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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
The rain continued to fall daily. Although the column hugged the beach, it was still necessary to bypass mangrove thickets by wading in the heavy surf, to ford innumerable streams, and to ascend precipitous cliffs which rose directly from the water’s edge. Even where the beach was wide enough to permit passage, progress was delayed by innumerable boulders ranging in size from watermelons to boxcars.
The meager three-day rations were stretched to last five days by partaking of only two meals daily, supplementing them with a “revolting mess” of stewed snails, limpets, and devilfish. On the fifth night the men lay down supperless. The column was rapidly approaching the limit of endurance as the exhausted men reeled along the trail without any semblance of order. Upper-most in Funston’s tired brain was the thought that 450 men at Aguinaldo’s camp still had to be fought: the Macabebcs, in their weakened condition, were no match for a dozen.
Ironically, it was Funston’s good fortune to be rescued by Aguinaldo himself. The dictator had received the forged letters and dispatched a man to intercept the approaching column. This envoy arrived on the sixth night and presented to the Filipino officers a message from Simon Villa, Aguinaldo’s chief of staff. Provisions could be sent from Palanan. There was one dark spot, however, for Villa ordered that the American prisoners were to be left at Dinundungan. It would be impolitic, he said, to bring them to Palanan, where they would discover the dictator’s presence.
The town of Dinundungan actually proved to exist in name only. When the expedition arrived there, it found an old man supervising a few natives, who were building huts for the prisoners. Food arrived from Palanan, and the Macabebes and the prisoners revived their spirits with a hearty meal; but even more revivifying was the news that Aguinaldo had not received the 400 reinforcements. He had only the fifty guards that Segismundo had previously mentioned.
During the night Funston, Placido, and Segovia held a conference, and again the General utilized his facile pen. It was arranged that the Macs would leave the next morning and that an hour after the departure a false message would be sent back to the jailer instructing him to send the prisoners forward. This was done to allay the old man’s suspicions. The next day everything went according to plan. The decoy message arrived, and the jailer, after a few comments on the unpredictability of army ways, sent the prisoners along with the ten Macabebes who had been left as guards.
Palanan and success were only eight miles away, but within sight of the goal Funston began to falter. His splendid physique, perfected by years of campaigning and exploring, now began to collapse. He moved forward under great strain and every hundred yards was forced to lie prostrate for a few minutes to regain his breath. The rear guard moved at a snail’s pace.
Suddenly there emerged from the bushes ahead of them a panting Macabebe sergeant, running at top speed, who waved them into a thicket and held up his other hand for silence. Funston and the others had scarcely reached the protection of some bamboo and brush when the reason for the warning became apparent. A small band of rebels was coming toward them along the trail. The gaily chatting insurrectos passed within a few feet of the crouching Americans.
As it turned out, these were a group of rebel officers from Palanan en route to guard the prisoners. At the head of the main column, Placido and Segovia had moved ahead with all possible speed after sending the faked letter to Dinundungan. When they met the rebel guards, Segovia had engaged them in conversation for a moment, while signaling to the sergeant to scurry back and warn Funston.
About the time Funston and his men were crouching in the undergrowth, the main party had reached the Palanan River, which proved to be about 100 yards wide, swollen from the rain. On the opposite bank stood Aguinaldo’s hideout. Segovia and Placido crossed the stream in a barca and made their way toward Aguinaldo, who stood before his headquarters with seven of his officers. Since the one available barca held only eight men, it would take at least half an hour to ferry the rest of the command across.
Aguinaldo took the two officers to his residence. While Placido answered questions and gave a verbose, time-consuming description of their magnificent victory over the American patrol and their capture of five of its members, Segovia stood near the window and watched the ferrying operation, well aware that any slip might betray the plot before the Macabebes had crossed.
It was a torturous thirty minutes, but Placido played his part magnificently without arousing any suspicion. Once across, the Little Macs formed ranks and marched up the bank to a point opposite Aguinaldo’s guards. As the line swung abreast of the dictator’s troops, Segovia called to his men and waved his hat. This was the signal, and in a moment eighty Mausers, Remingtons, and Krags barked a volley. Two guards went down, and the rest broke in confusion.