Each year a group of aspiring young professionals joins in our work as summer interns. They often make interesting discoveries in the digital library. In this entry, Laura Le stumbles on an all-too-familiar item from her years in the United States Navy. This is the second in a four-part series.
Andrew Summers Rowan was born in 1857 and, after a childhood in present day West Virginia, entered the Military Academy at West Point in 1877. Graduating in 1881, Rowan spent the first years of his Army career on frontier duty, landing in exotic locales like Fort Bliss, Texas, Fort Lewis, Colorado, and a few stints each at Fort Randall and Fort Pembina in the Dakotas. After serving 30 years as a United States Infantry Officer, Rowan retired with the rank of Major in 1909.
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything especially remarkable about this man. He graduated forty-second in a West Point class of fifty-three. Maybe Rowan was the epitome of the pull-up-by-the-bootstraps individual with a can-do attitude and a spine made of steel that was the perfect fit for this mission, like Hubbard said. Was my reaction to seeing Rowan and Garcia’s name in the letter from Roosevelt too harsh?
No, it wasn’t. Well, maybe a little, because Garcia didn’t have anything to do with it, really. All he did was have a message delivered to him. And it wasn’t even a written message! Here’s what really happened.
In 1889, young First Lieutenant Rowan was sent to Washington, D.C., to start his new job at a recently created branch of the Army, the Military Information Division (MID), or as we know it today, military intelligence. Not only was Rowan an infantry officer, he was a topographical officer during his time in North Dakota, where he also volunteered for reconnaissance duty along the Canadian border. By the time the Spanish-American War started, Rowan had already spent a year in Central America as a member of an intercontinental railroad survey, spent five years in charge of the MID’s Map Section, and co-authored a book about – wait for it – Cuba. In 1897, as the Grover Cleveland administration was still deciding whether to side with Spain or Cuba, Army generals compiled a list of possible American officers who could be sent to Cuba for the purpose of espionage. Do I really have to say who was on the list?
So, in summary, a man who makes maps, speaks Spanish, wrote a book about the country, and was basically a SPY is the so-called man who didn’t need book learning or instruction, only loyalty and obedience, to go and carry the message to Garcia.
The mission didn’t even happen that way. Rowan wrote an essay in 1923, "How I Carried the Message to Garcia," to set the record straight. There was no letter sealed in an oil-skin pouch placed over his heart. There was no superman hopping off a boat and disappearing into the jungle for three weeks. Instead, according to Joan Jensen, author of the book Army Surveillance in America, 1775-1980, there was a new president trying to figure out what to do about a Cuba wanting independence from Spain, so Rowan’s boss, the head of Army Intelligence, gets orders from the president and his secretary of war to send two spies down to Cuba. Using orders that sent him to Chile as the new military attaché, Rowan really leaves for Cuba weeks before Congress declared war on Spain. And because he’s a spy, Rowan isn’t given any written orders and is, in fact, told not to carry any papers on him that might give him away as an American. Because again, he’s a spy. He’s hanging around in Jamaica while the Cubans are demanding that the United States pay for his expenses up front when a cipher telegram arrives, telling him to go meet Garcia. Two days later, he’s been escorted to meet Garcia in Bayamo, Cuba, where Garcia promptly kicks him out of the country before any spying can be done.
I’m so sorry for ever wanting to hit you, General Garcia. Elbert Hubbard, on the other hand…
Jensen, Joan M. Army Surveillance in America, 1775-1980. Yale University Press, 1991
Rowan, Andrew Summers. "How I Carried the Message to Garcia." Foundations Magazine. Accessed on August 24, 2018. http://www.foundationsmag.com/rowan.html
“Rowan, Andrew Summers.” Callum’s Register. Accessed through http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/Army/USMA/Cullums_Register/2920*.html