The Sham Battle Of Manila

PrintPrintEmailEmail

The American army in the Philippines had been JL formed into a single division of 8,500 assault troops under General Anderson, split into two brigades commanded by Generals Greene and MacArthur. General Merritt himself had never visited the U.S. front lines, and suspicions mounted that he would not be there during the attack. War correspondent Frank Millet writes: “This confirmed the impression which was rapidly gaining ground, that the enemy was expected to make no resistance, but would yield at once on the proper display of force on our side.” The statement needs qualifying. Dewey and various generals were the only Americans who knew officially that the fight had been prearranged. A few others (including the newspapermen) may have had their suspicions; but unquestionably the enlisted men and most junior officers anticipated a costly battle. Spanish blockhouses and entrenchments outside the capital comprised an excellent defense system, and the last obstacle—the huge walls of the Old City—was certainly nothing to joke about. When the Utah and Astor batteries, the California, Oregon, Colorado, and Nebraska Volunteers, and the Regulars moved into position the evening of August 12, the air was tense with excitement, some apprehension, and relief that the long rainy weeks of waiting were at an end.

As bugles rasped out reveille at four o’clock next morning, a fine drizzle was descending. In the haze, signal communications between ships and shore broke down. Shortly after dawn heavy thunderstorms struck, pelting the thousands of khaki-clad, slouch-hatted troops and converting the roads into porridge. With heavy booms, insurgent cannon on the Pasay road opened up. The Spaniards did not reply, and it was seen that the muzzles of their field guns within Fort San Antonio had disappeared. “This was significant, and did not look like business,” commented Mr. Millet. Out in the bay, the British battleship Immortalité struck up Dewey’s favorite march, “Under the Double Eagle,” and Captain Chichester quietly moved his ships between the German and American squadrons. The gesture was much appreciated. By nine-thirty Dewey’s fleet had steamed into its assigned battle positions, and the Olympia opened fire on the fort with her five and eight inch guns. The others followed suit.

After about ten minutes one officer said to the captain of the Petrel , “Captain, I shouldn’t be surprised if this whole performance was a sham. Don’t you notice how slowly the Olympia is firing? And I don’t think she is firing her eight-inch at all. Besides I just saw a signal from Manila, and I have not seen the Monterey fire at all, and no one has fired at us.”

Commander Wood smiled and replied, “Yes, I shouldn’t be surprised if it were all a sham.”

The naval shelling soon ceased. Now the land batteries went into action, the infantrymen hauled themselves out of their muddy entrenchments, and in dense, straggling ranks proceeded through the suburbs of Malaie and Ermite toward the walled city.

The Colorado Volunteers (three hundred of them still without shoes) on the extreme left of Greene’s brigade had been assigned the capture of Fort San Antonio. Their route led along the beach, crossed a ford, and traversed patches of marshland. They splashed along, shouting happily, followed by their regimental band. Led by a fat bandmaster with a cornet, it was playing “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.” There was scarcely any Spanish resistance, and the men found war wonderfully simple and amusing. The fort being empty—which seemed quite natural that dreamlike day—it was captured without much difficulty. When the full brigade reached the Luneta, a deserted and wet and gloomy expanse, they found a white flag flying from the walls and some seven thousand armed Spaniards standing on them. It was plain that these men and those in the nearby blockhouses were not firing at the Americans—”a mystery,” writes Aguinaldo sardonically.

During these innocuous events, MacArthur’s men on the right were engaged in something like actual fighting. Several dozen casualties were suffered in passing through Singalon, after which the brigade entered Manila by way of the Paco district.

Certain elements of confusion had attended these operations. The Spanish surrender flag, hoisted since eleven o’clock, had little effect upon the attackers for two hours. Few of the enthusiastic Americans, jostled and elbowed by throngs of insurrectos also determined to get into the city, could see that signal hanging limply in the murky air. The battle, they thought, had scarcely begun. On they surged, and the alarmed Spaniards began firing back. Near Santa Ana insurgents collided with Spanish troops, whereupon a savage little skirmish took place. On MacArthur’s right flank, Americans and Filipinos began exchanging shots, for both U.S. brigades had been instructed to drop off detachments at various road junctures to keep the natives back.