The Sham Battle Of Manila


That very day the insurgents arrested two American officers for encroaching upon their lines. Upon hearing of this, Anderson dispatched a note to Aguinaldo recommending that the Filipinos keep their hands off American personnel. But the problem of separating the two armies was becoming difficult, for Anderson had already commenced expanding his holdings. During the middle of the month he ferried most of his men across the bay and landed them near Tambo, a village on the east shore three miles below Manila. Here they dug in, their left flank on the shore, their trenches facing the rice paddies and swamps which lay between them and the walls of the Old City. So now, with the insurgents holding the entire perimeter of the bay above and below the capital, and with Anderson’s command clinging precariously to two beachheads, the insurgents on land surrounded not only Spaniards but Americans; thus, to attack Manila the latter would have to penetrate, bypass, or co-operate with the Filipino army, which in that sector numbered 10,000 men. To the Filipinos the arrival of more and more U.S. troops seemed ominous. Aguinaldo could not help wondering “whom the Americans expected to fight.”

With sarcasm Anderson advised Aguinaldo on July 22 that “your fine intellect must perceive … that I cannot recognize your civil authority.” The Filipino replied that the Philippine Republic existed, whether America liked it or not, and that henceforth no more troops were to be landed without his written permission. To this serious pronouncement there was no answer at all, while Americans continued disembarking almost daily for two more weeks. Aguinaldo seethed. The honeymoon was quite obviously over; and Dewey warned Washington: “Situation is most critical at Manila. The Spanish may surrender at any moment. Merritt’s most difficult problem will be how to deal with insurgents under Aguinaldo, who has become aggressive and even threatening towards our Army.”

The only American whom Aguinaldo really respected—that protective father-image, Admiral Dewey —now exerted personal pressure on him to shift the insurgent forces eastward to make room for U.S. regiments; and reluctantly the Filipinos complied. But could even Aguinaldo enforce more such withdrawals? Already he was being sharply criticized by his generals for this concession, which, they said, would lead only to more humiliations. Separated by a third of the circumference of the globe from their source of supply, half encircled by Filipino troops, the Americans continued to entrench near Tambo, at Camp Dewey, a former peanut farm. The heat was oppressive, and rain kept falling. At times the trenches were filled with two feet of water, and soon the men’s shoes were ruined. Their heavy khaki uniforms were a nuisance; they perspired constantly; the loss of body salts induced chronic fatigue. Prickly heat broke out, inflamed by scratching and rubbing. Within a week the first cases of dysentery, malaria, cholera, and dengue fever showed up at sick call.


The men fretted. They had volunteered to fight Spaniards gloriously in Cuba, and a dreary siege operation thousands of miles from home was not to their liking. On and off, for twenty-four straight days in July alone, it rained. The troops went to bed wet, woke up and donned clothes that were still damp, only to be soaked all over again. In July and August the incredible total of twenty-eight inches of water fell, and heroic countermeasures were called for—frameworks built two feet above the ground, laced with bamboo strips, and then covered by a pup tent, a blanket, and soggy masses of banana leaves. The contraptions resembled a Rube Goldberg cartoon, but they worked.

Nauseous “gold-fish” rations (Alaska canned salmon) had been furnished in overgenerous quantity by the War Department, under the impression that it would be ideal for the tropics. So oily that it burned like a torch when dry, it was traded whenever possible (the natives actually liked it) for fruit, rice, and eggs.

By early August communications between Aguinaldo and the American commanders had dwindled to a bare minimum. No longer did the rival commanders visit each other, nor did Aguinaldo offer his services, nor did the Americans make further overtures. Aguinaldo had moved his headquarters to Bacoor, ten miles away, and from there continued to obstruct American efforts to acquire labor and supplies.

Armed with instructions from McKinley to establish supreme political control over the natives of the Islands, Merritt arrived July 25 just in time to catch the full force of a southwest monsoon. For eight endless days, unable to debark, his expedition sat off Tambo beach.

In disgust Merritt abandoned Tambo as a landing area, and men and supplies were taken off more smoothly during high tide near the mouth of the Paranaque River, a mile from Camp Dewey. Frigid and bored, the General remained on the Newport with his staff. Neither he nor Aguinaldo bothered to call on each other. His relations with Dewey were also meager and formal: from the start they disliked each other. He visited Cavite and Camp Dewey only once. No longer the dashing cavalry commander of old, he confided to his aides that he was tired of the Army and wanted to retire or enter the diplomatic service.

Persuading the reluctant insurgents to move their lines eastward one more time, the Americans now controlled the vital Pasay-Manila road and had worked up to within eight hundred yards of the Spanish powder-magazine fort and outer trench zone. Along a fairly broad front Merritt was now ready for an independent assault upon the Philippine capital.