Philippine-American War

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Military history of the Philippines
Military history of the United States
Conflict Philippine-American War
Date 1899–1913
Place the Philippines
Result Continued U.S. annexation of the Philippines
Battles of the Philippine-American War
United States of America The Philippines
126,000 soldiers 80,000 soldiers
4,324 American soldiers killed
2,818 wounded; 2,000 killed, dead, or wounded of the Philippine Constabulary
16,000 soldiers killed
250,000 to 1,000,000 civilians were killed

The Philippine-American War was a war between the armed forces of the United States and the Philippines from 1899 through 1913.

This conflict is also known as the Philippine Insurrection. This name was historically the most commonly used in the U.S., but Filipinos and an increasing number of American historians refer to these hostilities as the Philippine-American War, and in 1999 the U.S. Library of Congress reclassified its references to use this term.


Origins of the War

In December 1898, the U.S. purchased the Philippines and other territories from Spain at the Treaty of Paris for the sum of 20 million United States dollars, after the U.S. defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. The U.S. government made plans to make the Philippines an American colony. However, the Filipinos, fighting for their independence from Spain since 1896, had already declared their independence on June 12. On August 14, 11,000 ground troops were sent to occupy the Philippines. On January 1, 1899, Emilio Aguinaldo was declared the first President. He later organized a Congress at Malolos, Bulacan to draft a constitution.

US soldiers of the First Nebraska volunteers, company B, near Manila, 1899
US soldiers of the First Nebraska volunteers, company B, near Manila, 1899

The start of the War

Tensions between the Filipinos and the American soldiers on the islands existed because of the conflicting movements for independence and colonization, aggravated by the feelings of betrayal on the part of the Filipinos by their former allies, the Americans. Hostilities started on February 4, 1899 when an American soldier named Robert William Grayson shot a Filipino soldier who was crossing a bridge into American-occupied territory in San Juan del Monte, an incident historians now consider to be the start of the war. U.S. President William McKinley later told reporters "that the insurgents had attacked Manila" in justifying war on the Philippines. The Battle of Manila (1899) that followed caused thousands of casualties for Filipinos and Americans alike.

Note: Recent evidence from the National Historial institute of the Philippines say that the Filipino soldier shot by the (said drunk) American soldiers is not in San Juan del Monte, but in present-day Sociego Street in Manila. The National Historical Institute put a marker there.

The administration of US President McKinley subsequently declared Aguinaldo to be an "outlaw bandit", and no formal declaration of war was ever issued. Two reasons have been given for this. One is that calling the war the Philippine Insurrection made it appear to be a rebellion against a lawful government, although the only part of the Philippines under American control was Manila. The other was to enable the American government to avoid liability to claims by veterans of the action.

American Escalation

US troops in the Philippines, 1899
US troops in the Philippines, 1899

A large American military force (126,000 soldiers) was needed to occupy the country, and would be regularly engaged in war against Filipino forces for another decade. Also, Macabebe Filipinos were recruited by the United States Army.

By the end of February, the Americans had prevailed in the struggle for Manila, and the Philippine Army of Liberation was forced to retreat north. Hard-fought American victories followed at Quingua (April), Zapote Bridge (June), and Tirad Pass (December). With the June assassination of General Antonio Luna and the death of Brigadier General Gregorio del Pilar at Tirad Pass, the Filipinos' ability to fight a conventional war was rapidly diminishing.

The Guerilla Phase

As of 1900, Aguinaldo ordered his army to engage in guerilla warfare, a means of operation which better suited them and made American occupation of the archipelago all the more difficult over the next few years. In fact, during just the first four months of the guerilla war the Americans lost nearly 500 men who were either killed or wounded. The Filipino resistance fighters began staging bloody ambushes and raids. Most infamous were the guerilla victories at Pulang Lupa and Balangiga. At first, it even seemed as if the Filipinos would fight the Americans to a stalemate and force them to withdraw. This was even considered by President McKinley at the beginning of the phase.

The shift to guerilla warfare however, only angered the Americans into acting more ruthless than before. They began taking no prisoners, scorching whole villages, and routinely shooting surrendering Filipinos. Much worse were the concentration camps that civilians were forced into, after being suspected of being guerilla sympathizers. Thousands of civilians died in these camps.

In nearly all cases, the civilians suffered much worse than the actual Filipino guerillas. As a result, many of the Filipino guerillas felt obligated to surrender, in order to stop the suffering the war was causing to their own people.

This treatment also enraged the Filipino guerillas into acting with a level of brutality on par with the Americans. There were instances of Filipinos burying American soldiers up to their necks and then letting fire ants eat their faces. A particular favorite was cutting the intestines out of a man, nailing the end to a tree and forcing him to run around it at bayonet point, literally forcing him to disembowl himself. Needless to say, both sides acted with brutality during the war.

While some measures to allow partial self-government were implemented earlier, the guerrilla war did not subside until 1913 when US President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed a change in policy that would, after a transitional period, grant the Philippines full independence. In the south, Muslim Filipinos resisted until 1916—the so-called Moro rebellion. During this conflict, the Americans realized a need to be able to stop a charging tribesman with a single shot. To fill this need, the Colt M1911 Handgun was developed for its larger .45 calibre ammunition, resulting in additonal stopping power.

Americans who were opposed to the war

Some Americans, notably William Jennings Bryan, Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, and other members of the American Anti-Imperialist League, strongly objected to the annexation of the Philippines. Other Americans mistakenly thought that the Philippines wanted to become part of the United States. Anti-imperialist movements claimed that the United States had betrayed its lofty goals of the Spanish-American War by becoming a colonial power, merely replacing Spain in the Philippines. Other anti-imperialists opposed annexation on racist grounds. Among those who opposed annexation were individuals such as Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, who feared that annexation of the Philippines would lead to an influx of non-white immigrants, thus undermining white racial purity in America. As news of atrocities committed in subduing the Philippines arrived in the United States, support for the war flagged.


General Filipino casualties on the first day of war. National Archives Photo No. 111-RB-1037.
General Filipino casualties on the first day of war. National Archives Photo No. 111-RB-1037.

During the war, 4,324 American soldiers were killed and 2,818 were wounded. There were also 2,000 casualties that the Philippine Constabulary suffered during the war, over a thousand of which were fatalities. Philippine military deaths are estimated at 20,000 (16 thousand actually counted) while civilian deaths numbered in 250,000 to 1,000,000 Filipinos. The high casualty figures are due mostly to the combination of superior arms and even more superior numbers of the Americans. They had the most modern and up-to-date weapons in the world with the most superb bolt action rifles and machine guns they were also lavishly armed and well led. Even better were the U.S. warships at the ready to fire their big guns and decimate Philippine positions when needed. In contrast the Filipinos were armed with motley rifles, a number of which were taken from dead Spanish or American soldiers, or smuggled in by Philippine patriots. Their artillery was not much better, mostly worn out artillery pieces captured from the Spanish. Although they did have a few Maxim and Gatling machine guns, along with a few modern Krupp artillery pieces, these were highly prized and taken to the rear for fear of capture before they could play any decisive role. Ammunition along with rifles also became scarce as the war dragged on, and they had to manufacture their own, like the homemade paltik. Still most did not even have firearms. Many used bolos, spears, and lances in fighting, which also contributed to high casualty figures when such obsolete weapons were used against the American's superior arms. The Filipinos knew their own country well, also, in contrast to the Americans fighting on foreign terrain. Despite these disadvantages, the Filipinos managed to win some small battlefield encounters, but these only delayed their inevitable defeat.

In 1914, Dean C. Worcester, U.S. Secretary of the Interior for the Philippines (1901-1913) described "the regime of civilization and improvement which started with American occupation and resulted in developing naked savages into cultivated and educated men."

In recognition of United States military service, during the Philippine-American War, the United States military created two service decorations which were known as the Philippine Campaign Medal and the Philippine Congressional Medal.

In 1916 the United States granted the Philippines self-government and promised eventual independence.

American torture and scorched earth campaigns

General Jacob H. Smith's infamous order "KILL EVERYONE OVER TEN" was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902.  The Old Glory draped an American shield on which a vulture replaced the bald eagle. The bottom caption exclaimed, "Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines."
General Jacob H. Smith's infamous order "KILL EVERYONE OVER TEN" was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902. The Old Glory draped an American shield on which a vulture replaced the bald eagle. The bottom caption exclaimed, "Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines."

In 1908, Manuel Arellano Remondo, in a book entitled General Geography of the Philippine Islands, wrote: "The population decreased due to the wars, in the five-year period from 1895 to 1900, since, at the start of the first insurrection, the population was estimated at 9,000,000, and at present (1908), the inhabitants of the Archipelago do not exceed 8,000,000 in number."

U.S. attacks into the countryside often included scorched earth campaigns where entire villages were burned and destroyed, torture (water cure) and the concentration of civilians into "protected zones". Many of these civilian casualties resulted from disease and famine. Reports of the execution of U.S. soldiers taken prisoner by the Filipinos led to savage reprisals by American forces. Many American officers and soldiers called war a "nigger killing business".

The most damning evidence that the enemy wounded were being killed, came from the official reports of Otis and his successor, General Arthur MacArthur, which claimed fifteen Filipinos killed for every one wounded. In the American Civil War, the ratio had been five wounded for every soldier killed, which is close to historical norm. Otis attempted to explain this anomaly by the superior marksmanship of rural southerners and westerners who had hunted all their lives.

MacArthur added a racial twist, asserting that Anglo-Saxons do not succumb to wounds as easily as do men of "inferior races."[1]

English Education

During the U.S. occupation, English was declared the official language, although the languages of the Philippine people were Spanish, Visayan, Tagalog, Ilocano and other native languages. Six hundred American teachers were imported aboard the USS Thomas. Also, the Catholic Church was disestablished, and a considerable amount of church land was purchased and redistributed.

Further reading

Anti-imperialist reading

  • Agoncillo, Teodoro A (1997) Malolos: The crisis of the republic, University of the Philippines Press. ISBN 9715420966 Kenton J. Clymer States "The book provides the best account to date of the inner dynamics of the Filipino side of the war."--Review: Not so Benevolent Assimilation: The Philippine-American War, Reviews in American History Vol. 11, No. 4 (Dec., 1983), pp. 547-552
  • Linn, Brian McAllister (2000) The U.S. Army and Counterinsurgency in the Philippine War, 1899-1902, University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807849480
  • May, Glenn Anthony (1991) Battle for Batangas: A Philippine Province at War, Yale University Press. ISBN 0300048505
  • Miller, Stuart Creighton (1982) "Benevolent Assimilation" The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903, Yale Universty Press. ISBN 0300026978 Kenton J. Clymer States "The War Miller describes is a more beleivable one than the one Gates pictures."
  • Schirmer, Daniel B. (1972) Republic or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War, Schenkman. ISBN 087073105X
  • Schirmer, Daniel B. Stephen Rosskamm Shalom (1987) The Philippines Reader : A History of Colonialism, Neocolonialism, Dictatorship, and Resistance, South End Press. ISBN 089608275X
  • (2002) Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream, 1899-1999, New York University Press. ISBN 0814797911

Imperialist reading

  • Gates, John M. (1973) Schoolbooks and Krags : The United States Army in the Philippines, 1898-1902, Greenwood Press. ISBN 0837158184 Stuart Creighton Miller states: "See Schoolbooks and Krags: The United States Army in the Philippines for the latest attempt to whitewash the army's conduct. Gates is totally uncritical of the campaigns of such generals as Wheaton and Bell and praises them for conduct that should have resulted in courts-martial for both of them." (page 277 note 2)
  • Gates, John M., The US Army and Irregular Warfare, Chapter 3 The Pacification of the Philippines

See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:


  1. ^  Phillipine History Group of Los Angeles The Balangiga Massacre: Getting Even

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