Battle of Manila (1899)

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Battle of Manila
Part of the Philippine–American War
Manila646 1899.jpg
U.S. soldiers of the First Nebraska volunteers, Company B, near Manila in 1899.
DateFebruary 4–5, 1899
Manila, Philippines
Result American victory
 United States  Philippine Republic
Commanders and leaders
Elwell S. Otis
Arthur MacArthur Jr.
Thomas M. Anderson
Emilio Aguinaldo
Antonio Luna
Luciano San Miguel

19,000 U.S. troops

8,000 in Manila
11,000 outer defenses[1]
15,000–40,000 Filipino troops (estimates vary)[1]
Casualties and losses
55 killed
204 wounded[2]
238 killed
306 captured[2]

The Battle of Manila (Filipino: Labanan sa Maynila; Spanish: Batalla de Manila), the first and largest battle of the Philippine–American War, was fought on February 4–5, 1899, between 19,000 American soldiers and 15,000 Filipino armed militiamen. Armed conflict broke out when American troops, under orders to turn away insurgents from their encampment, fired upon an encroaching group of Filipinos. Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo attempted to broker a ceasefire, but American General Elwell Stephen Otis rejected it, and fighting escalated the next day. It ended in an American victory, although minor skirmishes continued for several days afterward.

Disposition of forces[edit]

Filipino forces[edit]

After the surrender of Manila to American forces by the Spanish in 1898, General Aguinaldo demanded the occupation of a line of blockhouses on the Zapote Line, which had been the Spanish defensive perimeter. General Otis initially refused this but later said that he would not object unless overruled by higher authority.[3] It was estimated at the time that about 20,000 Filipino troops were surrounding Manila, with their distribution and exact composition only partially known.[4]

American forces[edit]

U.S. Army forces numbered some 800 officers and 20,000 enlisted men. Of these, the Army deployed some 8,000 in Manila and 11,000 in a defensive line inside the Zapote line. The remaining American troops were in Cavite or in transports off Iloilo.[1]

First shots[edit]

Private William Walter Grayson who fired the first shots in the Battle of Manila (1899).
Plan of Manila as it existed in 1851
Zapote Line blockhouse locations

Sources generally agree that the first shots were fired by Private William Walter Grayson (April 9, 1876, England - March 20, 1941, San Francisco, United States), an Englishman who had migrated to Nebraska with his parents c. 1890. Having worked as a hostler, he had enlisted as a volunteer soldier in Lincoln, Nebraska, in May 1898, a month after the Spanish–American War erupted, and had deployed with his unit to the Philippines in June 1898.[5] Grayson's unit, the First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry under Colonel John M. Stotsenburg, had been encamped in Santa Mesa, Manila, since December 5, 1898.[6] During their encampment, there had been incidents on and around the San Juan Bridge, located just to the east of their encampment area.[7]

On the morning of February 4, Stotsenburg said, "Your orders are to hold the village. If any armed men come into our lines order them out. If they persist in coming, summon enough men to arrest them. In case an advance in force is made, fall back to the pipeline outpost and resist the occupation of the village by all means in your power, calling on these headquarters for assistance."[8] In a report later that day, Lt. Burt D. Wheedon wrote, "On the morning of February 4 the insurgents ordered our men to move out of town (Santol), and upon their refusal to do so the former said that they would bring a body of men and drive them back when night came." Lt. Wheedon took charge of an outpost on Santol road at seven in the evening and, at 7:30, gave orders saying, "No armed insurgents to enter the town or vicinity ... Halt all armed persons who attempted to advance from the direction of the insurgents' lines which lie between blockhouses 6 and 7 and the San Juan Bridge and order them back to their lines. If they refused to go, arrest them if possible, or if this was impossible, fire upon them... Patrol each of the roads leading to Blockhouses 6 and 7 for 100 yards every half hour."[9] (Blockhouse 6 was located on the city line just southeast of what is now Santol Street. Blockhouse 7 was about 100 yd (91 m) north-northeast of a point where the water pipe crossed Santol road[10]).

At about 8 pm on February 4, 1899, Grayson, along with Private Orville Miller and one other man, advanced from Santol towards Blockhouse 7, suddenly encountering four armed men after about five minutes of patrolling. According to Grayson's account, he and Miller called "Halt!" and, when the four men responded by cocking their rifles, they fired at them and retreated to Santol. Personal accounts by Grayson claim that he "dropped" two and Miller one, but neither American nor Filipino official reports mention anyone being hit.[11] The skirmish is credited for beginning the Battle of Manila and the Philippine–American War.

Worcester writes that General Otis' account of the opening of active hostilities was as follows:

On the night of February 2 they sent in a strong detachment to draw the fire of our outposts, which took up a position immediately in front and within a few yards of the same. The outpost was strengthened by a few of our men, who silently bore their taunts and abuse the entire night. This was reported to me by General MacArthur, whom I directed to communicate with the officer in command of the insurgent troops concerned. His prepared letter was shown me and approved, and the reply received was all that could be desired. However, the agreement was ignored by the insurgents and on the evening of February 4 another demonstration was made on one of our small outposts, which occupied a retired position at least 150 yards within the line which had been mutually agreed upon, an insurgent approaching the picket and refusing to halt or answer when challenged. The result was that our picket discharged his piece, when the insurgent troops near Santa Mesa opened a spirited fire on our troops there stationed.

The insurgents had thus succeeded in drawing the fire of a small outpost, which they had evidently labored with all their ingenuity to accomplish, in order to justify in some way their premeditated attack. It is not believed that the chief insurgent leaders wished to open hostilities at this time, as they were not completely prepared to assume the initiative. They desired two or three days more to perfect their arrangements, but the zeal of their army brought on the crisis which anticipated their premeditated action. They could not have delayed long, however, for it was their object to force an issue before American troops, then en route, could arrive in Manila.

Thus began the Insurgent attack, so long and so carefully planned for. We learn from the Insurgent records that the shot of the American sentry missed its mark. There was no reason why it should have provoked a hot return fire, but it did.

The result of the ensuing combat was not at all what the Insurgents had anticipated. The Americans did not drive very well. It was but a short time before they themselves were routed and driven from their positions.

Aguinaldo of course promptly advanced the claim that his troops had been wantonly attacked. The plain fact is that the Insurgent patrol in question deliberately drew the fire of the American sentry, and this was just as much an act of war as was the firing of the shot. Whether the patrol was acting under proper orders from higher authority is not definitely known.[12]

Grayson later recounted the first shot:

I yelled "Halt!"... the man moved. I challenged with another "Halt!" Then he immediately shouted "Halto!" to me. Well I thought the best thing to do was to shoot him. He dropped. We retreated to where our six other fellows were and I said, "Line up fellows; the enemy are in here all through these yards." We then retreated to the pipeline and got behind the water work main and stayed there all night. It was some minutes after our second shots before Filipinos began firing.[13]

This event began the Battle of Manila.[14] On August 23, 1899 he was honorably discharged.[15]

Other sources name the two specific U.S. soldiers involved in the first exchange of fire as Privates William Grayson and Orville Miller of the Nebraska Volunteers.[16]

After the conclusion of the war, after analyzing captured insurgent papers, Major Major J. R. M. Taylor wrote, in part,

An attack on the United States forces was planned which should annihilate the little army in Manila, and delegations were appointed to secure the interference of foreign powers. The protecting cloak of pretense of friendliness to the United States was to be kept up until the last. While commissioners were appointed to negotiate with General Otis, secret societies were organized in Manila pledged to obey orders of the most barbarous character to kill and burn. The attack from without and the attack from within was to be on a set day and hour. The strained situation could not last. The spark was applied, either inadvertently or by design, on the 4th of February by an insurgent, willfully transgressing upon what, by their own admission, was within the agreed limits of the holding of the American troops. Hostilities resulted and the war was an accomplished fact.[17]

Some sources assert that the encounter took place on San Juan Bridge.[18] A marker which had stood on that site was ordered moved to Santa Mesa in 2003 by Ambeth Ocampo, then chairman of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, after research by Dr. Benito Legarda concluded that the shot was fired somewhere between Blockhouse 7 (within Manila's boundary) and Barrio Santol (Sampaloc District) on the connecting road that is now Sociego.[19][20]

Reactions of Aguinaldo and Otis[edit]

U.S. battery in action at the Bridge of San Juan del Monte, 1899
The Bridge of San Juan del Monte in 1899

Aguinaldo was away in Malolos when the conflict started on the 4th. That same night, a Filipino captain in Manila wired him in Malolos, stating that the Americans had started the hostilities. Aguinaldo wanted to avoid open conflict with the Americans while maintaining his leadership position with his nationalist followers. The next day (February 5), Aguinaldo sent an emissary to General Otis to mediate, saying, "the firing on our side the night before had been against my order."[21]

Otis, who was then confident that a military campaign against Aguinaldo would be swift, was a veteran of the American Indian Wars and reacted much as he might have to his Sioux opponents decades before: "Fighting having begun, must go on to the grim end."[22]

Aguinaldo then reassured his followers with a pledge to fight if forced by the Americans, whom he had come to fear as new oppressors come to replace the Spanish.

"It is my duty to maintain the integrity of our national honor, and that of the army so unjustly attacked by those, who posing as our friends, attempt to dominate us in place of the Spaniards. "Therefore, for the defense of the nation entrusted to me, I hereby order and command: Peace and friendly relations between the Philippine Republic and the American army of occupation are broken—and the latter will be treated as enemies with the limits prescribed by the laws of War."[23][18]


Caught off guard by the sudden outburst, the Filipinos remained in their trenches and exchanged fire with the Americans. A Filipino battalion mounted a charge against the 3rd U.S. Artillery, routed a company of American soldiers, and succeeded in capturing two artillery pieces for a little while. The Filipino troops had been caught unprepared and leaderless, as their generals had gone home to their families for the weekend. The American soldiers, in contrast, were ready and needed only to follow previously prepared planning. The next day, Brigadier General Arthur MacArthur ordered an American advance.[24]

When Filipino officers did arrive on the field, many influential leaders tried to stop the fighting. Aguinaldo sent emissaries to negotiate a cease-fire. But Otis and MacArthur thought the crisis should be brought to a head and refused to negotiate.[24]

General MacArthur, in command of the North of Manila, had developed a defensive plan which called for his entire division to launch an all-out offensive along the Santa Mesa Ridge in the event of an attack, capture the blockhouses, and seize the Chinese hospital and La Loma Cemetery.[25] General Anderson, along the southern lines, believed he faced an imminent attack, so, with permission from Otis, he sent his entire division in a preemptive strike at first light.[26] Brig. Gen. Pio del Pilar's forces fled into the Pasig River where many drowned.[27] The battle of February 5 was fought along a 25 km (16-mile) front and was the biggest and bloodiest of the war.[2] } It involved all or part of 13 American regiments and thousands of Filipinos.[2] American casualties totaled 238, of whom 44 were killed in action or died from wounds.[2] The U.S. Army's official report listed Filipino casualties as 4,000, of whom 700 were killed, but this is guesswork.[28]

The Filipinos were shocked when the Americans attacked. They were used to Spanish tactics of retreating into fortified cities after a nighttime raid. MacArthur's attack in the north captured the ridge overlooking Manila. (MacArthur was later promoted to Major General and became Governor-General of the Philippines.) After initial confusion, Brigadier General Thomas M. Anderson's attack in the south captured the village of Pasay and Filipino supplies stored there.

U.S. Army photo: "Insurgent dead just as they fell in the trench near Santa Ana, February 5th. The trench was circular, and the picture shows but a small portion." (Original caption.)[29]

The Filipinos were counting on an uprising by the citizens of Manila to divide American forces and interrupt American supply lines. Although some fires were set inside the city, no general uprising occurred since Provost Marshal Brig. Gen. Robert Patterson Hughes' Provost Guard quickly suppressed any disturbances.[30] However, some small units of Philippine soldiers who had not been part of the force that was routed skirmished with the Americans for several days on the outskirts of Manila before being driven out.

Order of battle[edit]


Philippine Republican ArmyGeneral Emilio Aguinaldo

Zone Commander/s Known Units
First Zone

(South of Manila, with its left flank resting against Manila Bay, occupying the towns of Bacoor, Las Piñas, Palañag, Pineda, and Malate.)

General Mariano Noriel
Second Zone

(Next to the First Zone, with its right flank resting against the Pasig River, occupying the towns of San Pedro de Macati, Pateros, Taguig, Pasig, and Santa Ana.)

General Pio del Pilar
Third Zone

(Directly north of the Second Zone, occupying the towns of San Felipe Neri, San Juan del Monte, Pandacan, San Francisco del Monte, San Mateo, Montalban, and Mariquina.)

General Artemio Ricarte
Fourth Zone

(North of Manila, with its right flank resting against Manila Bay, occupying the towns of Caloocan, Novaliches, Malabon, and Navotas.)

General Pantaleon Garcia


Eighth Army Corps – Major General Elwell S. Otis

Division Brigade Regiments and Others

First Division

     Brigadier General Thomas M. Anderson[31][32]

1st Brigade

   Brigadier General Charles King

  • 1st Wyoming Regiment (one battalion): Major Frank M. Foote
  • 1st Idaho Regiment: Major Daniel W. Figgins
  • 1st Washington Regiment: Colonel John H. Wholly
  • 1st California Regiment: Colonel James Francis Smith
2nd Brigade

   Brigadier General Samuel Ovenshine

  • 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment (six troops attached as infantry to 1st North Dakota)
  • 1st North Dakota Regiment: Lieutenant Colonel William C. Treumann
  • 14th U.S. Infantry Regiment: Major Carroll H. Potter


  • 6th U.S. Artillery, Dyer's Battery: Captain A. B. Dyer
  • 6th U.S. Artillery, Astor Battery: Lieutenant H. L. Hawthorne
  • U.S. Engineers (Company A serving as infantry): Lieutenant William G. Haan, 3rd U.S. Artillery

Second Division

     Major General Arthur MacArthur[33]

1st Brigade

   Brigadier General Harrison Gray Otis

  • 20th Kansas Regiment: Colonel Frederick Funston
  • 3rd U.S. Artillery Regiment: Major William A. Kobbé
  • 1st Montana Regiment: Colonel Harry C. Kessler
  • 10th Pennsylvania Regiment: Colonel Alexander L. Hawkins
2nd Brigade

   Brigadier General Irving Hale

  • 1st South Dakota Regiment: Colonel Alfred S. Frost
  • 1st Colorado Regiment: Colonel Henry B. McCoy
  • 1st Nebraska Regiment: Colonel John M. Stotsenburg



While it was previously thought that the shot had been fired on San Juan Bridge, in 1999 was found that it was fired on Silencio Street in Sta. Mesa, Manila. The marker was moved there from the bridge in 2003.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Linn 2000, p. 42.
  2. ^ a b c d e Linn 2000, p. 52.
  3. ^ Legarda 2001, pp. 10–12.
  4. ^ Legarda 2001, p. 15.
  5. ^ Medina & Medina 2002, p. 30.
  6. ^ Legarda 2001, pp. 22–24.
  7. ^ Legarda 2001, pp. 37–39, Agoncillo 1990, p. 217.
  8. ^ Legarda 2001, p. 41.
  9. ^ Legarda 2001, p. 42, Medina & Medina 2002, pp. 40–41.
  10. ^ Legarda 2001, pp. 12–13.
  11. ^ Legarda 2001, p. 43.
  12. ^ Worcester 1914, p. 96Ch.4
  13. ^ Agoncillo, Teodoro (1960). History of the Filipino People. Quezon City: Garotech Pub. p. 217.
  14. ^ Constantino 1975, p. 225.
  15. ^ "William Walter Grayson [RG1039.AM]". History Nebraska. Retrieved February 4, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ Blitz 2000, p. 32, Blanchard 1996, p. 130
  17. ^ Taylor 1907, p. 6
  18. ^ a b Feuer 2002, pp. 89–90
  19. ^ Nancy C. Carvajal (February 4, 2008), RP-US war actually began in Manila, not San Juan, Philippine Daily Inquirer, archived from the original on February 20, 2008, retrieved May 23, 2008
  20. ^ Map showing the locations of the First Shot of Philippine–American War and the San Juan Bridge, WikiMapia.
  21. ^ Agoncillo 1990, p. 218.
  22. ^ Miller 1982, p. 63.
  23. ^ Halstead 1918, p. 318Ch.28
  24. ^ a b Constantino 1975, p. 225
  25. ^ Linn 2000, p. 48.
  26. ^ Linn 2000, p. 49.
  27. ^ Linn 2000, p. 50.
  28. ^ Linn 2000, pp. 48–49, 52.
  29. ^ See photo's Wikicommons page for reference
  30. ^ Linn 2000, p. 47.
  31. ^ United States Congressional series, Issue 3902 p. 372
  32. ^ Senate, Oregon. Legislative Assembly. (1905). Journal of the Senate of the ... Regular Session, of the Legislative Assembly of Oregon. The State. pp. 430–431.
  33. ^ United States Congressional series, Issue 3902 p. 364
  34. ^ "RP-US war actually began in Manila, not San Juan -, Philippine News for Filipinos". February 20, 2008. Archived from the original on February 20, 2008. Retrieved February 4, 2021.


Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 14°36′15″N 121°00′55″E / 14.60417°N 121.01528°E / 14.60417; 121.01528