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American Chronicle | APPOINTMENT WITH DESTINY: GENERAL LAWTON: GERONIMO'S NEMESIS



J. Alvin Inacay Bautista
November 02, 2009              


On December 21, 1899, then Secretary of War Elihu Root issued General Orders No. 209, confirming what American correspondents had already forwarded to their home offices in the United States. The Associated Press, covering the military action from the Asian archipelago of the Philippines, had sent an urgent dispatch directly to Washington. In the midst of the Philippine Islands campaign four days before Christmas and in the midst of an anticipated victory, the intrepid Henry Ware Lawton, appointed Major General of the Brigade of Volunteers, and commissioned Brigadier General in the Regular Army, was killed by a Filipino sniper´s bullet in the heat of the Battle of San Mateo in Morong Province, now named Rizal. Held in high esteem by Washington, Root pays a glowing tribute to Lawton, the highest ranking general to fall in this campaign, Lawton commanded the First Division, Eighth Army Corps and was virtually second in command after General Elwell Otis. Elihu Root writes of the first Army general to be killed in action outside of the continental United States:

"He fell in the fullness of his powers, in the joy of conflict, in the consciousness of assured victory. He leaves to his comrades and his country the memory and the example of dauntless courage, of unsparing devotion to duty, of manly character, and of high qualities of command which inspired his troops with his own indomitable spirit."

General Edwards, Lawton´s chief of staff, confirmed that the General was characteristically unwavering in the line of fire, dangerously exposing himself in the midst of any skirmish. In the heat of the battle on that fateful December morning, Lawton was even supervising the litter being prepared for a wounded Lt. Breckenridge, who was to fall prey to the dreaded Filipino unit aptly named as Tiradores dela Muerte (Sharpshooters of Death).

The news would grip the emerging imperialist nation back home. The casualty was a Medal of Honor awardee and a career soldier whose series of ground successes were followed with avid interest by a news hungry American populace. The Filipino forces, described as poorly armed insurgent forces , were in a disorganized retreat and losing ground to the lightning advance of Lawton´s gritty band of regulars and volunteers. This was the vanguard of the expeditionary force, among which were those of Troop 1, Fourth Cavalry, 2nd and 3rd Squadrons of the Eleventh Cavalry U.S.V., and one battalion each of the 27th Infantry Regiment U.S.V. and 29th Regular Infantry Regiment.

Manila had fallen after a bloody scorched earth defense of the Filipino units under the Belgium trained General Antonio Lunaand the outlying towns were next on Lawton´s path. About twenty miles northeast of the capital, San Mateo in Morong, was fiercely contested, Elements of the US ground forces had taken the town twice but were forced to abandon it. Veteran General Elwell Otis had suspended offensive operations due to the withering tropical rains and had sent his instructions via courier to the spearhead forces. Its fiery commander, Lawton had intercepted the courier and had gone straight to Otis, clad in his regulation white helmet still strapped to his chin and a yellow slicker that dripped water on the dining room floor of the captured summer residence, Malacanang Palace, now the main headquarters of General Otis. True to form, Lawton convinced the cautious Otis, who was about to retire after a sumptuous dinner. Lawton was at his aggressive best as he declared that nothing was standing in the way of his expeditionary force. He predicted that with the element of surprise, he could break the back of the enemy with the crushing raid at break of daylight. With marching orders intact, Lawton rides off, white helmet still strapped to his chin and wearing this fateful yellow slicker raincoat, to rejoin his unit, ready at a moment´s notice.

Lawton had used his lightning assaults in a brilliant stint during the Indian wars. Years before, as a young 23 year old junior officer, he had earned his Medal of Honor during the Battle of Atlanta in the War between the States, or for some, the War between the North and the South. After the Civil War, he remained in the news headlines, notching his claim to fame with the dogged pursuit and capture of the wily brigand, Apache chief Geronimo, The colorful and recalcitrant Native American warrior had waged a brutal and fearsome rampage across the settlements, eluding capture and placing the War Office in a shameful light. And then the dashing Indiana born Civil War Hero Lawton was assigned to engage Geronimo in his own game, holding him at bay in his formidable redoubt. The capture of Geronimo was sensational headline material and virtually everyone came to know of the dashing Western Henry Ware Lawton, Powerful figures in Washington will cast a favorable eye on the now prominent Lawton, whose exploits will even become more renowned when he takes to the field during the Spanish American War.

He is to match the courage, daring and bravado of the cavalier Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders as he engages an even more formidable adversary , the European trained Spanish cazadores and well armed militia units defending the Cuban capital of Santiago. In the strategic Battle of El Caney, Lawton´s counterpart, General Joaquin Vara del Rey would perish along with the defenders in a bloodbath that cost the lives of 80 Americans and more than 450 of the enemy killed, wounded of captured.

And now, in another theater of war, this time in the Far East, Lawton was rushing off to San Mateo, expecting light opposition and with the element of surprise in his favor. Lawton as always is in the thick of the fight. About three hundred yards away, a seasoned Filipino general is also in command of the defenders, entrenched in earthenworks which had stopped many of the Spanish infantry assaults, His name was Geronimo, first name Licerio, a farmer-soldier, On higher ground, this Revolutionary war veteran had weathered firestorm assaults, both as defender and as blockade runner. The opening salvo for the Philippine Revolution against Spain in August, 1896 was the ill-fated attacks on El Deposito (water reservoir) and El Polvorin (Gunpowder Depot) by a rabid but rag tag Katipunero force, of which the future General was to gain early battle experience, Rising from the ranks, Geronimo earns his star upon his appointment as Military Commander of Morong province before the Truce of Biak na Bato.

The Spanish Colonial Governor Primo de Rivera offers Emilio Aguinaldo, barely twenty eight years old and the emergent leader of the dangerous Revolution, safe passage and exile to Hong Kong, guaranteeing safe conduct, amnesty for all combatants and self rule after three years. With a monetary indemnity, Aguinaldo would put the funds to good use, buying two thousand rifles and engaging the help of the powerful American nation while courting other eager emerging powers. He held clandestine meetings with US Consular Officials in Hong Kong and Singapore and with Commodore George Dewey, dispatched by President William McKinley with a powerful naval armada, In an apparent arrangement with the benevolent American officials, Emilio Aguinaldo to wage war again with his colonial master Spain with the promise of full American support and recognition of the colony´s aspired independence. Returning aboard the cutter USS McColllouch and the negotiated armaments, General Emilio Aguinaldo rallies his hibernating army. This massive wave will leads to the encirclement of besieged Manila, the capital. Cut off from the sea by Dewey´s Asiatic Squadron, the Spanish Territorial Government is trapped in the ancient Walled City, Intramuros, ringed by Filipino ground forces, Aguinaldo´s resurgent Infantry and artillery, whose officers would include former Spanish regulars, Filipino intellectuals, former exiles, as well as former militiamen.

The impasse allows the United States to send its Infantry to Commodore Dewey´s naval contingent which has destroyed the decrepit Spanish Naval Force, sunk off Manila Bay with Dewey´s counterpart, the old sealion Admiral Patricio Montojo going down with his flagship, the battered Reina Castilla.

The former Filipino and American allies would become fierce adversaries in events after a farcical Mock Battle of Manila, where Filipino forces would be left out of the captured capital and the archipelago ceded for twenty million dollars in the Treaty of 
Paris.  The once fair haired protégé Emilio Aguinaldo, the Simon Bolivar and George Washington of his enslaved nation, would fall from grace from the imperialistic band that surrounds Wiilliam McKinley. Pilloried in the American press, previously lionized freedom fighter Emilio Aguinaldo becomes now a dangerous Dictator of a banana republic out to usurp power for his personal gain.
His general, Licerio Geronimo, who gives up his command in the Spanish organized Milicia Territorial formed to resist the American invaders when Aguinaldo returns from exile, will thus find himself, resisting the Americans after all. General Mariano Trias appoints him commander of the fused second and third zones of Manila, and the provinces of Morong and Marinduque. Geronimo will have the high ground over the advancing US regulars and volunteers. He will also have his dark clad elite unit, Tiradores dela Muerte, highly disciplined snipers armed with captured Spanish regulation issue, the accurate and deadly M1895 Mauser, Most of the Americans were armed with the Swedish import Krag Jorgenson rifle, pound for pound a vastly inferior weapon compared to the coveted Mauser, A popular legend supposedly involves the training of this Death Squad by a US Army deserter, a Private Donald Fagen, While there was indeed a colorful figure as Fagen, a Black American who defected to the Filipino forces, it is highly unlikely that he had trained the Mauser armed Filipino snipers under the Brigada Geronimo (Geronimo Brigade).

At this destined appointment with destiny. General Henry Ware Lawton, captor of Geronimo, would man the frontlines of the forces assaulting the entrenched native army, augmented by the eagle eyed Tiradores of another Geronimo. Certain accounts cite that General Geronimo himself instructed his snipers to rein in on a stalwart figure conspicuous on the American side, clad in yellow raincoat, white helmet, exposed for all his 6 feet and three inches frame.

Shots ring out and graze the grass, several finding their mark on a junior officer named Lt. Breckenridge. As the fearless Lawton shrugs off warnings of his aide de camp, he personally directs the making of an improvised litter for the wounded staff officer. Bonifacio Mariano, Geronimo´s Tirador, clutches his sturdy Mauser and pulls the trigger, unleashing the lead projectile on the white helmeted target´s breast. Geronimo directs all guns for effect. It is Bonifacio´s bullet which strikes the intrepid American commander.

Lawton collapses into the arms of his aide, who was unaware of his general being struck, as he had queried seconds before, "What is the matter, General? Are you hit?" Lawton´s final and dying words, answered in the affirmative, "Yes, through the lung." Clutching his breast Lawton has been mortally wounded , pierced by a Filipino marksman named Bonifacio under the command of a Geronimo.

It would be the irony of history, as these Generals and subalterns would all face their appointment with destiny as the century was about to close. Among his private correspondence, the fallen commander and renowned captor of Chief Geronimo, Henry Ware Lawton, had written of his respect and praise of the Filipino soldiers he had faced, months before being their unfortunate victim :

"Taking into account the disadvantages they have to fight against in terms of arms, equipment and military discipline, without artillery, short of ammunition, powder inferior, shells reloaded until they are defective, they are the bravest men I have ever seen... "

Medal of honor awardee Henry Ware Lawton, would be laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery, earning his fame and the admiration of his generation, which offers his bereaved family material support, as it raises for them a more than generous endowment for their tragic loss. General Licerio Geronimo will surrender almost two years after, along with his remaining unit of 12 officers, 29 men and 30 rifles to the Commanding Officer of the US Volunteers (E Company, 42nd Infantry Regiment) in San Mateo. He will be formally presented to the Regimental Commander, Col. J. Milton Thompson. Geronimo later enlists in the newly organized American Colonial police force, the Philippine Constabulary, earning the ignominy of being the hunter of his former comrades in arms, among them the equally colorful General Luciano San Miguel.

Nothing will be heard of Bonifacio Moreno afterwards , who will at least earn the honor of having a street named after him in his native town of San Mateo. But it seems history will have its final irony.

The fallen war hero General Lawton will receive full military honors, the gratitude of his nation, the respect of his peers. The US Colonial Government will name an important landmark also in his honor, a Plaza Lawton, which spans the most important thoroughfares of Old Manila near the Pasig river, After acquiring its independence from America and In a fervor of Filipino nationalism, avid and livid to erase vestiges of a colonial past, the prominent landmark Plaza Lawton will suffer the fate of many American era named streets and plazas, It will be eagerly renamed, However, to this day, the term Lawton is still widely used, as it appears on the destination boards of public utility vehicles for its easier recall.

PLAZA LAWTON is renamed as PLAZA BONIFACIO, another seemingly curious twist of fate. Although the honor is meant for the Filipino patriot, ANDRES BONIFACIO, whose secret society Katipunan will lead the fight for freedom from the Spanish colonial master, The other Bonifacio, who struck the fatal blow with his impeccable marksmanship, remains relatively unknown, But there is no doubt, his mark, General Henry Lawton, Geronimo´s nemesis and who had so much respect for the Filipino soldier, might have wished that he did not have a superior weapon like the Mauser to aim at his heart that fateful day in San Mateo.



J. Alvin Inacay Bautista  

Educator Counselor and Training Professional born in the Philippines.  Writing is a personal passion that is linked closely with reading avidly nonfiction, historical novels and biographies of the famous and the infamous.  As a Career Educator, he has taught World History, the Social Sciences and Philosophy in High School and College. His body of work is mostly in the training programs he has designed, conducted and facilitated in industry, education and in nonprofit institutions. A Father of three, he is married to fellow Educator Jocelyn Sarreal Bautista, with whom he founded the QUEEN OF ANGELS LEARNING CENTER, a trailblazing school in historic Imus, Cavite with visionary Catholic professionals. He now calls Vallejo, California and the Bay Area home but remains a fiesty red and blue Letranite, Angelorian and Filipino.

7 comments:

jalvinbautista said...

Thank you for posting my article from the American Chronicle on the curious turn of events that doomed General Lawton at the hands of a Bonifacio under the command of a Geronimo. It is to the credit of the Tiradores dela Muerte that a Congressional Medal of Honor US Army recipient would fall in the Battle of San Mateo.

josé miguel said...

It is you Alvin whom we should thank for your report that enlightens us filipinos in general and filipino soldiers in particular of our excellence in combat which has long been kept for a long time to perpetuate the myth of combat superiority of our aggressors. Unless we filipinos are made to be aware that the reason many of the filipino officers among us surrendered to the north american invaders was because of their having resorted to massive hostage taking and extermination of the civilians among us causing the death of 500,000 to 1,000,000 of us civilians, and not by their legitimate combat superiority, we will remain in the illusion that we are inferior to these aggressors and we remain dependent, invaded and occupied.

Rudy said...

A very interesting and objective article. I am a first cousin to and biographer of Henry W. Lawton. No one will ever know his innermost thoughts about the Philippine War of Independence (he viewed the conflict as such. But, having known the initial stated objective of the U.S. administration, the freeing of the Philippines from Spanish rule, he had to have considered the subsequent subjugation of the archipelago as nothing less than a betrayal of the Philippine people by the U.S.

History records that Lawton launched initiatives to help the Philippine people set up self-government units to allow them as great a degree of autonomy as possible. But the truth is that the people of the Philippines were to suffer the same fate as that experienced by all of the Native Americans-treachery on the part of the yankee expanionists and a loss of their homelands and freedom.

Thanks for your article.

josé miguel said...

Thanks Rudy for reading my blog and having shared your comment. First of all I only posted this article. This is the work of J. Alvin Inacay Bautista. Thanks for his enlightening work.

Thanks for sharing our reverence for the truth and caring for the welfare and aspirations of nationhood of people of other nations.

macky said...

@jalvinbautista, I'm wondering where did you get the info. about Pvt. Bonifacio Mariano?--macky hosalla

macky said...

@jalvinbautista,Just curious, where did you get your info about Bonifacio Mariano?---Macky Hosalla

Joseph Alvin Inacay Bautista said...

Macky, a former student (Liberal Arts major and a History enthusiast), sent me info he had learned from relatives in San Mateo about Bonifacio Mariano. Urban legend (or folk history) apparently identifies this forgotten figure as the sniper who fired off that shot. Some accounts claim he died in the Battle, others also have him surviving the war and actually having children. A street has also been named for him in San Mateo, my former student claims. He deserves more than this, I think. But most of these figures would be lost to history. I had hoped that some interest would be given, at least on the web. I believe you are also a history enthusiast, and perhaps, your own accounts may have actually been picked up. I would welcome inputs also from you. I have been able to gain access to the rare Harper's History of the War in the Philippines, a 1900 original copy that will soon be featured in the McCune Collection of the JFK Library here in Vallejo, California. They have also been interested in the work that I had been doing, and graciously allowed me to this rare journal of the period. The curator has also invited me to share my work on Lawton (who was due to retire in California, and would have been an important political figure, although a reluctant one). There has been some renewed interest in him, as the recent Bin Laden hit had allusions to Chief Geronimo, linked Henry Lawton to the renegade.