The Sham Battle Of Manila


It was at about one o’clock—with Spaniards retreating from the trench zone, Americans advancing, Spaniards surrendering, insurgents hurrying along the roads in company with U.S. troops, Americans trying to restrain the Filipinos, the two allies in a state of swirling excitement, firing and swearing at each other, the Spaniards’ huge, dirty white sheet fluttering listlessly atop a corner of the hoary old wall, rifles crackling from all directions—that General Greene finally cantered up to the Puerta Real gate. His raincoat splashed with mud, he galloped through to take the Spanish surrender in the Governor General’s office—too late. Flag-Lieutenant Brumby and Colonel Whittier, representing Admiral Dewey and General Merritt respectively, were already in conference with the authorities. Feeling somewhat unnecessary, Greene departed. The capitulation seemed well in hand anyway, and all that remained to be done was to stop the war. A good deal of scattered shooting was still going on, but as the afternoon passed, such irregularities were ironed out.

All this time the naval guns had been silent. The sailors watched the fight as it unfolded dimly through smoke and rain. They had lunch; meanwhile they kept their guns trained on the enemy batteries. The Spanish flag still waved unaccountably over the city. Two hours passed. At 2:23 Lieutenant Brumby’s launch returned. He climbed the sea ladder at the Olympia ’s quarterdeck and shouted to the Admiral, “Well, they’ve surrendered all right.”

“Why don’t they haul down that flag?”

“They’ll do that as soon as Merritt gets 600 or 700 men in there to protect them.”

Dewey said, “Well, you go over and tell General Merritt that I agree to anything.”

Except for fifty American casualties, the engagement had been consummated according to plan. The Americans were in the city and the insurgents were not. Through some miracle, U.S. troops and Filipinos had not drifted into a full-fledged showdown.

A sham battle which saves hundreds of lives is preferable to a real battle. On the other hand, six Americans and forty-nine Spaniards had died to salvage Sefior Jaudenes’ reputation. Since Dewey and Merritt could have received the surrender of the city unconditionally and without even a demonstration had they insisted, they became the object of some muted criticism at the time, and some not-so-muted criticism afterward.

But Governor Jaudenes’ efforts went for nothing. The elaborate plan cooked up between him and the Americans had tragically miscarried. In Madrid the public prosecutor, after an investigation, brought the unlucky little general to public trial and demanded his imprisonment for life for state treason. And this was not the least of the curiae involved in the capture of Manila. It need not have been captured at all, for Spain had already capitulated in the Caribbean and the Spanish-American War was over.

The provisional Philippine government had begun falteringly to function, backed by all of the natives. Under these circumstances, the continued presence of U.S. arms appeared to the Filipinos provocative and anomalous in the extreme. And still more and more white troops poured in. To inflame matters, the peace protocol between Washington and Madrid contained a clause to the effect that we would “hold the city, bay and harbor of Manila”—temporarily, of course. As both U.S. troops and the insurrectos prepared openly and hurriedly for war, relations between the two armies became abnormally tense, with knifings and shootings along the border zone occurring almost daily.

Only the fact that a Spanish-American peace treaty had not yet been signed prevented a new outbreak. It was still possible that we might spurn the Far Eastern apple of temptation, a possibility strengthened by the emergence of formidable anti-imperialist sentiment in Congress and at the grass-roots level. The Treaty of Paris signed in December, however, showed how the wind was blowing. Gone was the idea of our holding only Manila. Shelved was a subsequent plan of McKinley to annex only the island of Luzon. Instead we purchased the entire archipelago from Spain for $20,000,000—two dollars per head per inhabitant, as one commentator acidly put it.

Across the Pacific a morose, undisciplined American army faced a fanatic foe whose numbers had grown to some 60,000, of whom fully a third now possessed modern rifles. The killings, the kidnappings, the bolo-ings, the brawls went on; but Aguinaldo restrained his more radical colleagues, hoping that the U.S. Senate would defeat the treaty. Months of tension finally ended almost with relief when Private Grayson fired those two fateful shots from his ancient Springfield. Next day, February 5, the Senate ratified the Paris treaty with one vote to spare. The war of words was over; the real war had begun.

Like most altercations in the tropics, it was fought with disturbing ferocity. The slaughter of prisoners, the “water cure”—these and other horrors staggered the American public, which had also been misled into believing that Aguinaldo was a mere bandit chief whose criminal resistance would be terminated within a week or two. Instead, the war dragged on; 1899 and 1900 passed, while the American force reached its peak of 70,000 men. Casualties mounted in the thousands, the Filipinos losing three or four to every invader who died of wounds or disease—mostly disease.