The Greatest Victory Ever Achieved
by the Soldiers of the United States

Part 1

Monday, March 12, 1906

Mr. Clemens comments on the killing of six hundred Moros - Men, women and children - In a crater bowl near Jolo in the Philippines - Our troops commanded by General Wood - Contrasts this “battle” with various other details of our military history - The newspapers’ attitude toward the announcements - The President’s message of congratulation.

We will stop talking about my schoolmates of sixty years ago, for the present, and return to them later. They strongly interest me, and I am not going to leave them alone permanently. Strong as that interest is, it is for the moment pushed out of the way by an incident of to-day, which is still stronger. This incident burst upon the world last Friday in an official cablegram from the commander of our forces in the Philippines to our Government at Washington. The substance of it was as follows:

A tribe of Moros, dark skinned savages, had fortified themselves in the bowl of an extinct crater not many miles from Jolo; and as they were hostiles, and bitter against us because we have been trying for eight years to take their liberties away from them, their presence in that position was a menace. Our commander, General Leonard Wood, ordered a reconnaissance. It was found that the Moros numbered six hundred, counting women and children; that their crater bowl was in the summit of a peak or mountain twenty-two hundred feet above sea level, and very difficult of access for Christian troops and artillery. Then General Wood ordered a surprise, and went along himself to see the order carried out. Our troops climbed the heights by devious and difficult trails, and even took some artillery with them. The kind of artillery is not specified, but in one place it was hoisted up a sharp acclivity by tackle a distance of some three hundred feet. Arrived at the rim of the crater, the battle began. Our soldiers numbered five hundred and forty. They were assisted by auxiliaries consisting of a detachment of native constabulary in our pay - their numbers not given - and by a naval detachment, whose numbers are not stated. But apparently the contending parties were about equal as to number - six hundred men on our side, on the edge of the bowl; six hundred men, women and children in the bottom of the bowl. Depth of the bowl, fifty feet.

General Wood’s order was “Kill or capture the six hundred.”

The battle began - it is officially called by that name - our forces firing down into the crater with their artillery and their deadly small arms of precision; the savages furiously returning the fire, probably with brickbats - though this is merely a surmise of mine, as the weapons used by the savages are not nominated in the cablegram. Heretofore the Moros have used knives and clubs mainly; also ineffectual trade-muskets when they had any.

The official report stated that the battle was fought with prodigious energy on both sides during a day and a half, and that it ended with a complete victory for the American arms. The completeness of the victory is established by this fact: that of the six hundred Moros not one was left alive. The brilliancy of the victory is established by this other fact, to wit: that of our six hundred heroes only fifteen lost their lives.

[page 404] General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been “Kill or capture those savages.” Apparently our little army considered that the “or” left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it has been for eight years, in our army out there - the taste of Christian butchers.

The official report quite properly extolled and magnified the “heroism” and “gallantry” of our troops; lamented the loss of the fifteen who perished, and elaborated the wounds of thirty-two of our men who suffered injury, and even minutely and faithfully described the nature of the wounds, in the interest of future historians of the United States. It mentioned that a private had one of his elbows scraped by a missile, and the private’s name was mentioned. Another private had the end of his nose scraped by a missile. His name was also mentioned - by cable, at one dollar and fifty cents a word.

Next day’s news confirmed the previous day’s report and named our fifteen killed and thirty-two wounded again, and once more described the wounds and gilded them with the right adjectives.

Let us now consider two or three details of our military history. In one of the great battles of the Civil War 10 per cent of the forces engaged on the two sides were killed and wounded. At Waterloo, where four hundred thousand men were present on the two sides, fifty thousand fell, killed and wounded, in five hours, leaving three hundred and fifty thousand sound and all right for further adventures. Eight years ago, when the pathetic comedy called the Cuban war was played, we summoned two hundred and fifty thousand men. We fought a number of showy battles, and when the war was over we had lost two hundred and sixty-eight men out of our two hundred and fifty thousand, in killed and wounded in the field, and just fourteen times as many by the gallantry of the army doctors in the hospitals and camps. We did not exterminate the Spaniards - far from it. In each engagement we left an average of 2 per cent of the enemy killed or crippled on the field.

Contrast these things with the great statistics which have arrived from that Moro crater! There, with six hundred engaged on each side, we lost fifteen men killed outright, and we had thirty-two wounded - counting that nose and that elbow. The enemy numbered six hundred - including women and children - and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother. This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States.

The splendid news appeared with splendid display-heads in every newspaper in this city of four million and thirteen thousand inhabitants, on Friday morning. But there was not a single reference to it in the editorial columns of any one of those newspapers. The news appeared again in all the evening papers of Friday, and again those papers were editorially silent upon our vast achievement. Next day’s additional statistics and particulars appeared in all the morning papers, and still without a line of editorial rejoicing or a mention of the matter in any way. These additions appeared in the evening papers of that same day (Saturday) and again without a word of comment. In the columns devoted to correspondence, in the morning and evening papers of Friday and Saturday, nobody said a word about the “battle.” Ordinarily those columns are teeming with the passions of the citizen; [page 405] he lets no incident go by, whether it be large or small, without pouring out his praise or blame, his joy or his indignation about the matter in the correspondence column. But, as I have said, during those two days he was as silent as the editors themselves. So far as I can find out, there was only one person among our eighty millions who allowed himself the privilege of a public remark on this great occasion - that was the President of the United States. All day Friday he was as studiously silent as the rest. But on Saturday he recognized that his duty required him to say something, and he took his pen and performed that duty. If I know President Roosevelt - and I am sure I do - this utterance cost him more pain and shame than any other that ever issued from his pen or his mouth. I am far from blaming him. If I had been in his place my official duty would have compelled me to say what he said. It was a convention, an old tradition, and he had to be loyal to it. There was no help for it. This is what he said:

Washington, March 10.

Wood, Manila: -

I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag.

(Signed) Theodore Roosevelt.

His whole utterance is merely a convention. Not a word of what he said came out of his heart. He knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms - and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule instead of bullets. He knew perfectly well that our uniformed assassins had not upheld the honor of the American flag, but had done as they have been doing continuously for eight years in the Philippines - that is to say, they had dishonored it.

The next day, Sunday - which was yesterday - the cable brought us additional news - still more splendid news - still more honor for the flag. The first display-head shouts this information at us in stentorian capitals:


“Slaughter” is a good word. Certainly there is not a better one in the Unabridged Dictionary for this occasion.

The next display line says:

“With Children They Mixed in Mob in Crater, and All Died Together.”

They were mere naked savages, and yet there is a sort of pathos about it when that word children falls under your eye, for it always brings before us our perfectest symbol of innocence and helplessness; and by help of its deathless eloquence color, creed and nationality vanish away and we see only that they are children - merely children. And if they are frightened and crying and in trouble, our pity goes out to them by natural impulse. We see a picture. We see the small forms. We see the terrified faces. We see the tears. We see the small hands clinging in supplication to the mother; but we do not see those children that we are speaking about. We see in their places the little creatures whom we know and love.

[page 406] The next heading blazes with American and Christian glory like to the sun in the zenith:

“Death List is Now 900.”

I was never so enthusiastically proud of the flag till now!

The next heading explains how safely our daring soldiers were located. It says:

“Impossible to Tell Sexes Apart in Fierce Battle on Top of Mount Dajo.”

The naked savages were so far away, down in the bottom of that trap, that our soldiers could not tell the breasts of a woman from the rudimentary paps of a man - so far away that they couldn’t tell a toddling little child from a black six-footer. This was by all odds the least dangerous battle that Christian soldiers of any nationality were ever engaged in.

The next heading says:

“Fighting for Four Days.”

So our men were at it four days instead of a day and a half. It was a long and happy picnic with nothing to do but sit in comfort and fire the Golden Rule into those people down there and imagine letters to write home to the admiring families, and pile glory upon glory. Those savages fighting for their liberties had the four days too, but it must have been a sorrowful time for them. Every day they saw two hundred and twenty-five of their number slain, and this provided them grief and mourning for the night - and doubtless without even the relief and consolation of knowing that in the meantime they had slain four of their enemies and wounded some more on the elbow and the nose.

The closing heading says:

“Lieutenant Johnson Blown from Parapet by Exploding Artillery Gallantly Leading Charge.”

Lieutenant Johnson has pervaded the cablegrams from the first. He and his wound have sparkled around through them like the serpentine thread of fire that goes excursioning through the black crisp fabric of a fragment of burnt paper. It reminds one of Gillette’s comedy farce of a few years ago, “Too Much Johnson.” Apparently Johnson was the only wounded man on our side whose wound was worth anything as an advertisement. It has made a great deal more noise in the world than has any similarly colossal event since “Humpty Dumpty” fell off the wall and got injured. The official dispatches do not know which to admire most, Johnson’s adorable wound or the nine hundred murders. The ecstasies flowing from Army Headquarters on the other side of the globe to the White House, at a dollar and a half a word, have set fire to similar ecstasies in the President’s breast. It appears that the immortally wounded was a Rough Rider under Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt at San Juan Hill - that extinguisher of Waterloo - when the Colonel of the regiment, the present Major General Dr. Leonard Wood, went to the rear to bring up the pills and missed the fight. The President has a warm place in his heart for anybody who was present at that bloody collision of military solar systems, and so he lost no time in cabling to the wounded hero “How are you?” And got a cable answer, “Fine, thanks.” This is historical. This will go down to posterity.

Johnson was wounded in the shoulder with a slug. The slug was in a shell - for the account says the damage was caused by an exploding shell which blew Johnson off the rim. The people down in the hole had no artillery; therefore it was our artillery that blew Johnson off the rim. [page 407] And so it is now a matter of historical record that the only officer of ours who acquired a wound of advertising dimensions got it at our hands, not the enemy’s. It seems more than probable that if we had placed our soldiers out of the way of our own weapons, we should have come out of the most extraordinary battle in all history without a scratch.

Explanatory Notes

403.12–15 A tribe of Moros, dark skinned savages . . . bitter against us because we have been trying for eight years to take their liberties away . . . a menace] In December 1898, after [page 615] the battle of Manila in the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. Rather than granting independence to the Filipinos as had been expected, the United States established military rule. What had been a war of independence against Spain soon became a war of independence against the United States, concentrated in the primarily Tagalog north. The Moros, a collection of thirteen cultural-linguistic groups sometimes at war with one another but united by their adherence to Islam, lived primarily in the south, in the Sulu Archipelago, where Jolo Island is located, and in the southern half of Mindanao (Byler 2005, 1–3). In 1899, in what was later admitted to be solely a “temporary expedient,” the American administrative authority signed a treaty with the sultan of Sulu promising governing autonomy in return for recognizing U.S. sovereignty. In the succeeding years it increasingly attempted to assert social and military control of the south, resulting in a series of battles with the Moros, whom the U.S. army many times overpowered in battle but did not defeat (Kho 2009, 1–5). In March 1904, President Roosevelt and Secretary of War Taft decided to abrogate the treaty, which “provided salaries for the Sultan and certain of his dattos and at the same time, it is said, sustained polygamy and slavery” on the grounds that it had simply been “a modus vivendi and an executive agreement” (“America Abrogates Treaty with Moros,” New York Times, 15 Mar 1904, 5). Although they soon reinstated payments to the sultan and his tribal chiefs, the war continued unabated. Before the present action, the Moros had retreated to their fortress in the bowl of the extinct volcano on Mount Dajo (“The Troops in Action,” New York Tribune, 10 Mar 1906, 3; Bacevich 2006).

403.15 Our commander, General Leonard Wood] Major General Leonard Wood (1860–1927) earned his medical degree at Harvard Medical School in 1883 and thereafter worked as an army contract surgeon, participating in the last battle against Geronimo in 1886. He served as personal physician to President William McKinley, and he became friends with McKinley’s assistant secretary of the navy, Theodore Roosevelt. In 1898, at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, he assumed command of the First Volunteer Cavalry - the Rough Riders - to Roosevelt’s second in command, and led his men at the battle of San Juan Hill. For the remainder of the war he led the Second Cavalry Brigade, and from 1900 to 1902 served as military governor of Cuba, instituting various reforms but also arousing controversy. In 1902 he became commander of the Philippines Division, and from 1903 to 1906, after President Roosevelt appointed him major general, he served as governor of Moro Province. After attempting to force reforms and impose taxes, he took charge of the military campaign against the Moros (Fort Leonard Wood 2009; Boston Medical Journal 1899, 973). Wood was a controversial figure in his time and remains so. His career, considered stellar and full of well-deserved high honors by some contemporary chroniclers and modern historians, was seen very differently by others, including Clemens, who had watched Wood’s rise to high office, and had in December 1903 written a scathing essay, “Major General Wood, M.D.,” about his character and the machinations to appoint him major general (SLC 1903e; see AD, 14 Mar 1906, note at 409.1–17).

403.28 General Wood’s order was “Kill or capture the six hundred.”] The New York Times reported on 10 March that Wood “directed Col. Joseph W. Duncan to attack the Moros [page 616] in the crater and capture or kill them. This was accomplished after repeated demands to surrender” (“15 Americans, 600 Moros Slain in 2 Days’ Fight,” 10 Mar 1906, 1).

403.31–33 probably with brickbats . . . Heretofore the Moros have used knives and clubs mainly; also ineffectual trade-muskets when they had any] The New York Times reported that the “600 fanatical Moros” were armed with “rifles and knives and supported by native artillery” (“15 Americans, 600 Moros Slain in 2 Days’ Fight,” 10 Mar 1906, 1). The Moros’ “weapon of choice was the kris, a short sword with a wavy blade; the Americans toted Springfield rifles and field guns” (Bacevich 2006).

404.5–11 The official report quite . . . minutely and faithfully described the nature of the wounds . . . by cable, at one dollar and fifty cents a word] Wood’s cable named seven of the thirty-two wounded, including Coxswain Gilmore, “severely wounded in the elbow” (according to the New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser), and three with “slight” wounds in the thigh, right hand, and left eye (“15 Americans, 600 Moros Slain in Two-Day Fight,” 9 Mar 1906, 1). None of the accounts in the New York newspapers (Herald, Globe and Commercial Advertiser, Evening Post, Evening Sun, Times, Tribune, or World) specified a nose injury.

404.15–25 In one of the great battles of the Civil War . . . Waterloo . . . the pathetic comedy called the Cuban war . . . crippled on the field] Clemens may have had in mind the Appomattox campaign, in which the casualties equaled about 10 percent of the 163,000 men who fought on both sides. According to modern historians, most of the major battles in the Civil War had a far greater percentage of casualties (Home of the American Civil War 2009; American Civil War 2009b; Fox 1889). His estimate of the number of combatants at Waterloo (on 18 June 1815) is high. By one estimate, only about 141,000 men engaged in the battle; French casualties were about 54 percent, and Allied casualties about 33 percent. Troop strength and casualty figures for the Cuban battles of the Spanish-American War also differ, but Clemens’s statistics are substantially correct. A far greater number of Americans, perhaps 90 percent, died in hospitals of yellow fever, malaria, dysentery, and food poisoning than died in action (Veteran’s Museum and Memorial Center 2009; Library of Congress 2009). Clemens’s source for Spanish casualty figures is uncertain, but it is known that they also lost a greater number to tropical disease than to battle (Bollet 2005).

404.32–41 The splendid news appeared . . . on Friday morning . . . nobody said a word about the “battle.”] The dispatch from General Wood reporting the “severe action between troops,” dated Friday, 9 March, was first published or excerpted the same day in at least three New York newspapers, the Evening Post, Evening Sun, and the Globe and Commercial Advertiser,and the next day, the morning of Saturday, 10 March, in the Times, Tribune, World, and others. Only two, the New York Evening Post and the World, had an editorial comment. The Post wrote: “Congress would make no mistake if it should rigidly inquire into the latest ‘battle’ in the Philippines. . . . What possible military excuse was there for charging up a mountain cone, 2,100 feet high, to attack an almost impregnable fort? Was there no possibility of forcing these Moros to surrender by starving them out?” (“The Latest Moro Slaughter,” New York Evening Post, 10 Mar 1906, 4).

405.13–17 Washington . . . (Signed) Theodore Roosevelt] Roosevelt’s congratulatory cable [page 617] of 10 March was widely published on 11 March, with no direct commentary (“Special to the New York Times,” New York Times, 1; “President Congratulates Wood,” New York Tribune, 1; “President Congratulates Wood upon the Massacre,” New York World, 1).

405.28 WOMEN SLAIN IN MORO SLAUGHTER] This headline and the others quoted below through 406.22 were from the New York Herald of 11 March.

406.23 Lieutenant Johnson has pervaded the cablegrams] Lieutenant Gordon Johnston (1874–1934) was the son of Confederate General Robert Daniel Johnston and nephew of Joseph F. Johnston, governor of Alabama, 1896–1900. His injury was followed closely in the newspapers because of his connection to Roosevelt. (Many newspapers erroneously called him Johnson, the name Clemens uses.) On 10 March the New York Tribune published two stories, headlined “Lieutenant Johnston Formerly in Rough Riders” and “Lieut. Johnston Not Badly Hurt,” and the Globe and Commercial Advertiser published “Moro Fight Hero. Lieut. Johnson, Princeton Graduate, Is Badly Wounded in Leading a Charge.” On 11 March the World noted that his wounds “are severe, a slug having passed through his right shoulder. He performed a gallant deed when he scaled the wall of the Rio crater and was blown off the parapet by the force of exploding artillery” (“900 Moros Slain, It Is Now Said, in Fatal Crater,” 1). On 12 March, the New York Times reported Roosevelt’s telegram and Johnston’s answer in a story headlined, “Fine, Cables Johnston, Answering Roosevelt” (12 Mar 1906, 6; Arlington National Cemetery 2009).

406.25–26 Gillette’s comedy farce of a few years ago, “Too Much Johnson.”] William Gillette’s comedy, based on the French comic operetta La Plantation Thomassin by Maurice Ordonneau and Albert Vizentini, opened on Broadway on 26 November 1894 and ran until June 1895 (“The Theatrical Week,” New York Times, 2 Dec 1894, 10; Broadway League 2009).

References (in the order cited)

Byler 2005 Byler, Charles. 2005. “Pacifying the Moros: American Military Government in the Southern Philippines, 1899–1913.” Military Review (May–June). Accessed 20 April 2009.

Kho 2009 Kho, Madge. 2009. “The Bates Treaty.” Accessed 20 April 2009.

Bacevich 2006 Bacevich, Andrew J. 2006. “What Happened at Bud Dajo: A Forgotten Massacre - and Its Lessons.” Boston Globe, 12 March, C2. Accessed 17 April 2009.

Fort Leonard Wood 2009 Fort Leonard Wood. 2009. “Major General Leonard Wood.” Accessed 17 April 2009.

Boston Medical Journal 1899 Boston Medical Journal. 1899. “Major-General Leonard Wood, M.D.” Boston Medical Journal (22 April): 973.

SLC 1903e SLC (Samuel Langhorne Clemens). 1903. “Major General Wood, M.D.” MS of ten leaves, written 15 December, and TS of five leaves, typed and revised before 28 December, CU-MARK. Reprinted in Zwick 1992, 151–55.

Bacevich 2006 Bacevich, Andrew J. 2006. “What Happened at Bud Dajo: A Forgotten Massacre - and Its Lessons.” Boston Globe, 12 March, C2. Accessed 17 April 2009.

Home of the American Civil War 2009 2009. “The Price is Blood! Casualties in the Civil War.” Accessed 28 September 2009.

American Civil War 2009b 2009. “Civil War Battle Statistics, Commanders, and Casualties.” Accessed 28 April 2009.

Fox 1889 Fox, William F. 1889. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861–1865. Albany, N.Y.: Albany Publishing Company. Chapter 5, “Casualties Compared with Those of Foreign Wars,” at Accessed 27 April 2009.

Veteran’s Museum and Memorial Center 2009 Veteran’s Museum and Memorial Center. 2009. “Spanish-American War, 1898.” Accessed 29 April 2009.

Library of Congress 2009 Library of Congress. 2009. “The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War.” Accessed 29 April 2009.

Bollet 2005 Bollet, Alfred Jay. 2005. “Military Medicine in the Spanish-American War.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 48 (Spring): 293–300. Accessed 29 April 2009.

Arlington National Cemetery 2009 Arlington National Cemetery Website. 2009. “Gordon Johnston.” Accessed 27 May 2009.

Broadway League 2009 Broadway League. 2009. Internet Broadway Database. Accessed 4 May 2009.