Blog 04/08/2021 - The Three Bells of Balangiga

After the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection was fought from 4 February 1899 to 2 July 1902. The Philippine Army began staging bloody ambushes & raids, such as the guerrilla attacks at Balangiga on the island of Samar on 28 September 1901.

Both sides were not above atrocities against POWs with the US military adopting the Spanish "water cure" which is an early form of water torture & the origin of waterboarding. As one Corporal in the PI wrote home, "Last night one of our boys was found shot and his stomach cut open. Immediately orders were received from (Brigadier) General Wheaton to burn the town & kill every native in sight; which was done to a finish. About 1,000 men, women & children were reported killed. I am probably growing hard-hearted, for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin & pull the trigger."

Two Filipino atrocities were described in detail: "A detachment, marching through Leyte, found an American who had disappeared a short time before crucified, head down. His abdominal wall had been carefully opened so that his intestines might hang down in his face. Another American prisoner, found on the same trip, had been buried in the ground with only his head projecting. His mouth had been propped open with a stick; a trail of sugar laid to it through the forest, & a handful thrown into it. Millions of ants had done the rest!"

The Massacre of Balangiga was the "worst defeat of US Army soldiers since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876." Of the 78 men in Company C, 9th Infantry there were 48 KIA, 22 WIA, 4 MIA & only 4 escaped unscathed. US Army BrigGen Jacob Smith instructed Maj Littleton Waller & his 315 Marine Battalion: "I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill & burn; the more you kill & burn, the better it will please me...The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness." As a consequence of this order, Smith became known as "Howling Wilderness Smith" & “Hell Roaring Jake” in the press.

The US Navy offshore cut off food & trade to Samar with the intention to starve the revolutionaries into submission. Waller’s Marines & Smith’s soldiers were used in sweeps of the island’s interior in search for guerrilla bands & in attempts to capture Philippine Revolutionary General Vicente Lukbán who was captured on 18 February 1902. American columns marched across the island, destroying homes & shooting people & draft animals. Maj Littleton Waller, in a report to Smith, stated that over an 11-day period his men burned 255 dwellings, shot 13 carabaos (water buffalo) & killed 39 Filipinos. Smith further ordered Waller to kill all persons who were capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the US forces. When queried by Waller regarding the age limit of these persons, Smith replied that the limit was ten years of age.


This furious guerrilla war ended with the 9th Infantry taking “war souvenirs” back with them to the US. Three of these items are part of the fascinating account of our good friend RADM Dan McKinnon who along with two other US Naval Officers begin a decade long pursuit in righting a century old problem of returning “The Three Bells of Balangiga.” 
Read here: