The Philippine War

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The Philippine War (1899–1902)was a direct result—an almost inevitable aftermath—of the Spanish‐American War. After a U.S. Army expedition captured Manila on 13 August 1898, Spain ceded the Philippine archipelago to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. Seeking to reconcile the Filipinos to American rule by political and social reforms, President William McKinley ordered a policy of “benevolent assimilation.” But Filipino nationalists, who had been fighting for independence since 1896, proclaimed the Philippine Republic on 21 January 1899, with Emilio Aguinaldo as its president. The Republican Army, a disparate collection of volunteers, conscripts, and former Spanish soldiers, maintained a semisiege over the 12,000 U.S. soldiers in Manila; on 4 February a skirmish between patrols escalated into heavy fighting.

For the remainder of 1899, the war was a conventional conflict between the American and Republican armies. Although Filipino troops often fought with great personal courage, they were poorly armed and abysmally led. Within the first three months, Maj. Gen. Elwell S. Otis's brigade columns swept the countryside in a thirty‐mile radius of Manila and captured the republican capital of Malolos on 31 March. Aguinaldo proved an indifferent general, unable either to control his subordinates or to delegate authority; his leadership was further compromised by his complicity in the assassination of his rival, Gen. Antonio Luna. The U.S. Army, however, undermanned by the discharge of volunteers whose enlistments expired with the end of the Spanish‐American War and ravaged by sickness and fatigue, could not hold territory or sustain an offensive. Only after a five‐month hiatus could Otis launch a three‐pronged attack into north‐central Luzon; the Republican Army melted away and Aguinaldo barely escaped. By February 1900, virtually every important town in the archipelago lay under the U.S. flag.

From December 1899 until its official termination on 4 July 1902, the war continued as a series of localized campaigns of counterinsurgency and pacification. Conceding that his partisans could not prevail on the battlefield, Aguinaldo proclaimed a policy of continued resistance through guerrilla warfare. Henceforth, the insurgents were to avoid open battle and rely on irregular tactics and intimidation; the American public, faced with a long and brutal war, would reject McKinley in the forthcoming 1900 election and choose the antiannexationist William Jennings Bryan. Beyond this, there was little central direction. Aguinaldo remained in hiding, and leadership devolved upon provincial warlords such as Miguel Malvar in Batangas and Vicente Lukban in Samar. Leading small partisan bands, local chieftains relied on consanguinity and terror to maintain clandestine control over the residents of American‐occupied towns and thereby gain food, shelter, and information. Their guerrillas became adept at harassment, firing on army patrols and then blending into the population.

The U.S. High Command was slow to recognize the depth of the resistance. Convinced the war was over, Otis reorganized the army for occupation duties, breaking up his brigade commands and stationing them in dozens of towns throughout the archipelago. He supported McKinley's policy of benevolent assimilation, ordering his officers to establish local governments, restore trade, build schools, and otherwise demonstrate America's good intentions. Otis's successor, Maj. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, was alert to the guerrilla threat but lacked the manpower or administrative support to combat it. In the absence of suitable instruction from Manila, garrison and provincial commanders began to develop their own pacification policies. With impressive resourcefulness, they devised new tactics, learned how to sustain military operations in the jungles and mountains, created intelligence networks, and formed working alliances with Filipinos. The war became a series of regional struggles, differing greatly from island to island and even village to village.

In December 1900, bolstered by reinforcements and McKinley's reelection, MacArthur instituted a comprehensive pacification campaign aimed at disrupting the connections between the guerrillas and their civilian supporters. American forces, often aided by Filipino auxiliaries, accelerated military operations, attacking guerrilla strongholds and destroying supplies. Military courts imprisoned, deported, or executed those who continued to resist; collaborators received pardons and often were given positions in the civil government. Defections and surrenders increased, especially after Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston's daring capture of Aguinaldo in March 1901. By July, when William H. Taft became governor, only a few provinces remained under military control and the war appeared all but over.

The massacre of an American infantry company at Balangiga, Samar, on 28 September 1901 provoked severe countermeasures. Brig. Gen. Jacob H. Smith, urging one subordinate to make Samar a “howling wilderness,” conducted a brutal campaign that inflicted terrible hardships on the population. In southern Luzon, Brig. Gen. J. Franklin Bell destroyed crops, harried guerrillas with soldiers and Filipino auxiliaries, and confined much of the population within protected zones. By April 1902, the last important guerrilla leaders had surrendered; on 4 July 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the “insurrection” over.

In some respects the war was one of the least costly the United States ever fought. Army casualties were comparatively light: between 4 February 1899 and 4 July 1902, 1,037 soldiers were killed in action, 2,818 were wounded, and a total of 4,374 died of all causes. Postwar disorder took years to suppress; sporadic military campaigns against bandits, rebels, and Muslim tribesmen, or Moros, continued until 1913.

From its inception, the American conquest was highly controversial. The government and imperialists claimed annexation was necessary for both economic and humanitarian reasons. Arguing that the Filipinos were incapable of self‐government, they portrayed Aguinaldo as a Tagalog bandit and his supporters as criminals or dupes. A small but vocal group of anti‐imperialists condemned the war as immoral and unconstitutional; they accused American soldiers of looting, arson, and torture. The public supported annexation, although revelations of isolated atrocities by U.S. soldiers caused some outrage in 1902. Recent scholarship has focused on the regional nature of the war: it emphasizes the resourcefulness of the guerrilla tactics and army countermeasures—a diversity that made this conflict unique.
[See also Jungle Warfare; Philippines, U.S. Military Involvement in the.]


James A. LeRoy , The Americans in the Philippines, 2 vols., 1914.
John M. Gates , Schoolbooks and Krags: The United States Army in the Philippines, 1898–1902, 1973.
Richard E. Welch , Response to Imperialism: The United States and the Philippine‐American War, 1899–1902, 1979.
Brian M. Linn , The U.S. Army and Counterinsurgency in the Philippine War, 1899–1902, 1989.
Glenn A. May , Battle for Batangas: A Philippine Province at War, 1991.

Brian M. Linn