As was usual in the days before modern medicine, far more soldiers died of disease than of enemy action. The battlefield commanders, including Roosevelt, wanted to bring the soldiers home. But the leadership in Washington — in particular Russell Alger, the secretary of war — refused, fearing a political backlash. A standoff ensued.
The career Army officers, who did not want to risk their jobs by being too outspoken, were stymied. Roosevelt, as a short-term volunteer, had less to lose. So, with the tacit approval of his fellow commanders, he wrote a fiery open letter and released it to the press.
The letter, known as the “round robin,” was printed in virtually every newspaper in the country, creating an uproar demanding that the soldiers be brought home immediately. Alger relented, and the troops were sent to quarantine on the end of Long Island, at Montauk Point. Though hundreds of men died of disease in Cuba, Roosevelt’s actions probably saved countless more.