Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Amigo 113: The Presidio of San Francisco and the Filipino

'The Ordonez Gun – “War Prize” from the Philippines

'The Presidio’s Ordonez gun was originally mounted in a Spanish coastal fort at Subic Bay in the Philippines.  Undamaged during the Spanish-American War, the gun was captured by Filipino nationalists, who were known as “Insurrectos” by the occupying Americans.

'In September 1899, a combined U.S. Army-Navy force attacked Filipino positions at Subic Bay. This gun was reported to have been destroyed by shellfire from American cruiser USS Charleston.  Some historians suggest that the damage was caused by the explosion of a shell within the gun.' -- From the Presidio Marker

The Presidio is not as popular a tourist destination as the Golden Gate Bridge and Palace of Fine Arts even if all three are in the same neighborhood.  One can take the free Presidio shuttle bus to reach the Bridge, or walk from its Lombard Gate to the Palace. It is a favorite of hikers and bikers; there's a green for golfers, outlook points for nature lovers, and places of interest for history researchers.  Crowd-drawing relocators may soon follow the Walt Disney Museum that's now housed in one of the restored military barracks there.

This was the military outpost of the Spanish empire in North America since 1776, then of the Mexicans for 24 years before the U.S. Army took over in 1846 (California became the 31st state in 1850).

On 13 August 1898, Manila was captured by the US Army under General Wesley Merritt with the support of the naval fleet under Admiral George Dewey. Spanish power in the Philippines ended.  This coming Saturday will be the 113rd anniversary of the fall of Manila.

Thus, the 113 in our title.  The Amigo (friend, Sp.) derives from John Sayle's movie of the same name about a barrio chief torn by conflicting alliances during the Philippine war for independence (1898-1902), a facet of Fil-Am history that Americans and Filipinos know so little about.  The movie is scheduled for theatrical showings in major American cities starting this month.

The Lombard Gate.  Inset are war trophies (cannons, left and right) and decorative detail at the right gate post.  The trophies are bronze cannons "probably from the harbor fortifications of Manila ... cast in Seville in 1783 [and] engraved with the monogram CR III for Carlos de Borbon, King of Spain from 1759 to 1788. (War & Dissent Exhibition Brochure)."
So, what has the Presidio got to do with the Filipino amigo then and now - the tourist from Manila, or the Fil-Am living in the [San Francisco] Bay Area or visiting from other states?

We recall that George Dewey crushed the Spanish navy in Manila Bay on 01 May 1898.  There was no way he could capture Manila.  He could only set up a blockade, and because the Spaniards did not allow him to use the cable lines, he cut them on 02 May.  From Hong Kong, he wired Washington DC on 07 May:  "I have taken possession of the naval station at Cavite, Philippine Islands, and destroyed its fortifications. Have destroyed fortifications bay entrance, paroling garrison. Have cut cable to main land. I control bay completely and can take city at any time, but I have not sufficient men to hold..."

"Unaware of Dewey’s success," a marker in the Presidio reads, "President McKinley authorized troops to mount a campaign against the capital of Manila. The military base best suited as a staging point was the Presidio of San Francisco. "

Thus, a military expedition was organized with Major-General Wesley Merrritt in command.  These comprised thousands of men from the regular army and volunteers in the regiments from the western states so that the rail travel to San Francisco, the port of mobilization, would be shorter.

The troops were all encamped in the Presidio; from 1898 through 1900, 18,000 soldiers passed through this post to the Philippines.

The first transports came on board the City of Peking, City of Sydney and  Australia under the convoy of the Charleston and reached Manila Bay on 30 June, 1898.  These were the four companies of the 14th infantry of the regular army and the 1st California and 1st Oregon regiments of volunteers under the command of General Thomas M. Anderson of the US Army.

The next troopships arrived in July--those under General Frank V. Greene on the 17th; General Merritt's on the 25th; and those of General Arthur MacArthur on the 30th.

It's important to recall that General Emilio Aguinaldo left Hongkong on 17 May on board the USS McCulloch, arrived in Cavite on the 19th, and issued three proclamations on the 24th.  In the third, he invoked that "The great American nation, a lover of true liberty, and therefore desirous of liberating our country from tyranny and despotism to which it has been subjected by its rulers, has decided to give us disinterested protection, considering us sufficiently able and civilized to govern ourselves."

Within a week, Aguinaldo had mobilized his army to resume the revolution against the Spaniards eventually liberating Cavite. On 12 June, he proclaimed the country's independence from the window of their house in Kawit.

"[U]ntil the arrival of the first detachment of United States troops on the 30th of June," Stickney (1899) wrote, "Aguinaldo maintained his headquarters in Cavite, but his troops were continually pressing the Spaniards back upon Manila.  ... It was not long before they reached the fort near the beach at Malate ... and continued their movement for investing the city to the east and north."

When his large troops landed, General Anderson asked Aguinaldo to evacuate Cavite for them.  Aguinaldo obliged and moved his troops to Bacoor where he organized a provisional government.

In July, the Spaniards in Manila were already on the defensive against the Filipino forces.  The US troops had advanced to Parañaque, and the Americans were preparing to compel the Spaniards to surrender Manila to General Merritt.

In August, while the Filipinos were pressing forward to Manila, the Americans and the Spaniards were negotiating the battle plans and the terms of surrender.  

On 13 August, the Anderson and MacArthur troops pinched Manila from two sides; the Olympia, Charleston, Raleigh and the Petrel pummeled the Malate fortifications and Fort San Antonio while the Spanish guns from Intramuros remained mute; and the California volunteers ordered the Filipino troops to hold their fire and leave them alone and in no way should they advance ahead of them.

Thus, the fall of Manila to the Presidio boys. Part 1 of America's first foreign war, a conventional one--the Spanish-American--ended;  Part 2, the Philippine-American, a guerilla type, had began.


  • Stickney, Joseph L.  (1899).  War in the Philippines and Life and Glorious Deeds of Admiral Dewey. A Thrilling Account of our Conflicts with the Spaniards and Filipinos in the Orient including the Glorious Deeds of the Great Commander and The Complete Story of the Philippine Islands, Historical and Descriptive. Chicago: Imperial Publishing Company. 
  • White, Douglas. (1899, May).  The Surrender of Manila.  Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly.  48(1):38-48.

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