Guerilla Warfare, 1899

Nov. 12, 1899: Aguinaldo shifts to Guerilla Warfare

By the closing months of 1899, the army of the Philippine Republic was no longer a regular fighting force.

President Emilio Aguinaldo himself was under siege in Pangasinan Province from three pursuing American generals, from the north by Brig. Gen. Loyd Wheaton, from the south by Brig. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, Jr., and from the east by Maj. Gen. Henry Lawton.

On Nov. 12, 1899, at a meeting of the council of war in Bayambang, the army was dissolved by Aguinaldo. It was formed into guerrilla units that would carry on the war unconventionally, relying on ambush, concealment, and the avoidance of set-piece battles.

The Wichita Daily Eagle, Wichita, Kansas, issue dated Nov. 11, 1899, quotes the La Independencia, official newspaper of the Philippine Republic

William Jennings Bryan campaign poster 1900The Filipinos also hoped that William Jennings Bryan, Democratic party candidate who opposed the annexation of the Philippines, would topple Mckinley in the 1900 US presidential election. Otherwise, they would prolong the war until the Americans tired out.

Aguinaldo, in a proclamation circulated among his troops, said:

“In America there is a great party that insists on the Government recognizing Filipino Independence. That party will compel the United States to fulfil the promises made to us in all solemnity and good faith, though not put into writing. Therefore, we must show our gratitude and maintain our position more resolutely than ever.

“We should pray to God that the great Democratic party may win the next Presidential election and imperialism fall in its mad attempt to subjugate us by force of arms.”

He also denounced “the imperialists” in the United States, and declared that “we do not want war against the United States; we only defend our independence against the imperialists; the sons of that mighty nation are our friends and brothers.”

13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry
13th Minnesota Volunteers in action against Filipinos
US troops dash for cover
Americans dash for cover. Photo taken in 1899. Location not specified.
American scouting party under fire
American scouting party under fire. Photo taken in 1899. Location not specified. When Americans fell into an ambush, nearby barrios were ordered burned. If an American was assassinated in one of the towns, that town was burned.
US troops prone by roadside 1899
Photo taken in 1899. Location not specified
American troops clearing a thicket
Americans engaging Filipinos in a bamboo thicket. Photo taken in 1899. Location not specified
US troops at rest before battle 1899
American troops at rest before a battle. PHOTO was taken in 1899.
Coy D, 30th Vol Inf Rgmt at Pasay, Nov 1899
Men of Company D, 30th US Volunteer Infantry Regiment, take hasty positions just outside Manila at Pasay, 1899.
US troops moving in the bamboo 1899
US troops moving in the bamboo, 1899.
US troops fighting Filipinos in the bamboo 1899
Americans in bamboo fighting. Photo taken in 1899. Location not specified
Americans in action in the bamboo
Americans in bamboo fighting. Photo taken in 1899. Location not specified

On Dec. 20, 1900, Brig. Gen. Arthur C. MacArthur, Jr., declared in an official proclamation that since guerrilla warfare was contrary to “the customs and usages of war,” those engaged in it “divest themselves of the character of soldiers, and if captured are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war.” Less self-disciplined men found in the proclamation authorization for identifying Filipino fighters as outlaws and dealing with them accordingly.

Filipinos blazing away at the Americans, 1899.

Wounded Filipino being carried by Filipino POWS to 1st Colorado hospital, 1899
POWs bringing in a wounded Filipino to a field hospital of the 1st Colorado Volunteers, 1899.

Official American reports claimed fifteen Filipinos killed for every one wounded; the historical norm was five wounded for every soldier killed. Maj. Gen. Elwell S. Otis explained this anomaly by the superior marksmanship of rural southerners and westerners who had hunted all their lives.

Medic attending to wounded US soldier 1899
A medic attends to a wounded American soldier. PHOTO was taken in 1899, somewhere in Luzon Island.

MacArthur added a racial twist, asserting that Anglo-Saxons do not succumb to wounds as easily as do men of “inferior races.”

John Roberts, a bugler in the 13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment, said, “We have been vastly more cruel than the Spanish. I have known of orders being given which, if put in writing, would read, in effect: Let there be no wounded among the enemy.”

RP-US War 1898 2 Filipino soldiers behind cogon brass
Two Filipinos fight behind cogon grass; undated photo and location not specified Few of the Filipinos had rifles; most were armed only with bolo knives. Ammunition was equally scarce, and the Filipinos were forced to manufacture their own cartridges and powder. The latter was unreliable and released thick black smoke that revealed their positions.

Richard E. Welch, Jr., a professor of history at Lafayette College, wrote that the Filipinos’ use of guerrilla tactics was the result of his inferior mind and his lowly race. He said, “…the American soldier viewed his Filipino enemies with contempt because of their short stature and color. Contempt was also occasioned by the refusal of the Filipino ‘to fight fair’- to stand his ground and be shot down like a man. When the Filipino adopted guerrilla tactics, it was because he was by his very nature half-savage and half-bandit. His practice of fighting with a bolo on one day and assuming the guise of a peaceful villager on the next proved his depravity.”

Charles Ballantine of the Associated Press stated that the Filipinos were “unreliable, untrustworthy, ignorant, vicious, immoral and lazy . . . tricky, and, as a race more dishonest than any known race on the face of the earth.”

U.S. troops moving in backcountry against Filipinos
Original caption: ” U.S. troops moving into the back country in the war against Philippine insurgents”
Bloody Lane, where the 14th Infantry charged 1899
Original caption: “Bloody Lane, where the 14th Infantry charged.” Photo was taken in 1899, location not specified.
us squad with loot and pows
Americans with loot and prisoners; photo taken in 1899; location not specified. Captain John H. Parker argued in a November 1900 letter to President Theodore Roosevelt complaining that the U.S. Army should not �attempt to meet a half civilized foe� with the same methods devised for civilized warfare against people of our own race, country and blood.�
Father and son killed by Americans. Photo taken in 1899, location not specified. A U.S. Red Cross worker reported seeing �horribly mutilated Filipino bodies,� and said, �American soldiers are determined to kill every Filipino in sight.� A soldier from Washington wrote of bloodthirsty �sights you could hardly believe,� and concluded, �A white man seems to forget that he is human.�

U.S. military forays descended into a series of atrocities that included the massacre of prisoners, civilian and military, and entire villages. General William Shafter told a journalist it might be necessary to kill half the native population to bring �perfect justice� to the other half.

American soldiers at nipa outpost no date or location
American soldiers at an outpost; photo undated and location in the Philippines not specified
American soldiers near a thatched hut 1899
American soldiers at an outpost somewhere in Luzon Island, 1899.
American Soldiers Holding Rifles During Philippine Insurrection
American soldiers at an outpost somewhere in Luzon Island, 1899.
US troops at outpost colorized
American soldiers at an outpost. Colorized photo was taken in 1899, somewhere in Luzon Island.

Leonard F. Adams, 1st Washington Volunteers, wrote home about a campaign in Luzon: “In the path of the Washington regiment..there were 1,008 dead niggers and a great many wounded. We burned all their houses. I don’t know how many men, women and children the Tennessee boys did kill. They would not take any prisoners. One company of the Tennessee boys was sent to headquarters with thirty prisoners, and got there with about a hundred chickens and no prisoners.”

Filipino family circa 1890s
A group of Filipino women and children. Photo taken in 1898 or 1899.

General Robert Hughes, U.S. commander in Manila, justified the Army’s atrocities against civilians: �The women and children are part of the family and where you wish to inflict punishment you can punish the man probably worse in that way than in any other.�

Filipino family girl with hat circa 1890s
A Filipino and his children. Photo taken in 1898 or 1899.

The San Francisco Argonaut, an influential Republican newspaper, spoke candidly: “We do not want the Filipinos. We want the Philippines. The islands are enormously rich, but unfortunately they are infested with Filipinos. There are many millions there, and it is to be feared their extinction will be slow.” The paper’s solution was to recommend several unusually cruel methods of torture it believed “would impress the Malay mind” ���the rack, the thumbscrew, the trial by fire, the trial by molten lead, boiling insurgents alive.�

The advice was well taken. The Baltimore American had to admit the U.S. occupation �aped� Spain’s cruelty and committed crimes �we went to war to banish.�

American historian Leon Wolff quoted an observer, “Even the Spaniards are appalled at American cruelty.”

US Army hangs 2 Filipinos ca 1899 u of wa
The U.S. Army hangs 2 Filipinos, circa 1899.
Coy D, 30th Vol Inf Regt, thanksgiving dinner at Pasay, Nov 24 1899_opt
Thanksgiving Day dinner for Company D, 30th US Volunteers, a few miles south of Manila at Pasay, Nov. 24, 1899.