On the battlefield|
Michael H. Robinson, Jr., Twenty-fifth Infantry, Iba, Philippine Islands,
ca. February 1, 1900; from The Colored American (Washington), March 17, 24, 1900. In the following letter, which was published
in two installments in this Negro newspaper, a black infantryman describes
several encounters between his regiment and the Filipino insurgents.
I will attempt to give a correct account concerning the movements of that
part of the 25th Infantry now in the Philippines. The regiment had accomplished
nothing of special note, until after our arrival at Bamban, Nov. 15th, since
then we have had a very interesting time indeed. The most important features
of the regimental campaign being: the capture of O'Donnell Nov. 8th, Iba Dec.
9th, Botolan Dec. 8th, Fort tamansi Jan. 5th and the defense of Iba Jan. 6th.
1: On the morning of Nov. 16th, an insurgent Captain approached No.2 outpost
bearing a white flag and he made [the] Corporal in charge understand that he
desired to surrender. After having been taken before Col. [AS.] Burt,
who treated him with all tespect due his rank, he consented to lead the command
into O'Donnell where he claimed was a force of nearly three hundred insurgents.
The 2nd battalion was ordered to prepare to start for the insurgent garrison.
They left Bamban, that is the 2nd battalion did, marched all night and until
3 a.m. the next morning, went into camp near a bamboo village. . . rested a
few hours, and moved on, about 3-1/2 miles further. Here the Insurgent
Captain gave the information that we were near the insurgent outpost. We surprised
and captured [the] outpost without firing a shot. . . . No one was injured
on either side. Our capture consisted of 150 prisoners. . . 200 Remington and
Mauser rifles, 10,000 rounds of ammunition, 50 ponies, 20 bull carts and hulls,
a great quantity of rice and sugar. Destroyed a reloading outfit, after which
the battalion started on the return march. The Manila papers spoke of the capture
of O'Donnell as nearly equalling Washington's surprise of the Hessians at Trenton.
Our commanding officer was ordered. . . to send the 1st battalion from Bamban
to several towns of importance on the coast of the China Sea, a distance of
75 miles overland. Accordingly we left Bamban Dec. 3rd., 10:45 a.m. After four
days of difficult marching over a very precipitous range of mountains known
as the Zambales, we arrived before Botolan on the afternoon of Dec. 8th. .
. . We began the advance upon the dawn. Nothing occurred until within 900 yards
of their line; at this point they poured volley after volley in our direction
but without effect. We continued the advance. . . [and] the insurgents began
to falter. We began our advance now by rushes, that is a part kneeling to fire
while the others advance under the cover of the same successively. When about
200 yards it was noticed the firing on their side was growing weaker each moment. "To
the charge" was sounded. . . and. . . we dashed through bamboo fences
and Botolan was ours. Insurgent loss was 19 killed and wounded. Not a man was
injured in our command. Captured a large number of prisoners, and antiquated
smooth bore muzzle-loading guns, a number of rifles, bolos, bows and arrows.
The garrison strength of this town was said to be 700 men. Company F under
Lieut. H. C. Clark, marched through town and to the sea, about I1h miles distant,
being the first company to view the same.
After a rest, we started the next morning Dec. 9th about 4:00 o'clock, toward
Iba, about 3 miles distant, marched within easy reach of the above town, and
were in trenches on either side of a bamboo bridge to protect the advance of
scouts and Company M, who were to form the firing line proper. . . . Just at
the first peep of dawn the insurrectos opened up on the scouts and Company
M, and things were lively for quite a while. The rear companies were now ordered
to cross the bridge. As we moved towards town, the firing could be heard only
at intervals and in a few moments ceased altogether. The insurgents could now
be seen retreating in every direction, leaving 14 dead and wounded. The capture
consisted of 8 insurgents; liberated 15 Spanish prisoners who had been held
by the rebels. . . . Company F left town about 11: 30 a.m., after having cooked
breakfast and returned to Botolan, where they remained until joined by the
rest of the battalion, Dec. 11, 6 a.m.
The entire command immediately started for Subig, a distance of 32 miles,
principally along the coast. After having passed through 17 barrios or small
towns, we arrived in Subig, December 12, at 7 o'clock p.m. Remaining here a
few days, we returned to Botolan, December 20th, were relieved the following
morning by M Company and sent to garrison Iba.
On the morning of January 6th, 1900, Iba was attacked by 800 bolo and 600
rifle-men, making a grand total of 1400. The insurgents surrounded the town,
leaving the road leading to the ocean open, giving us a chance to retreat,
but we, however, being strongly positioned cared not for the opportunity. One
of our outposts was cut off and were compelled to hide in the grass until after
night. Five o'clock sharp they began firing from all sides; we were quartered
in church, jail and warehouse, forming a triangle. They attacked the scouts
in the warehouse but were repulsed again and again. Those who were in the rear
of the jail gave yell after yell and their trumpeter blowed the charge, but
instead of the charge being made at this point, those who were about 400 yards
south of this position charged the church expecting to catch us unawares, but
were driven back quickly. The firing kept steadily on until daybreak and when
it became light we could see insurgents on all sides like bees; the officers
could be seen trying to urge their men on but they seemed to falter under the
deadly fire of the Krags. . . . At this juncture in the engagement Captain
O'Neil took a squad of F Company to see if he could drive them back far enough
to allow the scouts to come out of the warehouse. When outside these men fired
a volley in the air and charged; as they did so, the scouts took advantage
of the momentary stampede among the insurrectos and rushed out. Now all hands
got out in the open and things began to resemble a slaughter pen, bolo men
armed with long knives being encouraged by their officers, tried to stand,
but were shot down; but finally those who could took to their heels, carrying
and dragging many of their dead with them. . . . In the road in the rear of
the scouts' quarters where the final charge was made, men were piled one upon
another, dead and wounded. It was an awful sight, one not easily forgotten,
but it was fight or die with us, for things were exceedingly desperate for
Our commanding officer remarked after the fight, concerning the coolness of
the men, saying it surpassed anything he had ever seen of its kind. Not a man
shirked his duty and acted as if at target practice, firing carefully and accurately.
. . and even making comical remarks concerning the appearance of the insurgents.
... I am exceedingly thankful that I can say not a man was injured on our
side. ... These boys feel that they have avenged the cowardly murder of our
friend and comrade, William Shepard, who was murdered several days previous
to the fight, while bathing, by ten bolo men. We received this information
from a Cheno spy employed by our command.
I could say much concerning the capture of Fort Camansi but fearing to consume
too much ... space ... I will only say that it was a very difficult and perilous
undertaking. We lost one corporal and a private was badly wounded, and the
insurgent loss was 12 killed and wounded; and before leaving the hill all of
the houses were burned.
In conclusion I will say that we of the 25th Infantry feel rather discouraged
over the fact that the sacrifice of life and health has to be made for a cause
so unpopular among our people. Yet the fact that we are American soldiers instills
within us the feeling and resolve to perform our duty, no matter what the consequence
may be as to public sentiment. Those who are thoughtful do not attempt to discuss
the "why" concerning the enlisted man. We have been warned several
times by insurgent leaders in the shape of placards, some being placed on trees,
others left mysteriously in houses we have occupied, saying to the colored
soldier that while he is contending on the field of battle against people who
are struggling for recognition and freedom, your people in America are being
lynched and disfranchised by the same who are trying to compel us to believe
that their government will deal justly and fairly by us.
Hoping that you find space in your valuable paper for a portion at least,
of this article. Though the attempt be but a feeble one, I trust it may serve
... to convey the meaning intended. I am
Michael H. Robinson,
Jr. Co. F, 25th Infantry
Joseph P. O'Neil was a white captain in the Twenty-fifth Infantry.