Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare How Charges Were Investigated
How were these matters investigated, and what was the attitude of the Department towards these
crimes? Take first the killing of prisoners and wounded.
The battle of Caloocan was fought on February 10, 1899, five days after the war began. Of this
one Charles Brenner, a private in a Kansas regiment, wrote:
It was fine shooting, as it was open ground, and we picked them off like quail.
And then went on:
Company I. had taken a few prisoners, and stopped. The colonel ordered them up into line time
after time, and finally sent Captain Bishop back to start them. Then occurred the hardest sight I
ever saw. They had four prisoners, and didn't know what to do with them. They asked Captain
Bishop what to do; and he said, "You know the orders," and four natives fell dead.
This was denounced as a soldier's lie, but what does the official record show? On June 10, 1899,
this letter of Brenner was referred by General MacArthur's order to the inspector-general of the
division for investigation. On June 28 it was returned to the assistant adjutant-general of the
division with the report of the investigation, which gives the testimony of several witnesses that
Captain Bishop had admitted giving the orders, and of several others that they heard the order
given by some one, while one witness testified that he, with others, did the shooting. Captain
Flanders testified that he ordered the prisoners to the rear, and heard some one give the order to
shoot them, but did not investigate. A lieutenant heard some one -- he thought at the time Bishop
-- say, "Kill them! damn it, kill them!" One witness testified that on the day of the battle "word
was passed along the line that the orders were to take no prisoners."
One private, who was said to have helped to kill the prisoners, said Major Metcalf gave the
Major Mallory, who made the investigation, reported that at least two prisoners were shot; that
the prisoners, either because they did not understand what was said to them or were afraid or
were wounded and unable to walk, were slow in going to the rear; and that the evidence as to
Bishop's action was conflicting, since he denied the statements of the witnesses quoted, which
directly implicated him. Finally, Major Mallory finds
that Captain Charles S. Flanders,... having detailed two men to take the prisoners to the rear, and
knowing that the prisoners were not taken to the rear, but, according to his own statement, were
shot, was guilty of gross neglect of duty in not investigating the matter, or reporting it to higher
authority, and in taking no steps whatever to bring the guilty parties to justice.
An investigation had now, at least, been had; and the facts were reported to the highest authority
in the islands. It was shown that the crime had been committed; and Private Putnam, who
admitted the shooting, said that he acted under orders. The evidence that Bishop gave the orders
was very strong, and against it was substantially only his denial. It is worth while to observe that
while the witnesses against Bishop were called before Major Mallory and examined under oath,
Funston, Metcalf, and Bishop were not called, but sent statements not under oath.
What steps were taken to bring the guilty parties to justice?
On June 30, 1899, by command of General Otis, the papers were sent to judge Advocate
Lieutenant Colonel E. H. Crowder, who has since been employed on several investigations, with
the recommendation that Private Brenner should be court-martialled
for writing and conniving at the publication of the article which brought out this investigation.
The article contains a wilful falsehood concerning himself and a false charge against Captain
In other words, General Otis proposed to punish the soldier whose statement led to the discovery
of the crime, and not the criminal. He recommended also that Private Putnam, who admitted
helping to kill, be tried by court-martial, but suggested no further steps, thus urging the
punishment of a private for obeying orders but letting the man who gave the orders go free.
Lieutenant Colonel Crowder, in reply on July 3, 1899, said:
I am not convinced from a careful reading of this report that Private Brenner has made a false
charge against Captain Bishop. It is certain that the evidence is far from conclusive that he did
so.... The offence of Private Putnam -- if he has committed one -- is manslaughter. His only
defence would be the lawful order of his superior officer. If put on trial, it is probable that facts
would develop implicating many others. I doubt the propriety of his trial, and am of the opinion
that considerations of public policy sufficiently grave to silence every other demand require that
no further action be taken in this case.
Finally, on July 13, 1899, General Otis forwarded the papers to the adjutant-general of the army
in Washington, with this indorsement by himself:
After mature deliberation, I doubt the wisdom of a court-martial in this case, as it would give the
insurgent authorities a knowledge of what was taking place, and they would assert positively that
our troops had practised inhumanities, whether the charge should be proven or not, as they
would use it as an excuse to defend their own barbarities; and it is not thought that this charge is
very grievous under the circumstances then existing, as it was very early in the war, and the
patience of our men was under great strain.
The War Department accepted this advice.
It has been claimed that the action of our soldiers and officers was justified by General Order
No. 100, issued during the Civil War, with the approval of Abraham Lincoln. Let us see how it
bears on this case. Section 3, paragraph 71, provides as follows:
Whoever intentionally inflicts additional wounds on an enemy already wholly disabled, or kills
such an enemy, or who orders or encourages soldiers to do so, shall suffer death, if duly
convicted, whether he belongs to the army of the United States or is an enemy captured after
having committed his misdeed.
Upon this record it is clear that the highest authorities declined to punish proved acts of
barbarity, which subjected the guilty parties to the penalty of death, not because their guilt was
in doubt, but because it was probable "that facts would develop implicating many others." They
declined to investigate, not because there was no reason, but because there was too much reason;
and the commander-in-chief actually proposed to punish the witness who had made the crime
known, and to let the criminal go free. Nay, more. He allowed himself to say that it was not a
"very grievous" crime to kill helpless prisoners, because
it was very early in the war, and the patience of our men was under great strain, --
as if men grow more patient with their enemies as war progresses.
This episode called forth no criticism or order from the War Department, and thus the record
stands, that the military authorities at the very outset of the war let it be understood that the
killing of prisoners was, on the whole, a venial offence, not likely to be punished; for it must
have been generally known that this investigation had taken place, and that nothing had been
done to punish the guilty parties. Is it not probable also that the spirit which led General Otis to
advise the court-martial of the unhappy Brenner made itself felt throughout the army, and that
the word was passed along the ranks, "Whatever you see, it is not safe to tell"?
But the record does not end here. It will be observed that the only persons implicated directly by
the testimony taken by Major Mallory were two or three privates, who seem to have shot the
prisoners, and Captain Bishop and Major Metcalf, who were said to have ordered the killing. Yet
something else would seem to have been within the knowledge of Lieutenant Colonel Crowder,
when he said that probably "facts would develop implicating many others." What those facts
were may be guessed from the testimony of Corporal Bradley before Major Mallory:
On the day of the Caloocan fight the word was passed down the line that we were not to take
prisoners. The word was passed along our company by privates that the order was we were to
take no prisoners.