Facts, information and articles about Arthur MacArthur, a Civil War General during the American Civil War

Arthur MacArthur Facts

Major General Arthur MacArthurBorn

June 2, 1845 Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts


September 5, 1912 Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Years Of Service



Lieutenant General (United States Army)
24th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment
13th Infantry Regiment (United States)


1st Brigade, 2nd Division, VIII Corps
2nd Division, VIII Corps
VIII Corps


American Civil War
Battle of Chickamauga
Battle of Stones River
Battle of Missionary Ridge
Atlanta Campaign
Battle of Franklin
Indian Wars
Spanish-American War
Battle of Manila (1898)
Philippine-American War
Battle of Manila (1899)

Arthur MacArthur Articles

Explore articles from the HistoryNet archives about Arthur MacArthur

» See all Arthur MacArthur Articles

Arthur MacArthur summary: Arthur MacArthur was born in Springfield, Massachusetts and he actually changed the spelling of his name to MacArthur after the Civil War. He moved to Milwaukee at a very young age with his family. The Civil War started when MacArthur was only 16 and by the time he was 17, he was already First Lieutenant of Wisconsin’s 24th Infantry.

Arthur MacArthur In the Civil War

MacArthur was already living in Wisconsin when the Civil War started and he saw action in Stone’s River, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Franklin and the Atlanta Campaign. MacArthur served as an inspiration to the regiment when he planted its flag at Missionary Ridge at the same time he shouted “on Wisconsin.” He was awarded the medal of honor at the early age of 18. By the age of 19, he was known throughout the country by his new nickname “the Boy Colonel.” In January of 1864, MacArthur received a promotion to major and he was in charge of commanding his regiment at Resaca, Georgia. By June of the same year, he received another promotion to lieutenant colonel and that is when he led the troops to the Siege of Atlanta.

Arthur MacArthur After the War

After 1866, for 20 years MacArthur was posted throughout the south and the west. He became brigadier general in 1896 and fought in the Spanish-American War, eventually receiving an appointment as Governor of the Philippines. MacArthur died five years after returning to Milwaukee in 1907. He had a massive heart attack the 5th of September of 1912 while he was addressing veterans from the same infantry division in which he served, the 24th. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Northern Virginia.



Articles Featuring Arthur MacArthur From HistoryNet Magazines

Folly in the Philippines



On May 3, 1898, two days after Commodore George Dewey’s stunning defeat of the Spanish at Manila Bay, President William McKinley sent American troops to occupy the Philippines. At this early stage in the Spanish-American War, there was no plan for the occupation, including how long it would last or what ends the United States sought in those distant islands.

It was only after Spain surrendered the Philippines seven months later that McKinley settled on a purpose. Although the U.S. Army only held the capital city of Manila, the president in December instructed the Army to extend American control “with all possible dispatch to the whole of the ceded territory.” McKinley had chosen to push American political and military influence into the Far East and under the hazy theory of “benevolent assimilation” annex the Philippines to the United States. A 20,800-man American ground force set out on two daunting tasks: first, conquer a 900-mile-long archipelago; and second, govern 7.4 million people speaking dozens of languages and scattered among more than 7,000 islands.

America’s subjects-to-be were a collection of tribes (including some headhunters), religious sects, and ethnic groups, all of whom had issues with each other. McKinley’s order was handed down even as U.S. forces in Manila faced 40,000 armed and hostile Filipinos of revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo’s Army of Liberation, a force deadly intent on establishing its own rule.

After a few missteps, it would become, in the opinion of some experts, a model of counterinsurgency technique. The most exhaustive and definitive account of the struggle, by historian Brian McAllister Linn—a professor of Texas A&M University—concludes that the United States “was able to structure a coherent pacification policy that balanced conciliation with repression, winning over the Filipino population and punishing those who resisted.”

But it is also apparent that the United States had no business invading or claiming such a distant land with little strategic importance. In the end, the bloody conquest produced an empty victory, as the United States quietly returned the islands to the Filipinos and—eager to bury an unpopular bout of imperialism—promptly forgot the counterinsurgency techniques that could have come in handy a century later.

Compared to what followed, the first year of the U.S. Army’s fight against Aguinaldo’s Army of Liberation was troubled only by its failure to fix the ill-equipped Filipinos in place long enough to produce a decisive battle. It was not for lack of trying. In February 1899, the beginning of what many Americans called the Philippine Insurrection, a Kansas unit of five infantry companies thrashing through a maze of bamboo south of Manila came under intense fire from an insurgent trench line. Refusing to shoot it out from their exposed position, the Kansans staged a head-on bayonet charge. It worked. The Filipinos fled in panic, and for two bloodstained miles, the Americans relentlessly pursued their enemies, shooting down as many as possible. This aggressive, sometimes foolhardy spirit came to characterize the American style of fighting as soldiers became frustrated with day after day of endless tramping through the bush, often failing to spot a single insurgent. When contact was made, the soldiers usually staged an energetic and persistent attack.

Early on, the American public backed its army’s efforts. In a September 1898, poll of 192 newspaper editors, a solid majority said their readers favored the annexation. However, there were growing numbers of critics, most favoring Philippine independence—the goal of the Filipino rebel leader. Small, thin, and bright, the 29-year-old Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy was well educated and an ardent admirer of American democracy. Of Chinese and Tagalog parentage (Tagalogs being the largest ethnic group on Luzon), he was also an earnest revolutionary who had earlier led guerrilla forces against the Spanish. And he already had considerable experience as a politician.

Aguinaldo’s trouble with the Americans had begun in April 1898, in Singapore, where he was in exile. He had come away from a meeting with the American consul in Singapore with the notion that the United States would recognize the independence of the Philippines. Arriving at Manila Bay in May, he met Commodore Dewey leading the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. Dewey supplied Aguinaldo with weapons and the rebel leader began organizing his army. U.S. troops arrived in July, joined Aguinaldo’s army surrounding Manila, and struck one of the slickest deals in American history with the badly outnumbered and outgunned Spanish forces.

The Spanish would surrender to the Americans, not the Filipinos, after a sham battle that would indicate some Spanish resistance had been offered, satisfying honor. The evening of August 12, the American ground commander, Major General Wesley Merritt, informed Aguinaldo of the plan, which ensured Filipino troops would not be involved. The next morning Manila fell. From afar, a hapless, outwitted Aguinaldo observed the American flag being raised over the capital city. The Philippine Insurrection was inevitable.

In 1899, the American public’s opposition to annexation grew after disturbing stories came out of the Philippines. In May, the local newspaper in Kings­ton, New York, published a U.S. soldier’s letter describing a shocking American-perpetrated atrocity, a story subsequently repeated by other newspapers as far away as San Francisco:

“Last night one of our boys was found shot and his stomach cut open. Immediately orders were received from [Major General Lloyd] Wheaton to burn the town and kill every native in sight; which was done to a finish. About 1,000 men, women, and children were reported killed.”

The magnitude of the allegation was never proven, but it is likely that Americans took some form of retribution on the town, and there is evidence that the pressures of battling a determined and difficult-to-pin-down foe frequently led U.S. forces in the Philippines to retaliate outside the laws of war.

American soldiers, who numbered about 30,000 by August, did have reason to be angry with their adversaries, who expertly aided their cause with a campaign of fear and terror. In the fall, near Mabalacat, members of the 25th Infantry Regiment came on a grisly scene—the mutilated bodies of four of their comrades who had been captured, tortured, and killed. Americans also discovered that Aguinaldo’s men were torturing Filipino peasants dubbed “Americanistas,” reportedly for cooperating with Americans. In response, the Americans began to get to know their enemy better. As they traveled through Luzon’s countryside they established 53 bases (called stations) to support field operations, and recruited a network of secret Filipino agents.

In November 1899, a reinforced battalion of the 22nd Infantry Regiment dramatically changed the nature of the struggle, coming within an ace of ending the conflict. The 1,100 American soldiers marched well beyond their supply depot, went on half rations, and then lived off the land for six weeks as they marched 120 arduous miles to try to corner 1,000 insurgents and destroy the rebel headquarters. Though the Americans did not quite succeed, they did convince Aguinaldo that his tactics risked his army’s extinction. On November 13, he abandoned his attempt to defeat the Americans in a head-on battle and ordered his men to initiate a campaign of guerrilla warfare, a tactic that was familiar to many Filipinos from their long clash with Spain. His aim was to undermine American will without risking a major battle, stretching out the war until President McKinley faced reelection in November 1900. The avowed anti-imperialist William Jennings Bryan, a spellbinding populist orator and the likely Democratic Party nominee to oppose the Republican McKinley, had said that if elected, he would grant independence to the Philippines. Aguinaldo set a course to win his war via the American ballot box.

Philippine leaders in the field chose their own methods and techniques to fight the Americans. Most opted for a way of war modeled by one of Aguinaldo’s lieutenants, Major General Pantaleon García. García ordered his commanders to avoid direct confrontations in favor of ambushes and raids followed by rapid withdrawal. They stayed in touch with local political leaders, identified and eliminated spies working for the Americans, and often disrupted the American communication lines by cutting telegraph wires. García emphasized capturing rifles, since some of the guerrillas were armed only with spears and bolos. To make every bullet count, he prohibited long-range rifle fire; men could shoot only at 50 yards or less.

Within weeks, Aguinaldo’s strategy seemed to be working. In the last four months of 1899, there were 229 engagements between the Americans and the insurgents, the latter operating in bands of between 15 and 200 guerrillas. The Americans saw 69 men killed and 302 wounded. U.S. troops faced a seemingly insurmountable task. Aguinaldo’s forces were estimated at between 80,000 and 100,000 fighters, a three-to-one advantage over the Americans.

Supplementing and supporting the guerrillas were additional tens of thousands of auxiliary forces. For the Americans, the numbers were the reverse of what they should have been: Many analysts believe a successful counterinsurgent force must outnumber the enemy at least 10 to one.

As the months wore on, the war became increasingly unpopular in America; anti-expansionist critics assailed the McKinley administration for bullying a weak and poor people. From the American soldier’s vantage, insurgents became ghostlike foes in an exasperating small-unit hit-and-run war. Major General Samuel Young described his experience in the Philippines as a study in frustration: “The guerrillas are scattered among the mountain barrios in peasant dress with arms hidden, subject to call at any minute. In the meantime, certain daring ones keep our communications cut…almost every night.”

Substantially outnumbered, Young instructed his troops to protect Filipinos and settlements friendly to the U.S. Army from guerrilla demands and intimidation. That required an American presence in the barrios, which naturally limited American combat and scouting patrols.

Clashes between the Americans and the insurgents were sporadic, with few casualties on either side and results mostly favoring U.S. units. Occasionally, however, Filipinos got the upper hand, through unusual means. One American recalled a nighttime attack when 50 insurrectionists surrounded a U.S. outpost and threw rocks. When the Americans responded with guns blazing, the Filipinos returned fire, using the muzzle flashes to target American defense positions. When the guns went silent, one U.S. soldier was dead and one wounded. The insurgents had vanished.

The Filipinos also induced terror in American troops. Captain James Anderson recalled that on a routine patrol, his unit was suddenly swarmed by screaming, bolo-wielding Filipinos who jumped out of the bush, pounced on the Americans, and frantically stabbed and slashed at them. In 90 seconds, three of his soldiers were killed and several more wounded.

Such fighting was not common throughout the islands. Thirty-four of the country’s 74 provinces lacked a significant insurgent presence. Most of the war’s fighting took place on Luzon, the largest island with more than half the nation’s population. There, the insurgents were paying a stiff price. In 442 encounters from January to April 1900, an estimated 3,227 Filipinos were killed, at the cost of 130 U.S. soldiers.

As early as March 1900, four months after Aguinaldo had embraced guerrilla warfare, the 62-year-old U.S. military governor of the Philippines, Major General Elwell S. Otis, recognized he would have to change the way he dealt with guerrillas. The crusty old general, a Civil War veteran of the bloodbaths of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, had been well ahead of his time in preparing U.S. Army officers for what they were about to do. In 1882, as commandant of the School of Application for Infantry and Cavalry, he told his students that “within a few short years…you may be obliged to administer affairs wherein considerable knowledge of civil matters may be necessary.”

Now he applied his own teachings to the situation at hand. First, he decentralized his command to a structure more suited for counterinsurgency operations. He created geographical zones of responsibility much like those used in the recently concluded Indian campaigns and in the Army’s Reconstruction duties in the post–Civil War South. He divided the Philippines into four regions: Northern Luzon, Southern Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao-Jolo. These were further divided into districts and subdistricts. Each of the geographical zones was commanded by an American officer charged with both civil government duties and military operations.

As Otis knew better than most, success would depend on winning over the Filipino people. Otherwise, the insurgents could always draw men and renewed strength from the country’s citizens. Beyond combat, regional commanders had to create and operate a criminal justice system, build and maintain roads, supervise sanitary conditions in towns and villages, and operate a mandatory school system for Filipino children. Much of this last task was initially performed by American soldiers who volunteered to teach.

The Army used the 1863 General Orders 100 (signed into law by Abraham Lincoln to govern the actions of Union soldiers in wartime) as legal authorization for governing the Philippines. As long as Filipinos did not resist military authority, support the insurgents, or take up arms, they could expect friendly treatment.

For those who actively opposed the United States, however, the order prescribed cash fines, confiscation or destruction of property, summary imprisonment, relocation, capture of hostages, and execution of guerrillas who did not observe the laws and customs of war.

General Orders 100 authorized the shooting on sight of those who wore no identifying insignia and had concealed weapons. This was partly to protect innocent civilians. If guerrillas wore a recognizable and distinctive piece of clothing such as a scarf or armband and carried arms openly, they would qualify as partisans and be given humane treatment as prisoners of war if caught. In regions where the insurgents disguised themselves and used innocents as virtual or actual shields, American soldiers had to sort combatants from civilians—situations that could result in civilian deaths. (Parts of the order later became the basis of some international laws of war, including the Hague Convention of 1907.)

Although the army began to gain control of Luzon, another obstacle arose: The insurgents set up shadow governments to mirror those the Americans had installed. The local guerrillas secretly collected taxes and levied the peasants for recruits, food, and supplies. American officers quickly adapted, tapping the army’s experience in the post–Civil War Reconstruction program against the secret order of the Ku Klux Klan. In defeating the Klan, officers had become expert in coercing captured Klan members to betray fellow Klansmen. In the Philippines a few used interrogation techniques beyond the bounds of General Orders 100. The “water cure” entailed several soldiers holding down a prisoner while water was forced down his throat. Successive treatments produced great physical pain, mental terror, useful bits of information—and occasionally death.

Although Otis demanded his subordinates follow humane policies, his decentralized organization meant that commanders at hundreds of widely scattered stations largely had free rein. There was anecdotal evidence of infractions beyond torture. A lieutenant in a Kansas volunteer regiment brought charges against his superior, a major, for killing an unarmed Filipino prisoner. A lieutenant of the 35th Infantry was found guilty of striking a prisoner. The punishments for these acts were quite lenient. For instance, the 35th Infantry lieutenant was only fined $300, about two and a half months’ pay.

Otis made headway, but American soldiers still faced an entrenched and dangerous enemy. For example, on April 15, 1900, a 30-man army outpost was attacked by a large group of guerrillas that killed 18 American soldiers. Soon there were reports of formations of 1,000 guerrillas moving around and near U.S. installations. Calls for reinforcement became common.

This reversal of favorable American fortune can be pegged in part to the army’s burgeoning governance mission. The 53 American stations in November 1899 grew to 413 a year later. With a limited number of soldiers available, strength at the stations diminished, making them more vulnerable to attack. Fortunately, Washington had already decided a troop surge was critical to success—and that Otis’s policies needed to be recalibrated.

On May 5, 1900, an experienced U.S. military governor took command of the American forces. Brig. Gen. Arthur MacArthur (Douglas’s father) was an authentic hero. At age 17 he lied about his age, earned a commission as a lieutenant in a Wisconsin regiment, and began a meteoric combat career that included receiving the Medal of Honor. He rapidly rose to the rank of colonel and command of his Union regiment. He was a competent brigade leader and later division commander in the Philippines. A voracious reader, he had educated himself in Asian religions, social history, and law. Writing orders, memoranda, or letters, MacArthur gloried in obscure, complex words that sent irritated recipients scurrying for dictionaries. He had supporters but also a number of detractors, especially because he could not resist demonstrating his vast knowledge to all who would endure his long monologues.

MacArthur was soon in a dramatically different situation than the one he had inherited. President McKinley, facing the oncoming pressure of a reelection campaign, decided it was imperative to reverse the politically corrosive torrent of daily newspaper stories describing a war fought with much pain for little gain. Calling on a 43-year-old rising star in the Republican Party, William Howard Taft, the president directed the huge, grossly overweight lawyer to, among other things, create a Filipino governmental structure to counter the insurgents. In essence, the whole paradigm of the war was to be transformed from Americans vs. Filipinos to Filipinos vs. Filipinos.

Taft and the commission he led arrived on June 3, 1900, with a brief to transfer as many provinces as possible from military to civilian rule; to buy 410,000 acres belonging to the Catholic Church for redistribution to Filipino farmers; and to organize a Filipino legislature and administration. He was to produce a court system and an indigenous government that guaranteed most of the legal and social rights enjoyed by American citizens, privileges then unknown in most European colonies. By September 1—the launch date of the American presidential campaign—Taft was expected to have created at least the illusion of war’s end, a more conspicuous Filipino presence in the fledgling government, and a diminished American military regime.

Taft and MacArthur were made-to-order antagonists. Taft was dismissive of military officers, while MacArthur believed any civilian intrusion into military affairs was an abomination. Taft, with no experience in the country, airily proclaimed most Filipinos were enthusiastic about America’s intervention. MacArthur knew most of the countryside was loyal to Aguinaldo. On the surface, Taft was jolly and affable, a contrast to the formal, aloof MacArthur. Soon Manila and Washington were rife with juicy gossip about this clash of personalities.

But out of necessity the two quickly forged a strong working relationship. On many occasions MacArthur provided army officers to help the undermanned Taft Commission. He directed his commanders to assist in the election of local civilian authorities and to support the turnover from military to civilian government. Such help simply made sense: The general’s goal was to defeat the insurgents as soon as possible, and Taft’s aim was to make the country secure for civilian rule—two efforts that served thoroughly complementary ends.

With the surge of U.S. forces nearing its peak strength of about 74,000 troops, MacArthur might have been expected to redouble offensive operations throughout the country. But he took a different approach, using more carrot than stick to persuade the Filipinos to cooperate. Just before Taft’s arrival, he had accelerated the training of indigenous town policemen and Filipino constabulary for rural areas. He reaffirmed Otis’s ban on summary executions and, with no indication that coercive interrogation was more effective than other types of questioning, ordered a strict ban on the “water cure.” In June, MacArthur announced an amnesty program for rebels who surrendered and swore allegiance to the new Manila government. Finally, he offered a monetary reward for each rifle turned in.

MacArthur’s lenient policies were only marginally successful, while the insurgent effort gained power. From June until September 1900, 118 American soldiers lost their lives in combat, a substantial increase in the combat death rate.

The amnesty program yielded meager returns. By September 1, only an estimated 5 percent (5,022) of the insurgents surrendered, none a prominent leader. The haul of enemy weapons was a paltry 140 rifles. Worse, there were two serious American defeats. On September 13, the 29th Infantry was ambushed, with 51 soldiers taken prisoner. Four days later, when 130 U.S. soldiers assaulted a dug-in insurgent unit, nearly a third were killed or wounded. Mindful of American public opinion and McKinley’s political concerns, military censors often deleted the word “ambush” from reporters’ stories.

But Taft, MacArthur, and McKinley weathered the storm. By November 1900, the war was not as important to American voters as the national economy, which was robust, and the incumbent McKinley won handily. Aguinaldo’s strategy—to win the war by exhausting the American public’s patience—had failed, and for the first time, the United States saw light at the end of the tunnel.

After the election, the insurgency cooled. In November and December, the number of combat encounters dropped to fewer than 200, down considerably from the 241 of the two previous months. MacArthur now began to apply more stick and less carrot. In areas controlled by insurgents, U.S. troops forced evacuations, burned crops, and vigorously patrolled to separate the population and the guerrillas and deprive the latter of food and recruits.

During the first three months of 1901, the dam broke. More than 1,180 insurgents, including many officers, were captured or had surrendered. At the same time 1,266 modern rifles were either found by the Americans or turned in by the insurgents. A major blow to the Philippine independence movement came in March, thanks to a daring and brilliant piece of deception by Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston, a brigade commander in Luzon. Capturing insurgent correspondence, Funston learned of Aguinaldo’s location. With MacArthur’s assistance and support, he picked 80 American-trained Macabebe Scouts (Filipinos from the town of Macabebe who were enemies of the Tagalogs) to masquerade as insurgents holding Funston and four of his officers as prisoners.

Proceeding to Aguinaldo’s headquarters, the scouts presented their prisoners to the delighted rebel leader. Then, dropping their guise, the scouts seized a thoroughly surprised Aguinaldo.

The capture sparked an argument between Taft and MacArthur. Taft wanted the insurgent leader put in chains, deported to Guam, and executed as an example to all those who continued to resist. MacArthur believed Aguinaldo could be persuaded to help dismantle the independence movement. While the War Department and the White House mulled these solutions, MacArthur went to work. Though guarded, Aguinaldo was made comfortable and allowed family visits. The general met with Aguinaldo every day, persistently making his case: All Filipinos would benefit from American rule, violence and suffering would end, prisoners would be released.

It worked. After 23 days of intense persuasion, promises, and reasoning, Aguinaldo swore allegiance to the United States and appealed to insurgents to come in from the bush. True to his word, MacArthur released 1,000 insurgent prisoners. After a few weeks, a tidal wave of insurgents eagerly surrendered. Soon more than 20,000 reported to U.S. garrisons to pledge allegiance to Uncle Sam.

At this point, MacArthur believed the war was over aside from holdouts south of Manila and die-hard resisters on the island of Samar. He and Taft accelerated turning over military control in provinces to civilian authorities. Simultaneously, U.S. troop units began returning to the United States. By June 1901, only 42,000 American troops remained in the Philippines. In July MacArthur relinquished his governorship to Taft pursuant to a law passed by the U.S. Congress establishing civilian rule in the Philippines. MacArthur departed that same month, yielding command to Maj. Gen. Adna Chaffee.

The war officially ended in July 1902. That year began with a determined American attempt to finally stamp out the insurgents of southern Luzon and Samar Island. In Southern Luzon, insurgent general Miguel Malvar and 5,000 guerrillas controlled most local governments. American brigadier general J. Franklin Bell decreed that Filipino citizens in that region could only live in designated zones. Outside the zones, all food was collected and crops destroyed. A strict 8 p.m. curfew was instituted, and whenever an American soldier was killed, a native prisoner chosen by lot would be executed.

Over the next three months the starving guerrillas either surrendered or were hunted down and killed. General Malvar surrendered to Bell in April, and Samar fell to a similar campaign. McKinley’s original order to extend American control “with all possible dispatch to the whole of the ceded territory” had not been accomplished, but what had been done was considered enough. For the United States, the war had been won, but the butcher’s bill included 1,005 American battle deaths; 2,582 officers and soldiers who died of disease; 568 deaths from other causes; and many wounded. Total Filipino casualties from battle, disease, famine, and other war-related causes are estimated at about 200,000.

The war was followed by many binational programs aimed at self-sufficiency. By 1907, almost all local governments in the islands were under Filipino control. Self-governing commonwealth status was granted, and in 1934 the U.S. Congress passed the Tydings–McDuffie Act, which established 1946 as the target date for the Philippines to be independent of the United States. After years of bloody occupation by Japan during World War II, the Philippines became fully independent on July 4, 1946.

Many military experts consider the Philippine War an exemplary American counterinsurgency campaign. Although fighting in the Philippines continued until 1913, the war was essentially over in two and a half years, about a quarter of the time usually required to win a major counterinsurgency operation. The war was won at the tactical level by aggressive patrolling, relentless pursuit of the insurgents, separation of civilians and insurgents, and good, flexible American leadership. In addition, Aguinaldo was largely unable to communicate with his isolated guerrilla bands, and he lacked external assistance, which has been essential for many successful insurgencies.

The decision to declare victory and begin troop withdrawal years before fighting ended proved to be a wise choice. It removed one of the reasons many Filipinos were fighting. Reducing the scope of the task was also wise. There were never enough troops to command the 7,000 islands, but controlling Luzon sufficed for controlling the opponents of American authority.

Overall, the troops were extremely successful. Frederick Funston’s gutsy, crafty capture of Aguinaldo, and Arthur MacArthur’s low-key but persistent brainwashing of the Filipino leader—together with an effective exploitation of Aguinaldo’s conversion—sparked the surrender of many insurgents. Senior American officers in the field, some of them Civil War veterans, expertly deployed small-unit tactics used in the Indian wars.

Nonetheless, the war cannot be considered a model for future counterinsurgency wars and campaigns. Each such endeavor has unique causes, political dimensions, and actors as well as varying ethnic, geographic, and cultural factors. And each requires a tailor-made response.

The American performance is considered a model in part because the war was comparatively short. Had it lasted longer, its chief cost—the number of civilian casualties—would have been even higher.

There is another, overarching reason that the American prosecution of the Philippine War cannot be considered worth emulating. Strategically, McKinley’s annexation decision was nothing short of a disaster for the United States. In 1898, there was no cultural, logical, or traditional foundation for the United States to establish a colony in such a distant land. Nor was there cause to believe that Americans and their political leaders would reverse their traditional distaste for the peacetime military expenditures required to defend such a possession. (The war itself had cost some $400 million per year, about 23 percent of all U.S. federal spending.)

In the end, the Philippine War bought the United States strategic weakness, not the supposed advantage of a key American position in the western Pacific. A veteran of fighting in the Philippines, Col. John J. Pershing foresaw this as early as 1905. Observing the Japanese army that handily defeated Russian forces in Manchuria, Pershing concluded that Tokyo might attempt to seize the Philippines. His suspicions were strengthened in 1911 when two Japanese nationals were caught in the islands trying to steal defense plans for Corregidor—plans that mysteriously disappeared just a year later.

Despite incessant warnings from military leaders, American politicians in the following three decades failed to authorize a military buildup in the Philippines adequate to deter the growing Japanese military threat. The conflict of 1899–1902 resulted only in creating a distant and vulnerable American outpost in a dangerous neighborhood.

The Philippines were easy pickings after Pearl Harbor. In the five-month campaign that followed in 1942, the United States suffered the worst military defeat in its history—before or since—losing about 100,000 Filipino troops and 21,000 American soldiers to death, desertion, disease, or captivity. The cost of recovering those islands in 1944–1945 included 10,380 U.S. Army battle dead.

Some have rightly cited the Philippine War as a clear warning of the agonies Americans must endure to prosecute a counterinsurgency war on foreign soil. The conduct of this kind of armed conflict will almost assuredly entail bitter political rancor, angry charges of American soldiers bullying a poorer society, along with the unfortunate unintended consequences any war can produce. But the Philippine War’s chief lesson is the vital necessity to do what McKinley failed to do: select well-considered and practical strategic goals.

Click For More From MHQ!