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The Thirteenth Minnesota and the Battle for Manila

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Photograph of Minnesota soldiers on guard around Manila

Soldiers of the Thirteenth Minnesota Infantry regiment on guard around Manila in the Philippines, August 1898.

On August 13, 1898, the Thirteenth Minnesota Infantry regiment led an American advance against Spanish forces holding the Philippine city of Manila. Their participation was crucial to the outcome of this important Spanish-American War battle.

Capturing Manila did not appear to be a problem to American war planners. U.S. naval forces had already crushed a Spanish fleet defending the town during the Battle of Manila Bay. That victory came on May 1, 1898, during the first week of fighting in the Spanish-American War. The triumph left the port blockaded and 10,000 soldiers of Spain's garrison trapped.

America's small professional army needed help fighting the Spanish in the Philippines and elsewhere. State National Guard units, including three Minnesota regiments, were "federalized" into to the U.S. Army on April 25, 1898. Minnesota guardsmen gathered at the state fair grounds two weeks later. A week after that, the Thirteenth Minnesota Infantry, one of regiments called up, was equipped and on trains to San Francisco. On June 26 they shipped to the Philippines.

The Minnesotans endured a tedious Pacific Ocean crossing of over a month. Sea-sickness plagued the men. A monotonous diet and poor water made matters worse. A three-day stopover in Hawaii, however, refreshed them for the last leg of the journey.

The Thirteenth Minnesota, under the command of Brigadier General Arthur MacArthur, reached Manila Bay on July 31. Two weeks later, MacArthur's men took up shoreline positions outside the city of Manila. It seemed that a mock battle to preserve Spanish honor might be arranged, and real fighting avoided. The Spanish seemed ready to surrender, but only if the Filipino rebel forces nearby were kept out of the city.

With no deal finalized, the Americans attacked on August 13. The U.S. fleet opened the battle, directing naval gunfire at Spanish positions. Then, disregarding a heavy thunderstorm, the American infantry launched a two-pronged assault on Manila's walled city. The Thirteenth Minnesota and the U.S. Twenty-Third Infantry led the army's right wing forward.

MacArthur's men faced challenges as they advanced. Spanish units in front of them wanted to fight and were awaiting the Americans. The Twenty-Third was ordered to hold its position, leaving the Minnesotans to spearhead the advance alone.

A fierce firefight erupted. Spanish troops in well-fortified positions directed their volleys at the Minnesota regiment. Captain Oscar Seebach, commanding Company G, the Red Wing unit, deployed the company across the open road. He walked among the men urging them to keep down and open fire. They began taking casualties.

A rifle shot pierced Seebach's lungs and knocked him out of the battle. Three enlisted men were quickly wounded, and Sergeant Charles Burnsen suffered a fatal head wound. Firing continued until the Spanish troops began to withdraw. At 1:30 the gunfire ceased and the American units occupied Manila.

Considering their placement during the fighting, it was not surprising the Thirteenth Minnesota suffered more casualties than any other unit. Twenty-three members of the regiment were wounded or killed.

Negotiations with Spain brought an end to the Spanish-American War in December 1898, but the Thirteenth Minnesota was not sent home. Filipino rebels opposed American domination. By February 1899, American and Filipino troops were fighting each other. The Minnesota unit joined other U.S. regiments in patrolling Manila and conducting operations against the rebels.

On May 22, 1899, seven companies of the Minnesota regiment began a thirty-three day mission to defeat the rebel forces. They covered 120 miles, captured twenty-eight towns, and destroyed enemy supplies. Then the rainy season swept into the Philippines forcing an end to military operations. The Americans, Minnesotans included, complained about midsummer's boredom, monotony and heat.

Sgt. Edmund Neill of the Minnesota Thirteen's Company G wrote home reporting that the men would do their duty but longed to go home. The Red Wing man claimed that every letter sent to Minnesota from his unit contained protests against the injustice of keeping the men in the Philippines.

Orders sending the Minnesotans home came on July 13, 1899. A month later the men boarded the transport Sheridan. As the vessel pulled out of Manila Bay, the ship's band played "Home Sweet Home." Fighting continued between American and Filipino forces, however, until July 4, 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt finally declared an end to the conflict.

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Angell, Madeline. Red Wing, Minnesota: Saga of a River Town. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1977.

Bowe, John. With the 13th Minnesota in the Philippines. Minneapolis: A. B. Farnham, 1905.

Boot, Max. "Attraction and Chastisement: The Philippine War, 1899-1902." In The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Cressy, Charles A. "The Journal of Chaplain Charles Amos Cressy, 13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry: Manila, Philippine Islands, May 19, 1899–September 7, 1899." Transcribed by Philip J. Cressy, Jr., 2000, copy in Minnesota Historical Society Collections.

Dupuy, R. Ernest and Trevor N. Dupuy. The Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

Esposito, Vincent J., ed. The West Point Atlas of American Wars. Vol. 1. New York: Praeger, 1972.

Freidel, Frank. The Splendid Little War. New York: Little Brown & Co., 1958.

Holbrook, Franklin F. Minnesota in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. St. Paul: Minnesota War Records Commission, 1923.

Johnson, Frederick L. Goodhue County: A Narrative History. Red Wing: Goodhue County Historical Society, 2000.

Karwand, Elwood. "Company G Fights for Soldier's Proper Burial." Red Wing Republican Eagle, August 31, 1998.

Musicant, Ivan. Empire by Default: The Spanish-American War and the Dawn of the American Century. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1998.

Rasmussen, C[hristian] A. History of the City of Red Wing, Minnesota. Red Wing: Privately published, 1934.

Scher, Adam. "Spanish-American War Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society." Minnesota History 56 (Fall 1998): 129–137.

Ward, Kyle Roy. In the Shadow of Glory: The Thirteenth Minnesota in Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, 1898–1899. St. Cloud: North Star Press, 2000.

White, Trumbull. Pictorial History of Our War With Spain for Cuba's Freedom. New York: Freedom Publishing, 1898.

Related Images

Photograph of Minnesota soldiers on guard around Manila
Photograph of Minnesota soldiers on guard around Manila
photograph of soldiers doing laundry
photograph of soldiers doing laundry
group photograph of soldiers in Red Wing's Company G
group photograph of soldiers in Red Wing's Company G

Turning Point

On August 13, 1899, the Thirteenth Minnesota Regiment leads the American advance against Spanish forces holding Manila and helps capture the city.

Chronology

April 24, 1898

Spain declares war on the United States, and the U.S. issues its war declaration the next day.

May 1, 1898

Cuba becomes the main focus of the Spanish-American War, but American naval forces first strike the Spanish fleet in the Philippine Islands, Spain's colony.

June 1898

America begins attacks in Cuba while building up a force to capture Manila, the major city of the Philippines.

July 31, 1898

Additional American units for the attack on Manila land at Manila Bay. The Thirteenth Minnesota Infantry is among these units.

August 13, 1898

American infantry attacks Spanish units defending the walled city of Manila. The Thirteenth Minnesota leads in the assault and the city is captured.

Decem-ber 10, 1898

The United States and Spain sign a treaty ending their war.

July 13, 1899

After taking part in battles with Filipino rebels for six months, soldiers of Thirteenth Minnesota board ships in Manila Bay and return home.

July 4, 1902

President Theodore Roosevelt declares an end to the fighting in the Philippines.