Was Littleton Waller Tazewell Waller the Hero
of Samar or the Butcher of Samar? "I wish you to kill and burn,"
the hot-eyed Army Brigadier General Jacob H. Smith told Marine
Major L. W. T. Waller when Waller arrived on Samar.
During the early afternoon of 20 January
1902, First Lieutenant John H. A. Day, U.S. Marine Corps,
marched nine Filipinos, natives of the island of Samar, under guard of
a detachment of U. S. Marines down the main street of Basey,
Samar. Upon reaching the town plaza,
Day ordered his detachment of marines to
execute the Filipinos by firing squad. The execution of
one Filipino had already been carried out
earlier that day, and one more was yet to
follow. Day had been following orders of
his immediate senior, Major and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Littleton
Marine Corps ground involvement in the Philippines began on 3 May 1898, two days after Commodore George Dewey's victory over the Spanish at Manila Bay, when First Lieutenant Dion Williams and a detachment of Marines from the USS Baltimore planted an American flag at the Spanish naval station in Cavite. The Treaty of Paris, signed on 10 December 1898, ended America's war with Spain, but not its military involvement in the Philippines. For the next six years, U. S. armed forces fought against Filipino insurrectionists. From 1898 until the fall of 1901, marines took part in a number of operations against the insurrectionists, primarily on the island of Luzon, making several amphibious landings.
By the fall of 1901,
U. S. military actions against insurrectionists on Luzon had come
to an end. General Emilio Aguinaldo,
leader of that island's insurrectionists,
Located in the equatorial tropics, Samar was completely engulfed with dense jungles. Not only did American forces have to endure heat, humidity, incessant rain, and dense vegetation, but in addition, they had to contend with snakes, leeches, and malaria-infested mosquitoes. Smallpox was also running rampant on the island. The hellish conditions on Samar in some instances drove men insane.
Lucban used the climate and the terrain of
Samar to his advantage in his guerilla was against the Americans.
He had been on Samar for more than a year before the first American troops
arrived. This had allowed him to recruit among the natives
intensively, and by the time the American troops did arrive, most of the
natives were either in Lucban's command or in sympathy with
the insurrectionists. Lucban's control
Most American commanders, Waller included,
based their operations on the fact that the majority of the natives were
hostile to U. S. actions and could not be trusted, despite
pretenses by the villagers to be pro-American, and that many of these
supposedly pro-American villagers were, in fact, members of Lucban's
command. Because of this support by the populace for
the insurrectionists, along with the hellish
Company C, 9th Infantry, arrived
at Balangiga, Samar, on 11 August 1901, commanded by Captain Thomas
W. Connell, U. S. Army. Connell, a strong advocate of President
William McKinley's "benevolent assimilation," attempted to establish this
policy at Balangiga. Connell's naive assumption that since
"benevolent assimilation" seemed to be working
on Luzon, it could also work on Samar, proved catastrophic.
Samar was populated by an extremely violent,
On 28 September. led by town officials and
members of the population of Balangiga, Lucban's
forces plotted a surprise attack on Company C. Only 26 of
the 74 American soldiers survived the massacre. Most
were tortured to death
The insurrectionists on Samar habitually committed atrocities, such as body mutilation of dead soldiers, during their guerilla warfare against the Americans. Lucban refused to honor any rules of warfare: "The dead were mutilated . . . No prisoners were taken, Noncombatants were put to death. Poison was used. Flags of truce were not respected. The personnel of the insurrectionary forces were composed, in numerous instances of males under military age, who were old enough to assist in military operations, but not sufficiently mature from the point of intelligence and experience to correctly apply or even to understand the rules of civilized warfare."
Under these circumstances,
General Chaffee ordered Brigadier General Jacob H. Smith, U.
S. Army, to command the 6th Separate Brigade and
handle the situation on Samar. Lacking enough soldiers to
form a full brigade, General
Waller, unlike Connell, took a
more realistic view of the situation on Samar. The day before debarkation,
Waller issued explicit orders to his officers concerning relations
with the natives and rules of engagement: "Place no confidence in the natives,
and punish treachery immediately with death. . . . Allow no
man [marine] to go . . . anywhere without his arms or ammunition.
. . . All males who have not come in and presented themselves
by October 25th will be regarded and treated as enemies.
It must be impressed on the men that the natives are treacherous, brave
and savage. No trust, no confidence, can be placed in them. . . .
The men must be informed of the courage, skill, size and strength
of the enemy. WE MUST DO OUR PART OF THE
Waller viewed the situation as open combat
governed by the rules of war. The populace would
have to register with the marines or be considered combatants. Waller's
orders to his officers were posted and the
Naval high command took no
General Smith's orders to Major Waller upon
arrival at Samar have allowed some historians to
give Waller an out. These orders, stated orally and in an unsigned
note, were subsequently proven at Smith's own court-martial: "I want
no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn.
The more you kill and burn, the better it will please me. .
Some historians feel that Waller was only following
the direct orders of his immediate senior
officer. But, as testimony in General Smith's court-martial
pointed out, Waller did not execute Smith's
orders. Instead, Waller applied the rules of
civilized warfare and the rules provided
under General Order No. 100. Waller testified
that he did not kill women or children and that he treated
prisoners according to the rules of
civilized warfare. "Always when prisoners came in and gave themselves
up they were saved, they were not killed."
In essence, Waller
The marines' tactical area
of responsibility was the southern half of Samar.
Waller was relentless in his pursuit of
the insurrectionists. He ran patrol
General Smith, desiring to get better communications
on Samar, ordered Waller to scout a telegraph route from Lanang on the
east coast to Basey on the west coast.
On 28 December 1901, Waller, with 60 marines, two native
scouts, and 33 native bearers, started from Lanang and headed
into the interior of the Samar jungles, an area where few natives and no
foreigners had ever gone. Within a few days, almost
The terrain was exceedingly
difficult. The marines were running out of food and began to starve.
By 3 January 1902, Waller decided to split his unit. Leaving
behind with Captain David D. Porter, U. S. Marine Corps, the bulk of the
unit who were unable to march any further, Waller set
out for Basey with 14 marines and arrived there on 6
January 1902. With total disregard
for his own health, Waller
Porter, in the meantime, had three options: to attempt to follow Waller, whose trail was unsure; to stay where he was and perish; or to attempt to backtrack to Lanang. He chose to backtrack. Leaving the sick and dying marines with First Lieutenant A. S. Williams, Porter headed for Lanang with seven marines and six natives. Hampered by torrential rains, Porter arrived at Lanang on 11 January. He immediately sent out a relief column to pick up his own stragglers and to rescue Williams' command.
Williams's fate was disastrous. Realizing that if he stayed where he was, he and his command were sure to die, he decided to head back to Lanang. His men, "so nearly dead from starvation and exposure that they began to crawl,"slowly perished along the way." One marine went insane. By 18 January, when the relief column reached Williams, ten marines had died. In addition, the natives had mutinied.
Waller had used the
natives as bearers of food and supplies on the
march, but had no confidence in the
allegiance of the natives to the marines
and kept ever mindful of an attempted attack, which he and
his officers had taken precautions to prevent. Natives
could use a bolo knife only to help the marines hack
through the jungle; every evening the knives
were collected and counted. The natives were kept spread along the
column with the marines and away from the rifles. At
night and during rest periods, the natives were huddled in one area
and watched over by
Finally, there was open rebellion
against Williams' party. Three of the
natives, armed with a bolo knife, attacked and wounded Williams.
The other natives watched while Williams
managed to fight off the attack. These natives
were put under arrest when the marines
reached Lanang. It was this group of natives that
was sot by the firing squad on 20 January, charged in Day's
words, with "treason in attempting to kill
Lieutenant Williams, with treason in general, theft, disobedience and .
. . general mutiny." Waller erred
at this point by not putting the charge in writing. Williams'
men were in such a weakened condition that
they could offer little assistance at the time of the incident.
Soon after the incident, Williams formulated
several plans to kills the natives, but doubted the strength of his
weakened men. He also felt that it was better to
refer the incident to his commanding officer,
On 20 January, the
U. S. gunboat Arayat arrived at Basey
from Lanangmand offloaded the native prisoners.
After being briefed by his officers
and non-commissioned officers, all
of whom recommended execution, Waller
ordered the natives to be shot. Waller stated: "The reports
of the attempted murder of the men and other treachery by the natives,
the whole plot being unmasked, caused me
to hold an inquiry and consult with my officers. The population of
the town was hostile at the time .
. . Using my own judgement, and fortified by the opinion
of the officers and men, I had the guilty men shot, releasing
the innocent. The power exercised was mine by right
as commanding the district. It seemed to the best of
Waller felt that he had acted within the framework of General Order No. 100, which did not call for a trial of the accused, and within his authority as a district commander, although this was disputed by the Judge Advocate General. The real issue was that the responsibilities of a district commander in the Philippines were never clearly defined and that th tactical situation necessitated his actions. On 22 January, Waller, seeing no wrong in his actions, sent this message to General Smith: "It became necessary to expend eleven prisoners. Ten were implemented [sic] in the attack on Lt. Williams and one who plotted against me."
On 19 February the marine battalion
on Samar received orders to return to Cavite and arrived there on 29 February.
The unit returned to a welcoming home salute and party, but there
was something else in store for Major Waller --
a murder charge. Waller tended to place much of the blame for the
court-martial on Lieutenant Day, although not during the trial or
in public; during the trial he assumed
Waller's court-martial lasted from 17 March
to 12 April 1902. The court consisted of seven Army officers
and six Marine Corps officers and was
headed by Army Brigadier General William H. Bisbee, "a stalwart old
Indian fighter." Waller argued that, because he had never
been detached from his marine unit, an Army court had no jurisdiction over
him. The court denied Waller's lack of jurisdiction claim,
Waller could have made excuse for his actions
by saying that he was injured and lying in a hospital when he
issued his orders. But instead, he stood committed to his actions:
"As the representative officer responsible for the
safety and welfare of my men, after investigation and from
the information I had, ., . . I ordered the eleven men
The court voted eleven to two for acquittal.
Headed by an old troop leader and field officer, General Bisbee,
it must have weighed the tactical situation and the mitigating factors
involved in the case. Many of the court's officers had
been through guerilla warfare in both the Philippines and the
American West. It seems that they, as
Waller's peers, realistically assessed the
factors influencing Waller's decisions. Later, in the United
States, the Army Judge Advocate General dismissed the entire
case as illegal, agreeing that a Marine Corps officer was not subject
The type of combat fought on Samar was some
of the most brutal of the Fil-American War.
When his native bearers turned on him and his officers, Waller guided his
actions on doctrinal orders, the rules of civilized
warfare, and an
The decisions and conduct
of men during war or in trying environments may
seem questionable to outside observers, but
seldom questionable to the participants at the time. The purpose
of court-martial is to obtain justice by one's military
peers. The officers of the court were little affected by public
opinion and high-level politics.
Waller's court-martial had effects on its participants and on the country as a whole. It informed the American public as to the type of warfare that was taking place in the Philippines. Even to its most ardent supporters, "benevolent assimilation" had its limits. The trial frustrated American civilian authorities and their attempts to implement their policies in the Philippines.
On 21 April 1902, General Smith was brought to trial on the charge of "conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline" for orders issued to Waller at Samar. He was found guilty and was eventually forced to leave the service. Lieutenant Day was also court-martialed but, like Waller, was acquitted.
Waller continued to serve in the Marine Corps with distinction. In 1910, the "outstanding troop leader of the period" was passed over for Commandant, probably because of his one blemish, the court-martial.
Another result was marine respect. For many years afterward, marine messes would stand whenever a "Samar battalion" officer was present and toast, "Stand, gentlemen, he served on Samar."
These items and much more can be found at The Marine Corps Research Center (MCRC)
|Page Construction by|
|All Rights Reserved - 1998|