The Spanish-American War (1898) is quite often referred to as the “forgotten war,” but even less visible and certainly less “celebrated” is a conflict that came about as a direct result of that war, the “Filipino Insurrection,” which was a revolt against the American takeover of the Philippines from Spain and the reluctance of the United States to grant the Asian archipelago the same independence that it had bestowed upon Cuba. As with many American military incursions, the Filipino Insurrection had a significant “Texas Connection” in the form of the 33rd Infantry, sometimes referred to as the “Cowboy Regiment,” but more prevalently as the “Texas Regiment.”
While the Spanish-American War lasted only four months, the subsequent Filipino Insurrection was an intense three year struggle between the U.S. and Filipino revolutionaries fighting for independence. Filipino insurgents had struggled for freedom against their Spanish masters since at least 1896, and in many ways years before that, when the United States acquired the Philippines as a spoil of war. Those rebels had hoped that the United States would grant the independence that Spain never would, but the McKinley administration — with a combination of anti-Asian prejudice and the desire for a strategic American presence in the Asian Pacific East — refused to do so. Thus, in February 1899, the First Philippine Republic declared war against the United States. The three-year war would cost over 4,000 American lives, but the human toll for the Filipinos was much higher: over 20,000 military deaths, but more than 200,000 died as a result of the famine, disease, and other privations as a result of the war. In the end, the U.S. agreed to some limited independence for the island nation, eventually made it a commonwealth, and, after World War II, full functional independent status.
Many of the troops who had fought against the Spanish in 1898 went to the Philippines to fight in the insurrection. One of those was the 33rd, a regiment largely raised in Texas. Made up mostly of volunteers from the Spanish-American War, the “Texas Regiment,” as it came to be known, formed to specifically fight in the Philippines. Colonel Luther Rector Hare, a grizzled veteran of service in both the Indian Wars and the Caribbean, commanded the 33rd, which was made up of a collection of army regulars, state militia members, and volunteers. All of the officers were either from Texas, the South, or New Mexico and Arizona, which was also the general pattern for the enlisted men, although a majority of those hailed from Texas. Such a personnel menagerie gained them the additional moniker of the “Cowboy Regiment.”
The 33rd there they were transported by train to California, and then sailed first to Hawaii and then on to the Philippines. They first fought at Magnatarem, Tirad Pass, Vigan, and Taguidan Pass, and then command sent them to the Luzon Province, where they mostly served as a unit fighting against a counterinsurgency that had broken out in that region of the nation. It was brutal duty involving jungle fighting against guerilla tactics, a style of fighting that they were not trained in but proved to be particularly adept. Eventually, the 33rd would become the primary garrison troops within Luzon and General Samuel B.M. Young credited them with stabilizing the region and being a large part of the eventual end of the revolt in the Philippines.
The Filipino Insurrection eventually came to an end when American diplomats agreed to give Filipinos a degree of self-rule, although they would still be subject to an American governor and military occupation. A number of members of the 33rd volunteered to remain in the Philippines as part of the Philippine Constabulary, which became the chief source of American law enforcement. Others also became members of the Philippines colonial civil service, which for many was better employment than what waited on them when they returned home. The remainder of the regiment left Luzon in March of 1901, sailed to San Francisco, and there were mustered out of the service.
East Texas Historical Assn. provides this column. Scott Sosebee is executive director,email@example.com.