War with Spain - Charles Morris

The Siege of Manila

The war with Spain had two widely separated fields of action,—the islands of Cuba and Porto Rico in the Atlantic and the Philippine Islands in the Pacific, nearly half the circumference of the earth intervening. In the former field warlike events were far more varied and continuous, and therefore we have given undivided attention to these after describing the great victory in Manila Bay. We must now return to the Philippines, where, though the American forces were quiescent, there had been no small degree of warlike activity on the part of the natives.

In the preceding chapters concerning the Philippines mention has been made of the compact that ended the rebellion at the close of 1897, and the rise of the rebels again in 1898. This second outbreak did not become active until after May 24, on which day General Aguinaldo and twelve others of the insurgent leaders landed at Cavite, having come from Hong-Kong on the despatch-boat McCulloch. The return of this able leader at once gave vitality to the insurgent movement, and a bold advance against Manila was made. At that time there were said to be thirty thousand natives in the field, though they were poorly supplied with arms.

On the night of the 24th the insurgents made a reconnoissance in force against the Spanish outposts, and found them to be protected by guns which had been turned landward from the shore batteries. During the succeeding days they were actively aggressive, the principal engagement being on the left branch of the Zapote, which they waded during a typhoon, stormed the banks for several miles, and drove the Spaniards from their trenches with knives. Other fights took place around Manila, the insurgents apparently having an ample supply of arms and ammunition, given them in part by Admiral Dewey. One result of their operations was a large number of prisoners, about eighteen hundred in all, whom they brought into Cavite. In addition, two batteries had been taken and the whole province of Cavite was in their hands. By May 31 they had taken several places in the vicinity of the city, whose suburbs they were attacking, and which they encircled for a distance of seven miles. The Spanish authorities had offered a reward of twenty-five thousand dollars for Aguinaldo, dead or alive, an appeal to treachery which fortunately failed in its effect.

Admiral Dewey, fearing a massacre if the city should be taken, set limits to the advance of the insurgents, forbidding them to cross the Malolele River, seven miles south of Manila. They were told that if they should seek to disobey this order, the gunboat Petrel  would be stationed there to bombard them. He was not willing to permit hordes of passionate semi-savages to storm a civilized metropolis," and determined to hold them in check until the American troops should arrive. Meanwhile, the Spaniards felt themselves to be in a serious strait. On June 3 Captain-General Augustin cabled to Madrid:

"The situation is very grave. Aguinaldo has succeeded in stirring up the country, and the telegraph-lines and railways are being cut. I am without communication with the provinces. The province of Cavite has completely rebelled, and the towns and villages are occupied by numerous bands.

"I am striving to raise the courage of the inhabitants, and will exhaust every means of resistance; but I distrust the natives and the volunteers because there have already been many desertions. Bacoor and Imas have already been seized by the enemy. The insurrection has reached great proportions, and, if I cannot count upon the support of the country, the forces at my disposal will not suffice to hold the ground against two enemies."

Aguinaldo, on landing, had issued three proclamations. One of these based his return on the failure of the Spaniards to carry out their promised reforms and the support offered by the United States. He proposed to act as dictator until the islands were completely free, when a constitutional republic, with president, cabinet, and congress, would be established. The second proclamation forbade all peace negotiations with the Spaniards, and the third forbade robbery and acts of violence. The prisoners in his hands were well treated.

On the 12th a despatch from Dewey said, "There is little change in the situation since my telegram of June 3. Insurgents continue hostilities and have practically surrounded Manila. They have taken two thousand five hundred Spanish prisoners, whom they treat most humanely. They do not intend to take the city at the present time. The health of the squadron continues excellent. The German commander-in-chief arrived to-day. Three German, one British, one French, one Japanese men-of-war in port. Another German man-of-war is expected."

By the 20th of June the insurgents had taken four thousand Spanish and one thousand native prisoners, and had closed in on the city unit, it was very closely besieged. On the 12th they had proclaimed in Old Cavite the establishment of a provisional government, a declaration of independence of Spanish authority being read and General Aguinaldo elected president. The new president informed Mr. Williams, the United States consul, that this action was taken merely for purposes of cohesion, and that the insurgents desired to make an American colony of the Philippine Islands. He declared that no other country should possess the Philippines without fighting for them, and that if the United States declined the proffered gift, an independent republic would be founded.

Day by day the situation of the Spaniards in Manila grew more desperate. On June 23 Augustin cabled as follows to Madrid:

"The situation is still grave. I continue to maintain my position inside the line of block-houses, but the enemy is increasing in numbers as the rebels occupy the provinces, which are surrendering. Torrential rains are inundating the intrenchments, rendering the work of defence difficult. The numbers of sick among the troops are increasing, making the situation very distressing and causing increased desertions of the native soldiers. It is estimated that the insurgents number thirty thousand armed with rifles and one hundred thousand armed with swords, etc. Aguinaldo has summoned me to surrender, but I have treated his proposals with disdain, for I am resolved to maintain the sovereignty of Spain and the honor of the flag to the last extremity."

Yet, despite the confessedly desperate situation of Augustin, he contrived to hold his own against the natives during the succeeding month, the Spaniards, though driven from their outpost works, holding on to their interior intrenchments with obstinate valor. It began to appear as if, despite the impetuosity of the natives, they could not succeed in their purpose without American aid. They were now, however, in possession of artillery, and had the city almost completely invested, while there was much sickness among the defenders and food had grown very scarce. On the other hand, anarchy appeared to have broken out among the natives, and Aguinaldo's position as dictator was by no means assured. The restraint exercised by the Americans over the insurgents was thought to have caused much irritation among the latter, and decreased their desire to become citizens or subjects of the United States.

Admiral Dewey, during these operations, maintained a position of masterly inactivity, keeping a controlling hand over Aguinaldo and his native forces, but desisting from any hostile movement towards the city other than that of the blockade. He was waiting, doubtless with impatience, the arrival of the troops, whose coming had been so annoyingly delayed, and his position was a very trying one, requiring the exercise of the highest judgment and discretion.

The first expedition of troops, conveyed by the cruiser Charleston, entered Manila Bay on the 30th of June. On the 20th it had reached Guahan, or Guam, the largest of the Ladrone Islands, a group belonging to Spain. The chief town of this island, St. Ignacio de Agano, was defended by two forts, which were summoned to surrender by a shot from the Charleston. Never was there a more amusing capture of a town. The commandant, who knew nothing of the war, supposed the shot to be a friendly salute, and sent off a boat to the Charleston with regrets that, being out of powder, he was unable to return the salute. He was soon undeceived, and the governor and other officials of the island were taken on board and brought to Cavite, a force being left in charge of the captured town. On July 6 the troops were unloaded from the transports at Cavite, and the first step was taken towards an assault on Manila by land.

Dewey, meanwhile, maintained the blockade, but not without a cause of irritation in the attitude of the Germans, who had sent thither a far larger fleet than any other nation, and were thought to have intentions of interfering in the settlement of the Philippine question. What seemed an open indication of such a purpose was manifested on July 6, when the insurgents informed Dewey that the German gunboat Irene  had refused to permit them to attack the Spaniards on Grande Island, in Subic Bay.

Admiral Dewey had hitherto maintained an attitude of diplomatic friendliness towards the Germans, but this reported interference Called for decisive action, and the cruisers Raleigh  and Concord  were at once sent to investigate the affair. On entering the bay, the Raleigh  fired upon the forts, on observing which the Irene slipped her cable and steamed out by the other channel. No resistance was made by the Spaniards, and the garrison, thirteen hundred in number, was quickly surrendered. The Spanish seemed endeavoring to defend the bay by submarine mines, in order to hold it as a place of rendezvous for Camara's fleet, supposed to be on its way from Spain. On returning to Manila, the commander of the Irene  explained that he had interfered "in the cause of humanity," and offered to hand over to Admiral Dewey the refugees he had brought from the island. These Dewey declined to receive. The action of the Germans created much irritation in the United States, where many considered it little short of an act of war. But this feeling subsided when later despatches gave the details of the affair. Admiral Dewey's despatch contained no indication that he considered the action of the Irene as important.

The second American expedition from San Francisco reached Manila Bay on July 19, and the disembarkation immediately began, the troops landing at Paranajo, two miles south of Manila, the cruiser Boston  being detailed to cover the landing. The troops of the first expedition, under General Anderson, were still at Cavite, though on the 19th the First California Regiment was pushed forward to Janho, two miles from the Spanish lines. General Francis V. Greene, the leader of the second expedition, took command of the advance, General Anderson remaining in Cavite. As regards the condition of affairs in Manila, reports came that the inhabitants were reduced almost to a state of starvation, new supplies of food, either by land or water, being cut off, and the old stock nearly exhausted. Abattoirs for the slaughter of horses and dogs were opened. Sickness, due to the wretched food and impure water, and aggravated by the rains, which fell daily in torrents, was said to be very prevalent, and Manila to have reached almost the extreme limit of its powers of resistance. The condition of affairs found on the surrender of the city, however, indicated that these reports greatly exaggerated the situation, the people showing no evidence of the work of famine.

Dewey still waited. A third expedition, under General Merritt, military commander of the Philippines, was nearly due, and the monitors Montery  and Monadnock  were well on their way. He had no desire to capture the city till assured of his ability to hold it, and to control the natives if they should attempt to make trouble. On the 25th, Merritt arrived in the Newport, accompanied and followed by a number of transports, the strength of the expedition being about five thousand officers and men. He at once took command of the land forces, establishing his head-quarters in Cavite arsenal.

[Illustration] from The War with Spain by Charles Morris


It was a season of storm. Rains of unusual heaviness fell daily, and high winds made the waters of the harbor so rough that it was impossible to land the troops, who remained on the transports for a week or more after their arrival. The Spanish commander in the city took advantage of this opportunity to make an attack in force on the American troops, perhaps with the hope of driving them back before they were reinforced.

The attack seems to have been precipitated by a movement of General Greene to extend his lines. On the 31st of July his trenches faced the Spanish works, extending some three hundred yards from the beach and joining the insurgent lines on their left flank. This, however, was a feast day of the natives, who, regardless of military considerations, withdrew into their camp, leaving the right flank of the Americans exposed. Two companies of the Tenth Pennsylvania and the Utah Battery were ordered to fill the gap, but before they could fairly do so the Spaniards were upon them, three thousand strong.

It was an excellent opportunity for a surprise, a tropical typhoon raging and the rain descending in blinding torrents, yet the Pennsylvanians stoutly held their ground in the face of a fierce fire, which they briskly returned. The Utah Battery was dragged to the front through mud axle-deep, and poured in a destructive enfilading fire on the enemy. The alarm rapidly spreading, the First California was rushed to the point of danger, with two companies of the Third Artillery, armed with rifles. The charge of the enemy had carried them to the top of the trenches by the time these reinforcements arrived, but the fire proved too severe for them to face and they fell back in disorder. Several desperate charges were made with the same result, and in the end the Spanish soldiers retreated into the bush, from which they kept up an incessant fire on the road leading to Manila, along which they seemingly expected the Americans to advance. But the latter had exhausted their ammunition and made no attempt to follow the enemy.

The fight was renewed on the night of August 1, and again on the succeeding night, but no infantry charges were made, the enemy confining themselves to the use of artillery, to which the Utah Battery replied. The loss in the three days' fighting was fourteen killed and forty-four wounded, the Spanish loss being much heavier, though the numbers were unknown.

This vigorous effort to check the American advance had proved an utter failure, and the fall of the city was evidently near at hand. On the 4th of August the Montery entered Manila harbor. The Monadnock  was expected in a few days, and the time had arrived to bring the long period of suspense to an end.

The final operations began on August 7, when Admiral Dewey and General Merritt sent a joint notice to the Spanish commander, giving him forty-eight hours to remove non-combatants preliminary to a bombardment of the city. They had a new man to deal with. Governor-General Augustin had withdrawn from military control on the plea that Spain was sending him no help. He was succeeded by General Jaudenes, from whom came a courteous reply to the American note, thanking the commanders for their humane sentiments, but stating that he had no place of refuge for the large number of sick and wounded, women and children, who were within the walls. During the interval, the German residents and many of those of other countries took the opportunity to leave the city on the war-ships of their respective nations.

Map of Manila and Vicinity.


On the 9th, at the end of the period granted, a second joint note was sent to General Jaudenes, demanding a surrender on the ground of the hopeless condition of the Spanish forces and the suffering in store for the sick and the non-combatants in case of assault. In reply, time was asked to communicate with Madrid by way of Hong Kong; but this respite was refused, and the ships began to strip for action, a second respite being granted until noon of Wednesday, the 10th. All the boats and woodwork that could be spared from the ships were sent to Cavite Navy-Yard, splinter nets were spread, guns cleaned and oiled, and other preparations made. The foreign war-vessels in the harbor took positions to observe the action, the British and Japanese ships anchoring near our fleet, the German and French taking positions opposite. Thus they seemed to separate into two groups, the friendly and the lukewarm.

On Wednesday morning the ships were cleared for action and the men at their quarters, when a signal came from the Olympia, "Action postponed." General Merritt had found that the army was not ready. It was understood by this time that the Spanish resistance would be in form only, sufficient to preserve the honor of their arms, but the American leaders took no chances and prepared to meet a stubborn resistance if it should come. The truce now continued until Saturday, the 13th. At 8:45 A.M. on that day the fleet got under way, the Concord  taking her position on the north end of the line and the Montery  standing in close to the Lunetta battery. The Charleston, Baltimore, and Boston  faced the same battery farther out, and the Olympia, Raleigh, and Petrel  took positions opposite the Malate forts. With them were the McCullough  and the Callao, the latter a gunboat captured from the Spaniards.

At 9:30 the Olympia opened fire, followed quickly by the Petrel  and the Raleigh, while the little Callao, which had steamed close in shore, opened briskly from her single rapid-fire gun. The first shots all fell short, as if with the purpose of satisfying Spanish honor without loss. But no signs of surrender came, and the ships began to fire with better aim. Clouds of smoke, dust, and flying fragments rose above Malate, on which the whole attack was directed, and it was evident that the position would soon be made untenable. No reply came, and no shots were fired at the Lunetta and Pasig batteries, which continued silent. At 10:50 the Olympia  signalled, "Cease firing," and the Spaniards were asked by the international code signal if they had surrendered. The result was not known in the fleet until 2:30 P.M., when the Olympia set the signal, "The enemy has surrendered," and wild cheers of exultation broke from the crews.

While the ships were thus engaged, a more sanguinary contest was taking place on shore. The Utah Battery kept time with the ships in playing on the Malate works, which answered, though rather feebly. In less than half an hour after the bombardment began General Greene decided on an advance, signalling to the ships to cease firing. They kept on, however, the heavy rain rendering the signals invisible. All the morning rain had been pouring down in sudden gushes, but in spite of this the troops sprang forward at the word, moving swiftly along the beach, with colors flying and band playing. A creek lay in their way, but they plunged in it and waded across. At eleven o'clock the Malate fort was occupied, the Spanish flag hauled down, and the American flag waving above its walls.

The hardest fighting was done by the right wing, led by General McArthur, with the Astor Battery, his attack having no support from the guns of the fleet. The California troops, galled by a hot fire from Spanish sharpshooters in houses on the right, charged into the Ermita suburb, where a stubborn contest took place in Calle Real with the Spaniards, who had barricaded the streets. They were attacked and driven out with pistols, the clearing of Calle Real ending the assault. About noon a white flag was floating over the city walls, indicating that the struggle was at an end. The loss on the American side had been eight killed and forty wounded. The Spanish loss was much greater, though the number was unknown. Before the surrender the gunboat Cebu, in the Pasig River, was set on fire, and several smaller boats were destroyed.

Flag-Lieutenant Brumby went ashore about noon and had an interview with General Jaudenes concerning the terms of capitulation. General Merritt subsequently joined in the conference, the terms agreed upon being, in brief outline, the following:

  • Surrender of Manila and its suburbs.
  • Officers to retain their swords and personal effects, but not their horses.
  • Men to surrender their arms, prisoners of war being supplied from the treasury fund until exhausted, then by the Americans.
  • The safety of life and property of Spaniards to be guaranteed as far as possible.
  • The question of transporting the troops to Spain to be decided by the American government, and that of returning their arms to the soldiers to be left to the decision of General Merritt.
  • All public property to be surrendered and banks to continue in business under existing regulations.

Under these terms about seven thousand soldiers were surrendered as prisoners. The insurgents were not permitted to take part in the attack on the city, being kept in the rear of the Americans. After the surrender they were forbidden to enter Manila unless unarmed, fear of violence being entertained.

As soon as the terms of capitulation were signed, Lieutenant Brumby hastened to lower a Spanish flag, as an indication of the end of Spanish dominion over Manila. The flag lowered was a large one that waved over Fort Santiago in the northern portion of the walled city. As it descended, and the Stars and Stripes rose in its place, tears flowed from the eyes of many of the observers. It meant the end of a once vast colonial empire of the Spanish nation. The event was greeted by the guns of the fleet and loud cheers from all the Americans within view.

An event succeeded that roused some severe criticism in the United States, the departure of General Augustin, with his family and suite, on the German war-steamer Kaiserin Augusta, which left the harbor immediately after the surrender. It was looked upon as in line with the general discourtesy with which the Germans had been charged throughout the blockade of Manila. But later advices showed it to have been done with the concurrence of Admiral Dewey, and the feeling subsided.

With a proclamation by General Merritt, announcing a military occupation by the United States of the island of Luzon, the protection of all inhabitants in their personal and religious rights, and the retention of existing laws until notice of change, the circle of military affairs in the Philippine Islands ceased. The taking of Manila, indeed, was the final military and naval event of the war. The peace protocol had been signed the day before, and the war with Spain was at an end.