Watching the Ships Burn
In early 1898 Johnson was preparing to leave Manila for Paris and was waiting for his wife to recover from the birth of their daughter, Marcella Carmencita Johnson, on 10th April 1898, by the end of that year he had become chief of staff of Emilio Aguinaldo, raised to the rank of Colonel, trained Philippine forces in artillery, and taken part in the fighting against the Spanish. Two friends in Hawaii persuaded him to write an account of his experiences. Sadly, at least for now, the photographs that accompanied his letter have yet to surface.
The letter was written while the Malolos National Assembly meeting was underway, having started in mid-September and disbanded in mid-November and after the Paris Treaty negotiations had begun on 1 October that year so it was most likely written during October.
“You wished to know how I fated in Manila after the U. S. Consul and all Americans with the exception of Mrs. Johnson and myself had left the city.
“We moved from the hotel in March, rented a cottage in the suburbs and were living very quietly when the news of the declaration of war was received, and all business came to a standstill. The Spaniards were very active in making preparations to meet Dewey’s fleet. One could hear on all sides what they would do when the Americans came. One evening at dinner, I was sitting next to the wide where a num-
her of Spanish naval officers were dining, one of them, Capt. Juan de Concha commanding the Don Jean de Austria, invited the others of the party to dinner with him, on board of the Olympia the day the Americans arrived In Manila Bay. He raid he would sweep the American navy off the face of the earth. This was the sentiment of the general public in the city, but when the morning of May first came, to put It mildly, they were rudely awakened from their dreams.
“Sunday morning May 1st, I was awakened about 5:05 by the report of a heavy gun, and hearing another almost immediately, I rushed across the street and up the tower of a large facttory, from whence I could, with glasses, see the whole bay and Cavite In the distance. Later in the day I learned that Dewey’s fleet had slipped in during the night and anchored off Manila with ouly the exchange of it few shots at Corregidor.
“On reaching the tower I saw the American fleet, with the Olympia in the lead, moving towards Cavilte where the Spaniards were at anchor. In a few minutes the heavy guns commenced to speak, the United States ships closing in on the doomed Spaniards, who were replying to their fire Soon they were near enough to put their secondary batteries into action, then the engagement became general, and at times it was hard to tell one ship from another, although I could see the American ships describing a figure 8 in front of the Spanish line of battle. This continued until about 8.30 a.m. when the American fleet drew off for the purpose, as I afterwards learned of allowing the men time to get up a further supply of ammunition also something to eat, they having been without food since the night before.
“About 11 o’clock the American fleet commenced moving on Cavite again and when within four or five thousand yards opened fire the Spaniards answering with guns than before.
“Dewey’s fleet continued advancing and firing until every Spanish ship was sunk and shore batteries were silenced. They then drew off to a position opposite and quite close to the City of Manila.
“The same evening I visited the Luneta, from where I could see the burning Spanish ships. They presented a grand spectacular effect, lighting up the sky, and sending great columns of smoke and fire into the heavens when their magazines exploded one after the other.
“Crowds of Spaniards lined the beach watching the burning of their much vaunted navy, with which they had expected so easily to destroy the fleet of the “Yankee Pigs.”
“Saturday evening before the naval battle at Cavite, the managers of the circus in Manila had a pig wrapped 3 around with the Stars and Stripes. and placed in the ring during intermission. The audience was vastly amused and greeted the pig with roars of laughter and showers of stones. TRhis male the poor animal run about the ring, alt,ch was an illustration of what the Spaniards intended for the Americans. But within twelve hours of that time the “Yankee Pig” was chasing them, and judging by the looks of Cavite and vicinity he caught them too.
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4. Watching the Ships Burn