Battle Of San Jacinto, 1899 - Philippine-American War

Loyd Whaton, leader of the U.S. forces in the Battle Of San Jacinto.
Loyd Whaton, leader of the U.S. forces in the Battle Of San Jacinto.


By the early months of 1898, the Philippines had finally successfully won out in their revolution against Spain, facilitated by the assistance of American troops. However, in part of the terms ending the war, the Spanish government had ceded the Philippines to America. This event sparked tensions between the American government and the Philippines government, which was led by Emilio Aguinaldo. It all culminated a year later, when Aguinaldo declared war on the U.S. On March 31 st of that same year, the U.S. military forces dispatched to the region successfully captured Malolos, Aguinaldo's seat of government. The President of the Philippines became a leader on the move, as Emilio Aguinaldo went on the run after the fall of Malolos, going from town to town while organizing local resistances to support him against the American troops. By October of 1899, the American command decided to launch a campaign to cut off Aguinaldo's northward retreat.


The 3-pronged attack to trap Aguinaldo consisted of the 1st Brigade of the 2nd Division of the 33rd Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. The American side was composed mostly by volunteers, and was led by General Lloyd Wheaton. The 33rd Regiment had a Gatling Gun, manned by Captain Charles Howland. The regiment was detached from General Arthur MacArthur's 2nd Division, which was advancing northwards along the railroad tracks running from Manila. The Philippine side was led by Brigadier General Manuel Tinio. Originally, at Vigan, located in the far north of the country, Tinio and his troops were ordered to delay and block Wheaton’s advance. Complying with the order, General Tinio moved southward. He entrenched his troops a few miles west of San Jacinto. Both sides in the conflict were estimated to have around 1,200 troops on hand.


After hearing reports of enemy troops massing in San Jacinto, the U.S. 33rd sent an advance scouting party, composed of 8 sharpshooters. They were met with a fusillade from the fully entrenched troops of General Tinio that were lying in wait. The rest of the 33rd tried to support the advance party, but were met by gunfire from Filipino snipers in the tops of coconut trees and trenches alongside the road. The ambush forced the 33rd to divide themselves into two battalions, and enter the muddy rice fields from either side of the road. The left battalion, commanded by Major March, managed to form a skirmish line a mile and a half long. The entire firefight that ensued lasted for half an hour until, finally, the Filipinos broke and retreated.


The Americans, better equipped and trained, managed to successfully case the rout of the Filipinos. Subsequent attempts by Filipino forces to reorganize were hampered by the rapid Gatling Gun fire which they simply could not match. Meanwhile, Major March's battalion managed to capture and enter the town of San Jacinto. This caught the Filipinos by surprise, resulting in a decisive overturn of their forces. The Filipino forces were lacking in communication and uncoordinated, with their snipers continuing to fire at the old American positions along the road even when the town was captured a few hours later. As a testament to this, the Americans only suffered 8 killed and 13 wounded. The Filipino military, meanwhile, suffered 134 killed, the majority of which were killed during the initial battle. In the end, their ambush was a complete failure.


This fight had a massive significance for the American purposes of undermining the Filipino government. Ever since the start of the war, Filipino leaders dismissed guerrilla warfare, preferring instead the use of conventional warfare against the Americans. The failure at San Jacinto showed the Filipino high command just how poorly trained and how poorly equipped they were against the formidable American forces. It culminated in Emilio Aguinaldo finally ordering the Filipino forces to shift into guerrilla warfare just 2 days after the battle at San Jacinto. In hindsight, this decision likely made the war even bloodier still. With the U.S. turning to counter-insurgency tactics as a response, they ended up corralling many innocent civilians into concentration camps. Poor hygiene in these camps resulted in thousands of civilian casualties, and, quite reasonably, caused a good deal of native Filipino animosity towards Americans for years to come.


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