‘Colonel’ Lewis Marcina Johnson, the American national whose name appears on the Philippine Declaration of Independence, was not a colonel, except in his imagination, and almost certainly concocted a fake military background with the Chinese Imperial Army to impress Philippine leader Emilio Aguinaldo in May 1898.
It has long been known that the ‘Colonel of Artillery’ mentioned in the Independence Declaration of 12 June, 1898, never served in the US military and only reached the rank of Sergeant Major in the volunteer army of Hawaii before the US acquired the islands. Johnson claims he was given a commission as colonel in the Philippine Republican Army but a letter written at 39 Calle Arsenal on 21 July 1898, found in the US Library of Congress by historian Ambeth Ocampo,, who sent me a scan, calls that into question.
In the latter part of May last, after consulting Consul Williams and through him Admiral Dewey, I offered you my services, which you did me the honor to accept.
“I at once came to headquarters and placed myself under your orders, but although I have applied to you, through your aides, several times for orders, I have as yet received none
(Emphasis by Johnson).
“This inactivity is extremely distasteful to me when there is so much to be done and puts me in a very awkward position in regard to me compatriots.
It has prevented me from taking service with the United States troops as I should have done had I not already pledged myself to you.
I trust that your excellency will give this your earliest attention and I would respectfully ask to be assigned to active duty at once.
Awaiting your excellency’s pleasure,
Yours to command,
Late Colonel and Artillery Inspector
Imperial Chinese Army
The sign-off is curious indeed. Johnson’s published accounts say that he was given a commission by Aguinaldo as Colonel of Artillery yet here he does not use that rank, ie., LM Johnson, Colonel of Artillery’. Instead he describes himself as former Colonel and Artillery inspector in the Imperial Chinese Army.
He is being economical with the truth. When he left Hawaii for China, he had been recruited by a group headed by Sun Yat Sen to overthrow the Qin Imperial dynasty. When that effort collapsed he moved to Shanghai to manage a hotel. He was never in the Imperial Chinese Army.
The highest rank he ever attained was Sergeant Major as an artillery man in Hawaii.
All in all, the ‘Colonel’ in Colonel of artillery is a false claim, perhaps on he used when approaching Aguinaldo in the first place and he went on using it.
Whether or not Aguinaldo read and responded to Johnson’s letter, or whether it even negotiated the maze of aides between him and Aguinaldo we do not know. We can speculate until the cows come home. Independent reports show that he did play some sort of role, though whether it was formal or night we just don’t know.
It is clear that Johnson was keen to get in on the action and put himself in way of danger. Previously he had made a name for himself as an artillery man at the Battle of Moiliili in the 1895 conflict on Hawaii in 1895.
Perhaps he wanted to relive those glory days.