Andrew Summers Rowan died at San Francisco, California, January 10, 1943. His remains were interred with full Military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, May 14, 1943.
He was born April 23, 1857, at Gap Mills, Va., the son of Hon. John M. and Virginia Wirt Summers Rowan.
He was affectionately known to us as “Corp,” and when writing to his classmates he added after his signature “Corp to you.” On graduation he was assigned to the 15th Infantry and served with his regiment and on various special duties. Just before the outbreak of the Spanish American War he was on duty at the War Department in the Bureau of Military Intelligence, of which Colonel Arthur L. Wagner was the Chief. At that time war with Spain was considered inevitable. Due to the sinking of the battleship MAINE in Havana Harbor, on the night of February 15, 1898, relations between the countries had become more and more strained.
On the morning of April 8, 1898, President McKinley sent for Colonel Wagner and said he wanted to send a message to General Calixto Garcia of the Cuban Revolutionists, and asked Colonel Wagner if he knew a man who could get the message through. Wagner replied that he had a young lieutenant named Rowan, on duty in his office who could do it if anyone could. The President said, “Send him.” Colonel Wagner returned to his office and invited Rowan to take lunch with him at the Army and Navy Club. They had been seated but a moment when Wagner asked Rowan when the next ship would sail for Jamaica. Wagner had a reputation for being an inveterate joker and Rowan suspected a joke, but asked to be excused and in a few minutes returned stating the “Adirondack” would sail at noon the next day from New York for Kingston, Jamaica. Wagner then asked Rowan if he could take that ship. Rowan still was uncertain in his mind as to whether there was a joke in the proposal but said he believed he could. Wagner then told him to get ready to take it, saying the State Department would make the necessary arrangements for his landing in Jamaica and the Quartermaster General would furnish the transportation. He then told him of the President’s instructions and outlined the nature of the information he was to secure from General Garcia. He was to carry no papers and after his arrival in Kingston, provided war was declared with Spain, further instructions would be based on cables received from him. He sailed as directed and arrived at Kingston, Jamaica, on or about April 20, 1898, and cabled his arrival to the War Department.
On April 23 he was directed by cable to join Garcia as soon as possible. War was declared as of April 21.
Arrangements had been made meantime for the Cuban Junta in Jamaica to furnish guides and transportation from Kingston to Cuba and to Garcia’s headquarters. Special haste was necessary in getting out of Jamaica, as it was possible the Spanish authorities might learn of Rowan’s presence there and make protest to the British authorities, with uncertain results. So Rowan was driven at breakneck speed with several relays of animals across Jamaica to the north shore where a small fishing boat was in readiness and sails were set for the hazardous trip across the 100 miles of open sea to Cuba. Spanish patrol boats were numerous and one actually bore down on them and came within hailing distance. Rowan concealed himself as well as possible in the bottom of the boat, while the Cuban guides calmly fished. The commander of the patrol boat evidently was satisfied that this was only a party of poor fishermen and merely called out asking how the fishing was, and on receiving the reply that it was poor went on his way. Landing was eventually made under cover of darkness near the spot which became, a few months later, the watery sepulchre of the Spanish battleship “Cristobal Colon,” reputedly among the mightiest battleships then afloat.
The journey through Cuba to Garcia’s headquarters was more hazardous than the sea trip, for Spanish troops mercilessly hunted down Cubans and little mercy was shown by the forces directed by Weyler, the “butcher.” Constant vigilance was necessary, but the Cuban guides, by long experience, had become adept at detecting the proximity of the Spanish patrols. Roads or trails could not generally be followed, so progress was slow, and frequently the way had to be hacked out through the jungle. When camp was made at night the natives would sometimes appear, and one night Rowan noticed there were some men in a dress strange to him. He inquired who they were and was told that they were deserters from the Spanish Army. They gave lack of food and harsh treatment by their officers as reasons for deserting. Rowan became suspicious, however, and gave instructions that they should not leave camp during his stay there. He was awakened after midnight by the challenge of a sentinel, quickly followed by a shot, and almost instantly he discerned a shadowy form close to his hammock. He tumbled out on the opposite side and instantly a second shadowy form appeared and struck down the first with the stroke of a machete. The first form proved to be one of the deserters. He was mortally injured but lived long enough to confess that he and a comrade were spies and had agreed to attempt to get away from camp, and that if one was killed in the attempt the other would kill Rowan and thus prevent the carrying out of whatever project he was engaged in. The sentinels shot and killed his comrade. The alertness and loyalty of the Cuban guides in carrying out Rowan’s wise instructions had saved him from assassination.
After many hairbreadth escapes from Spanish patrols and almost incredible hardships in crossing streams with vertical banks and hacking their way through the jungle, General Garcia’s headquarters at Bayamo were finally reached, and the message to Garcia delivered. A royal reception was given Rowan and after consultation, it was decided, at Garcia’s suggestion that three or four of his aides should return with Rowan to the United States, as they could give the needed military information in detail with first-hand knowledge. The return trip was to be made from the north shore of Cuba, involving the same kind of hazardous land journey across Cuba and an even more dangerous sea trip. War was now on in earnest and Spanish soldiers patrolled every mile of shore and their boats, every bay and inlet. The land trip was successfully accomplished and the trip across 150 miles of open sea to New Providence, Nassau Island, was made in a cockle-shell of a boat, capacity 104 cubic feet with sails made of gunny sacks spliced together. No Spanish boats were sighted, but the little boat was tossed about by the sea in a terrifying manner, and all hands had to bail almost constantly. The cockle-shell boat with its gunny-sack sails stood the test, however, and New Providence was finally reached, where passage on a schooner to Key West was obtained and they reached there May 13. The party went by train to Washington, where Rowan reported with General Garcia’s aides to General Miles, commanding the Army.
After receiving Rowan’s report, General Miles wrote to the Secretary of War as follows:
“I also recommend that 1st Lieut. Andrew S. Rowan, 19th U.S. Infantry, be made a Lieutenant Colonel of one of the regiments of Immunes. Lieutenant Rowan made a journey across Cuba, was with the Insurgent Army with Lt. General Garcia, and brought most important and valuable information to the Government. This was a most perilous undertaking and, in my judgment, Lieutenant Rowan performed an act of heroism and cool daring that has rarely been excelled in the annals of warfare.”
Rowan was appointed Lieutenant Colonel. 6th U.S. Infantry, May 31, 1898. General Miles subsequently wrote to the Secretary of War as follows:
June 22, 1922.
To the Honorable,
Secretary of War.
I regard the achievement of Major Rowan as one of the most hazardous and heroic deeds in military warfare and I earnestly recommend that he be granted the most distinguished decoration authorized by Congress.
I have the honor to remain with great respect,
Very truly yours,
NELSON A. MILES,
Lt. General U.S. Army.
The Distinguished Service Cross was awarded Rowan after Congress had authorized this class of award. The President invited Rowan to attend a Cabinet meeting where he was congratulated and thanked by the President for the manner in which he had communicated his wishes to General Garcia and for the value of the work, stating he had performed a very brave deed. Rowan was embarrassed by the many congratulations he received, insisting with his innate modesty that he had done no more than his simple duty as a soldier.
The Republic of Cuba expressed its appreciation of Rowan’s deed as shown by the following:
REPUBLICA DE CUBA
Consulado En San Francisco, California
July 27, 1938.
Colonel Andrew Summers Rowan: Many years ago, with faith in God, and having for your only guide determination and courage, you performed a deed which has become a classic all over the earth. You have set up an everlasting lesson for the youth of your country. You have covered with prestige and glory the Army of this great nation. And that is the reason why they are here today, to honor the man that honored them before. Recognition usually comes late, the world forgets; but what a reward! Here, alongside with the Army, with your companions of yesterday, with your companions of today, dreaming of your dangerous excursions through the Cuban jungles, of the perils which you defied, feeling that you helped a small country to attain its Independence, you can rest, and go on dreaming all the beautiful things of the spirit, because looking up to you the younger generation, and the generations to come, will forever learn to love, to admire, and to emulate your example. The statue of deathless bronze which Elbert Hubbard wishes to set up in every school is already engraved in the heart of every American. And the words of President McKinley will resound in your ears until your last moment:
“YOU HAVE PERFORMED A GREAT DEED.”
Far from here, my people, the Cuban people, whom you contributed to liberate, filled with gratitude, pray for you.
In the name of my people, and in the name of the Government of Cuba, I have the unexpected privilege and the undeserved honor to bestow upon you our highest decoration: the Order Carlos Manuel de Cespedes.
J. J. ZARZA,
(Jose Joaquin Zarza),
Consul for Cuba.
This is a very beautiful and artistic medal of gold and silver, incrusted with precious stones. Bronze plaques and tablets suitably inscribed have also been placed in high places of honor in Havana and Bayamo, Cuba, and arrangements have been made to place a bronze bust of Rowan in Maine Park, Havana.
Rowan’s heroic deed was given nationwide acclaim by Elbert Hubbard’s classic account of it, entitled “A Message to Garcia,” millions of copies of which were sold and many more millions of reprints were distributed by commercial houses. The gist of this account is well summarized in the following extract from it:
“The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter (Editor’s note: the message was really an oral one) to be delivered to Garcia. Rowan took the letter and did not ask ‘where is he at’ By the Eternal, there’s a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college in the land.
It is not book learning that young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies, do the thing—carry a message to Garcia.”
Rowan was prevailed upon to write an account of his trip, and the foregoing is mainly a condensation from his own story, published under the title “How I Carried the Message to Garcia.”
He served for nineteen years in the 19th Infantry, where his memory is revered, and on each annual Field Day, a Review or other suitable exercise is held in his memory.
Subsequent to the Spanish War he served mostly with his regiment, including two tours of duty in the Philippine Islands, and he received the S.S.C. for gallantry in action in the attack on Sudlon Mt. Cebu, P. I., January 8, 1900.
He was retired from active service December 1, 1909, at his own request after 30 years service. He settled in San Francisco, California, where his widow still lives. His family life was ideally happy, and Mrs. Rowan and his many friends mourn their loss and cherish the memory of our beloved, “Corp”.
One of his friends dedicated to him a short poem, as follows:
San Francisco Chapter
RESERVE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION OF THE UNITED STATES From the Desk of the President Major Herbert D. Walter, Spec-Res. 1045 Vallejo Street
Colonel Andrew Summers Rowan, M. H.
Once in my younger manhood
There came to me the command:
That I carry my chieftain’s message
To one in a hostile land.
Over sea, past guarded coast line.
And through fevered jungle I won
Until I delivered my message
And returned with my Duty done.
For that I deemed it my Duty
Not for reward or for fame,
I put my life in the balance
And my Country gave me acclaim.
Living the words of the motto
Of the school where I learned War’s art,
The words that are borne upon her shield
As I bear them in my heart.
Throughout a life of service
With patience and courage and skill
I have carried my Country’s message, I carry that message still.
So that we do our Duty,
So that our Honor be clean.
So that we serve our Country
Then nothing can intervene.
For as long as ye bear them in your hearts
And faithfully serve these three:
Duty and Honor and Country,v The Nation shall be free.
Herbert David Walter,
Major, Spec-Res. O.R.C.,
National Defense Week, 1940.
—J. T. K.