December 2, 1899 Filipino Thermopylae

On December 2, 60 handpicked Filipino guerillas turned to face the 300 troops of the 33rd Infantry Regiment.

After three wars for independence from Spain, the Caribbean island of Cuba found its economy increasingly intertwined with that of the United States.  It was the third of these, the “Little War”, when the US intervened directly on behalf of Cuba, and which finally won the island nation its freedom.  That intervention led to the Spanish–American War in 1898.  Before long, US attacks on Spain’s Pacific possessions led to American involvement in the Philippine Revolution.

When it was over, Filipino revolutionaries were no more excited about what they saw as American Imperialism, than they were that of the Spanish.

Emilio Famy Aguinaldo was 25 when he joined the Katipunan, a secret organization dedicated to the armed expulsion of Spain and independence for the Philippines.  By the age of 29, Aguinaldo was elected the first President of the Philippines, calling himself “Magdalo”, in honor of Mary Magdalene.

Aguinaldo accepted a substantial bribe from Spain and removed himself to Hong Kong in 1897.  By the following year, he was back.

By 1899, the United States had yet another war on their hands, variously known as the Philippine Insurrection and the Philippine–American War.
The US and Spain signed a Peace protocol on the 12th of August, in which neither party recognized the June 12 declaration of Philippine independence.  Insurgents prepared a triumphant entry into the capital city of Manila, only to be denied access by the Americans.  They were honoring their agreement with Spanish authorities, who had stipulated that they wanted to surrender to Americans, and not to the insurgents who’d been making war on them.  To the Revolutionaries, it was a de facto partnership between the former combatants, with themselves on the outside.

It was only a matter of time before Filipino-American relations took a turn for the worse.
Fighting erupted between US and Filipino revolutionary forces on February 4, 1899. Without investigation, General Arthur MacArthur ordered his troops to advance against Filipino troops the following day, beginning a full-scale battle for Manila.

By June of that year, the First Philippine Republic had officially declared war on the United States. By November, President Aguinaldo had disbanded the regular Filipino army into guerrilla units, as he fled through the mountainous terrain of Bayambang.  Reaching the strategic bottleneck of Tirad Pass (Pasong Tirad) on November 23, Aguinaldo left a rear-guard under General Gregorio del Pilar to turn and face the pursuing Americans.  The handpicked force of 60 constructed trenches and stone barricades on both sides of the pass.

On December 2, they turned to meet Major Peyton C. March’s 300 troops of the 33rd Infantry Regiment.

The position was unassailable, but for the trail which outflanked the defenders and came up behind the position.  As Efialtes betrayed Leonidas’ 300 Spartans to Xerxes almost 2,400 years earlier, an Igorot villager named Januario Galut led the attackers around to the rear of the fortified position.  When it was over, the 33rd Infantry had lost 2, the Filipino rearguard 52.tirad-pass-movie

The Philippine Insurrection formally ended on July 4, 1902, though fighting would continue as late as 1913 with several minority factions.

There is an oft repeated story concerning General “Black Jack” Pershing’s treatment of a Muslim uprising, in the south of the country, among a people called the Moro.  The story involves American forces executing 49 out of 50 Moros with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, allowing the last to go back and warn his people not to mess with these guys.  The information is contradictory.  The story may be apocryphal, but not entirely so.  The closest I could come to confirming the story comes from the diary of Rear Admiral D.P. Mannix III, who fought the Moros as a young Lieutenant.   He refers to “…the custom of wrapping the dead man in a pig’s skin and stuffing his mouth with pork. As the pig was an unclean animal, this was considered unspeakable defilement.”

Interestingly, it was John Hay, former secretary to Abraham Lincoln, whose name adheres to one of 5 known copies of the Gettysburg Address written in Lincoln’s own hand, who served as Secretary of State during this period.    President Theodore Roosevelt’s October 25, 1903 executive order set aside land in the Benguet region of the Philippines for a military reservation, named Camp John Hay in his honor.  The property was turned over to the Philippines in 1991, on the expiration of the Philippine-US Bases Agreement.  A private developer transformed the property into a world class resort in 1997.  It retains the name of Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary, to this day.

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Author: capecodcurmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, father and grandfather, a history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. Four years ago, I began writing a daily "Today in History" story, as sort of a self-guided history course.  At some point I committed to myself to write 365.  The leap year changed that to 366. I make every effort to get my facts straight, but Lord knows I'm as good at being wrong as the next guy. I offer these "Today in History" stories, in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them as much as I have in writing them. Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share. Rick Long

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