The Philippines: Reminiscences of Company "L"
REMINISCENCES OF COMPANY L,
14th U. S. INFANTRY
FROM JUNE 18, 1898 TO AUG. 16, 1899
By PRIVATE PETER B. KYNE OF L COMPANY
Copied from originals in the
Special Thanks to Curt Hanson, Assistant Archivist
Transcripted, Edited and Condensed by Robert H Wilson Jr.
1/14th Historian July 2002
L Company and M Company of the 14th United States Infantry existed on paper up till the declaration of war with Spain. After war with Spain was declared a dozen old non-coms from other companies in the regiment were sent to those two skeleton companies to form the nucleus of a wartime organization. When I enlisted on June 18, 1898, the regiment, less companies B and H, was encamped at Camp Merritt, San Francisco.
Before going to the Philippines we had target practice at the Presidio rifle range. They gave us five rounds at 100 yards. They then gave us five rounds at 300 yards and I got 48 out of a possible 50 for which good work, I was congratulated by the company commander. It seems quite pitiful to think that we had but three weeks drill and ten rounds on the rifle range before being shipped away for active service. A few days before we sailed we had some sort of funny maneuvers out at the Presidio grounds now covered by the Presidio Golf Links.
The morning we broke camp at Camp Merritt to march down through San Francisco to Broadway Wharf where the transport lay, I got the first thrill out of being a member of the 14th Infantry. Our packs having been rolled and piled by our stacked arms in the company streets, we all fell in beside our tents and at the last note of the bugle order to break camp, the tents of the regiment fell as one tent. One instant the camp was there—the next instant it was not. We had those tents bundled, tied and into the wagons so fast that our regimental commander, Lt. Col. Robe, was smiling like the head of an old fiddle.
We sailed from San Francisco on board the steamship City of Pueblo, June 24th, 1898. In company with us was the steamship Peru and City of Rio de Janeiro with volunteer troops aboard. The City of Pueblo when carrying adventurers to the Klondike in 1896 could, when hard pressed, accommodate 600 passengers but she proved to be a very elastic old tub and about 1500 soldiers managed to squeeze themselves aboard. We had hard tack, sow belly and canned salmon and about three times a week prunes. That ration was very hard to assimilate because of its very low quality.
We were eight days making the trip to Honolulu. We anchored in the harbor and all hands immediately went ashore and proceeded to have an uncontrolled good time, military police being as yet unheard of in our service. We remained in Honolulu for twelve days.
We arrived in Manila Bay on the morning of August 21st, 1898. It was very rainy and misty and we were all very much excited and curious. We were towed ashore in cascoes and landed at Binendo near the mouth of the Pasig River where, instead of being met by shot and shell, gentle Spanish prisoners of war helped us up from the cascoes to the dock and offered us cigarettes and kind words.
We marched out from Binendo to the Cuartel de Malate, some two miles as I recall it. The Cuartel de Malate was an old Spanish army post 6 or 8 huge wooden barrack buildings, administration building, kitchen, latrines, and a first class guard-house, the whole surrounded by a eight foot brick wall with 6 foot spiked iron fence on top of that.
About all I remember of those days between August 21st, 1898 and the night of February 4th, 1899 is a most colossal aggregation of latrine rumors regarding the political and military situation. Our regimental latrine had accommodations for about forty men and was quite modern in every way; hence it became the clearing-house of brigade gossip. I remember one wag of ours started to make a collection of latrine reports which he published on the company bulletin board daily, until a report that General Otis was afflicted with leprosy caused the practices to be discontinued.
Those were jolly months. We were out at daylight and had about twenty minutes of setting-up exercises – then breakfast. By seven o’clock we were off for drill and in by nine. Thus, we accomplished our day’s work before the heat of the day had become too great. As soon as we were dismissed we all went under the shower baths and then laid around barracks in semi-naked condition, shooting craps, gambling, arguing, bragging, and lying, for sheer love of a lie.
When First Sergeant Lang eventually was discovered to be temperamentally unfitted for command and was removed to the regimental commissary department, (Quartermaster Sergeant) Keyes became First Sergeant. He was known as Dad Keyes and turned out to be a crackerjack top. It was perfectly impossible to stampede him and he always called me Petey and had a paternal attitude toward me, although this didn’t stop him once from giving me thirty days in the kitchen for calling him ‘sarge’ in the line of duty.
At first we put out very small outposts in front of the Philippine lines. Then the outposts were gradually strengthened until finally we did outposts by companies and there was a field officer of the day. Presently we took to putting out listening posts after sunset and I imagine the enemy was doing the same. A listening post in the bosque on a very wet night used to set my reason tottering on its throne.
Shortly after the war started 2nd Lieutenant William A. Burnside was relieved as company commander to become regimental commissary officer and 2nd Lieutenant Joseph L. Gilbreth assumed command. Gilbreth was superseded by 1st Lieutenant Henry G. Learned. It took Learned just twenty-four hours to have the entire company crazy about him and afraid of him. I have always regarded him as the beau ideal of a soldier. He had a heart as soft as a women’s and military discipline as hard as nails. He was a very brave man but what endeared him to us was the feeling that he knew his job. We had Learned with us for three weeks and then they took him away to special duty down in Manila.
We were never what you might term a moral regiment. Nobody paid much attention to morals in those days as they did in the late war but we had very excellent discipline and it would have been hard to find better soldiers anywhere. We were never snooped upon or harassed by our officers and as a result we did raise a great deal of hell when away from barracks but it was joyous, jolly, youthful sort of hell which brought no particular grief to anybody and our officers had the good sense to overlook about ninety percent of it.
The night of 4th February practically all of our fellows, except those on guard, in the mill or not well enough to go had gone down to Manila to attend a circus which was showing at Santa Ana on the outskirts of the city. While the circus was on the war started and not very far from the big top. Suddenly bullets began ripping through the tent and by the volume of fire our chaps knew that the long expected war had arrived.
I was on guard (we used to do company guards at this time) at the Cuartel de Malate. I was asleep in a guard room about half-past eight that night when suddenly I heard the most infernal commotion, the steady pattering of running feet, galloping horses and cheerful shouting and cheering as men came running in from Santa Ana to report for duty. Within half an hour after the first of the returning soldiers arrived with the news of battle and sudden death several miles away, the call to arms had blown and the regiment was formed up in the Cuartel square. By half past nine when the rolls were called not a single man was missing, which speaks well for the eagerness of the outfit.
I felt very much disappointed to have been on guard in a snug safe place in the Cuartel de Malate while companies A, C, D, E, F, G, I, K and M went to do glorious things. All was as quiet as a cemetery in our sector but about midnight we were able to make out the sound of distant artillery fire. Gradually through the night the sound of the firing drifted closer. About two o’clock in the morning there was a sudden furious burst of rifle fire on our front and a lot of high bullets dropped into the Cuartel and rattled along the corrugated iron roofs. One bullet slipped through the guardhouse window, ricocheted around the guardhouse wall and was picked up by a prisoner.
The firing on our front lasted about half an hour and we could tell that it was entirely Mauser fire. The 14th Infantry with the Fourth Calvary in touch on its left flank and the First North Dakota Volunteers in touch on its right flank lay perfectly quiet under that fire and did not return a single shot, so presently the enemy, failing to draw fire, quieted down and there was not a sound on the front until about eight o’clock on the morning of the 5th.
Suddenly, it broke out again with furious intensity – and then we heard the sound of our Krags. We could not see anything except the warships in action on the bay shelling the enemy’s trenches, nor did we have the slightest news of the action going on a mile in front of us.
Shortly after, a great hue and cry arose from Barney Schweitzer, the Corporal of the Guard. Barney had lost a general prisoner in the general excitement. The prisoner was a murderer under sentence to be hanged and nobody in the company knew him nor would any prisoners describe him. It turned out finally that I knew who the man was and instantly Barney relieved me from guard and told me to bring the fellow in dead or alive.
I decided the prisoner would naturally endeavor to join the Philippine forces so I ran down the beach and saw an unarmed soldier running along the sands about 33 yards in front of me. I sprinted after him and suddenly he turned and saw me. He immediately fled up off the beach and although I fired several times at him I did not hit him. Unfortunately for him, he sought refuge in the horse barn of the Uruguayan Consul and there I captured him and brought him back. I daresay in the fullness of time he was decently hanged.
I had no sooner delivered my murderer back to the anxious corporal of the guard than a runner came in from the front with a report of ammunition shortage and orders to have some sent out immediately. I volunteered, not from any excess of gallantry but from a very juvenile curiosity and since I had already distinguished myself by bringing in the escaped prisoner I was allowed to go. Half an hour afterwards I wished I had stayed home.
On my way out with the ammunition I regret to state that I counted about fifty skulkers from our beloved 14th Infantry. They were quite shameless about it too. These men were simply frightened to death. They were simply too green for the hot job they had gotten into. Late in the day when the firing had slackened away and it became a sort of rabbit drive these fellows made their way back to their commands. I never saw another case of skulking in the regiment thereafter.
No ‘L’ Company man was ever known to skulk except Private Peter B. Kyne. Private Kyne got creased across his left knee, a bullet in his left sleeve, another through the breast of his blue shirt from right to left, another through his campaign hat, the tailgate of the magazine wrecked on his Krag and a bullet through the stock. All this came in one volley directed solely at Private Kyne, who immediately went crazy and decided he had made a fool of himself volunteering to carry ammunition out to the line.
Private Kyne then remembered that he had delivered the ammunition and that it was now time for him to return to his proper station, to wit, the Cuartel de Malate, where there was a brick wall a foot thick. So Private Kyne started home in a hurry, via a field of pole beans. Here he fell over a dead man from ‘E’ Company, which frightened him some more and caused him to run madly in the opposite direction. Presently Private Kyne found what he thought was a nice deep irrigation ditch and flopped into it. He ran along it. Being afraid to leave it Private Kyne followed it until he came to a wounded amigo who cut at him with a bolo. Private Kyne shuddered and easily parried the blow with his Krag, but it never occurred to him to kill that native. He just leaped over him and went hopping along among the dead and wounded amigos, for that irrigation ditch was the enemy trench which had just been carried by our line. He fought all day long, fired five rounds, covered five miles of advance and captured a member of Aguinaldo’s band, relieved him of his flute and told him to vamoose. Flute sold subsequently for two American dollars to somebody who could play it.
The battle of the 5th of February is in our archives so I do not need to discuss it but, I believe our casualties that day were about thirty-nine killed and one hundred and thirty-nine or one hundred and forty wounded, but what we did to the enemy was a shame and a disgrace.
We hung around the bosque for about a week and then a large consignment of picks, shovels, mattocks and axes arrived. The old soldier’s cries were pitiful. Very promptly we set to work and cut a strip of jungle 1400 yards long and 300 yards wide; then through this we dug a long, straight trench and in front of the trench we made abatis work out of bamboo. We each dug ourselves a little firing position in the trenches according to our various natures and inclinations, arranged our sand bags, set up our kitchens and prepared to make quite a stay of it. I laugh when I think of these extraordinary precautions to block a bayonet charge. There was no charge in Aguinaldo’s army and I am sure all of our work could have been dispensed with but, alas! It was not.
The campaign was proceeding very vigorously on the north line but we didn’t have sufficient troops to press it on the south line so all we could do was to hold a line of entrenchments from Manila to the Pasig River and protect the city. Of course we were under continuous fire, which kept our blood heated for about a week until we discovered that there really wasn’t much danger to apprehend from helter-skelter rifle fire. There were many narrow escapes, of course, but not a single man was hit during the entire time we occupied the trenches, which was from about February 10, to April 15.
My Bunkie, one Jack Ryan, and I had been on an early morning reconnaissance about a mile down in the enemy territory and our squad had bumped into an outpost of twelve natives. We went to the attack immediately and the outpost fled, whereupon I discovered they had just completed the building of a very nice little bamboo nipa-thatched hut to house their main guard. Ryan was an old Anglo-Indian soldier who had thirteen years of active service and he was a very resourceful man. He immediately organized a squad to return with us to that Philippino outpost, steal their nice new little house and carry it home for us.
Early in April we pulled out of our trenches and marched up to San Pedro Macarti (Makati) on the Pasig River. That was the most memorable day in ‘L’ Company’s history, and for this reason: We were commanded at this time by one 2nd Lieutenant Patrick H. Mullay. Mr. Mullay was a stout, bustiferous, and rather hard-boiled young man of 24 or 25 who had achieved his commission from the ranks. He had a beautiful baritone voice and when he had a drink or two in him he was liberal with it, much to our delight. Pat, as he was called, was not particularly popular but at the same time we trusted him because he knew his business and would do his job. He was a bit inclined to be very severe when he had prickly heat and would give punishments disproportionate to the crime but by and large he was a pretty fair hombre.
We had been so long in those trenches that Pat feared he would have to live there forever. He required some social life, so when his birthday came around he gave himself a present of a couple of quarts of Bourbon whiskey. His shavetail friends must have smelled it for they called on him in numbers to congratulate him, and held wassail, with the result that presently we heard Pat’s rich baritone resounding through the jungle and we knew the party was on.
Now, Pat’s shavetail friends had all gone back to their commands and here was Pat, with the day still young and his party over with those of equal rank almost before it had fairly started. So a bright idea fastened on Pat’s agile brain. He would throw a party for company L. He did. We lined up four fifteen gallon kegs of black San Miguel beer, two ten gallon kegs and three five gallon, mucho cigars and cigarettes - - and four quarts of (questionable) cognac. We lined up all that beer on a bank alongside the road, somebody tapped it and we got our tin cups and flew at it, with Pat doing the honors as host. He would grow very peevish if any of us informed him respectfully that we had had enough. He said nobody ever had enough when a Mullay gave a birthday party, and to prove it he sent out a five-gallon keg to the outposts.
THAT WAS A PARTY! I got tight, but not so tight as the remainder of L Company because up until I had enlisted I had been a teetotaler. Suddenly far down the road I saw an officer galloping on a big black American horse. I was just sober enough to recognize that horse. He belonged to General Lawton, and if Lawton’s horse was in that neighborhood Lawton could not be far distant, and whenever that man appeared the war always got lively. I spread the alarm and Pat fled the scene. The horseman came up and proved to be Lt. Kirkpatrick, one of Lawton’s aides, with verbal orders to L Company to prepare to take the field within the hour, with three days rations and a hundred and fifty extra rounds of ammunition. Dad Keyes, who had somehow managed to keep his legs, received the order and promised to transmit it to the company commander.
I hope L Company will never again be called upon to buck up and pull away from such a party. And, I hope L Company’s mess sergeant will never be called upon to issue three days rations under such circumstances. Then the company property and kitchen equipment was loaded on two caribou carts which materialized from nowhere; we swung our worthless ponchos and shelter halves across our shoulders, filled canteens, swung haversacks and were ready for the campaign. We never toted more than thirty pounds in campaign and when we charged we did it at the double. We were soldiers, not pack mules.
We pulled out about dark, with the surplus beer on the carts and went up the road singing and yelling delightfully, with Pat’s fine baritone leading the chorus. If Lawson heard us I daresay he remarked what fine morale L Company had, going straight into conflict singing. At San Pedro Macarti (Makati) we found a string of cascoes with the tin-clad gunboat Napidan. Pat feared we might not have enough liquor to last us wherever we were going, so the estimable fellow found a native who sold him a barrel of Schlitz in pints, and some of us brought aboard two large ollas of beno.
The Napidan towed us up river that night. L Company made the night hideous with its yelping and hurrahs and drew occasional bursts of rifle fire from the banks. No casualties. We got into Lagun (Laguna) de Bay and about four o’clock next afternoon fifteen hundred of us - - a sort of special service bunch composed of 4th Calvary, dismounted, First North Dakota and 14th Infantry - - piled overboard in water up to our armpits, formed a skirmish line in the lake and advanced upon the shore.
The enemy started shooting at us long before we debarked. Pat, young, eager and with a holdover (hangover), urged us ashore. He appeared to have a mania to get there first. He did. Most of Company L still had a holdover, too. When we hit the beach Pat did not wait to see what plans General Lawton might have for conducting the battle. Not our Pat. With magnificent disregard of consequences he ordered a charge. Lawton had the insufferable impudence to try and stop us but Pat was leading us and our duty and allegiance lay with Patrick. We went into the bush like jackrabbits and jumped a lot of hombres and had excellent shooting and drove them before us back upon the town of Santa Cruz. We went through Santa Cruz like drunkards to a wrecked rum ship and finally came out on the bank of a river - - - the Lumbang, I think it was. And here what was left of us discovered that Pat and Dad Keyes had been lost in the rush somewhere, so we hung along the river bank, wondering what to do and where to do it.
Suddenly, out of the bushes popped our former well-beloved little shavetail, William A. Burnside. Although supposed to be the regimental commissary officer and to be attending to the debarkation of rations from the cascoes, here he was up on the front line with pistol in his hand and blood in his eye. He recognized us. "What?" he yelled. "L Company? What the hell are you doing here?" "Afraid of a dirty little drop of water? Follow me!"
He grabbed the trigger guard of his Colt with his teeth and slid into the Lumbang River. He was glorious. It mattered not to him that he was stealing Pat Mullay’s command. It had been his once; he had found it wandering and fatherless, so he entered into his own again. All the little son-of-gun knew was the attack.
Well, we had to follow him. He’d ordered us to. We were into the middle of the river when from the high arched masonry bridge up stream we heard and saw Lawton yelling to us. The language he used was not nice. He was jumping up and down and beating the parapet of the bridge with his riding crop. He said: "Come back. You men come back. There’s a trench full of natives in front of you, come back you bastards."
I suppose Burnside didn’t hear him. Had water and river mud in his ears, doubtless. He scrambled up the far bank, gave a hand to the next that followed - - and well - - L Company didn’t turn back. And when it topped that far bank and started for that trench, Lawton knew the old 14th was on the rampage. So he yelled; "Go it, go it you bloodthirsty sons-a-bitches, go to it!"
That time we obeyed him. We cleaned up with one casualty - - and he, poor devil was a North Dakota Volunteer, who had somehow managed to throw in with us because he loved us. He died in about ten minutes after being hit.
That Laguna de Bay campaign is remembered as an expedition. We went out for three days and stayed fifteen. One day we had eleven miles of running fight, with only about a dozen casualties. Life was just one Barrie after another. We civilized ‘em with the Krag, and then the old Napidan met us on the other side of the lake with the cascoes and we come back to Manila and marched up to the Cuartel de Malate for a rest.
We were covered with whiskers and our clothing was in rags. We were starved and dirty and depraved. Pat swung us into company front in our own courtyard that we hadn’t seen since February and was too weary to right dress us. He just growled: "Right dress!" To go down to the right flank of the company and line us up was too much for him, so he said sadly; "Stand up you sloppy sons-a-bitches." We called at him affectionately because we knew he was proud of us and that was his way of complimenting us. Then we shaved and had our haircut and had shower baths and new clothing and Pat ruined the company fund to give us a swell feed. I guess old Pat thought he’d just as soon command us as any soldiers in the world, for he sent us over a barrel of Schlitz in quarts and a lot of ice in G.I. cans, and we cooled it lovingly and when we came to drink it we knocked the necks off like hairy-breasted soldiers should.
I never finished my quart nor my good feed. In the midst of it the call to arms blew and we dumped our mess kits and fell in double-time. Some idiot had sent in word that the 22nd Infantry, which had relieved us on the Pasay line of trenches, was being overwhelmed and needed reinforcements P.D.Q. We ran most of the way there and found the 22nd wasting their ammunition on the sort of outpost scrap we wouldn’t abandon a poker game for to attend.
The 22nd gave us our trenches and we held them down until the 9th of June, when the terrible Lawton again appeared on our front. Every time I recall that big black horse of his I get a nightmare. We moved out and that night camped in the plain before San Pedro Macarti. (We were) up at 2 A. M. and out on the Plain where Ft. McKinley now stands. Soon we heard shooting off to our right. Somebody said our scouts had established contact with the enemy, so the companies I, M and L were detached from the main army (we had a reinforced brigade of about 8,000) and told to go help the scouts. We ran a mile in the morning mist and then the sun came up and burned it away and there were our sixty scouts in a valley below us and extremely busy.
When we appeared on the skyline the scouts got a rest. We walked down on them under a very heavy but ineffectual fire and infiltrated among them. We put in about fifty rounds at eight hundred yards and had six men hit in the battalion. Our C.O. Lt. Learned got one through the back of the knee, but as soon as we bound it up he carried on again. The enemy beat it and we ran to the top of the hill they had occupied and fanned them until they were out of range. There were some dead in the trenches and just back of them and among the dead was a little bugler boy shot through the head.
We returned from our foray and finally caught up with the main column. It was a terribly hot day and we had no water. We had been forbidden to take water from the Pasig: dead animals and dead men were always drifting down its turgid length. And there was no water on the vast plain over which we struggled. They called it then The Deserts. Lt. Learned knew we were going to have a hard day, so right after the fight he lined us up and told us that those who were already petered out after our hard run to help the scouts might fall out if they felt they could not keep up. Twenty-six of L Company promptly fell out, and it was no disgrace to them. They were glassy-eyed and wavering on their pins.
Then we closed up and Learned limped down the line, using his sword for a cane, and gave us the once-over again. As a result he ordered Private Ryan and me to fall out and make our way back to camp on the 19th Infantry, which had passed at dawn. Ryan, indomitable old warrior, replied sourly that when he fell out he stayed out; that he preferred to go on to the finish. With such an example before me I could not do less than follow suit, so Learned let us stay and we went on. That was about 9 A. M. At 10 Ryan went crazy and I fainted once.
Whenever anybody talks about being thirsty in the presence of any 14th man who made that fifteen-mile hike and swapped shots with a retreating enemy all the way - - well that man is talking to experts. I do not know how we made the grade. I do know that I made quite a bit of it on my hands and knees that I fainted so often it became a joke. The plain for miles behind us was littered with the bodies of unconscious and exhausted men. But still we pressed on, striving to cut off about 3,000 of Pio Del Pilar’s men between us and the sea.
About 3 P. M. Lt. Learned fell on his face and Ryan and I dragged his head under a bush and left him. A quarter mile further we found water. Wow! I sloshed around in it and then filled Ryan’s canteen and mine. After reviving Ryan I went back for Lt. Learned. He responded to treatment immediately. (There was) nothing wrong with him that some muddy water couldn’t cure.
When the final skirmish of that long run was over the regiment flopped in column of companies like exhausted hounds after a long run. When Ryan and I got in Dad Keyes was reeling around in circles trying to count his men and never being certain of the count, Learned was lying on his face and Gilbreth, second in command, just looked a little drawn and was grinning at nothing in particular. He was so untouched, apparently, by the horrible march that I hated him for his damnable toughness. I can see now that he was grinning at me because I was the baby of the outfit and it wasn’t to be expected that I’d make the grade. Or perhaps he was grinning at Ryan who was cursing Gilbreth very cheerfully and insanely in Hindustanee.
Finally Dad Keyes despaired of a correct count and detailed six of the strongest men to gather wood and water for supper. He picked Ryan and me, and I wept and swore at dear old Dad and told him I couldn’t do it. "Don’t argue with me. I’m old and tired. Please run along and do it now, Petie." Supper? What a joke. We’d thrown away all our rations, being too weak to carry them. That is we did - - all but Ryan, the old Anglo-Indian veteran. He had four hard tack, some sugar and some coffee, all done up in a sock, which I fear he had been wearing previously. No matter. We made (Lt.) Learned a cup of coffee and then we had one and turned in.
In the middle of the night I was awakened by a ripple of gunfire and somebody screaming. Then from out in front of us came shouts of "Bolo Men! Bolo Men!" and troops, stampeding in the inky darkness just as wild cattle stampede, commenced running over us. Somebody put his feet in my belly, sprawled over me - - and stole my rifle while I was down and out. Shrieks, shouts, wails, screams, prayers, rush of feet, officers and non-coms in one grand riot, all discipline and control gone everywhere - - but not in the 14th Infantry. The 13th (Infantry) had stampeded and was running over us, absolutely mad with fear. A pitiable and dreadful sight - - if darkness hadn’t mercifully covered it.
That was the time when our discipline asserted itself. I wanted to run, madly, with the rest, but - - Dad Keyes hadn’t given his permission. And somewhere in the dark I could hear his voice above the riot. "L Company Stand Fast! Stand fast! God Damn you, Stand Fast. L Company, attention. Rally on me."
We rallied on him – and found him falling in M Company. But we were simmering down and Dad roared: "Ten shun". By that time the last of the 13th had fled through us and we fanned out with fixed bayonets and waited to receive whatever was chasing them. It never came. It was all the hysteria of utterly exhausted men in their first action on a bitterly hard day.
We were off at dawn without the formality of breakfast. About an hour later we jumped the enemy before Las Pinas and had a merry row. But the big bunch of 3,500 we had hoped to bag had slipped out two hours before, leaving a small rear guard to bluff us. We crossed a slough into the town and were met with white flags and sweet smiles from the ladies. There wasn’t enough food in that town to pad a crutch and we laid down in the streets and wondered if (Lt.) Burnside would find us with his bull carts and save us from starvation. We tightened our belts all day but about nightfall the cooks, aided by a number of excellent thieves, had some native rice boiled.
On the afternoon of the 12th, still hungry we left Las Pinas and pushed south. Next morning, June 13th, at dawn, we moved back to Las Pinas. I never knew why. Perhaps because we were tired troops, for we passed the 21st Infantry coming out and they were fresh and not at all hungry. A little later they stirred up a hot row, and Pat Mullay’s brother was killed. Presently all of the 21st was in it; then the Colorado Volunteers went out; then a couple of batteries, then a battalion of our regiment, then another battalion. That wasn’t a well-fought action. The troops were fed in driblets. Finally our battalion was sent for.
(This) was the battle of the Zapote River, and the history of it is in the regimental records. We got into action (that is, L Company) at noon. We charged across an open field – a ploughed field – and the closer we came the harder they stuck, pouring it into us. Into everyman’s mind flashed the thought: "By God, they’re going to stand for us at last", and on went the bayonet. We went in for the final mopping up, yelling like devils – and they yelled back in derision. Pretty soon we knew the reason. We had no intelligence worth the name in those days and no maps. We just ran slam bang up against the Zapote River, too deep to ford and the banks too tall on the far side and 3,500 hombres, beautifully entrenched on the farther bank. The river was about forty feet wide at our sector and we lay on the bank without an inch of protection. All we could do was keep a flood of bullets just flipping over every foot of that enemy trench and make it impossible for them to get up and sight without being killed.
They tried it too, and kept trying it all the long hot afternoon. The batteries were in prolongation of the infantry line and firing obliquely up and down the river, using muzzle bursts entirely and not doing much damage at that.
The Krags would get hot and one would have to cease firing every thirty rounds. About five o’clock the water was low in the river and we could ford it. So we moved down the river by the right flank to a low wide spot, crossed, came down the river on them, enfilading them and busted up the show in five minutes. That is the third battalion did. L Company stayed where it was and when the natives broke for the backcountry we stood straight up and got some elegant wing shooting. That was when the enemy’s real casualties began to pile up. There was dead and wounded scattered for hundreds of yards back of those trenches.
L Company lost two dead and five or six wounded in that row and why we were lucky I never could figure out. We had 45 men in action, all that the campaign had left us of 105 we started from San Francisco with.
The day after the battle Lawton lined us up and told us that in recognition of our splendid service in the action of the day previous he was going to send us in for a rest. What a joke that rest turned out to be. First we hiked about five miles to Paranaque. The only place we had for shelter was a cathedral that had had hell shot out of it by our fleet. We worked hard all day to clean up the litter.
Well, we retired early for our promised rest of one week. At four o’clock next morning the call to arms blew, and we piled out and hiked back to Zapote River. Nearly all of the troops that had been engaged there had pulled out for other scenes, the 14th alone remaining; there had been some heavy night firing by the remnant of Del Pilar’s force we had defeated on the 13th and L Company had been sent for as a reserve. The racket was over when we arrived, so we hiked on to the town of Bacoor. We turned in to sleep in the ruined church there and in the middle of the night they boiled us out and we hiked three miles down to Zapote River again and finished our sleep lying in the road in a pouting rain and no shelter. In the morning we went back to Bacoor. We hung around there for a week doing outpost and guarding Bacoor, which had now become a base for supplies. The old convent next to the church became the supply depot and the church was filled with double-compressed alfalfa hay for the transport.
At Zapote River two L Company men, Private Lee Garrity and Sergeant Okey N. Boyer swam the river under a terrific fire to receive a white flag and wave it and stop the slaughter of the enemy which had surrendered but the force from the third battalion (14th Infantry) coming down the river on the opposite bank after fording it did not know this and as fast as the flag went up the flag bearer went down. They’d swindled us twice on the white flag business by enticing the staff across a field and then suddenly opening fire. So we all swore that the first time we had them foul they could wave their white flag and be damned to them. The sight of these two soldiers on top of the enemy trench caused a prompt cessation of fire. It was a noble and heroic thing to do and the best they got was an unintelligible mention of it on the backs of their discharges.
In July the 4th Infantry got into our country and started things rolling. L Company was really too worn and feeble to participate in the campaign. Too much dysentery. So we stayed at Bacoor and took it easy.
Early in August a launch appeared off Bacoor and shunted a casco in on the beach, then disappeared. The next morning L Company went down, with all its equipment and, under orders, went aboard the casco and poled out into the bay, where we were to be picked up by the launch.
At the Cuartel de Malate we found a big draft of recruits. All of the war soldiers of the 14th were entitled to their discharges under G. O. (General Order) 40, and as we had busted up Aguinaldo’s army into small units and it was now a plain guerrilla warfare and a job for cavalry, we all put in for our discharge. On August 15th we had a dress parade on the Lunetta. We needed new clothing very badly but since they were about to get rid of us we didn’t get it. So our last dress parade was in old tattered chino khaki, blue shirts, that had turned green, old campaign hats, pith helmets, and straw sombreros, the old woolen army blue and white stable clothing which had been issued for the tropics. But we were clean and we had our haircut and were shaved. The band played ‘The Banks of the Wabash’ as we passed in review before Major Daggett, who had succeeded Lt. Col. Robe in command.
It was a snaky line, I know because it was pretty hard for some of us to march as we used to, but finally we got back to the Cuartel de Malate, stacked arms in the compound, hung our haversacks and belts and canteens on the stacks and stepped back. The recruits came up and took them and we were through. There was no elation when we stepped out and they stepped in. The old Company L was trifle and, we had come to the parting of the ways. On the 24th of September 1899 (we) went aboard the Transport Tartar and came home, via Hong Kong and Yokohama. I was flat broke when I set foot on Broadway dock in San Francisco. Nobody cheered for us nor paid the least bit of attention to us. L Company as we had known it was scattered and a few days after we landed you couldn’t find one of them with a search warrant.
Philippines: Reminiscences of Company "L"
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Last modified: November 01, 2012