A Soldier's Letter - Part 2
November 23, 1906
A Soldier's Letter
(Continued from last week)
Captain Lawton passed the word along the line, "men get ready for the charge", Capt. Wetherhill and Lieut. Cosil prepared the advance for the attack. The Colt's rapid fire gun was just before the fort and opened fire, sweeping the trenches. The bugler sounded the charge", and the whole command rushed up with a yell. A yell that filled with victory and fight--such a yell no foot ball team never new. Up they went to the lip of the crater and over the flank of the crater. The lip of the crater and the crater itself down below were swarming with Moros. Some of them were frightful, while the faces of others were as inexpressive as that of the Moro who sells pearls shells or knives to the Americans in Jolo, but poured the Moros with white rags upon their heads. (A consecration of the hadjis.) The women rushed with them, cursing and handling the bolos.
Then occured [sic] a hand-to-hand, cold steel conflict, the Moros rushing at the Americans with their deadly barongs, their knives and spears. They fought like fiends. Few had the opportunity to close as the Americans pumped their guns desperately and the Moros fell by dozens. Some of the men rushed in between the Moros and their trenches. A private snapped his revolver at an enrushing [sic] Moro but each time it failed him. Quick as thought he clubbed his gun and hit the Moro, crushing his head like a paper shell, knocking the huge knife a dozen feet away. It was desperate, gasping, and sweaty work, and the American was the better man in any kind of fight.
Another Moro, wounded to death, seized a spear and drove it through the skull of a native child with such force that the head of the spear came out under the chin and ran into the childs shoulder breaking off the steel. But these were incidents of the blood red mist.
In ten minutes it was all over, and the Americans cheered over their victory, such cheer as none who has never been on the battle field may know. Five soldiers lay dead, and a large number were severely wounded. The number of Moros killed in this cotta was probably 350, or very close to it. The trenches and the lip of the cotta was covered with the dead and in the trenches the dead were three and four and sometimes five deep. Besides the fire from the cotta, an attack was made from the lip of the crater itself down below. The Americans shot the Moros down from all sides. In fact in half an hour there was not a living Moro either in the cotta or along the eastern side of the crater. Capt. Lawton sent a detachment along the lip of the crater under the command of Capt. Bolles, sixth Infantry to see if there were any left. Every house in the crater was shelled like a sieve by the colt's automatic gun, but the Moros managed to fight like fiends, even when dieing [sic]. They struck out with their last breath, and the knife cuts quick and sharp, and with little effort.
In the battle three or four Americans were killed by Moros who feigned death, and other Americans were wounded by the same method. Our soldiers did not fire into wounded as Kitchener's men did, and so the Americans lost their lives and were wounded. Of course where the Moros were all packed in the trenches firing upon the Americans, many wounded as well as unhurt Moros were killed when the trenches were affiliated.
That night I had the honor of meeting Capt. Lawton--a braver or kinder man never lived. He had not slept for thirty six hours, it was said. Probably he had eaten little or nothing. He was cool, mentally calm, physically nervous, active in caring for the wounded in the temporary hospital, but terribly depressed over the loss of his men and the death of the women and children in the trenches. Later in the night I rode into the town to get hospital supplies, returning before dawn. My journey proved useless as Capt. George Langhorn had sent out cargedors [cargadores], (baggage carriers: with all the supplies that was to be had, and I could get no more supplies; but the trip proved to the writer at least, that the average civilian however brave he thinks he is he is not as brave as the soldier who is trained to danger. I saw two or three Moros in the moonlight in the cane-brake, and I was pretty sure they were hostiles, as friendly Moros would not venture out without an American escort, for fear o being shot on suspicion by the packmasters who were constantly traveling along the trails between Dajo and Jolo. I stepped under the shade of a rubber tree and pulled out my Colt's 45. My horse stepped on a bamboo and it cracked like a pistol shot. The Moros started to run at angle that would cut across my path, so I whipped away in the white moonlight of the tropics straight through the country on my back track. Now a sergant [sic] who rode in came on with several Moros and prepared to shoot them up, but they proved to be a lot of cargadoes [cargadores] who were going out to bring the dead and wounded. The soldiers built a great fire on the hill of Dajo that night. It lit up the ghastly trenches of the dead. It flared among the great trees of Dajo and reached towards the heavens with a glow. The Moros on hundreds of hills saw it, and they knew at last, after centuries they were finally to be conquered. When dawn broke the soldiers were gathered around the trenches taken the night before. A half dozen Moro children played on the blankets of the soldiers' and one little hungry fellow was shivering with cold and hunger, there were two women wounded and all around were the bloody mouthed, frightful, rigid dead. Within two feet of the children were the body of six American soldiers, covered with a tarpaulin. They were fine looking young boys--most of these soldiers were eighteen or twenty years old, and many of them had never been in a battle before, yet they had rushed into a hand-to-hand combat to meet as certain a death as a soldier may know.
Long before the fog had drifted from the summit of Dajo that morning, March 8th, Captain Lawton had begun his advance on the cotta on the north side of the crater, under orders of Colonel Duncan recieved [sic] about two o'clock that morning. The first excitement was over now, now it was business. This was the third and last cotta to be taken. The advance was a detachment of company B Nineteenth Infantry, commanded by Lieut. Bissel [sic], they took along a Colt's rapid fire gun and posted it up and started to shell the cotta at a very short distance. Now one man had brought a rapid fire gun up the hill, and he was a volenteer [sic] in the fighting--Ensign cook of the United States Steamer Pampanga, Ensign cook in taking the gun up was shot in the foot, and was relieved by Cadet Hayward. The noise of the rapid fire gun was almost like that of a bunch of fire crackers exploding. Then the men already under fire advanced so close to the Moros that they charged and many of them fell back in the trench, but they had reached its edge.
The trenches were full of Moros, occasionally a black hand would be seen over the parapet and shooter would snap at it.
A Moro boy apparently eleven or twelve years old, swift and supple, limber and lean as a deer, charged with drawn bolo upon six of our men, and fell within six feet of them. A woman made a charge and fell pierced with bullets. The fireing [sic] became intermitent [sic].
The morning sun began to bite and the sweat dripped from the men's faces and fell on their khaki trousers. Still fogers [?] leaped like tiger, with knives flourishing. Lieut. Bissel [sic] and several other men rushed to the charge of the cotta and struck the parapet, and there came a burst of rifle firing. One man with a baby under his arm and a pole in the other hand, leaped over the cotta and was shot in a dozen places before he touched the ground. Bissell's men fell back and again rallied. Bissell saved a man's life by shooting a Moro just as he was about to cleave the soldier with his barong.
Then brave Joseph Fitz, of the gunboat Pampanga, climbed onto a tree with revolver sticking in his belt, and getting up the tree emptied the revolver into the Moros in the trenches. This was the only way the Moros not yet killed could be fired on from above. "There are almost three or four of them yet captain", cried Fitz, so a general advance was made, and the Moros were shot down. Great credit must be given for the way in which the trench was taken, for by the action of Fitz many lives were saved. The third and last cotta had been taken. And the battle was practically over in the forenoon of March 8th.
In this story there is only told the work of Lawton's column. The other two columns, under Capt. Koehler, fourth cavalry, and Major Bundy experienced as trying times as did Capt. Lawton's column although his loss was the greatest. All three of the trals [trails] are steep and precipitous and it would fatigue a man in good condition to climb any of them. At the top of Lawton's trail, however the hill is broader and offered an opportunity for them to charge. Splendid work was done by the Moro constabulary, or native police of the Phillippines [sic], an organization which does every conceivable thing, both civil and military, with admirable efficiency, which has been shamefully abused, but which is every where in the Phillippines [sic] the most useful organization in the Islands.
Captain White commanding the constabulary, cleared the trail for Bundy's column and was wounded. Lieut. Sowers in command worked a sawed off shot gun with wonderful effect upon the top of the trail. The number of Moros dead is variously estimated. It is impossible to give the exact number. The trench captured by Capt. Lawton probably held three hundred and fifty Moros, and that was my estimate at the time. The other two trenches held 150 and 450 more dead. The number altogether, was probably closer to one thousand than six hundred, the original estimate.
Weird stories from all parts of the battle field were told the writer the night of the combat. The Moro women fought more desperately than the men. One could not tell them from the men. One horrible photograph I have shows a woman with her hair cut short. One saw a Filipino cut a Moro woman into with one slash of a bolo. Others saw Moros kill their own children or use them as shields in the fight. One soldier said that an American soldier wanting to end the fight there, jumped down into the trench and killed every one who attacked him, shooting his revolver and stabing [sic] with his bayonet in the heat of the battle. Of course he was badly wounded. A Moro woman threw her baby at a soldier, and then made at him with a barong. She was shot down. A Moro threw his baby on a row of bayonets, and as it stuck on one he jumped and killed the soldier behind the bayonet. Private Packard, troop, K. 4th. Cav. was the man killed. A brave hospital corpsman was slain while applying, "first aid" to the injured soldiers. His duty was not on the firing line but he was there. Now the Americans who jumped into the trenches and killed indiscriminately may have been cowardly or they may have been brave, but it seems to me that it takes a brave man to leap to almost certain death, among people who will spring back when mortally wounded, and slash vicously [sic] with a knife, hoping to get in one death blow as they draw their last breath.
Frequently the Moros would fire on the soldiers sent out to rescue the wounded Moros who were without weapons, and take them to the field hospital where the wounds could be dressed by the surgeon.
How could the Americans done otherwise than they did, the Moros did not fight according to the rules of modern warfare.
It is impossible for one who was not there to conceive the viciousness and treachery of their attacks. While the sight of the trenches were shocking in the extreme to even harden the nerves, it was more then pitiful to see the American dead. The Americans were fortunate in losing so few men. Yet if the Moros had used as good judgement in the fight as our men did, hundreds of Americans would have been slaughtered. It was due to the almost impregnable position of the Moros that the loss of life to our soldiers was so severe, and the wonder of it is that no more of the Americans were killed. It was impossible for the American soldiers to leave the Moros longer in the crater of Bud-Dajo, as their number was being continually augmented. It was impracticable to try and starve them out, with their springs of water and their great amount of stores they had gathered for the fight. A siege would have been impracticable, too, for the reason that the remaining Moros in the Islands, if they thought that it was impossible for the Americans to win the fight, might have made a fanatical attack on the Americans and massacred the whole garrison.
It is said by those who have lived in the Phillippines [sic] for the last six years that this battle practically ends the fighting in the Islands. Wherever in Mindanao the Moros have been thoroughly defeated and the Dattos have been humiliated, the Moros have transferred their allegiance to the Americans.
There is great difference of opinion as to whether the Moros watching the battle were friendly or unfriendly. Lieut. Dorcy reported during the fight that an agitator had visited the Moros near Koehler's camp urging a bolo attack on the men there.
This was immediately reported to Koehler and Colonel Duncan and the camp was at once reinforced. About 10:30 A. M. March 8th, the Sultan of Sulu, with a large following, appeared near Capt. Koehler's camp, Lieut. Dorcy, in charge sent word that he would be very glad to see the Sultan, who was only one hundred yards away. The sultan returned the word that he was very tired, having ridden from Miabung [Maimbung] ten miles away, and started back to Miabon [Maimbung]. His men were fully armed, and said they had been boar hunting, but it looked as if they had been waiting for an American reverse.
Source: Crittenden Record. (Marion, Ky.) 1904-1907, November 23, 1906, Image 7 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.
[My comments are in brackets.]