The USA spreads its wings – The Philippine Insurrection (Part V)

Comparatively newly arrived in the Philippines after his part in the Santiago campaign, General Lawton was despatched by Otis during April to strike south toward Santa Cruz in the region of Laguna de Bay. At the same time MacArthur, now a major general, was launched north from Malolos through the central plain toward San Fernando. By May both drives had achieved considerable success, and the extension of American power south and north from the Manila area made it increasingly difficult for the Filipinos to continue a properly organised resistance. Aguinaldo was forced to flee north, where he found refuge in the mountains.

With the arrival of the rainy season in the early summer of 1899, the Americans called a halt to further offensive operations, which would in any case need more manpower. Operations up to this time had led to 1,026 engagements resulting in American casualties of 245 killed, 490 wounded, and 118 captured. Claimed Filipino losses were 3,854 killed, 1,193 wounded, and 6,572 captured. Additional men, boosting American strength to 45,000 men, had arrived by the autumn, when better climatic conditions allowed operations to be resumed against the Filipino rebels.

Three-pronged offensive
In September 1899, Otis launched a three-pronged offensive by division-sized forces into northern Luzon against the main part of the Filipinos’ surviving strength. On the left, Brigadier General Loyd Wheaton’s force sailed from Manila to San Fabian, landed, and moved inland to defeat a rebel force at San Jacinto and link up with the central American drive at Dagupan. In the centre, MacArthur advanced through Tarlac to reach Dagupan. And on the right, Lawton recaptured San Isidro and advanced toward San Fabian on Lingayen Gulf despite appalling conditions. Indeed, these were so bad that the column averaged only 20 miles (32 km) per week for six weeks.

Colonel Young, commanding the cavalry element of Lawton’s division, finally received permission to break away from the slower infantry and decided to speed his advance by living off the land after abandoning his supporting wagons. Young’s troopers surprised Aguinaldo’s rearguard near San Pedro and captured the Filipino leader’s mother and son. Yet again, however, Aguinaldo and most of his guerrillas escaped.

By this time the war had lost all resemblance to an orthodox campaign, yet Otis was now so convinced that he was winning that he continued to press ahead with his effort to extend central control from Manila. With a strength of more than 60,000 men, Otis created a fan of outposts around the capital at the cost of tying down a large proportion of his effective strength. During December, the commander in the Philippines was so sure that he was winning that he telegraphed Washington four times to inform the authorities that the war was over.

Otis’s subordinate commanders, or at least some of the more thoughtful of them, were not so sure. Lawton described the Filipino rebels as ‘the bravest men I have ever seen’. MacArthur was not as fulsome but still nearer the mark with his comment that ‘…wherever throughout the archipelago there is a group of the insurgent army, it is a fact beyond dispute that all the contiguous towns contribute to the maintenance thereof…Intimidation has undoubtedly accomplished much to this end; but fear as the only motive is hardly sufficient to account for the united and apparently spontaneous action of several millions of people.’

Undeterred, Otis continued with his programme of fanning outposts out from Manila, and sending punitive expeditions to other islands. Yet local resistance increased, and the Americans’ steadily lengthening lines of communication became irresistible yet vulnerable targets for the rebels. Trails and paths were blocked or ‘mined’ with drop traps, the rebels ambushed supply parties and outpost garrisons, and local villagers stole small arms and ammunition.

The policy adopted by Otis was therefore not very effective in terms of success rate and practical use of manpower. Yet it did provide a measure of success, and during the winter of 1899/1900 continued American operations did succeed in eliminating most of the last rebel elements from the region around Manila, and finally securing the vital lines of communication in central Luzon.

Otis replaced by MacArthur
By March 1900 the army had extended its grip to southern Luzon and the Visayan islands, and in May Otis was confident that the insurrection was beaten and asked to be relieved. As 1900 was a Congressional election year, McKinley was concerned that Republican chances were being affected by the slow pace of Otis’s programme, and readily agreed to the request. The new commander was MacArthur and, contrary to Otis’s belief, the insurrection was not over. The Filipino rebels were certainly weaker than they had been, but they were still full of fight. MacArthur had some 70,000 men at his disposal, and opted to follow the same basic tactics as Otis while adding some new elements of his own. Initially these were a resounding failure. MacArthur launched an amnesty plan, but only 5,000 Filipinos came in to swear allegiance to the American flag; MacArthur offered 30 pesos for every rifle surrendered, but only 140 weapons were turned in; and while punitive expeditions were still sent to other islands, isolated from each other by gunboat blockade, MacArthur offered their chiefs bribes to halt the fighting, but spent a considerable sum only to find that the chiefs did nothing.

MacArthur now wanted to try harsher tactics, but could not secure authorisation from Washington at a time when the administration was more concerned with placating the voters. Imperialism was a major issue in the elections of the year, and seeing that a Democratic majority in the Congress was his only hope, Aguinaldo urged the rebels to greater efforts so that the Philippine issue would remain in the headlines, and therefore in the minds of the voters. The Republican victory was a major blow to Aguinaldo.

With the elections out of the way, the administration gave MacArthur a freer hand and also considerable reinforcements. At the end of 1901 MacArthur placed the islands under martial law, and there followed mass arrests and internment. At this point the rebel movement faltered for the first time, and the pro-American Federal Party began to grow in strength. Over the last few months, a number of morally and physically exhausted rebels had come over to the American side, and over much the same period American commanders had been able to use Filipinos, mostly as irregular scouts.

The Philippine Scouts: a decisive weapon
In February 1901, MacArthur received Congressional permission to raise ‘a body of native troops, not exceeding 12,000, called “Scouts”’, initially comprising between 30 and 50 companies each of 100 men under the command of American officers. This marked a major turning point in the war, for the Philippine Scouts proved very loyal and at last gave the Americans access to local knowledge that had previously been the preserve of the rebels. The Philippine Scouts played a significant part in the first real break won by the Americans in the insurrection, namely the capture of Aguinaldo. The event resulted from the capture, by troops under Brigadier General Frederick Funston, of a rebel courier. This man was found to be carrying among other messages an order from Aguinaldo to a chief ordering the latter to send 400 fighting men as soon as possible, and the the courier also revealed that Aguinaldo was in Isabela, the mountainous north-eastern province of Luzon.

A resourceful volunteer officer, Funston rapidly planned and with some difficulty secured official permission for an effort to take the Filipino leader. Funston instructed 81 Maccabebe tribesmen of the Philippine Scouts to masquerade as the men ordered by Aguinaldo, and with Funston himself and four other officers acting the part of prisoners, this party moved 100 miles (160 km) through rebel territory to reach Aguinaldo’s headquarters. Funston’s party took Aguinaldo prisoner, and then returned to American-held territory. It was a quite extraordinary achievement. Aguinaldo later swore allegiance to the American flag and then issued a surrender proclamation.

Taft arrives as governor
Another important break for the Americans was the July 1901 appointment of William Howard Taft (later the 27th president) as civilian governor of the islands. At the same time MacArthur was replaced as military commander by Major General Adna R. Chaffee, who was placed firmly under the overall control of Taft. To ensure that the military did in fact follow Taft’s orders, control of all military funds, including pay, was entrusted to the governor.

Taft saw his major task as being the establishment of an effective American administration in the islands. As the governor’s policy began to produce results, support for the rebel cause declined. The effect of this American policy was thus considerable, and it has been graphically said that ‘rebel operations now began to resemble writhing ganglia of a headless body’. With their position worsening almost by the day, the rebels became desperate and turned more frequently to atrocities.

Unfortunately for the American cause, this resulted in a number of very harsh measures by some army commanders, most notably Brigadier Generals Bell and ‘Roaring Jake’ Smith. Early in 1902, Bell captured Malvar, one of the most important rebel leaders still at large in once of the Visayan islands, where the people were still firmly on the side of the rebels. ‘To combat such a population,’ Bell later said, ‘it is necessary to make the state of war as insupportable as possible…by keeping the minds of the people in such a state of anxiety and apprehension that living under such conditions will soon became unbearable. Let acts, not words, convey the intention.’ What Bell and other such officers practised, however, was the type of counter-insurgency warfare fought by Weyler in Cuba. And here such tactics had led the American press to dub the Spanish commander ‘Butcher’ and call for American intervention.

Fortunately for the US cause, however, Taft was firmly against such operations. Taft insisted that an officer of the US Marine Corps, Major L. W. T. Waller, should be court martialled for executing treacherous native guides. This court martial revealed the tactics of Waller’s superior, Smith, who had told Waller: ‘I want no prisoners, I want you to burn and kill; the more you burn and kill, the better it will please me.’ Smith was also court martialled.

Far-sighted civil administration
Taft acted quickly against all such practices, and placed heavy emphasis on winning the hearts of the Filipinos. For $7 million, the Americans bought from the Vatican 410,000 acres of land that were sold in parcels to peasants on easy terms. A vast civil affairs programme was put in hand. And a major educational effort was started with an initial call for 1,000 American teachers.

Taft placed great emphasis of a return to civilian-controlled normality, with an increasing emphasis on the importance of the Philippine Constabulary rather than the army for the elimination of what were now ladrones (outlaw robbers) not rebels. Even so, many months were to pass before a large number of small engagements whittled down the last elements of armed resistance. Early in 1902, unrest among the Moslem Moro tribesmen of Mindanao and the islands of the Sulu archipelago (particularly Jolo) flared, and had not been fully eliminated by the time President Theodore Roosevelt announced the formal end of the Philippine insurrection on 4 July 1902. Operations against these Moslem rebels benefited from the army’s experience in the Philippine insurrection, and by 1905 had eliminated the most troublesome of the rebel bands after small but exhausting campaign led by officers such as Colonel John W. Duncan, Captain John J. Pershing, and Captain Frank R. McCoy. Even so, sporadic revolts continued up to 1916 here and in the rest of the Philippines as it took time for the benefits of improved conditions to filter out from the cities to major towns, small towns, villages, and finally the countryside.

Some 4,243 American soldiers died in the suppression of the Philippine insurrection, and many thousands more were to die in the following years from the effects of tropical disease; 2,818 Americans were also wounded. It is estimated that the rebels lost between 16,000 and 20,000 dead, and that civilian Filipino deaths totalled about 200,000, including 100,000 who died of starvation in the famines occasioned by the war.

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