The Rough Riders was a nickname given to the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry regiment, which distinguished itself in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. The regiment was commanded by future Norwich trustee Leonard Wood and future U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt, and Norwich alumnus Henry Hersey was counted among their ranks. After the war was fought, the Rough Riders Association had an important relationship with Norwich University.
When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, the United States Army was a shadow of its Civil War-era size. President McKinley raised three cavalry units, of which the First Regiment was the only to see action after shipping off to Cuba. They fought in three major battles and played a key role in the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American conflict.
The Rough Riders were immortalized in large part due to “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s “Wild West” performances featuring a dramatization of the their accomplishments. A Rough Riders Association (sometimes called the Rough Riders Preparedness Association) was formed by the survivors of the regiment. At the time, Norwich University was the only exclusive cavalry training school in the country, and a connection between the two was a perfect fit. In 1917, the Association arranged for a Norwich cavalry troop to appear in a show at the Hippodrome in New York City, a theater with twice the seating capacity of the Metropolitan Opera and a massive stage that could accommodate a most impressive cavalry showcase.
The Association also sensed the significance of Norwich’s role in the future of the U.S. Cavalry, and offered in 1916 to raise $150,000 for a new riding hall, stables, and commons hall. We know that at least $50,000 was raised toward this goal, and some of it was indeed remitted to the university. However, the United States’ entrance into World War I shifted priorities around the world, and when Norwich did build a new riding hall in 1920, it was dedicated to former cadet Moses Taylor, who was killed in France.
After World War I, Norwich’s records make little mention of the Rough Riders Association, indicating that the organizations may have gone their separate ways. However, the impact was lasting, as it was Leonard Wood’s connection with the university that led him to advocate for the creation of the national ROTC program. Wood served on the Board of Trustees from 1916 until his death in 1927.
Henry Blanchard “Daredevil” Hersey, Norwich class of 1885, led a colorful and adventure-filled life in which he played many roles, including as a meteorologist, balloonist and member of the Rough Riders. Read more about him here.
Issues of the Norwich Record featuring articles about the Rough Riders Association and Leonard Wood can be found on the Norwich University Archives website. There are also documents related to the Association’s fundraising efforts for the university in development and financial records from the late 1910s.