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The son of an army officer, Conrad S. Babcock graduated from West Point in 1898, just in time for the opening of the Spanish-American War. Because of his father’s position, he managed to secure a place in the force that Major General Wesley Merritt led to Manila to secure the city. The Philippine Insurrection, as Americans described it, began shortly after he arrived. What Babcock observed in subsequent months and years, and details in his memoir, was the remarkable transition the U.S. Army was ...
The son of an army officer, Conrad S. Babcock graduated from West Point in 1898, just in time for the opening of the Spanish-American War. Because of his father’s position, he managed to secure a place in the force that Major General Wesley Merritt led to Manila to secure the city. The Philippine Insurrection, as Americans described it, began shortly after he arrived. What Babcock observed in subsequent months and years, and details in his memoir, was the remarkable transition the U.S. Army was undergoing. From after the Civil War until just before the Spanish War, the army amounted to 28,000 men. It increased to 125,000, tiny compared with those of the great European nations of France and Germany, but the great change in the army came after its arrival in France in the summer of 1918, when the German army compelled the U.S. to change its nineteenth-century tactics.
Babcock’s original manuscript has been shortened by Robert H. Ferrell into eight chapters which illustrate the tremendous shift in warfare in the years surrounding the turn of the century. The first part of the book describes small actions against Filipinos and such assignments as taking a cavalry troop into the fire-destroyed city of San Francisco in 1906 or duty in the vicinity of Yuma in Arizona when border troubles were heating up with brigands and regular troops. The remaining chapters, beginning in 1918, set out the battles of Soissons (July 18–22) and Saint-Mihiel (September 12–16) and especially the immense battle of the Meuse-Argonne (September 26–November 11), the largest (1.2 million troops involved) and deadliest (26,000 men killed) battle in all of American history.
By the end of his career, Babcock was an adroit battle commander and an astute observer of military operations. Unlike most other officers around him, he showed an ability and willingness to adapt infantry tactics in the face of recently developed technology and weaponry such as the machine gun. When he retired in 1937 and began to write his memoirs, another world war had begun, giving additional context to his observations about the army and combat over the preceding forty years.
Until now, Babcock’s account has only been available in the archives of the Hoover Institution, but with the help of Ferrell's crisp, expert editing, this record of army culture in the first decades of the twentieth century can now reach a new generation of scholars.
Following the twentieth degree parallel of north latitude into the setting sun, the Rio de Janeiro passed the northern end of the island of Luzon and then, turning to the left or port as sailors once called it, steamed down the western side of the island. What a magnificent sight it was and still is. The wonderful shades of green, the lofty fern and tree clad mountain range that rises from the China Sea to heights of over seven thousand feet and extends in an almost unbroken line from the north tip of Luzon to Manila Bay. I shall never forget the thrill it gave me to gaze on that beautiful tropical and, to me, unknown fairyland and realize that on it was a war to which I was going. I didn't know that the war was already over.
As we steamed past the island of Corregidor and entered Manila Bay the first vessel of any description to meet us was a German cruiser. This big ship came alongside and then deliberately steamed completely around us, looking us over in what we all felt to be a highly disapproving manner. Of course at the time we did not know that Germans resented our capture of Manila and that Admiral Dewey had had some unpleasant experiences with them; but this German cruiser was positively insulting in the lordly way she inspected us. A little while later every man on board must have been thrilled when the outline of Dewey's ships could be seen; then, as we passed Cavite on the starboard side, the rather pathetic sight of the little Spanish vessels that had gone down at anchor came in view.
It was shortly after the thirteenth of August when we reached Manila Bay, and until news was brought on board none of us knew that General Merritt's command had captured the city of Manila, after a short, brisk engagement on August 13, one day after an armistice had been signed in Washington. Neither the Spanish nor American army and navy commanders knew of this.
After the then Commodore George B. Dewey brought his small squadron from Hong Kong he sank the smaller group of Spanish warships. It was not much of a contest, for the Spanish put their ships in shallow water so that they would not go down too far.
The Independent 8th Army Corps, as the Philippine Islands expedition was called, was a badly clothed and tough looking command. The enlisted men were still wearing the flannel shirts and heavy blue trousers and canvas leggings. Many of the soldiers had cut the sleeves off their shirts above the elbow. Those who had lost their gray felt campaign hats had outfitted themselves with Filipino straw hats. Neither officers nor men wore hat cords at that time. The only decently dressed outfit in the whole command was a four company battalion of the 3rd Artillery (800 strong) commanded by Major William A. Kobbé (W.P. 1862) afterwards a major general. This organization had acquired from somewhere white coats and trousers of light cotton material. I am sure they were the only American enlisted men who did not suffer all day long from the heat of the heavy blue uniforms.
Father and the rest of General Merritt's staff were living in the Spanish ex-governor general's palace, the Malacañan, on the right bank of the Pasig River. All the Spanish prisoners of war were confined to the old Walled City. I stayed with Father a day, then was ordered to join Light Battery D, 6th Artillery, commanded by my former West Point artillery instructor, Captain A. B. Dyer (W.P. 1873). The battery was quartered just east of the Walled City on Calle Nozaleda. There I found the artillery commander, Major F. C. Grugan, Captain Dyer, First Lieutenant H. L. Hawthorne who had graduated from the Naval Academy in the Class of 1882, served as a cadet engineer in the Navy until October, 1884, then been commissioned a second lieutenant in the 2nd Artillery. He was also a Medal of Honor man, won at Wounded Knee Creek, against the Indians, in 1890. The other officers were Second Lieutenant A. S. Fleming (W.P. 1895), E. D. Scott of my class, and Dr. Quinan, a volunteer medical officer.
Wounded Knee was the last battle with the Indians. The Medal of Honor, later so revered, did not amount to much for many years after its first awarding in the Civil War. Its identification with gallantry sank so low that during the Battle of Santiago in Cuba in 1898 a colonel guided a few troops across a ridge into position around the city and before returning to his command asked the colonel of the organization to recommend him for the Medal of Honor. Just before the beginning of World War I the War Department established a board to review awards of the Medal. The board lopped hundreds of recipients off the rolls and even asked recipients to return medals in their possession.
About two hundred yards east of us on Calle San Luis there was quartered what might be called a regiment of Filipino infantry. In capturing the city General Merritt had tried to keep the insurgent forces under Emilio Aguinaldo out of it as far as possible, fearing the native troops might loot the Spaniards' homes and kill those who in the past had aroused their hatred. The insurgents were occupying parts of the city when I arrived. Gradually the American military governor managed to move them all out to the outskirts of the city. As they moved and as they saw the control of the Islands slipping from them, their enthusiastic friendship for the Americans grew less and less. Many times, when we first landed, I have seen the Filipino show the American the comparative relationship then existing between the American and the Filipino and the Spaniards and the Filipino. This was done by putting the first fingers of his hands parallel and close together and then saying, with a grin, "Americano, Filipino—amigos, muchos amigos." Then he would place the ends of the index fingers together, give them a couple of jabs, scowl and say, "Español, Filipino—mucho combate." One morning the Filipino infantry regiment on Calle San Luis had to move, and just to show us how good they were, the command marched down our street then south past the east gate and drawbridge of the Walled City, then east through the suburb called Pasay and out of town.
Light battery D, 6th Artillery, had six 3.2 guns, no draft animals, only two or three little Filipino ponies about twelve hands high. The guns and their limbers and the caissons were hauled around by manpower. The command was well disciplined and instructed, and it was no fault of ours that, in appearance, there was much to be desired.
For twelve pesos, equal to six U.S. dollars, I hired an excellent Filipino boy as my personal servant. I had a large cool room in one of the well built houses on the south side of the street. The enlisted men occupied similar quarters across the street.
The Spanish prisoners, inside the Walled City of Manila, were allowed to swim in the bay across the Malacañan Drive. As the bathing hour, 4:00 p.m., approached, one could see thousands of men sitting on the south fortifications waiting for a cool dip in the bay.
There was little to do in the way of amusement, no theaters, and no parties. Of course, the Spanish officers and their families had nothing to do with us. This I often regretted as there were two pretty Spanish girls, daughters of a Spanish major, who lived not far from my quarters when I later joined G Battery of the 6th Artillery.
The one big social gathering was about 5:00 p.m., when one of our military bands played on the Luneta. Everyone who had a horse and carriage, or could hire one, drove slowly around and around the Luneta in a clockwise direction. Under the Spanish regime the only vehicles allowed to move counter-clockwise were those of the bishop of the Philippines and the governor general.
The Laneta afternoon concert appeared to be the one chance the young men had to meet their senoritas. The young women, under the eagle eye of a senora chaperone, walked demurely up and down with their caballeros or chatted with them from the family quiles, garromata or Victoria.
The Luneta was oblong in shape. From its western end the Malaccan road ran along the fortifications to the Pasig River. From its eastern end the Calle Real led through the residential district called Pasay. Oil-burning street lamps followed the perimeter of the Luneta, and in the center stood the wooden bandstand.
With the band playing, the little waves of Manila Bay running up and down the south shore of the Luneta, a gorgeous sunset ablaze over the dim outline of Corregidor, dozens of pretty girls—Filipinos, mestizos, and Spanish—strolling back and forth, it was difficult to believe that the Luneta was the official execution ground under the Spanish regime. Blindfolded, many a wretched native has stood on the gravel covered Luneta, his back to the little waves and the setting sun, four rifle armed soldier executioners facing him; while all around, save on the bay side, stood or sat in their carriages, hundreds of ladies and gentlemen, the pick of Manila society, and the native Filipino men and women for whose attempted independence the life of the insurgent was about to be forfeited in a blast of rifle fire.
Father and General Merritt left for home shortly after I arrived, and Brigadier General Elwell S. Otis (W.P. 1862) assumed command.
One day, before my father sailed, someone at headquarters gave me a copy of the following "Extraordinary Proclamation," promulgated by the Spanish governor general of the Philippine Islands on April 23, 1898.
"Between the United States and Spain hostilities have broken out. The moment has arrived to prove to the world that we possess the spirit to conquer those who, pretending to be loyal friends, take advantage of our misfortunes and abuse our hospitality, using means which civilized nations count unworthy and disreputable.
"The North American people, constituted of all the social excrescences, have exhausted our patience and provoked war with their perfidious machinations, with their acts of treachery, with their outrages against the law of nations and international conventions.
"The struggle will be short and decisive. The God of Victories will give us one as brilliant and complete as the righteousness and justice of our cause demands. Spain, which will count upon the sympathies of all the nations, will emerge triumphantly from this new test, humiliating and blasting the adventurer from those states that, without cohesion and without a history, offer to humanity only infamous traditions and the ungrateful spectacle of chambers in which appear united insolence and defamation, cowardice and cynicism.
"A squadron manned by foreigners, possessing neither instruction nor discipline, is preparing to come to this archipelago with the ruffianly intention of robbing us of all that means life, honor and liberty. Pretending to be inspired by a courage of which they are incapable, the North American seamen undertake as an enterprise capable of realization the substitution of Protestantism for the Catholic religion you profess, to treat you as tribes refactory to civilization, to take possession of your riches as if they were unacquainted with the rights of property, and to kidnap those persons whom they consider useful to man their ships or to be exploited in agricultural or industrial labor.
"Vain designs. Ridiculous boastings.
"Your indomitable bravery will suffice to frustrate the attempt to carry them into realization. You will not allow the faith you profess to be made a mock of, impious hands to be placed on the temple of the true God, the images you adore to be thrown down by unbelief. The aggressors shall not profane the tombs of your fathers; they shall not gratify their lustful passions at the cost of your wives' and daughters' honor, or appropriate the property your industry has accumulated as a provision for old age. No, they shall not perpetrate any of the crimes inspired by their wickedness and covetousness, because your valor and patriotism will suffice to punish and abase the people that, claiming to be civilized and cultivated, have exterminated the natives of North America instead of bringing to them the life of civilization and of progress.
"Filipinos, prepared for the struggle and united under the glorious Spanish flag, which is ever covered with laurels, let us fight with the conviction that victory will crown our efforts, and to the calls of our enemies let us oppose with the decision of the Christian and the patriot the cry of "Viva—Espagna!"
"Manila, 23rd April 1898,
Basilo Augustin Davila"
In this appeal to the natives, subjects of Spain for some three hundred years, General Augustin Davila seems to have touched most of the keys to human emotions. Certainly it was not a very complimentary letter of introduction for the North Americans under Dewey or for those who followed. Among the Americans in Manila, who read this proclamation in August, 1898, there was no resentment. It was too bombastic, too filled with lies to do more than amuse the soldiers of a nation accustomed to political speakers and high pressure salesmanship. Although the formal declaration of war was not made until April 25, Congress had authorized the President to use force against Spain on April 18. General Davila's references to the "squadron manned by foreigners" indicates that he was well aware of the contemplated attack of the U.S. warships, then at Hong Kong under Commodore Dewey, even before war was declared. Dewey's sudden appearance off Cavite was no surprise.
In the days before wireless the procedure of such attacking squadrons as Dewey's was to cut an enemy's cable connections, which the American commodore duly did for the Philippines at Hong Kong.
In October, 1898, the War Department notified the headquarters department of the Pacific, and 8th Army Corps, as the expedition was now called, that I had been assigned to Light Battery G, 6th Artillery, then in billets on Calle Real, Malate, Manila. The enlisted men were quartered in an ancient monastery next to a church. This building had a large yard about half a block square, completely surrounded by a high stone wall. This yard was our gun park. Here, day after day, this horseless light battery spent many hours at what was called "standing gun drill." One feature of that tedious performance consisted in assuming the gun in action and, under the fire of the enemy, casualties were occurring. As the theoretically wounded cannoneer fell to the ground he would shout, "Number—(giving his number) out" and his duties would be instantly taken by the proper cannoneer as designated in the Artillery Tactics. So routine became this procedure that many months later, on the island of Panay, in combat, one member of G Battery's gun crew actually enacted the dramatic part of the wounded gunner, calling out his number as he fell under the impact of a Mauser rifle bullet. That is the only time I have ever heard of the parade or drill theories being executed in actual combat; but, after serving eight months in G Battery under its captain, Victor H. Bridgman (W.P. 1875) one would be likely to remember a drill requirement even under the shock of a mortal wound.
The Philippines in general and Manila in particular, in 1898, were typical examples of the simple life. Railroad transportation consisted of one single-track road (English equipment) from Manila to Dagupan. Pony drawn little street cars operated from across the Bridge of Spain, through the Calle Escolta, thence out to the northern district of the city. The street railway tracks were very light rails, and the roadbed was in bad repair. Second class passengers were supposed to assist the conductor when the car ran off the track, and very frequently they could be seen carrying out this traditional service.
The word taxi had not yet come into public use in Manila, neither had automobiles. This type of service was very cheaply performed by the one or two horse, two wheeled, quilez or carromata or the four wheeled carriage. The Filipino cochero is a heartless user of horse flesh. As he drove along he clucked and shouted at his wretched little pony, jerked on the reins with almost every step of the horse and laid on the whip several times a block. When I drove with one of these gentry I made him reduce his rein and whip motions by at least half, but even this acquiescence on his part was most unwillingly performed and lasted but a moment or two unless one kept an eye on him.
Practically the entire town went to sleep during the siesta period, about eleven thirty to two thirty every afternoon. How that custom did annoy us, the Americans. With the streets filled with money spending soldiers it wasn't long before the afternoon siesta grew shorter and shorter. Now it has entirely disappeared; but for many years certain of its addicts clung to that wise and healthy tropical custom. What have the Islands gained by the change? Twelve hours a week more work. To what great and glorious future are the little brown-skinned natives and the Caucasian temporary inhabitants of those languid warm green islands now rushing?
Dinners, dances or parties of any kind were few and far between. One afternoon in October or November, I attended a tea dance on the U.S.S. Olympia, the flagship of George Dewey, now a four star admiral. The hero of the Battle of Manila Bay sat in a chair on the after end of the quarter deck. Dressed in full white uniform, the white haired, white mustached old gentleman looked very handsome as he watched his young officers and two or three army officers dancing with the few American and English girls then living in Manila.
Excerpted from Reminiscences of Conrad S. Babcock Copyright © 2012 by The Curators of the University of Missouri. Excerpted by permission of University of Missouri Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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1 Manila and Iloilo 7
2 Insurrection 23
3 Assignments 42
4 More of the Same 56
5 Soissons I 72
6 Soissons II 87
7 Tactics 107
8 The New Army 126
Suggested Further Reading about World War I 143