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Reviewed by:
  • Cast in Deathless Bronze: Andrew Rowan, the Spanish-American War, and the Origins of American Empire by Donald Tunnicliff Rice
  • Jack Hammersmith
Cast in Deathless Bronze: Andrew Rowan, the Spanish-American War, and the Origins of American Empire. By Donald Tunnicliff Rice. (Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2016. Pp. xiii, 370.)

Donald Tunnicliff Rice's Cast in Deathless Bronze: Andrew Rowan, the Spanish-American War, and the Origins of American Empire is partly biographical and partly thematic. On the one hand, it rescues a shadowy, minor historical figure from present-day oblivion as it skillfully shows how a meeting of an American military officer and a leader of the Cuban revolution was transformed into a convenient, popular, and usable myth. Largely because of the efforts of a minor publishing figure, carrying a message to Garcia came to be used by business entrepreneurs, Boy Scout executives, and, in fact, anyone [End Page 188] seeking to inspire others to persistent and conscientious service. As so often happens, the myth became far bigger than the moment.

Thanks in large part to his use of the Andrew Summers Rowan Papers at Stanford University and to diligent historical spadework, Rice not only fleshes out Rowan's life but provides fascinating insights into a military career that blended flashes of prominence with periods of bureaucratic slogging amid alcoholism and abrasive behavior toward superiors. His involvement in topographical studies crucially led to assignments to collect military information, first in Canada, and later as part of the US Military Information Division in Mexico and most of Central America. All this prepared Rowan for his most famous assignment in the Caribbean when war with Spain erupted.

In establishing contact with Cuban general Calixto Garcia Iniguez, Rowan became famous, less so at the time than eventually through the "late-night scribbling by a long-haired megalomaniac named Elbert Hubbard" (108). Seeking to fill the pages of his magazine, The Philistine, Hubbard transformed Rowan's meeting into an inspirational call to dedicated and loyal service, seeing to fruition whatever assignment one was given. In the process Hubbard largely fabricated almost every key aspect of Rowan's famous meeting.

As Rice skillfully shows, the creation and perpetuation of this myth encumbered Rowan's encounter with misinformation and stretched its significance into areas never contemplated by its participants. Today, we might simply call this fake history.

For all its strengths, the volume is not without shortcomings. Not only does it lean on many older histories of the war with Spain and on empire such as those by Russell Alger, Henry Cabot Lodge, Murat Halstead, and Walter Millis, overlooking more recent studies by such scholars as David Healy, Michael Hunt, Kristin Hoganson, Paul Kramer, and Richard Welch, but it tends to be thin on historical background and analysis. Moreover, numerous minor errors of fact detract from the text. The author's contention that "a great deal of animosity" existed between the United States and Great Britain "in the last third of the nineteenth century" (23) could better have been applied to the entire century; placing Rowan's birth in Monroe County, West Virginia, in 1857 predates the state's creation by six years (20); Stewart Woodford was minister, not ambassador, to Spain in 1898 (36); and misspellings of Japanese place and personal names occur all too frequently.

Overall, however, Cast in Deathless Bronze is well worth reading. Rowan's story not only intersects with West Virginia history, but it reconstructs early military efforts at intelligence-gathering, reveals the many aspects—the tedious and lonely, the fulfilling and frustrating—of military life on the late [End Page 189] nineteenth-century western frontier and in Cuba and the Philippines, and illustrates effectively the way history is often twisted into a myth that overwhelms both the actions of its original participants and truth itself.

Jack Hammersmith
West Virginia University Emeritus
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5057
Print ISSN
0043-325X
Pages
pp. 188-190
Launched on MUSE
2018-02-09
Open Access
No
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