Lieutenant plays integral role during Spanish-American War
April 23, 1898
The world situation in 1898 was highly charged. Beginning in 1492, Spain had built an empire along the Atlantic seaboard which, at its height, extended from Virginia to the tip of South America. By 1825 much of that empire had fallen into other hands, and Spain acknowledged the independence of its possessions on the mainlands. However, Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Atlantic, and the Philippines, Guam, and other islands in the Pacific, were still under Spanish control. Cuba was the first of these to initiate its fight for independence.
Tensions between the United States and Spain over control of Cuba had been growing for some time, heightened because of American interests in the sugar trade. By 1895, the United States had more than $50 million invested in Cuba, and the annual trade, mostly in sugar, was twice that amount. Despite President Grover Cleveland’s declaration of neutrality, many Americans began to clamor for war. When the USS Maine exploded in Manila harbor on Feb. 15, 1898, war seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
But the new American President, William McKinley, needed information. He knew success against Spain meant he needed cooperation from the insurgent forces within Cuba seeking independence from Spain. As Andrew Rowan himself wrote, the President needed to know “how many Spanish troops there were on the island, their quality and condition, their morale, the character of their officers, especially those of the high command; the state of the roads in all seasons; the sanitary situation in both the Spanish and insurgent armies and the country in general; how well both sides were armed and what the Cuban forces would need in order to harass the enemy while American battalions were being mobilized; the topography of the country and many other important facts.”
The President asked then-Maj. Arthur Wagner, head of the Military Information Division, whom he should send to Cuba to carry a critical message to Gen. Calixto Garcia. Wagner recommended “a young officer here in Washington; a lieutenant named Rowan, who will carry it for you.” “Send him!” was the President’s order.
Thus began a harrowing, dangerous journey deep into Cuba to meet with Garcia, the Cuban revolutionary and enemy of Spain. 1st Lt. Andrew Rowan understood the dangers: upon his departure from the United States, a state of war did not exist. Rowan arrived in Cuba on April 23, 1898. Two days later, the United States declared war on Spain and the situation instantly became deadly serious. It took another week of traveling before Rowan successfully delivered his message to Garcia on May 1, 1898. In his own words, Rowan wrote, “The long and toilsome journey with its many risks, its chances of failure, its chances for death, was over. I had succeeded.”
Garcia furnished Rowan with maps and other intelligence on Spanish strengths and weaknesses on the island and sent him back the same day, with two officers from his own army to accompany him and coordinate American military efforts from Washington. Another dangerous journey lay ahead. Before the fighting ended, the United States would spend $250 million and lose 3,000 lives – 90 percent to infectious diseases. Spain and America signed a peace treaty in Paris on Dec. 10, 1898, establishing the independence of Cuba, ceding Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States, and allowing the United States to purchase the Philippines Islands from Spain for $20 million.
To read Rowan’s exciting first-hand account of carrying the President’s message to Garcia, check out the full article in Foundations Magazine at http://www.foundationsmag.com/rowan.html.