By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (February 23, 2014) – “SACRED to the MEMORY of all the OFFICERS and SOLDIERS killed in BATTLE and died on SERVICE during the FLORIDA WARS” reads the inscription of the north face of the Florida Wars obelisk located in the St. Augustine National Cemetery.
A single rose placed at the base of that face spoke volumes of one person’s love and respect for the sacrifice of a few, for the good of the many.
The 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment "Rough Riders," Inc. dispatched an expeditionary force to St. Augustine on Friday morning. The force and guests enjoyed a champagne reception and buffet later in the evening.
At noon on Saturday, the force performed a wreath laying ceremony on the grounds of the St. Augustine National Cemetery honoring Rough Riders and others who served and sacrificed for their country.
Among the 1218 graves in the cemetery, 3 received special wreaths. At the pyramids on the south end a wreath was placed to honor the Major Dade command. On the west side, tribute was paid to Rough Rider Robert McNeal. On the east side, a wreath was placed to honor the final resting place of Buffalo Soldier James Nelson.
The “Rough Riders” were an all cavalry regiment raised in 1898, by Theodore Roosevelt when the United States declared war on Spain, April 25th, after a riot in Havana, Cuba. The U.S. sent the battleship Maine to Cuba to protect American interests. The sinking of the ship by an "external explosion of unknown origin”, was the spark that started the Spanish American War.
According to information from the Woods & Wanton Chapter, Inc. Buffalo Soldiers website, Tampa was the embarkation point for the Rough Riders.
Among the assembled ten regiments were two black units camped on the fringes of the elegant Tampa Heights neighborhood. The Twenty-fourth Infantry was located to the north, while the Twenty-fifth camped to the southeast. While the Buffalo Soldiers fostered pride among local blacks they encountered much hostility in Tampa.
On the eve of the army's embarkation for Cuba, Tampa was the scene of a serious clash between the black and white troops. Overcoming racial obstacles, the Buffalo Soldiers distinguished themselves on the battlefield in Cuba and later in the Philippines, earning five Medals of Honor for valor at San Juan and El Caney.
In 1835, 110 US troops under the command of Major Francis Dade were ambushed between Fort Brooke (Tampa) and Fort King (Ocala) near present day Bushnell. Only 2 men survived. The bodies of Major
Dade and his men were reinterred in this cemetery in 1842.
The St. Augustine National Cemetery is dominated by three eight-foot coquina pyramids and a 20-foot obelisk. The Dade Pyramids lay atop the remains of over 1300 US soldiers who died in the 1st and 2nd Seminole Wars. The obelisk was erected in 1881 as a tribute to Major Dade and his troops.
Speakers at the event included Mr. Cliff Shields, Director of Jacksonville and St. Augustine National Cemeteries; Mayor George Gardner, past mayor of St. Augustine; LTC. Bill Moline, USAF (Ret.); and B.G. Charles Spicola, Rough Riders
Each spoke about the history of St. Augustine, the role of Florida in war time and the dedication of servicemembers to a cause greater than themselves.
The ceremony was concluded with a volley by the Rough Riders Honor Guard, TAPS presented by LTC Will Crenshaw, USA (Ret.), followed by the placing of the wreaths and a salute to each memory.
For more information on the history, go to the following websites:
1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment "Rough Riders" – http://www.tampa-roughriders.org/
Buffalo Soldiers - http://www.wdwn-tampa.org/
Major Dade Command - http://mitchellarchives.com/the-dade-massacre-in-florida.htm.
United States National Cemeteries in Florida - http://www.cem.va.gov/cems/state.asp?State=FL
Mayor George Gardner’s St. Augustine Report – contact firstname.lastname@example.org