The monument’s image is of Theodore Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders” celebrating the cavalry’s victory at the battle of San Juan Heights.
It would take the United States government more than one hundred years to officially recognize the courage of Theodore Roosevelt’s actions during that skirmish. It wasn’t until January 2001 that he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Support for war with Spain began in the early 1890s. Newspaper stories about the oppressive Spanish rule of Cuba roused the country into an anti-Spain sentiment.
Roosevelt, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, favored Cuban independence. The battleship USS Maine was dispatched to Havana, Cuba and while anchored in the harbor, the vessel exploded and 262 American sailors lost their lives. Spain denied responsibility. An American Navy investigation concluded that the explosion was caused by a mine but the source remained a mystery. The consensus was that Spain had committed an act of war. And soon after, war was declared.
Roosevelt resigned his position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy and began recruiting the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. The new brigade of more than 1,000 men consisted of polo players, hunters, cowboys, Native Americans and college friends. They became known as the “Rough Riders”.
The regiment played a major role in one of the most important battles in Cuba — the Battle of San Juan Heights. Roosevelt led his rough riders in a series of charges up San Juan Hill and soon after the American flag was raised over San Juan Heights.
Roosevelt returned home a war hero. He was soon elected Governor of New York, and later served as the Vice President to William McKinley. With the assassination of McKinley in 1901, Roosevelt was sworn in as the nation’s 26th President. At the age of 42, he became the youngest commander-in-chief in the country’s history.
The Spanish American War was brief. In rapid campaigns, American forces seized the Philippines and Guam, followed by a longer campaign in Cuba which ended in American victories. When the Treaty of Paris was signed ending the war, it gave the United States its first possessions: Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
The Spanish empire ceased to exist, and the United States emerged as a major player on the global stage.