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The Thirteenth Minnesota and the Battle for Manila

On August 13, 1898, the Thirteenth Minnesota Infantry regiment led an American advance against Spanish forces holding the Philippine city of Manila.

Soldiers of the Thirteenth Minnesota Infantry regiment on guard around Manila, August 1898.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society/Goodhue County Historical Society

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.

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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.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.