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September 28, 1901, the People of Balangiga Samar Attacked and Killed American Soldiers and Officers

At 6:45 AM On Saturday, September 28, 1901, hundreds of native fighters mostly armed with bolos, staged a successful surprise attack on U.S. troops who were mostly eating or lining up for breakfast in their garrison in Balangiga town, at the southern coast of Samar Island.

Below is an account of the said attack as narrated by Filipino historian, Prof. Rolando O. Borrinaga, in an article entitled “Vintage View: The Balangiga Incident and Its Aftermath” quoted in http://www.filipinoamericanwar.com/Philippine-American War, 1899-1902/Balangiga Massacre, September 28, 1901 by Arnaldo Dumindin.

“The first month of Company C’s presence in Balangiga was marked by extensive fraternization between the Americans and the local residents. The friendly activities included tuba (native wine) drinking among the soldiers and native males, baseball games and arnis (stick fighting) demonstrations in the town plaza, and even a romantic link between an American sergeant, Frank Betron, and a native woman church leader, Casiana Geronima Nacionales.

“Tensions rose when on September 22, at a tuba store, two drunken American soldiers tried to molest the girl tending the store. The girl was rescued by her two brothers, who mauled the soldiers. In retaliation, the Company Commander, Capt. Thomas W. Connell, West Point class of 1894, rounded up 143 male residents for forced labor to clean up the town in preparation for an official visit by his superior officers. They were detained overnight without food under two conical Sibley tents in the town plaza, each of which could only accommodate 16 persons; 78 of the detainees remained the next morning, after 65 others were released due to age and physical infirmity. Finally, Connell ordered the confiscation from their houses of all sharp bolos, and the confiscation and destruction of stored rice. Feeling aggrieved, the townspeople plotted to attack the U.S. Army garrison.

“The mastermind was Valeriano Abanador, a Letran dropout and the local chief of police; he was assisted by five locals and two guerilla officers under the command of Brig. Gen. Vicente Lukban: Capt. Eugenio Daza and Sgt. Pedro Duran, Sr. The lone woman plotter was Casiana �Geronima� Nacionales. Lukban played no role in the planning of the attack; he only learned about it a week later. About 500 men in seven attack units would take part. They represented virtually all families of Balangiga, whose outlying villages then included the present towns of Lawaan and Giporlos, and of Quinapundan, a town served by the priest in Balangiga.

“On September 27, Friday, the natives sought divine help and intervention for the success of their plot through an afternoon procession and marathon evening novena prayers to their protector saints inside the church. They also ensured the safety of the women and children by having them leave the town after midnight, hours before the attack. Pvt. Adolph Gamlin observed women and children evacuating the town and reported it, but he was ignored.

“To mask the disappearance of the women from the dawn service inside the church, 34 attackers from Barrio Lawaan cross-dressed as women worshippers.

“At 6:45 a.m., on Saturday, September 28, Abanador grabbed Pvt. Adolph Gamlin’s rifle from behind and hit him unconscious with its butt. Abanador turned the rifle at the men in the sergeant�s mess tent, wounding one. He then waved a rattan cane above his head, and yelled: �Atake, mga Balangigan-on! (Attack, men of Balangiga!). A bell in the church tower was rung seconds later, to announce that the attack had begun.

“The guards outside the convent and municipal hall were killed. The Filipinos apparently sealed in the Sibley tents at the front of the municipal hall, having had weapons smuggled to them in water carriers, broke free and entered the municipal hall and made their way to the second floor. The men in the church broke into the convent through a connecting corridor and killed the officers who were billeted there. The mess tent and the two barracks were attacked. Most of the Americans were hacked to death before they could grab their firearms. The few who escaped the main attack fought with kitchen utensils, steak knives, and chairs.

“The convent was successfully occupied and so, initially, was the municipal hall, but the mess tent and barracks attack suffered a fatal flaw – about one hundred men were split into three groups, one of each target but too few attackers had been assigned to ensure success. A number of Co. C. personnel escaped from the mess tent and the barracks and were able to retake the municipal hall, arm themselves and fight back. Adolph Gamlin recovered consciousness, found a rifle and caused considerable casualties among the Filipinos. [Gamlin died at age 92 in the U.S. in 1969].

“Faced with immensely superior firepower and a rapidly degrading attack, Abanador ordered a retreat. But with insufficient numbers and fear that the rebels would re-group and attack again, the surviving Americans, led by Sgt. Frank Betron, escaped by baroto (native canoes with outriggers, navigated by using wooden paddles) to Basey, Samar, about 20 miles away. The townspeople returned to bury their dead, then abandoned the town.”

Capt. Edwin V. Bookmiller, West Point Class 1889 and commander of Company G of the 9th US Infantry at Basey, commandeered a civilian coastal steamer from Tacloban, the SS Pittsburg, and with his men steamed to Balangiga. The town was deserted. The dead of Company C lay where they fell, many bearing horrible hack wounds. Bookmiller and his men burned the town to the ground.

Of the original 74 man contingent, 48 died and 26 survived, 22 of them severely wounded. The dead included all of Company C’s commissioned officers: Capt. Thomas W. Connell (RIGHT), 1st Lt. Edward A. Bumpus, and Maj. Richard S. Griswold (the Company surgeon). The guerillas also took 100 rifles with 25,000 rounds of ammunition; 28 Filipinos died and 22 were wounded.

http://www.filipinoamericanwar.com
Some soldiers of Company C, 9th U.S. Infantry (“Manchus”) Regiment, in Balangiga in August 1901. Valeriano Abanador, the native chief of police who would lead the attack on the Balangiga garrison seven weeks later, is standing with arms folded across his chest (sixth from right). (www.filipinoamericanwar.com)
Survivors of Balangiga Massacre in April 1902 photo taken in Calbayog, Samar. (www.filipinoamericanwar.com)

Sources:

http://www.kahimyang.com

http://www.filipinoamericanwar.com

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