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Thursday, December 7, 2006

Balangiga - victory in guerrilla warfare

In September 28, 1901, the American garrison in the town of Balangiga, Samar was attacked by a force of Filipino guerrillas led by Eugenio S. Daza, an officer from the command of Filipino General Vicente Lukban,  assisted by the villagers. Of the 74 American soldiers from Company C of the 9th U.S. Infantry stationed at the garrison, 50 were killed or died later of wounds while 24 were able to escape, of which 20 were wounded.

(Photo source: University of Michigan Digital Library)

The attack was precipitated by the use of forced labor in cleaning the town that the officer in command of the American troops imposed on the villagers. Able-bodied men were canvassed from their homes and made to work for days, under guard in the heat of the sun and were not allowed to go home. They were given little food and water and slept in two tents which were very cramp and damp. Then, at the suggestion of the presidente (town headman), some eighty men were enlisted from a nearby village who indicated they wanted to work without pay provided the time they spend would be applied to their tax obligations. The American officer consented, not realizing that he was being set up for an entrapment because the men were from the guerrilla organization of Lukban.

While the Americans were having breakfast in the morning of September 28th, they were surprised by the guerrillas and a horde of bolo-wielding villagers. It was carnage - blood, entrails, brains and dead bodies were strewn all over the encampment.

The aftermath was a grim retaliation by the Americans. Apart from burning the town of Balangiga and killing every Filipino in sight, General Jacob H. Smith undertook to avenge the death of the American soldiers upon the whole population of Samar which, according to the American Encyclopedia, had in 1881, a population of over 250,000 persons and an area of 5,000 square miles. Smith ordered the scorching of Samar and turning it into a howling “wilderness where not even a bird could live.” (Storey[2], 32)

To quote from Mr. Root's (Secretary Root of the U.S. War Department) letter to the President of July 12, General Smith gave the following oral instructions:
"I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn: the more you kill and burn, the better you will please me," and, further, that he wanted all persons killed who were capable of bearing arms and in actual hostilities against the United States, and did, in reply to a question by Major Waller asking for an age limit, designate the limit as ten years of age.” (Storey[2], 33)

Here is a first hand account of the Balangiga incident:
“The 9th U. S. Infantry had but recently returned from the China expedition. It had performed signal service there; had taken part in the capture of Tientsin, and had been among the first to rush the walls of the Imperial City at Peking. With the cessation of the Boxer activities in China, it had returned to the Philippines and had been scattered in small garrisons throughout the Islands. On August 11, 1901, Company C had been sent to Samar and had occupied without opposition, the small coastal village of Balangiga. The officials of the town professed friendship for the Americans. The company, whose strength consisted of seventy-four men, was housed in the public buildings. The company commander, Captain Thomas W. O'Connell, was a West Point graduate in the class of 1894. Lieutenant E. C. Bumpus, second in command, had served throughout the Insurrection in Luzon and had accompanied the regiment to China. Major Richard S. Griswold, attached to the company as surgeon, had seen service throughout the Insurrection. The company itself consisted mainly of veterans; a few had gone through the campaign in Cuba-many through the Insurrection in Luzon, and all through the Boxer campaign. One man had been a member of the crew of the Olympia during the battle of Manila Bay.

“It was known that the die-hard leader, Vicente Lucban, was active throughout the Island of Samar, but since he had confined his activities to the regimentation of the hapless natives in the interior of the Island, or the attack of small patrols of American troops, no particular trouble was expected from him.

“Established comfortably in Balangiga, Captain O'Connell set out to clean up the town. He directed the local Presidente to assemble the citizens and put them to work sweeping up the years old accumulation of rubbish and trash scattered throughout the streets and clearing the underbrush which had been permitted to grow unrestricted under houses and in the streets. In response to a complaint from the Presidente that he was unable to get the people to volunteer for work, the company canvassed the town and forced some one hundred able-bodied men to work under guard. A short time later, the town Presidente and the chief of police suggested that since several natives in the hills close to the town were supposed to work out their taxes, that it would be a good idea to assemble them in Balangiga to assist in the work. O'Connell assented and a couple of days later, eighty natives were brought in and lodged in conical tents in the vicinity of the soldier's barracks. As was later determined, these men were picked bolomen from the guerrilla force of General Lucban.

“In the evening of September 27, 1901, Lieutenant Bumpus with a detail of men, returned from the town of Basey, some twenty miles away, with the company mail. Basey was just across the narrow Sanjuanica (San Juanico) Straits from the larger town of Tacloban on the Island of Leyte. With Tacloban it contained a fairly large garrison. Company C of the 9th Infantry had received no mail for four months and the men were overjoyed at the large sack which Lieutenant Bumpus brought back with him. Also, they learned for the first time of the assassination of President McKinley, some three weeks previous.

“By 6:30 the following morning, the company was up and about, the men anxious to read their mail. The native workmen were lining up near the barracks under the supervision of the civilian chief of police. On guard were three sentries. The remainder of the company was at breakfast at an outdoor kitchen about thirty yards from the barracks. The only time that the soldiers were permitted to move out of their barracks without a loaded rifle was while actually messing.

“While everything was apparently quiet and according to routine, the native chief of police walked up to one of the sentries and without warning snatched the rifle from his hands and felled him with the butt. Immediately the bells in the town church rang, conch (sic) shells blew from the hills, and the entire male populace of Balangiga, assisted by the bolomen from Lucban's force, rushed Company C.

“The few survivors of this massacre were able to give vivid details of what actually happened. The three sentries armed with rifles were dispatched in the twinkling of an eye. A native group hidden in the town church rushed the officers' quarters, which were in the convent across the street from the barracks. Captain O'Connell, caught in his pajamas, jumped from the second story window of his room, started to cross to the barracks, was beset by twenty to thirty bolomen, and hacked to death. Lieutenant Bumpus was surprised sitting in a chair in his room, his mail in his lap; a bolo cut on the bridge of the nose severed the entire front part of his head. He was found in this position by the survivors. The surgeon, Major Griswold, was overwhelmed and stabbed to death without having a Chinaman's chance.

“Across the street the majority of the company were seated at the mess tables and most of them were killed before they could get on their feet. The First Sergeant was caught in the act of washing his mess kit and had his head split in two by a blow from an axe. One Sergeant's head was completely severed from his body and fell in his plate. In his hands were grasped a knife and a fork. The company cook, one of the few survivors, had fortunately a few weapons at his disposal. He threw a pot of boiling coffee at the first group of natives who rushed him and then held them off by hurling all the canned goods he could reach. When these were exhausted, he grabbed a meat cleaver and fought his way to the barracks where the rifles were located.

“The few men who had gained their feet and survived the first onslaught grabbed any weapon they could lay their hands on and tried to reach the barracks-picks, shovels, baseball bats, clubs, a bolo wrenched from a native's hand. Three men mounted a rock pile and defended themselves with rocks. Sergeant George F. Markley, a man of herculean proportions, though he was wounded, managed to reach the barracks by swinging his arms like a flail and kicking natives in the stomach. He obtained a rifle and began pumping Krag-Jorgenson bullets into the natives surrounding him. One soldier reached the barracks, but was grabbed by three natives who threw him down under a shower of bolo cuts. His arm reaching out in a last effort, touched a pistol thrown on the floor in the melee, and he was able to save his life by shooting his assailants.

“Hopelessly outnumbered, the Americans were butchered like hogs. American brains and entrails strewed the plaza and barracks. A few who sought flight in the water nearby were hunted down in boats and boloed to death.

“Fifteen minutes after the attack started, all but five of the seventy-four men of the company had either been killed or wounded. Of those wounded, twelve were able to be on their feet, and under the protection of Sergeant Markley's fire had managed to unite and gain possession of rifles. This small group, despite the disparity in numbers, firing their rifles until they became too hot to hold, were finally able to drive the bolomen away from the immediate vicinity of the barracks.

“A quick check indicated that the small group could not expect to hold the town. So a decision was made to escape by boat to the nearest American garrison. Under fire from the natives who had retired to a respectful distance, the senior survivor, Sergeant Bentron, loaded the group on five barotas
[small dug-out canoes] which were found in the vicinity, and started towards Basey. The dead, fifty-six rifles, and several thousand rounds of ammunition were left at Balangiga. Before leaving, at the cost of two more casualties, the survivors hauled down the American flag which flew over the city hall, and took it with them.

“The trip of the survivors to Basey was nearly as harrowing as the massacre itself. The barotas, small, narrow, canoe-like craft, whose equilibrium was maintained by outriggers, could be rowed only at a snail's pace. A short distance out, one barota containing four men, filled up with water and slowly drifted back to shore. Then two wounded men were boloed to death. The other two, by running for their lives and then hiding, finally managed to find another boat and put to sea where they were picked up the following day by a steamer.

“Another boat containing two men floated away from the rest and drifted into shore where its occupants were butchered to death. The other three boats contained enough unhurt men to row, and gradually worked their way along the coast toward Basey. At noon the water supply became exhausted and drinking salt water only increased the suffering of the wounded. Boats put out from shore containing natives armed with spears and bolos. They intended to board the barotas but were held off only by the rifle fire of the few who were able to shoot. Several attempts to land were prevented by the appearance of large numbers of natives on the shore armed with spears and a few rifles. A school of sharks, attracted by the blood dripping from the boats, followed the beleaguered fleet. With only one man able to talk, the survivors reached Basey at 3:30 the following morning. Of the twenty-six survivors, twenty-two were wounded. Two had died enroute.

“Company G of the 9th Infantry, under Captain Edwin V. Bookmiller, was stationed at Basey. Bookmiller obtained the services of the steamer 'Pittsburg,' which was at Tacloban, and with fifty-five men of his company, immediately proceeded to Balangiga, arriving there at noon the same day. The Insurgents were driven from the town without difficulty, but the sight which met Bookmiller's eyes was not pretty to see. The barracks were on fire, consuming the bodies of the American soldiers there. Other bodies had been thrown down a well. The body of a Sergeant and the company dog were found in the kitchen covered with flour. The eyes of the dog had been gouged out and replaced by stones. The body of Lieutenant Bumpus was found with his eyes gouged out and his face smeared with jam to attract ants. The bodies of American soldiers not burned in the barrack's fire were denuded of clothes and mutilated in one way or another. Captain Bookmiller buried the bodies of the three officers and twenty-nine enlisted men in the plaza, burned the town and returned to Basey. Yet, surprised though they were, the Americans had sold 202 their lives dearly.”
(Herman, 197-202)

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