I found the story of the story as fascinating as the story itself.
The little article was written (the author explains in the forward "Apologia"), after a conversation between his young sons about who the 'real' hero of the Spanish-American War was. One son asserted that is was actually Col. Andrew Summers Rowan, whom had been summoned by Pres. McKinley to deliver a message secretly to the leader of the insurgents, General Garcia, in Cuba. The problem was that no one quite knew for sure where Garcia was. Rowan (only a Lt. at the time) was sent to find him and deliver the message as quickly as possible, alone and unguarded. He managed to find him in the (then) jungles on Cuba after only 4 days, and the later victory that happened was surely as a result of this. Rowan ended up being decorated for deed, and Pres. McKinley said "I regard this achievement as one of the most hazardous and heroic deeds in military warfare."
Upon reflecting on the conversation between his sons, the author realized that the one son was accurate, and wrote the article in the space of an hour for his magazines. He enlarged the meaning of the heroics Rowan did to apply to other areas of life-- labor, politics, family, etc. asking why are there not more Rowans in this world who are willing to go the extra mile and give something their all. He didn't highly regard it-- didn't even title it, but looked at it as more filler between the other stuff. When record numbers started pouring in for copies of reprints, he came figured out it was for this one article. It ended up in a visiting Prince from Russia's hands who took it back, had it translated and distributed to every soldier then serving in the Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese War. Upon taking Russian soldiers prisoners-of-war and finding a copy of this on each of them, the Japanese Government decided it must be very important and had it translated, and on order of the Mikado, had a copy distributed to every government employee-- soldier or civilian. By 1913, more copies had been printed world-wide than "any other literary venture has ever attained during the lifetime of its author, in all history-- thanks to a series of lucky accidents." (1913 figures)
The author, Elbert Hubbard, was well known at the time, not only for publishing his magazines "The Philistine" and "The Fra", but also printing fine editions of books out of publishing firm, The Roycroft Shop. He perished on board the Lusitania when it was sank by a German torpedo in 1915.