Charging Into Fame

One crowded hour on a hillside in Cuba made Roosevelt a national hero. A look behind the legend

Theodore Roosevelt wanted to fight. By the mid-1890s, inflamed by press reports of Spanish atrocities against Cubans fighting for independence, he strongly favored forcing Spain to give up Cuba or face war. On Feb. 15, 1898, the U.S. battleship Maine exploded under mysterious circumstances in Havana harbor, killing 266 sailors. Congress declared war against Spain in April and called for volunteers. Among the first was Roosevelt, who said a man "should pay with his body" for his beliefs.He helped raise a cavalry regiment largely from the Southwest and became its lieutenant colonel. The press dubbed them the Rough Riders. Roosevelt got...