Timeline of the 1st Battle of Bud Dajo – 1906
The War Department places Major General Leonard Wood in command of all US Army forces in the Philippine Islands and orders Moro Province be turned over the next day to Brigadier General Tasker Bliss. But Wood writes in his diary, “I shall hold on to affairs [longer] in the Moro Province…as there are a number of things to complete before turning things over…the presence [and defiance] of a considerable number of discontented people in the crater and on the slopes of Bud Dajo.”
From Zamboanga, Captain George Langhorne, Wood’s Aide de Camp, writes a letter to Wood in Manila urging an immediate attack on Bud Dajo, adding, “They will probably have to be exterminated.” Langhorne’s plan is to secretly offer a bribe and pardon toAdam, leader of the smallest group, if he will convince his followers to “stand aside” as an American column creeps up the South trail in the dead of night to surprise and annihilate the other two groups at dawn. Langhorne recommends the attack should proceed regardless of whether Adam can be persuaded to betray his compatriots or not.
Wood adopts the recommendation, “This is a ridiculous little affair from every standpoint and should be brought to an end…clean it up.” For the next two weeks in secret, Wood cuts and issues orders for the movement of troops and transports to Jolo–blatantlyviolating a standing order from the Secretary of War, and endorsed by the White House, that specified advance approval must be obtained from Washington for any military expedition and/or planned combat action against the Moros.
Having arrived in Zamboanga a few days earlier, Wood designates Colonel Joseph Duncan of the 6th Infantry Regiment as his field commander, with orders to crush the “armed rebellion.” Duncan, four infantry companies of the 6th Infantry, and an ad hoccompany from the Moro Constabulary depart for Jolo before the day is out.
Duncan arrives in Jolo and adds most of the Jolo garrison, one company of the 6th Infantry, a machinegun squad, two troops of the 4th Cavalry Regiment, and the 28th Battery of the Field Artillery, to his command, That night two companies of the 19th Infantry Regiment and two troops of the 4th Cavalry arrive from Malabang. The officers of the newly-formed expedition are informed of their mission and briefed while viewing a clay model of Bud Dajo.
A reconnaissance is made on horseback by Duncan and the principal officers of the expedition, during which base camp positions and artillery locations are selected. But while their maps indicate a 360-degree route through the maze of interconnecting trails that encircle the base of the mountain, they are unsuccessful in locating a path between the South and East trailheads. That night, Duncan issues field orders splitting the expedition into four sub-commands; three separate assault columns, one each for the West, South, and East trails, and a fourth column under his direct command consisting of headquarters staff, the field hospital, the Signal Corps detachment, the 28th Battery with four mountain guns, and a “Flying Squad” of two troops of the 4th Cavalry.
The assault columns depart Jolo at 4:00A.M. for their assigned positions. Captain Tyree Rivers, at the West trail, Position No. 1, initiates an immediate reconnaissance, but a small cotta stands across the path and Rivers and a soldier are wounded, halting the advance. Rivers is replaced by Captain Lewis Koehler. The four mountain guns of the 28th Battery, led by Captain E. F. McGlachlin, are emplaced on a small hill next to the East Trail and begin a barrage against cottas and other structures on the mountain top. Seeing uncertain results, McGlachlin decides to break up the battery, sending one gun to the West trailhead and one to the South trailhead. In the afternoon, the Major Omar Bundy at Position No. 2, sends Captain John R. White and his Moro Constabulary company, followed by Co. M of the 6th Infantry out to probe the defenses of the South trail. Scrambling on all fours and crawling on their bellies up a narrow, exposed hogback ridge at a 45-degree incline, White makes it two-thirds of the way to the South summit before encountering Tausug trenches. Bundy orders White to pull back a hundred yards and stay in position for the night. White and his men endure a fitful sleep on bare ground maintaining total silence, disturbed by the incessant beating of gongs and “war chants” as well as by “vicious attacks of warrior ants and other jungle pests.”
Colonel Duncan arrives early in the morning establishes his headquarters behind Position No. 2 at the South trailhead. Meanwhile White resumes his advance up the South trail, accompanied by four hand-picked sharpshooters from the 6th Infantry. Soon White encounters a huge abattis, a hedgehog-like, seemingly impenetrable barrier fashioned from tree logs and sharpened bamboo that spans across the entire hogback ridge. With a steep drop-off on either side preventing a flanking movement, the first man to go over the top is shot through the head and killed. The next man is badly wounded. Then unexpectedly, shrapnel shells from a Vickers mountain gun on the other side of the mountain rain down on their heads, forcing an immediate retreat back down the trail . Encouraged by White’s unexpected progress and fearing an attack on his rear from Tausugs rumored to be coming up from Jolo, Duncan sends out orders for a first-light assault along all three trails at dawn the next morning, with Bundy and Lawton going all the way to the top while Koehler is to hold in place just below the West summit.
At first light, White tears a hole through the abattis and sends the Constabulary, one by one, through intense fire in a scramble up the steep slope to a place of cover just below the walls of a large, heavily defended cotta blocking the trail. Companies M and then K of the 6th Infantry quickly follow. White is badly wounded in an attempt to scale the cotta wall and Captains Schindel and Koehler of the 6th Infantry take charge just as the Tausug defenders, led by Adam, pour over the top of the cotta in a fierce counterattack. The two sides are only yards apart, and the combat is often hand-to-hand. In the space of ten-fifteen furious minutes, all 150 of the charging Tausugs are killed and one out of every three men on the American side are casualties. The remainder crawl up the last 100 yards of the last steep slope to capture the South summit amidst only desultory resistance. But, gazing across the crater towards the East summit, Lawton’s men are nowhere to be found. Unknown to Bundy, or for that matter Duncan, Lawton never received the order for the assault. Communicated back down the hill, messengers with new orders are sent out to Lawton to launch an immediate assault from hi side.
Three hours later two companies of infantry (from the 19th and 6th Infantries) and two machinegun squads of Navy sailors have made it to just 20 yards below the crater rim on the daunting East trail. Under the command of Captain A.M. Wetherill, the men fan out in a line, although many must cling to jungle vines to keep from falling off the steep incline. Sharpshooters are posted to keep the Moros away from the crater edge, where they could easily fire straight down on the Americans, while the soldiers wait for Captain Lawton to come up. 400 Tausugs, led by Imam Harib, are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder into two large, deep trenches, many expecting this to be their final day wear their best finery. Captain Lawton comes up and at the sound of a bugle, 110 infantrymen and the machine guns charge over the crater rim to find themselves only 20-30 feet away from the two trenches. Both sides blast away at one another, but the firepower advantage is clearly on the American side, particularly as the two Colt machineguns are set up and come into play. As many as 10,000 .30 caliber bullets slam into the trenches at point blank range, in such volume as to tear bodies apart. In ten minutes, it is all over and no one in the trenches is left alive. After an hour of mopping up and as night falls, only about 100 Tausug defenders are left alive, surrounded and inside a lone cotta at the top of the West trail, the highest point on the mountain. The Americans bivouac in the blackness of the night and swirling mists while the Tausugs nervously await the dawn.
At first light, a platoon of the 19th Infantry led by 2nd Lt. H.H. Bissell and a Navy machinegun squad attack the cotta. After a brief but fierce firefight, the cotta is taken. Sixty-seven Tausugs, die, the only reliable body count that was taken. The senior American officer,Major Omar Bundy, orders a final sweep of the top of the mountain. In his report he wrote “No living Moro was found.” At mid-morning General Wood and General Bliss arrive at the summit.
An odd thing happens. Wood orders all of the soldiers to immediately evacuate the mountain by the West trail, taking their dead and wounded with them, and all those not from the Jolo garrison to board the transports and return post haste to their posts in Mindanao. The field commanders, Lawton in particular, vehemently protest that they have not been able to search for survivors, make a body count, lay the dead out for retrieval by their relatives (the normal practice), and collect weapons left on the battlefield. Further, there have been rumors of other Tausug bands in the area bent on avenging their brethren. Regardless, Wood summarily ignores the protests and orders the troops down off the mountain post haste. Only Major Bundy, a few Constabulary soldiers, and a dozen hired Moro cargadores stay behind, ordered by Wood to throw a thin covering of dirt on the bodies. Colonel Duncan, anxiously awaiting news at the bottom of the mountain, does not learn that his command has evaporated until late in the day. The bodies of the Tausug dead, while eventually re-buried, were not retrieved from Bud Dajo and remain there to this day.
The news of the battle is splashed across the headlines in the morning news of March 10. But the source is a terse cable from General Wood to the War Department echoed by a few heavily censored rewrites from the cable wire services. Irrespective of strict censorship of cable content imposed by Wood, leaks soon occur. On the morning of March 11, the Sunday New York Times splashes the headline “Women and Children Killed in Moro Battle…Nine Hundred Persons Killed…President Wires Congratulations to the Troops.” The dearth of facts coming from Zamboanga simply stirs up speculation, and pro-and anti-administration newspapers and periodicals quickly break out into open warfare, largely on the basis of political and/or ideological bias. Wood, reflexively defensive, fans the flames furthers by leaking false stories to friendly correspondents; claiming among other canards that the assault on the mountain had repeatedly been suspended under a white flag to plead women and children be sent down the mountain, but that instead Tausug men had held their children in front of them as shields.
March 15-April 17
Congress jumps into the fray and the battle quickly becomes a partisan issue as well; dividing a Republican Senate from a Democratic House in vitriolic debate. The Socialist Party (a significant third-party at that time) go nearly rabid and the left fabricates its own counter dark version of sadistic, crazed doughboys bent on murder. Resolutions are passed by both houses demanding the War Department supply detailed field reports, communications, and all official documentation, which Wood, with the War Department’s tacit agreement, sits on. The Anti-Imperialist League and Veterans groups (a huge constituency dating back to the Civil War) add to the cacophony on opposite sides. President Roosevelt’s own minister, the prominent Reverend Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church, denounces him from the pulpit.
At 51:12AM on April 18, 1906, one of the most horrific natural disasters in American history occurred–The Great San Francisco Earthquake. Bud Dajo is immediately relegated to the newspaper inside pages and, within days, disappears altogether. Public attention and in turn Congressional attention pivots to the new drama as the tragedy half-way around quickly becomes yesterday’s story.
In a personal letter to President Roosevelt, General Wood reflects with noticeable satisfaction, “I see most of the blackguards in public as well as private life have let up on the Mount Dajo business. Work of this kind…has its disagreeable side, which is unavoidable killing of women and children; but it must be done, and disagreeable as it is, there is no way of avoiding it.” Wood finally forwards the battle reports and other documents to Washington, but the War Department, taking advantage of the waning of attention, ignores the Congressional resolutions and simply squirreled them away in basement vaults. They are kept quarantined from public scrutiny for another quarter century.
January 25, 1907
As almost a postscript, a reprint of a shocking photograph accompanied by a scathing editorial suddenly appears in a newspaper, theJohnstown [PA] Weekly Democrat. The photo, taken on March 7 only an hour after the assault on the East summit, is of one of the two trenches where 400 Tausug men, women, and children died (see photograph in a later page which follows). The Anti-Imperialist League immediately reprints and mails out 3,000 copies to newspapers across the country. Although clearly a “smoking gun”, neither the press, the public, nor the Congress pay further attention. The story is truly dead.