Amazing archive related to Rough Rider Tilden W. Dawson, one of the first Americans killed in the Spanish-American War, highlighted by a war-dated TLS to the fallen soldier's father from Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, signed "T. Roosevelt," two pages, 5.5 x 8.75, written while "In camp near Santiago de Cuba," July 31, 1898. In full: "I wish I could give you more definite assurances about the body of your gallant son, who was killed in our first fight, but I do not know whether the Government will send him back or not. I have no power to do it myself, glad though I would be able to send back every one of the gallant men who now lie dead on the Cuban battlefields. At present they all lie in the graves we dug for them. Your son's grave is marked and a record kept of it, and if the Government should ever wish to send him back we will be able to identify it at once. Pray accept my deepest sympathy, and yet though I sympathize with you I must congratulate you upon having a boy who did so well and who died a hero's death." Letters signed by Roosevelt from his two months leading the Rough Riders in Cuba are very scarce.
The balance of the archive comprises several additional letters, photographs, news clippings, and two pocket-sized books. One of the letters is an ALS from famed war correspondent Richard Harding Davis, four pages on two adjoining sheets, no date, also to Dawson's father, in part: "Your boy was shot almost among the first, and died, or lost consciousness, at once. His chest moved for some time but it was entirely muscular, and he suffered no pain. I examined his wound and washed it, and found he had been shot through the brain, the ball entered his head about two inches above his eyes. He was not disfigured as the wound was covered by his hair. He looked so young and handsome that I was more sorry for him almost than for all of the others, and I am glad you wrote to me so that I can tell you that he died among the first three men of the war, and in the very first fight…He was buried in a grave with eight others at a place where the trails meet on the top of a beautiful hill…I think I gave his testament to his 'bunkie' whose name I do not know." Davis described Dawson's death in his September 1898 article 'The Rough Riders at Guasimas,' mentioning the 'testament': "In the pocket of his blouse was a New Testament with the name Tilden Dawson, Mo, scribbled in it in pencil." Dawson's 'bunkie,' private Thomas Isbell (who was wounded at Las Guasimas), evidently returned this small red clothbound volume to his father, as it is present in this archive; the second volume included is Dawson's small book of Union Hymns. Among the other items are: two trimmed real photo postcards of Tilden Dawson in civilian clothing; a stereoview of the Rough Riders (cracked and repaired with tape); two official War Department documents concerning the disposition of Dawson's remains; a three-page ALS by Lieutenant Richard C. Day ("The battle of the 24 was very fierce…I passed up and down the line several times. Your son was always in his place doing his duty"); papers related to Dawson's Cherokee ancestry; and various other letters, papers, and a multitude of newspaper clippings. In overall very good to fine condition, with the Roosevelt letter showing some splitting along intersecting folds, and small areas of paper loss.
On June 22, 1898, Colonel Roosevelt and his Rough Riders—a skilled cavalry squad composed of Native Americans, ex-Indian fighters, cowboys, frontiersmen, and Ivy League athletes—landed at Daiquiri, Cuba, amid swarms of mosquitoes and heavy rain. They met their first test two days later while advancing through the mountainous terrain at Las Guasimas. The hour-long skirmish cost them eight men, including Dawson, but the Rough Riders sent the enemy into full retreat toward Santiago in a strategic victory. Roosevelt's men went on to their famous victory at the Battle of San Juan Hill on July 1st, and the regiment was home to New York by mid-August. A truly spectacular archive boasting an outstanding, heartfelt war-dated letter by the famed commander of the Rough Riders and future president of the United States.