The Lost Bells of Balangiga

We always thought that the Americans are our friends because we are after all their "little brown brothers."


We always thought that the Americans are our friends because we are after all their "little brown brothers." Unfortunately, most Filipinos haven't realized that there was a time when Americans hunted down Filipinos like animals just as they did on the Indians in their western frontier decades earlier. During the Filipino-American War (known in the US as the Philippine Insurrection), the Americans ventured into the rebel-controlled Samar island as part of their Pacification Campaign (just as what they did in Iraq and Afghanistan). Month's earlier, the President of the Republic Emilio Aguinaldo was captured in Palanan, Isabela but other units continued the fight while some forces not knowing about the development were oblivious of the course of the war.


Prior to Aguinaldo's capture, General Vicente Lukban was sent to Samar to govern the island. But in August 1901, a sizable American force was sent to deny the rebels access to the sea for supplies and reinforcements. Though relations with the Americans and the local population were amicable, it was unknown what caused the tension between both camps. As Company C of the US 9th Infantry Regiment prepared for an inspection from US Army's Inspector General, Captain Thomas Connel (the American commander) commanded the townspeople to clean up and prepare for the visiting American officials. The locals inadvertently cut down vegetation with food value, which was a violation of General Lukban's orders.


On September 18, 1901, General Lukban sent 400 guerillas to punish the local residents and town officials for violating his orders and fraternizing with the enemies. A staff member of Lukban, Captain Eugenio Daza, and priest Father Donato Guinbaolibot have defused the threat.

However, Connel has rounded up the men of the town to hasten the clean-up operations. He kept 80 men in cramped tents without food. What makes it worst is that their bolos and stored rice were confiscated. These events have insulted and angered the locals but without the sympathy of General Lukban, the Balangiga residents were left with no choice at all - plan their attack on the Americans on their own!

Just days before that fateful attack, the town police chief Valeriano Abanador met with Captain Daza to plan their attack on the American forces. Though they lacked the firepower, they were planning to take the Americans off guard. Much like what the Vietcongs did decades earlier in the Vietnam War, the locals decide to make a charade by having the men disguised as workers that will prepare for the Inspector General's visit. The women would ensure that the Americans would be too drunk on the day after the fiesta while a select 34 men would be dressed in women's clothing. These "women" would then carry small coffins with the ruse of bringing a dead child stricken with cholera in order to get past the sentries undetected because the other coffins have bolos and other weapons inside.


In the early morning of September 28, 1901, the villagers opened the attack with Abanador opened the salvo by grabbing the rifle of Private Adolph Gamlin and bashed him in the head. With the signal, the rest of the laborers supervised by Abanador attacked the soldiers who were having their breakfast in the mess area.

The church bells were immediately sounded seconds later than the mayhem ensured with most of the Company C troopers attacked and hacked to death. The men detained in the tent broke out and made their way to the municipal hall while the attackers hidden in the convent broke out and attacked the officers. Gamlin recovered his consciousness and managed to secure another rifle to attack the Filipinos thereby causing considerable casualties. The attackers immediately broke off and retreated with the surviving soldiers led by Sergeant Frank Betron escaped to Basey and Tanauan, Leyte.


About 36 men were killed in action including Connel, First Lieutenant Edward Bumpus, and Major Richard S. Griswold. Though 22 were wounded in action and 4 missing in action, 8 men later died of the wounds they received in combat. The attackers eventually captured about 100 rifles and 25,000 rounds of ammunition and suffered 28 dead and 22 wounded.



Dealing with this surprising development, the Americans showed no mercy by making Samar a howling wilderness under the directive of Brigadier-General Jacob Smith. After the devastating loss at Little Big Horn with George Custer, the Americans employing a massive search and destroy campaign just like how they obliterated Vietnamese hamlets and villages with B-52 bombings.

The heavy-handed approach of Smith made him the enemy of anti-Imperialists back in the home front. He said this during his tour of duty:

“I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me... The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness..."

He ordered his subordinate Major Littleton Waller with his battalion of 315 US Marines to have all persons killed who were capable of bearing arms. Waller, however, applied the rules of civilized warfare and the rules provided under General Orders No. 100 of 1863 dealing with irregular warfare, which stated that if enemy units gave no quarter and became treacherous upon capture, it was lawful to shoot anyone belonging to that captured unit.

In order to prevent the revolutionaries from fighting effectively, food and trade to Samar were cut off. The strategy also involved widespread destruction to force the inhabitants to stop supporting the guerrillas and turn to the Americans from fear and starvation. The exact number of Filipino civilians killed by US troops will never be known, but some Filipino historians believe it to be around 50,000.

After the campaign, the Americans took the three bells of the Balangiga town church as spoils of war. Until now, the Americans have never returned the bells to where they belong. It is 110 years overdue and the bells remained in the 11th Infantry Regiment Base in F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming while the third bell is in the possession of the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: The Lost Bells of Balangiga
The Lost Bells of Balangiga
We always thought that the Americans are our friends because we are after all their "little brown brothers."
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