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120 years ago: Diaries describe the start of the Filipino-American War, February 4, 1899

“Faithful unto death. Filipino color bearer. A touching incident connected with the fight at Paco near Manila, Feb. 5th, 1899.” Caption written by John E.T. Milsaps for this photo of a slain Filipino flag bearer which he pasted in his diary.

February 4 marks the 120th anniversary of the outbreak of the Filipino-American War. The Philippine Diary Project features several diaries not only covering the outbreak of the war, but which illustrate the atmosphere in American-occupied Manila and its environs from the American conquest of the city in August, 1898, to the immediate prelude to the war.

Miguel Saderra Maso

The diaries of a French naval officer, Aime Ernest Motsch, writing as “Lieutenant X,” and a Spanish Jesuit, Miguel Saderra Maso (identified by the Jesuit scholar Fr. Jun Arcilla, but described as “anonymous” by a Spanish scholar) assigned to the Philippine Observatory, cover the portion of the Spanish-American War concerning the Philippines.

Even as Dewey blockaded Manila, American troops began to arrive. The arrival of these troops, the months of waiting, the occupation of Manila and then the long period of uncertainty concerning both the Spaniards and the Filipinos, can be seen through the eyes of American soldiers from different backgrounds.

John Henry Asendorf

The soldiers scribbling down their observations and opinions came from diverse backgrounds. John Henry Asendorf a Corporal in the Pennsylvania Volunteers, was a butcher who emigrated from Germany. James J. Loughrey was a Sergeant serving in the California Volunteers, who’d emigrated from Ireland –both serving in the U.S. armed forces at a time when tensions were high against immigrants like themselves.

Chriss A. Bell was a Corporal (and lawyer) in the Oregon Volunteer Militia, and kept a diary from May, 1898 to June, 1899.Other soldiers began the Philippine portion of their diaries after the fall of Manila: Karl D. White, a Private in the Iowa Volunteer Infantry, kept a Philippine diary from October, 1898 to May, 1901.

Alfred Burton Welch

Alfred Burton Welch, who’d attended Puget Sound University, Tacoma, Washington, serving in the Washington State Volunteer Infantry, arrived in the Philippines in November, 1898, and would be in Santa Ana, Manila, when the Filipino-American war began.

Robert Bruce Payne

In contrast to these other soldiers, Robert Bruce Payne, who served in the Nebraska Volunteer Infantry, only kept a diary during the first week of the Filipino-American War, and more importantly, his is the only diary by an American soldier reflecting opposition to the war. By March, 1899 he was writing his brother to help him get out of his military service. Because of his sympathies for the Filipinos, it’s proper to feature his entries at the start of each day, for the full week he kept his dairy; the contrast with the diaries of his fellow American soldiers becomes that much more vivid.

John E.T. Milsaps in Paco Cemetery

A lone civilian voice is that of John E.T. Milsaps, a Texan, and a missionary for the Salvation Army. His is a unique perspective, partly opposed to war yet unquestioning about the superiority of the American cause; he was a compulsive collector, with an important collection of ephemera from the Philippines during this period: he would assiduously buy and file away Filipino and American newspapers, and during his travels, he would buy scattered government and other records he encountered. He was also an amateur photographer; uniquely, in places his diary contains photos of the places and people he’s describing for that day.

The first week of the Filipino-American War in diaries

The diaries reflect the culture (and prejudices) of the time and of the individual authors. Filipinos, for example, are variously called Filipinos, Filips, flips, insurgents, insurrectos, natives, niggers, gu-gu’s, and amigos. On February 10, one American soldier on the other hand referred to African-American troops as “coloured troops” –and stated that believing them unwilling to enter the fight, they “went up and clubbed them into action.”

Saturday, February 4, 1899

Robert Bruce Payne:

On the evening of this day was placed on guard or rather Cossack outpost at Block house no. 8 in the Santa Mesa district. Our orders were to hold this place and report anything suspicious. A number of recruits had been rec’d on this day by the Filipinos in the shape of wild men from the mountains who were armed with bows and arrows. They wore red breech cloths. [Pvt. James I.] Bowe]s] from our company had been placed on guard. The other private, the corporal and myself had lain down. At about 8 o’clock I heard a rifle shot, a Springfield. We did not pay much attention to this, but directly we heard two more shots. We began to hastily put on our stuff, but before we could get on our belts and haversacks on, firing began on our camp from all sides, and balls began to bing and chug around us. In a minute or two we heard footsteps approaching from camp. It was eight men and a sergeant from C to reinforce the post. Our orders were now to hold the blockhouse and fire only when the enemy advanced in the immediate open and were visible, so during the fire of the night which was incessant we lay sleepless and keeping a sharp watch.

James J. Loughrey:

We were called to arms at 8.35 pm. and recalled at 9.15 p.m. There was a second call to arms at 9.45 p.m. when the Insurgents attacked the Colorado’s outpost. We left the barracks at once and reported to the 6th Artillery Quarters and went from there to Paco Cemetery. We arrived back in our own quarters at 12.30 a.m. on February 5th.

John Henry Asendorf:

The weather is fine but terribly hot. The company is undergoing a strict inspection of quarters and arms. Everything was ok. Gun [inspection] was especially strict. The outpost came in at 8 o’clock and reported that things were restless on the insurgents’ line but we only sent fifteen men on outpost and seven men on guard duty. Around the quarters the day was rather quiet in the city all day which was broken in the stillness of the night by sudden shots being fired about fifteen minutes after midnight(?) but in a short time there were shots fired all along the line but most of it was near the waterworks where the Nebraska Regiment was encamped. All boys rushed to their respective quarters and dressed for action and, before the call for arms was sounded, every man was already in line each carrying 70 rounds of ammunition. We started off doubletime to Companies H and I quarters in front of the prison “Bilibid.” Here we were joined by the rest of the regiment. The Colonel [Alexander Hawkins] order Company I to guard General [Elwell Stephen] Otis‘ quarters and Company C to patrol our end of the city while the rest went on in double-quick to the front. The firing was now along the line. Some shots even landed in the city. Some [shots] went through the roof of our quarters. Just every place before 10 o’clock the Utah Battery had several guns going. All Filipinos were ordered into their houses. We had but very little trouble in the city. The firing kept on all night.

Alfred Burton Welch:

Adventures on line b[lock].h[ouse]. 14.

Dr. Santiago Barcelona:

The evening was quiet with a silver moon shining; Malolos was happy; a dance was being held in the house of Mrs. Concha del Rosario, widow of Mapúa. Gen. Artemio Ricarte and Col. Luciano San Miguel, commanders of the Santa Ana line in Manila, were paying homage to Terpsichore. While Malolos was in deep slumber without any suspicion of an unrest, between midnight and 1 o’clock in the morning, an unusual noise woke the unsuspecting inhabitants. The cry of “War” reverberated everywhere. The hostilities had begun!

We woke up at 1 o’clock and went to the Central Postal Station, where we met the Honorable President of the Philippine Republic issuing orders. All the prominent members of the government were also there: Gen. Ricarte, Col. San Miguel, [Teodoro] Sandico, and others.

About 3 o’clock, Gen. Ricarte and Col. San Miguel boarded a train for Sta. Ana; Moreno and I accompanied them. At 5 a.m. we reached the station at Caloocan and continued on foot to Maypajo. Before reaching it, Ricarte and San Miguel separated from our group and took the road to La Loma; Moreno and I proceeded to the trenches at Maypajo and reached them at 5:30 a.m. Here we learned of the impossibility of reaching Manila; Moreno has been appointed chief of the volunteers from Manila.

After a while some soldiers from detachments in Solis arrived informing us that they were leaving because they had no longer any cartridges. I left Moreno at 6 o’clock to be in Caloocan with the intention of establishing an emergency field hospital while waiting for the military health unit to take some action. A few steps away sounds of guns and cannons rent the air while shots whistled by, instilling in me the fear that the end was near. During intervals, I made my way and reached unscathed the municipal building where I intended to attend to the wounded. I had hardly gone upstairs when I saw a warship in the bay opposite the building. I left for