The Sham Battle Of Manila

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Surrounded and blockaded for ten weeks, Manila was nearing the end of its endurance. Its only meat was horseflesh and a little buffalo beef. Bananas were twenty-four cents each; flour, rice, and mangoes were practically gone; and only the rich dined adequately, although at enormous cost. The poorest ate dogs, cats, and rats. Thousands of evacuees had been quartered in churches and college buildings. Nobody knew when the Filipinos and Americans were coming, and nerves were taut.

Many Spaniards, nonetheless, clung to their dreams. Surely, they thought, there would be no annexation. Mañana the nord americanos would go away; senor and señora would promenade on the Luneta at dusk, just as they had always done, and the Filipinos would step aside to make way for them. But the natives refused to step aside, and many ugly incidents occurred. It was racism and discrimination turned upside down.

Three times Aguinaldo presented surrender terms to the Spanish governor, Basilio Augustin. Hoping for reinforcements from the mother country, he refused them. In July Augustin cabled Madrid by roundabout means that his situation was doomed. In reply he was instructed to turn over his command to General Fermin Jaudenes, who assumed the governorship (an unusually empty honor) on August 5.

During the day all was quiet. At night the city became sparklingly alight, almost normally so, and around ten o’clock sputtering rifle fire started up between the Spanish and insurgent lines in the suburbs. After about an hour it stopped. Except for these exchanges, during which nobody advanced, there were no more battles. The insurgents served sporadically. Between periods in the line they went home for a week or two, handing over their positions and rifles to other soldiers when they left. Sometimes when their ammunition gave out they walked away in a body to get it replaced. It was all quite casual, and everyone knew that the Americans would soon call the tune.

If nothing else, the Spaniards had prodigious amounts of small-arms ammunition, which they expended in volleys whenever insurgent and American skirmishers revealed themselves. One evening the Spaniards opened up with heavier volleys and a few 3.2-inch guns. Although the Spaniards had never left their trenches, this false alarm resulted in the first U.S. casualties and the useless expenditure of 60,000 rounds of rifle ammunition. The Americans were instructed not to return enemy fire unless Spaniards could be seen advancing from their trenches; and one newspaperman quoted a sergeant thus: “Now you fellows, look-a-here! You’re not to load your guns unless I order you to, and if we begin to fire I don’t want to see you sittin’ down on your hunkers in the mud … I want you to prance right up on top of the breastwork and give them dagos hell!”

The Americans grumbled, but endured three more such “attacks” and ten more casualties without firing back. After August 3 the firing died down to nearly nothing. Americans, Filipinos, and Spaniards rested, watched, and passively awaited the denouement.

Why the United States seemed so intent on a key role in the capture of Manila was not clear at the time. Aguinaldo co-operated in hopes of avoiding antagonisms that would prejudice the recognition of his government. Dewey and Merritt were simply under orders to take the city and establish American sovereignty. They did not know whether such sovereignty was to be temporary or permanent, nor was it their business to know. Yet even the apolitical Admiral had not been born yesterday, and he understood as well as anyone that the Philippine Islands faced a historical crisis. Perhaps Washington did intend to acquire part or all of the Islands, or did intend to make treaty arrangements with them. It was not his to reason why; but in any event, by August it was no secret that some degree of association or assimilation was inevitable. Henry Lodge summed it up in a July letter to Roosevelt: “I had a long talk with the President. … He is not giving much consideration to the Philippines but the question in his mind is how much he will take there. I think his imagination is touched by the situation, and I think he grasps it fully.”

If, however, the United States should ultimately decide to step aside, other nations were ready to move in. Germany wanted naval bases in East Asia, and her open acquisitiveness explains why Number 10 Downing Street was anxious to settle for American possession of the archipelago, though Britain—along with France, Russia, and Japan—would have preferred Spain to retain possession, since her weakening grip on the Islands spelled opportunity for everyone else.

The scene that summer, all in all, was reminiscent of wolves surrounding a wounded stag. They all wanted a morsel. Thus it came about that in Manila Bay a queer wrangle took place between Admiral George Dewey and Vice-Admiral Otto von Diederichs of the Imperial German Navy.