The Reel LM Johnson and Philippine Independence Part Six

We are researching this photograph, from the filipinoamericanwar.com website. The caption says: “Filipino soldiers, their artillery and 2 Americans in Malate district, Manila. Photo was taken on July 1, 1898.” It matches when LM Johnson was serving as an artillery officer under Aguinaldo.

The Bloody ‘Mock’ Battle of Manila

“The next morning we marched on Bakor, which fell after two days’ fighting, and from there on for nearly three weeks It was marching and fighting day and night, until we had captured or driven all the Spaniards front Bakor, Polverine, Zapote, Las Pinas, Paranaque, Pasay and Tambo. Spanish loss 750 killed, 900 wounded and 1,500 taken prisoners to Cavite. We also captured four field pieces (Krupp) small amount of ammunition, nearly 2,000 rifles (Mauser) and Spanish Remingtons, with 500,000 rounds of cartridges. We were thus enabled to equip more of our men, who hitherto had been fighting with the Bola, which is a large- knife somewhat after the style of the Cuban machette, and a very ugly weapon at close quarters.

“We then moved on Malate where the Spanish had throw up a strong line of trenches protected by the guns of San Antonio Battery. Our first line of trenches were dug about a thousand yards from the Spanish earthworks. The men laboring all night and when morning came we were fairly sheltered from the Spanish rifle fire although the Krupp guns of the battery played havoc with our lines whenever they opened on us, which was nearly every night, Spaniards evidentally preferring to fight in the dark.

“We held these trenches for three weeks under almost constant fire from the Spanish lines. The top of the trees in our vicinity were cut clean off by their high firing. It was as much as a man’s life was worth to show himself for an instant above the trenches, the distance being only 600 yards between the lines.

Fort San Antonio , as it would have been seen by Johnson. Thanks to Scott Slaten and the Philippine-American War Facebook group.

“Often our men amused themselves by putting a hat on a stick and hoisting it a little above the trenches. It would bring a shower of bullet from the Spaniards. One of the photos I send you is of house that was a few yards in advance of our lines. You can see how it was riddled. It is almost impossibe to put one’s hand on it any place without covering bullet holes.

“after almost a week’s labor we got them in position, where we were able to give the Spaniards a little of their own medicine, although we were unable to drive them from the strong position they held.”

“We were losing a few men every day and not gaining an inch. It was impossible to advance in that direction on account of the natural formation of the country, there being about 500 yards of open ground in our immediate front, a river too deep to ford except in one place, which was under the guns of San Antonio battery. We always had these big Krupps to reckon with. You must remember it was the rainy season the roads were rivers of mud and the trenches were seldom without water, sometimes up to our knees. causing great suffering among the men. About this Admiral Deweyey allowed us to take two old 8-inch muzzle loading guns from the arsenal at Cavite and after almost a week’s labor we got them in position, where we were able to give the Spaniards a little of their own medicine, although we were unable to drive them from the strong position they held.”

“Then the United States troops come the over from Cavite and established Camp Dewey. First California being first in the Field. In a few days they threw up a line of trenches fifty yards in advance of ours, starting at the beach and continuing inland about three-quarters of a mile. The Utah Light Battery moved up as soon as the trenches were completed. Our troops were withdrawn about a mile to the right.

1st California wade ashore to Camp Dewey. Source : Scott Slaten/Philippine-American War Facebook group

“As the story goes Admiral Drewey promised the Spaniards so long as they ear did not begin hostilities he would not attack without giving them warning. On the night of July 31st the Spaniards opened fire on an outpost of the Pennsylvania Regiment, who responded. The reserves came up and for a short in time a general engagement seemed inevitable but for a while the Spaniards withdrew. About II o’clock the Spaniards again opened fine on the American lines from the San Antonio Battery and extreme right. They evidentally were trying to flank the trenches but were met with such galling Are that they were compelled to retrun after two hours hard fighting. The Americans were lying in the trenches, which contained two feet of mud and water. It was as dark as pitch and the rain coming down in torrents. There was nothing to be seen of the enemy but the flash of cannon she and rifle. Thus they received their first baptism of fire. and a terrible one it was.

“The Spaniards waded through the swamp on the right until they were enabled to deliver a murderous fire down the length of the trenches, the Americana replying until their ammunition was reduced to four round, per man, when the Utah battery went into action, throwing shrapnel amongst the advancing Spaniards, who hastily retreated, covered by their own artillery.

“After retiring behind their earthworks they kept up their fire during the greater part of the night. The no “spat” of the Mauser bullet as it struckthe earth of the American trenches became a familiar sound long before morning.”

“Lying there in the mud, firing at the flashes of cannon and rifle, so passed the weary night and dawned the dismal morning when It was found American loss to be fifteen dead and forty-four wounded. Had the First California and the Utah flattery been less prompt in supporting the regiment in the trenches the loss must of have been very heavy, as the Spaniards were, until dislodged, in a position to completely flank the American line. The Spaniards kept up their artillery fire night after night for nearly a week. The shriek of shell became so common that the boys felt lonesome without it. The Spanish loss, according to their own account, amounted to three hundred and fifty killed and over six hundred wounded.

“Ten days before this I was down with the fever, which kept me in bed eight days. much to my regret. I knew the time was drawing near for the final attack on Manila and was much afraid that 1 would no be “in It.”

“On the afternoon of August 12th we were notified that the fleet would shell San Antonio battery at 9:30 next morning, and the troops would advance to occupy the city. Yon can well Imagine with what feeling this news was received. The men were all bustle and excitement, anxious to attack the city, before the walls of which they had spent so many weary days in the wet trenches.

“August 13th dawned amidst a steady the downpour of rain. and although very heavy, it did not dampen the spirits of an the men nor interfere with preparations. At 9 o’clock the order was given to advance. The First Colorado were occupying the trenches. I took up a position on the beach at the extreme left of the American lines. where I could see the fleet moving up, cleared for action. At 9:30 the first shot was fired at San Antonio battery by the Olympia, after which the firing became general. The Utah Light Battery was on my right and I could hear them pegging away for dear life. To that was added the thunder of the big guns of the fleet and the rattle of the rapid fire and machine guns of the Callao and Rapido (captured from the Spanish) both of which had moved up far in advance of the fleet and close inshore where they were able to enfilade the Spanish trenches. All this time the Spanish were hammering the American trenches with their Krupps and showers of Mauser bullets but the Spaniards could not stand the shells from the fleet or machine guns of the gun boats.

“The big guns of the Olympia wrought sad havoc on the old fort, San Antonio, teareing great holes in the masonry and ripping up the new earthworks but this was nothing compared to the deadly fire of thje machineguns of the Callao and Rapido which raked the Spanish trenches nearly a mile inland. They were able to get close inshore, as they were of light draught, and the rain of bullets drove the Spanish from their first line of trenches after an hour of stubborn resistance.

“According to Spanish report over four hundred were killed by the guns of the fleet alone before they abandoned the outer earthworks. They carried the greater number of the dead away but many were left as they fell, presenting a terrible sight.

“Scrambling overr the trenches I fell over a pile of bodies that evidentally had been killed by the same shell. Some were headless, some without legs or arms, and some merely the trunk left. Limbs were scattered over the torn up ground. It was a sickening sight and one not easily forgotten.

“The Spaniard. fell back on their system of trenches a short distance in rear of San Antonio and these were so constructed that a thousand determined menen could have held them against ten times that number. They were built of sugar bags, made of matting, filled with sand. and arranged in parallel and flanking lines that It would have been almost Impossible to capture them had It not been for the murderous fire of the gun boats. All streets leading into the city were protercted by overlapping eartheworks but the Spaniards were so keenly on the jump after the fall of San Antonio battery they had no time to make a decided stand at any one place .The American troops took the Spanish trenches on the run. never stopping to use their artillery except at Blockhouse Fourteen, where the Astor Battery made such a gallant charge, recapturing two of their guns that had fallen into tier hands of the Spanish.

“The hardest fight of the day took place on the extreme right of the American line, over swamp and rice fieldss made almost impassable by the heavy rain.s\ Here it was that the American Volunteer showed of what stuff he is made, fighting against great odds in the open country against men behind earthworks.

“After the battle a Spanish officer said that his men could stand the bullets, but the Americans’ “yell,” as they charged the trenches was too much . for them. “Every Yankee was a howling devil. By 11 o’clock almost all of the American troops had crossed the river, by wading or over the bridge, scrambled over the trenches, marched along the beach past the now deserted San Antonio battery, where the American slag was proudly flying and were pressing on to the city Itself.

“On the parallel streets were thousands of men, eager to see the inside of Manila. but the Spaniards driven from the street barricades and trenches, had retreated inland and kept peppering any down the cross streets as the American troops passed.

“Flanking parties were sent out and shortly put a stop to this, but it was decidedly uncomfortable creeping along under the shelter of stone walla and fences, running across intersecting streets and dodging the little singing Mauser bullets.

“I came In with the First Californias who crossed the river under fire], climbed over the earthworks and marched down Calle Real, the main street leading Into the city. The sidewalks of this street were covered with pools of blood, evidently from Spanish wounded, who were being carried to the hospitals inside the walls The Californias lost two men and had a number of wounded before they reached the Luneta. where the white flag could be seen flying from the bastion nearest the advancing troops.

“This flag had every appearance of a table cloth and not over clean at that, but it served the purpose. It was raised a few minutes past II in answer to the signals of the Olympia “Will a you surrender?” and by 5 o’clock in the afternoon all papers were signed, which completed the formal surrender of Spanish forces in Manila.

“During the bombardment the big o English cruiser Immortalite took tip a position between the American and German ships which was very significant to lay the least. She was cleared for action and had the Germans intervened, as they had promised the Spaniards they would, there is no doubt that she would have been heard from in a way to convince Germany that England would not tolerate meddling on their part.

“The American troops were marched to different parts of the city. some taking possession of deserted Spanish barracks, of whirh there were seven, some quartering themselves in the public buildings, and some In the Governor’s and Admiral’s beautiful palace on the Pasig river. Some were in private residences and other camped In the a streets, where the the stone arrabales served for beds that night and some time, after, for it was not an easy matter to find quarters for so many men at short notice.

“The Spanish troupe were all diarmed and confined within the walls of the old city. For few days the officers were allowed to wear their sidearms, but after several street fights had occurred, caused by their overbearingg conduct, they too were disarmed. Martial law was proclaimed and the city policed by American soldiers.

“On the afternoon of the I2th I learned, although Gen. Agulnaldo was not notified, that the Insurgent forces were not to be allowed to enter the city. As this waa told to me in confidence 1 did not mention It to any-one, but at once made up my mind to come in with the American troops.

“The insurgents did enter the city, at least two thousand of them, and took up positions in the suburbs which they held for sevel weeks. They were ultimately requested to retire. This they did with all the pomp of war and now the nearest insurgent outpost is six miles from Manila.

“The Filipino capital is at Malolos, two hours ride on the Manila-Dagupan railroad to where Gen. Aguinaldo has established his seat of government and where congress is now in session.

“Outside of Manila the whole of Luzon is in possession of, and governed by, Gen. Aguinaldo, who is commander-in-chief of an army of ten thousand men armed with Mauser and Remington rifle, a great many of which were captures from the Spaniards.

“The utmost cordiality exists between Generals Otis and Aguinaldo and all the stories of strained relations, so freelt published in the American papers are but fiction which has emanated from the fertile brain of a space writer.

“General Aguinaldo is awaiting the decision of the commission at Paris. In the meantime, he is keeping his army in such condition that he will be in a position to carry on the war to the bitter end should they revert to Spain.

Two months ago I heard him say he would at once lay down his arms and disband his army if the Government of the United States would assure him that they intend to keep possession of the Philippines.”

Although an end to hostilities in the Spanish-American War had been ordered on 12 August no-one in Manila knew about it because Dewey had cut telegraph lines out of the city. It would be another ten days before the contending side knew about it. In theory, Spain had a right to insist on the Americans handing Manila back and reverting to the situation as it was on 12 August.

Johnson’s letter, published on 20 January would have been sent several weeks before it’s publication, possibly as early as mid-November. The headline of a story wired from San Francisco and printed next to Johnson’s account shows that Philippine-American relationships were moving towards a breaking point and there were suspicions that an unnamed power was supporting Aguinaldo.

A final disposition on the Philippines could not be decided, or announced, until the Treaty of Paris was ratified on 6 February 1899 – it would not enter into force, however, until April that year. President McKinley jumped the gun with the Benevolent Assimilation proclamation of 21 December. Elwell Otis seems to have realised that the proclamation would light a fuse and only posted an edited version in Manila.  A full copy was sent to General Miller in Iloilo, which was posted around the city and a copy made its way back to Aguinaldo, who was incensed. He was not going to lay down his arms in the face of America colonising the Philippines and denying any hope of independence. The fuse was burning inevitably towards the Philippine-American

Significantly, Johnson makes no mention in his account of the events of 12 June, the signing of the Philippine Declaration of Independence. His name is one of 18 people who are said to have signed the document but whose signatures do not appear on it. He had played a key role in the fight against the Spanish, no wonder he was honoured.

There was no secret about Johnson being a member of Aguinaldo’s staff, indeed, he was quite proud of it and kept the rank Aguinaldo had given him for the rest of his life. So why does he not mention the 12 June independence celebrations  in which he participated?

His presence on 12 June is attested to by independent sources, as is his command of an artillery battery. How much of his account is truthful is open to question. On 21 July 1898, while staying at 39 Calle Arsenal, he wrote a personal letter in English  to Aguinaldo pleading to be given orders putting him on active service but, oddly, not using the rank he had allegedly been given. The letter, recovered from the US National Archives by historian Ambeth Ocampo, which calls his account into question, including where he got his rank. Read about the letter here.

The answer may lay in a newspaper report which hit the streets of Hawaii before his own account of his adventures.

Johnson was in trouble.

Next part

1: Getting It Wrong

2 Johnson, The Artilleryman

3. The Movie Mogul

4. Watching the Ships Burn

5. Fighting for Aguinaldo

6. The Bloody ‘Mock’ Battle of Manila

8. After The Ball

 

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