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Funston Captures Aguinaldo
In the wily, elusive leader of the Philippine Insurrection a bedeviled Uncle Sam almost met his match.
February 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 2
Although the plan had involved several weeks of preparation, it was actually quite simple. Segismundo had warned that no steamer could touch shore within 100 miles of rebel headquarters without being reported immediately by Aguinaldo’s agents. So it was decided to leave the Vicksburg some miles at sea and paddle ashore in three barcas. These canoe-like sailboats were procured en route, but the seas ran heavily and they all swamped. So Funston was forced to run the risk of detection by having the Vicksburg approach the beach at night. The men then went ashore, and the steamer was again out of sight by dawn. Fortunately this operation was accomplished without incident or discovery. The expedition found itself ashore near its first objective, the village of Casiguran.
The next morning, March 14, the party set off for Casiguran. It was only a few miles away, but the sea was rough and it rained incessantly during the trip. The men followed the beach all the way, but mangrove thickets often came down to the water’s edge, and the troops were forced to wade around them. As a result of the delay, the journey consumed the better part of one whole day, and when the men reached Casiguran they were completely exhausted and famished, since they had brought only enough food for breakfast. Although it was not much of a town, Casiguran proved a welcome sight. Funston, his fellow “prisoners,” and the Macabebes had three days in which to recuperate before they resumed the journey.
While resting at Casiguran, Funston put the plan into operation. He had prepared letters for Aguinaldo, and these were sent to rebel headquarters from Casiguran. One letter, purportedly from Placido, recounted how his column, while en route to rebel headquarters with Segismundo, had encountered a small force of Americans, with whom a skirmish had been fought. Five of the Americans had been captured and were being brought to headquarters for questioning. In this manner Funston prepared Aguinaldo to accept the presence of some Americans so close to his hiding place.
Under ordinary circumstances Aguinaldo might have been suspicious of this message, but Funston had added a master touch to give it an authenticity above question. Another letter allegedly came from Lacuna, one of Aguinaldo’s commanders in Luzon. In this letter, Funston, in the role of Lacuna, said that in accordance with instructions from Baldomero Aguinaldo he was sending eighty men to the rebel capital under command of Placido, Segovia, and Segismundo. This was in keeping with instructions contained in the messages Segovia had decoded at San Isidro.
During the previous October, Funston had had a brush with Lacuna in which he had captured the rebel’s personal property, including some stationery with the words “Brigada Lacuna” printed at the top of each sheet. An expert forger in Manila had imitated Lacuna’s signature on some of them, and it was on these that Funston wrote his message to Aguinaldo. The signature and letterhead deceived Aguinaldo completely, and he accepted the message as being genuine.
The Macabebes had a holiday at Casiguran as the village band turned out to do them homage, and the inhabitants clustered around to hear of their gallant victory over Funston’s men. The Little Macs proved to be consummate liars and took much delight in expanding their stories. Funston was justifiably worried that they might overdo it and arouse suspicion, forget themselves and speak in their native dialect rather than Tagalog, or fail to treat the Americans as prisoners. A deference for officers was something the Spanish had instilled in them, and it was extremely difficult for Funston to convince his Macs that they would have to treat him and the other American officers as prisoners of war.
Worrisome as these problems were, they were the least of Funston’s headaches. In Casiguran he heard that Aguinaldo had been reinforced by 400 men. Five to one odds were sufficient cause for alarm, but Funston assured his men that the element of surprise would more than compensate for this disparity in force.
The principal danger, however, was a lack of provisions. It was a seven-day march to Palanan and the alcalde, or mayor, of Casiguran could supply enough food for only three days. The terrain was known to be the roughest and most difficult in Luzon. The alcalde offered to have enough food available in a week, but Funston did not dare delay that long because the Vicksburg was scheduled to arrive at Palanan Bay on March 25. If Funston did not bag his quarry and arrive before that date, the gunboat’s appearance would send Aguinaldo packing into the hills. Further delay at Casiguran was unthinkable.
The expedition set out for its final destination, trusting to luck that the provisions on hand would be sufficient. There were other dangers and mishaps. Funston took along twelve men from Casiguran to act as bearers, and he was still concerned that his Macabebes might betray the plan to them by speaking m their own dialect. This did not happen, but before the first day’s hike ended, the enterprise was jeopardized by the desertion of the party’s guide. Fortunately one of the Casiguran bearers thought he knew the way to Palanan, and the expedition pressed forward.