The Soldiers Speak

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.

[Dear Sir:]

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'Neil1 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 awhile.

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

Yours obediently,
Michael H. Robinson,
Jr. Co. F, 25th Infantry

1 Joseph P. O'Neil was a white captain in the Twenty-fifth Infantry.

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