fight. Before the battle, Gallic emissaries attempted to negotiate with Henry. The French extended Henry the option of a ransom befitting his station. Henry refused to offer the French ransom for either his life if captured or his corpse if killed on the field. Harry the King vowed to fight on this Saint Crispin’s Day. His lieutenants Warwick, Talbot, Exeter, Bedford, and Gloucester backed him. Westmoreland wanted 10,000 more men. Harry the King wanted not one more. Henry offered to pay the homeward passage of any man who wished to leave before the battle. Harry the King refused to die in the presence of any man who would not die with him. On this Saint Crispin’s Day, Henry would either die for his beloved England or change her course forever. On October 25, 1415, Henry kept his appointment with destiny. The few, the happy few stood steadfast on a field of honor with Harry the King. Henry V engaged the French just outside Agincourt at less than 500 yards. His skillfully placed archers blacked the sky with arrows. A contingent of French knights dismounted in the deep mud and died where they stood.

At battle’s end the defeated French counted 7000 casualties. Henry V suffered 500. Contemporary historians hailed Henry as King of England and France and Lord of Ireland. England treated Henry’s soldiers as royalty for the rest of their days. Henry said of those who fought at Agincourt, ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’. In England’s darkest hour she reached back to Henry V to honor the men who so valiantly defended her. All of England took unspeakable pride in the outnumbered RAF pilots in the Battle of Britain. The British paid homage to those heroic airmen by giving them the bravest unit name from English history. They called them ‘the few’.

On a July day in 1898, Fighting Joe Wheeler faced a better equipped Spanish army on Cuban soil. Leonard Wood, Theodore Roosevelt, and John Pershing backed the grey haired Cavalier. The Spaniards sat up hill, dug in, and fortified. From Kettle and San Juan Hills they controlled the San Juan Heights. Like the archers of Harry the King, Joe Wheeler’s Krag equipped cavalrymen should have been destroyed in place. They weren’t. Against odds and raked by murderous fire, the Black Cavalry and the Rough Riders charged. On that afternoon they changed the course of America. Because of them, America shucked her role as ‘a third rate agricultural experiment’ and took her rightful place on the world stage. Mr. Tom Berenger stated the following about Theodore Roosevelt, ‘He believed his destiny was that war, and either something great would come out of it or he would die in glory.’


Kudos to Bill Taylor, J. P. Jennings, Doug Hollberg, Scott Howard, and Don Thomas for additional research. The author offers his heartfelt thanks to The Frederic Remington Art Museum, Turner Network Television, and Nostalgia Good TV Network for their splendid assistance. For our fortunate readers who live nearby, the author recommends a trip to the The Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York. The paintings lent to Small Arms Review represent but a small part of their impressive collection. For those who have not had the privilege of viewing original Remingtons, we offer this caveat. Be prepared to tarry a while and enjoy a stirring part of America’s history captured by the master’s hand.

The following gives an interesting historical footnote to ‘Rough Riders’. Joe Wheeler, at the end of his days, elected to be buried in the blue uniform that he wore at San Juan Hill. On viewing him at his funeral one of his grey riders said, ‘Lord General, what is The Mighty Stonewall going to say when you show up in that uniforn?’


‘Rough Riders’ video
by Turner Network Television
1050 Techwood DR
Atlanta, GA 30318

The Frederic Remington Art Museum
303 Washington ST
Ogdensburg, NY 13669

‘From Shiloh to San Juan Hill’
Joe Wheeler biography
Columbus Armory
1104 Broadway
Columbus, GA 31901

‘Henry V’ by William Shakespeare Cambridge University Press 1993
Mary Black, Collected
Gifthorse/Dara Records
CD # G2-10006

‘The Searchers’
by John Ford
Warner Home Video

‘Henry V’
by Sir Laurence Olivier

‘The Wind and the Lion’
by John Milius
Turner, MGM/UA

‘Guns of The Rough Riders’
by Dan Gagliasso,
Guns & Ammo, August ’97

‘Pocket Diary’
TR’s personal account of the War with Spain, with notes by Curator Wallace F. Dailey
Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138
Tel. 617-495-2449 / Fax 617-495-1376 publication date 07-01-98
the 100th Anniversary

‘The Campaigns of Lt. Gen. N. B. Forrest and Forrest’s Cavalry’
by Gen. Thomas Jordan and J. P. Pryor. rare book, available in reprints.


In ‘Rough Riders’ Tom Berenger as Theodore Roosevelt carried a seven and one half inch Single Action Army. The real Theodore Roosevelt carried a double action Navy marked Colt .38, serial number 16334. The revolver carries the butt # 5770 and the year stamp 1894. A Roosevelt relative recovered the pistol for Theodore during salvage operations on the battleship Maine. Theodore carried this pistol through Cuba, up San Juan Heights, and back to his Oyster Bay home Sagamore Hill. After the President’s death, Sagamore Hill became a national historic site. Colt .38 # 16334 rested there until 1991.

In 1991, person or persons unknown stole Colt .38# 16334. To the current possessor of this American treasure, this writer wishes to say the following. The Rough Riders were the kind of men that all of us would wish to meet on the other side. But not if they are angry. The possessor should assuage his guilt, salve his conscience, and save his soul. Colt .38 # 16334 belongs not to you but to the Rough Riders, to Theodore Roosevelt, and most of all to Sagamore Hill. Wipe the Colt free of prints, wrap it in newspaper, stick it in a cardboard box, and mail it back to Sagamore Hill.

The Theodore Roosevelt Association offers a cash reward for the recovery of Colt .38 # 16334. Should any of our readers catch a scent of the Colt’s location, the reader should notify Sagamore Hill Nationa Historic Site and point them upwind. The preceding covers John Law. As members of the Title 2 community know, there is John Law and then there is Murphy’s Law. The following will cover Murphy’s Law if applicable.

Thirty-four members of this writer’s family wore grey. As President, Theodore Roosevelt paid honor to his mother’s side of the Roosevelt family (see SAR February 98). In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt returned the captured battle flags to their Confederate units. A surprising number of the 34 lived to see it. In many homes of the Old South, families still refer to Theodore as ‘The Good Roosevelt’. Readers would find this writer undisturbed to learn that the possessor of Colt .38 # 16334 suffered a singular loss that he could not report to John Law. This writer would be completely unsuprised to learn that a cherished American treasure somehow had made its way back to Sagamore Hill. Should the above sequence of events take place, this writer stands good for the postage. The person accomplishing the sequence I would like to meet. To maintain confidentiality, I paraphrase a line from Forrest Carter’s brilliant work ‘Gone To Texas’. Simply put, ‘I’ll pay you when I see you Josey Wales.’


Curator Amy Verone
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
20 Sagamore Hill RD
Oyster Bay, NY 11771

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N10 (July 1998)
and was posted online on April 7, 2017


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