"Get that message to Garcia." This was the terse command given me by Col. Arthur Wagner, head of the Bureau of Military Intelligence of the United States Government, early in 1898. The United States was facing a war with Spain. Col. Wagner had just come from a conference with President McKinley. The President, worn and wearied with the prospect of war, realized the necessity of information regarding the Spanish forces in Cuba and the condition of the insurgent Cuban forces.
"Where can I find a man who will carry a message to Garcia?" President McKinley had asked Col. Wagner.
"There is a young lieutenant named Rowan here in Washington who will take it."
This was Col. Wagner's immediate reply to the President's appeal, and the President, having confidence in Col. Wagner's judgment, gave an order of two words which sent me on my way, on the most perilous journey I had ever undertaken, a journey fraught with danger at every turn, danger of death at the hands of a Spanish firing squad.
This was the President's command.
Receiving an invitation from Col. Wagner to lunch with him at the Army and Navy club that day, we had no more than been seated when he said: "when does the next boat leave for Jamaica?"
He was a noted joker, and I believed then that he was trying to put something over on me. However, I looked up the sailing time and informed him.
"Can you sail on that boat?" asked the colonel. I quickly said "Yes," still believing that he was indulging in some pleasantry. However, with his next statement I realized that he was in deadly earnest.
"Then prepare to take that boat," said he. "You have been selected by President McKinley to carry a message to Garcia. He is somewhere in the eastern part of Cuba. Your duty will be to find him and learn the military situation in Cuba in so far as he knows. Your success and in all probability the outcome of a possible war with Spain will depend upon you. Leave at midnight tonight. Good-bye and good luck, but - get that message to Garcia."
The trip to the south by boat was without untoward incident, and I arrived in Jamaica at 9 o'clock in the morning, cabled my arrival, and on April 23, the day on which the United States had set as the last moment for the withdrawal of the Spanish forces from Cuba, and the navy from Cuban waters. I received cabled orders to "join Garcia as soon as possible."
This was much more easily said than done, as I realized more and more during each mile of progress for the next few days.
Through Kingston's (Jamaica) streets, through the suburbs and out into the open country, I was carried at breakneck speed in a closed carriage. My driver refused to talk to me, and apparently did not relish being talked to.
At the end of several hours and close to the edge of a dense jungle growth the carriage stopped. A man opened the front door, I stepped out at his invitation and was immediately hustled into another carriage.
But few words were spoken and again we were on our way, racing along the road for hours until we halted near a railroad station. Here I was given food while horses were changed, and in a few moments we were off again, racing through the darkness at top speed.
The sudden blowing of a whistle brought me to attention, and I had misgivings, as the carriage was surrounded by formidably armed men. I was escorted to a house where supper awaited me. Then followed a rest for an hour and we resumed our journey. On this leg of the trip I was accompanied…