Most glorious moment
By Rudy Arizala
Most of our revolutionary leaders and generals either surrendered, wounded, captured, assassinated or killed in the field of battle. For example, Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan and who started the revolution against colonial rule, was killed or shot by his co-revolutionaries near Mt. Buntis in Cavite due to rivalry for leadership; Gen. Antonio Luna was also killed by fellow-revolutionaries during a shooting incident at Kabanatuan; while Senator Ninoy Aquino was shot as he was coming down from the plane which brought him back to the Philippines.
By Rudy Arizala
Most of our revolutionary leaders and generals either surrendered, wounded, captured, assassinated or killed in the field of battle. For example, Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan and who started the revolution against colonial rule, was killed or shot by his co-revolutionaries near Mt. Buntis in Cavite due to rivalry for leadership; Gen. Antonio Luna was also killed by fellow-revolutionaries during a shooting incident at Kabanatuan; while Senator Ninoy Aquino was shot as he was coming down from the plane which brought him back to the Philippines. General Emilio Aguinaldo was captured by the American forces at his hideout in Palanan, while Gen. Miguel Malvar of Batangas was the last Filipino General who surrendered to the American forces. Gen. Artemio Ricarte (alias Vibora) went on self-exile to Japan. However, there was a young general of the Aguinaldo army called by the Americans "the boy general" who died in the field of battle -- while defending Tirad Pass on 2 December 1899, as rear guard of Aguinaldo´s retreating army to the North.
Here is what young General Gregorio del Pilar, aged barely 22 years old, wrote in his pocket diary in the morning of 2nd December 1899: "The General (Emilio Aguinaldo) has given me the pick of all the men that can be spared and ordered me to defend the pass. I realize what a terrible task is given me. And yet I feel that this is the most glorious moment of my life. What I do is done for my beloved country. No sacrifice can be too great."
And so, General Gregorio del Pilar that early morning of December positioned his men--sixty of them -- in trenches or embankments atop Tirad Pass some 4,500 feet high overlooking a valley and waited anxiously for the American forces. A battalion of the 33rd Volunteer Infantry consisting of about 300 men under Major March was in pursuit of General Aguinaldo and his men. The Americans believed that only the capture of the wily Filipino leader could end the Filipino resistance. Through Januario Galut, an Igorot, the Americans found a secret trail to the top of Tirad Pass. The Filipino soldiers fired at the advancing enemy forces. Herunder is what an American war correspondent named Richard Henry Little of the Chicago Tribune wrote describing the battle that morning:
"We had seen him (Del Pilar) cheering his men in the fight. One of our companies crouched up close under the side of the cliff where he had built his first intrenchment, heard his voice continuously during the fight urging his men to greater effort, scolding them, praising them, cursing, appealing one moment to their love of their native land and the next instant threatening to kill them himself if they did not stand firm.
"Driven from the first intrenchment he fell back slowly to the second in full sight o our sharpshooters and under a heavy fire. Not until everyman around him in the second intrenchment was down did he turn his white horse around and ride slowly up the winding trail. Then we who were below saw an American squirm his way out to the top of a high flat rock, and take deliberate aim at the figure on the white horse. We held our breath, not knowing whether to pray that the sharpshooter would shoot straight or miss. Then came the spiteful crack of the Krag rifle and the man on horseback rolled to the ground, and when the troops charging up the mountainside reached him, the boy general of the Filipinos was dead.
According to war correspondent Richard Henry Little, when they finally went up "We saw a solitary figure lying on the road. The body was almost stripped of clothing, and there were no marks of rank on the blood-soaked coat. . . ."
Why was the body of General Gregorio del Pilar almost naked? The pursuing soldiers of General March looted the dead body of the Filipino general stripping it of clothing and whatever valuables they could find for souvenirs. Thus, wrote war correspondent Henry Little: "And when Private Sullivan went by in his (Del Pilar´s) trousers, and Sniders with his shoes, and the other man who had the cuff buttons, and the sergeant who had the spur, and the man who had the handkerchief, and another that had his shoulder straps, it suddenly occurred to me that his glory was about all we had left him.
"The body lay naked for several days until an American lieutenant, Dennis Quinlan of the 11th Cavalry, arrived and buried it with military honors. On the headstone he inscribed: GENERAL GREGORIO DEL PILAR; KILLED AT THE BATTLE OF TIRAD PASS, DECEMBER 2D, 1899; COMMANDING AGUINALDO´S REAR GUARD- AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN."
On that fateful day of 2nd December 1899, Chicago Tribune war correspondent Richard Henry Little concluded in his diary: "It was a great fight that was fought away up on the trail of lonely Tirad Pass on that Saturday morning of Dec. 2. It brought glory to Major March´ battalion of the 33rd Volunteer Infantry who were victors. It brought no discredit to the little band of sixty Filipinos who fought and died there. Sixty was the number that at Aguinaldo´s orders had come down into the pass that morning to arrest the onward march of the Americans. Seven were all that went back over the pass that night to tell Aguinaldo that they had tried and failed. Fifty-three of them were either killed or wounded. . . ."
Filipino historian Agoncillo wrote in his A Short History of te Filipino People, "The afternoon of the battle, Aguinaldo received the fatal news. All the members of the Aguinaldo party, said one of the soldiers in his diary, ´shed bitter tears and all wanted to fight the Americans.´"
The battle of Tirad Pass showed us three aspects of the Filipino-American War of 1899:
1. The heroism and bravery of a small band of soldiers under a young general named Gregorio del Pilar who fought valiantly as Aguinaldo´s rear guard.
2. The barbarities of war. Soldiers of the U.S. 33rd Volunteer Infantry looting the body of dead Filipino general for souvenirs.
3. Another group of American soldiers, the U.S. 11th Cavalry, which gave the fallen and almost naked body of a young Filipino general a decent burial with "military honors."