Hero or Butcher of Samar?
Proceedings, U. S. Naval Institute, November 1979, p. 42-8
by Captain Paul Melshen, U. S. M. C.

     Was Littleton Waller Tazewell Waller the Hero of  Samar or the Butcher of Samar?  "I wish you to kill and burn," the hot-eyed Army Brigadier General Jacob H. Smith  told  Marine Major  L.  W.  T. Waller when Waller arrived on Samar.  "The
more you kill the better it will please me."  But Smith  had misjudged  his  man.    Tony  Waller  was a firebrand, not a firebug -- a marine, not a martinet -- who let his own  high character  and  conscience  guide  him  as  he  led a 60-man expedition across Samar and onto the pages of  Marine  Corps history.

     During the early afternoon of 20  January  1902,  First Lieutenant  John  H. A. Day, U.S. Marine Corps, marched nine Filipinos, natives of the island of Samar, under guard of  a detachment  of  U. S. Marines down the main street of Basey, Samar.  Upon  reaching  the  town  plaza,  Day  ordered  his detachment  of  marines  to  execute the Filipinos by firing squad.  The execution  of  one  Filipino  had  already  been carried  out  earlier  that  day,  and  one  more was yet to follow.  Day had been  following  orders  of  his  immediate senior, Major and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Littleton Waller
Tazewell Waller.    On  17  March  1902,  Major  Waller  was arraigned  in Manila and tried on a charge of murder by a U.S. Army court-martial.  Waller's court-martial was to become an ambiguous segment of Marine Corps history.

     Marine Corps  ground  involvement  in  the  Philippines began on 3 May 1898, two days after Commodore George Dewey's victory  over  the  Spanish  at  Manila  Bay,   when   First Lieutenant  Dion  Williams  and a detachment of Marines from the USS Baltimore planted an American flag  at  the  Spanish naval  station in Cavite.  The Treaty of Paris, signed on 10 December 1898, ended America's war with Spain, but  not  its military  involvement  in the Philippines.  For the next six years,  U.  S.  armed   forces   fought   against   Filipino insurrectionists.  From 1898 until the fall of 1901, marines took  part  in  a   number   of   operations   against   the insurrectionists,  primarily  on the island of Luzon, making several amphibious landings.

     By  the  fall  of  1901, U. S. military actions against insurrectionists on Luzon had  come  to  an  end.    General Emilio  Aguinaldo, leader of that island's insurrectionists,
had surrendered to the American forces on  1  April1901  and swore  allegiance  to  the  United  States.  Later that same month, he issued a manifesto to his  Filipino  followers  to "lay  down  their  arms  for  `the  complete  termination of
hostilities.'"  The government of Luzon was now in the hands of   American  civilian  authorities.    In  two  provinces, Batangas  and  the  island  of  Samar,  there   were   still hostilities.    On  Samar  the  insurrectionists were led by Filipino General Vincente Lucban.  American  supervision  of these provinces was under the direction of Army General Adna Chaffee, who had taken  over  command  from  General  Arthur
MacArthur in July 1901.

     Located in the equatorial tropics, Samar was completely engulfed  with  dense jungles.  Not only did American forces have to endure heat, humidity,  incessant  rain,  and  dense vegetation,  but  in  addition,  they  had  to  contend with snakes, leeches, and malaria-infested mosquitoes.   Smallpox was  also  running  rampant  on  the  island.    The hellish conditions on Samar in some instances drove men insane.

     Lucban used the climate and the terrain of Samar to his advantage in his guerilla was against the Americans.  He had been on Samar for more than a year before the first American troops arrived.  This had allowed him to recruit  among  the natives intensively, and by the time the American troops did arrive, most of the natives were either in Lucban's  command or  in sympathy with the insurrectionists.  Lucban's control
over the natives was pure tyranny.  He  would  shoot  anyone who  failed  to  support him, including Spanish priests.  He once wrapped the  head  of  a  pro-American  Filipino  in  a kerosene-drenched  American flag and set a torch to it while
the man was still alive.

     Most  American commanders, Waller included, based their operations on the fact that the majority of the natives were hostile  to  U. S. actions and could not be trusted, despite pretenses by the villagers to be pro-American, and that many of  these  supposedly  pro-American villagers were, in fact, members of Lucban's command. Because of this support by  the populace  for  the  insurrectionists, along with the hellish
conditions of the natural environment, the U.  S.  Army  was able  to  secure only a few coastal towns on Samar, enabling Lucban to control the hinterland.

     Company  C,  9th Infantry, arrived at Balangiga, Samar, on 11 August 1901, commanded by Captain Thomas  W.  Connell, U. S. Army.  Connell, a strong advocate of President William McKinley's "benevolent assimilation," attempted to establish this  policy  at Balangiga.  Connell's naive assumption that since "benevolent assimilation"  seemed  to  be  working  on Luzon,  it  could  also  work on Samar, proved catastrophic.  Samar was  populated  by  an  extremely  violent,  primitive
society.   Because   of   cultural   differences   and   the inhabitants' hostility toward the American presence  on  the island, assimilation was impossible.  One officer of the 9th
Infantry testified later that he considered the natives ". . .  savages;  they  were  low  in  intelligence, treacherous, cruel; seemed to have  no  feeling  for  their  families  or
anyone else."

     On 28 September. led by town officials and  members  of the  population  of  Balangiga,  Lucban's  forces  plotted a surprise attack on Company C.  Only 26 of  the  74  American soldiers survived the massacre.  Most were tortured to death
and their bodies mutilated . . . Connell's  assessment  of  the situation on Samar had proved fatal.

     The  insurrectionists  on  Samar  habitually  committed atrocities, such as body mutilation of dead soldiers, during their  guerilla  warfare  against  the  Americans.    Lucban refused to honor any rules of warfare: "The dead were mutilated . . . No prisoners were taken,  Noncombatants were put to death.  Poison  was  used.  Flags  of  truce  were  not respected.  The personnel of the insurrectionary forces were composed, in numerous  instances of  males  under military age, who were old enough to assist in military operations, but not sufficiently mature from the point  of  intelligence and experience to correctly apply or even to understand the rules of civilized warfare."

     Under  these  circumstances,  General  Chaffee  ordered Brigadier General Jacob H. Smith, U. S. Army, to command the 6th  Separate  Brigade  and  handle  the situation on Samar.  Lacking enough soldiers to  form  a  full  brigade,  General
Chaffee    requested   that   Admiral   Frederick   Rodgers, Commander-in-Chief Asiatic Squadron, lend him some  marines.  Rodgers  complied  by sending Waller, with orders that read, "By direction of the senior  squadron  commander  [Rodgers],
you  will  assume  command  of  a battalion of United States Marines for duty on the island of Samar."  The Navy left the conduct   of   operations  to  Waller's  estimation  of  the situation.  The battalion of 315 marines embarked aboard the USS  New  York  at Cavite on 22 October and landed at Carbalogen, Samar, on 24aOctober.

     Waller,  unlike  Connell, took a more realistic view of the situation on Samar.  The day before debarkation,  Waller issued  explicit orders to his officers concerning relations with the natives and rules of engagement: "Place no confidence in the natives, and punish treachery immediately with death. . . .  Allow  no  man  [marine] to go . . . anywhere without his arms or ammunition. . . .  All  males who have not come in and presented themselves by October 25th will be regarded and  treated  as enemies.   It must be impressed on the men that the natives are treacherous, brave and savage.  No trust, no confidence, can be placed in them. . . .  The men must be informed of the courage,  skill, size  and strength of the enemy.  WE MUST DO OUR PART OF THE

     Waller viewed the situation as open combat governed  by  the rules  of war.  The populace would have to register with the marines or be considered combatants.  Waller's orders to his officers  were  posted  and  the  Naval high command took no
exception to them, nor did General Smith, Waller's immediate senior.    Waller's  orders  were  within the limitations of General  Order  No.  100  of  1863  dealing  with  irregular warfare,  which  stated  that if enemy units gave no quarter and became treacherous upon capture, it was lawful to  shoot anyone belonging to that captured unit.

     General Smith's orders to Major Waller upon arrival  at Samar  have  allowed  some historians to give Waller an out.  These orders, stated orally and in an  unsigned  note,  were subsequently proven at Smith's own court-martial: "I want no prisoners.  I wish you  to  kill  and  burn.  The  more you kill and burn, the better it will please me. .
.  .  [T]he  interior  of  Samar  must  be  made  a  howling wilderness. . . ."

     Some historians feel that Waller was only following the direct  orders  of  his  immediate  senior officer.  But, as testimony in  General  Smith's  court-martial  pointed  out, Waller  did  not  execute  Smith's  orders.  Instead, Waller applied  the  rules  of  civilized  warfare  and  the  rules provided  under  General  Order  No. 100.   Waller testified that he did not kill women or children and that  he  treated prisoners  according  to  the  rules  of  civilized warfare.  "Always when prisoners came in and gave themselves  up  they were  saved,  they  were  not  killed."   In essence, Waller
disobeyed Smith's direct orders,  which  refutes  any  claim that  Waller was "just following orders."  Instead, Waller's interpretation of Smith's orders demonstrated Waller's  high moral courage and his effort to apply the rules of civilized

     The  marines'  tactical  area of responsibility was the southern half of  Samar.    Waller  was  relentless  in  his pursuit  of  the  insurrectionists.    He  ran  patrol after
patrol, amphibious operations, a  combined  land  and  river attack  on the insurrectionists' camp on the Sohoton Cliffs, and  small  raiding  operations.    The  keys  to   Waller's successes   were   the   flexibility  of  his  tactics,  his
endurance, and the stamina of his men.  Within a few months, the  operations  were  beginning  to take effect, but marine casualties were also frequent.  The insurrectionists,  armed with  the Krag-Jorgensen rifles taken from Company C, bamboo cannon, and bolo knives,  were  a  formidable  foe  for  his marines.    While  running combat operations, Waller, always alert for any treachery,  at  the  same  time  attempted  to
register  the  natives  and  pacify  the  towns.    Waller's successes  on  Samar  were  heralded  through  the  military command in the philippines.

     General Smith, desiring to get better communications on Samar, ordered Waller to scout a telegraph route from Lanang on the east coast to  Basey  on  the  west  coast.    On  28 December  1901,  Waller, with 60 marines, two native scouts, and 33 native bearers, started from Lanang and  headed  into the interior of the Samar jungles, an area where few natives and no foreigners had ever gone.  Within a few days,  almost
all the men were suffering from fever and other afflictions, as cited by Waller: "Water  sores  [which] began to form where the clothing bore on the skin were developing rapidly . .  .  we suffered  from  sores  caused  by being constantly wet; also
from the cuts made by the thorns and from bites of  leeches.  All these places festered and made very uncomfortable sores. . . ."

     The  terrain  was  exceedingly  difficult.  The marines were running out of food and began to starve.  By 3  January 1902, Waller decided to split his unit.  Leaving behind with Captain David D. Porter, U. S. Marine Corps, the bulk of the unit  who  were  unable to march any further, Waller set out for Basey with 14 marines and arrived  there  on  6  January 1902.    With  total  disregard  for  his own health, Waller
personally led a relief column the next day in an attempt to reach  Porter.  For nine days he searched for Porter without success.

     Porter,  in the meantime, had three options: to attempt to follow Waller, whose trail was unsure; to stay  where  he was  and  perish;  or to attempt to backtrack to Lanang.  He chose to backtrack.  Leaving the sick and dying marines with First  Lieutenant  A.  S. Williams, Porter headed for Lanang with seven marines and six natives.  Hampered by  torrential rains,   Porter  arrived  at  Lanang  on  11  January.    He immediately sent out a relief column  to  pick  up  his  own stragglers and to rescue Williams' command.

     Williams's fate was disastrous.  Realizing that  if  he stayed where he was, he and his command were sure to die, he decided to head back to Lanang.  His men,  "so  nearly  dead from  starvation  and  exposure  that  they began to crawl,"slowly perished along the way."  One marine went insane.  By 18  January,  when  the  relief column reached Williams, ten marines had died.  In addition, the natives had mutinied.

     Waller  had  used  the  natives  as bearers of food and supplies  on  the  march,  but  had  no  confidence  in  the allegiance  of  the  natives  to  the  marines and kept ever mindful of an attempted attack, which he  and  his  officers had  taken precautions to prevent.  Natives could use a bolo knife only to help the  marines  hack  through  the  jungle; every  evening  the  knives were collected and counted.  The natives were kept spread along the column with  the  marines and away from the rifles.  At night and during rest periods, the natives were huddled in one area  and  watched  over  by
marines.    The  natives  were  apparently playing a waiting game; they would wait until the marines were in  a  weakened state,  steal their weapons or overpower them one at a time, and kill them.  First a native called Victor stole  Waller's bolo  at  night  while Waller was asleep.  Before the native could turn on him, Waller awoke, drew his pistol, and seized the  bolo.    Upon reaching Basey, Victor was imprisoned and became the first native to be shot by the firing squad on 20 January.    Waller  testified that Victor was revealed to be the "`Captain Victor' that notorious and infamous captain of
insurrectos,  who  was  of  the  detail  from  Basey  in the Balangiga massacre."  Second, the  natives  with  Lieutenant Williams'  group became rebellious.  Williams testified that "the mutinous demeanor of the natives caused me  daily
fear  of massacre."  Third, the natives were hiding food and supplies from the  marines  while  keeping  themselves  well nourished and securing food for themselves on the march.

     Finally, there was  open  rebellion  against  Williams' party.    Three  of  the  natives,  armed with a bolo knife, attacked and wounded Williams.  The  other  natives  watched while  Williams  managed  to  fight  off  the attack.  These natives were put  under  arrest  when  the  marines  reached Lanang.    It  was this group of natives that was sot by the firing squad on 20 January, charged  in  Day's  words,  with "treason  in  attempting  to  kill Lieutenant Williams, with treason in general, theft, disobedience and .  .  .  general mutiny."    Waller  erred  at  this point by not putting the charge in writing.  Williams' men were in  such  a  weakened condition  that  they  could  offer little assistance at the time of the incident.  Soon  after  the  incident,  Williams formulated  several  plans to kills the natives, but doubted the strength of his weakened men.  He also felt that it  was better  to  refer  the  incident  to his commanding officer,
Major Waller. 

     On  20  January,  the  U.  S.  gunboat  Arayat arrived  at  Basey  from  Lanangmand  offloaded  the  native prisoners.     After  being  briefed  by  his  officers  and non-commissioned   officers,   all   of   whom   recommended execution,  Waller  ordered  the natives to be shot.  Waller stated: "The reports of the attempted murder of the men and other treachery by the natives,  the  whole  plot  being unmasked,  caused  me to hold an inquiry and consult with my officers.  The population of the town  was  hostile  at  the time  .  .  .  Using  my own judgement, and fortified by the opinion of the officers and men, I had the guilty men  shot, releasing  the  innocent.    The power exercised was mine by right as commanding the district.  It seemed to the best  of
my  judgement,  the thing to do at the time.  I have not had reason to change my mind."
Thus  the technical reason for Waller's court-martial was no so much that he shot the natives,  but  that  the  shootings were  summary.     This leads one to believe that Waller was charged with the wrong offense.

     Waller  felt  that he had acted within the framework of General Order No. 100, which did not call for a trial of the accused,  and  within his authority as a district commander, although this was disputed by the  Judge  Advocate  General.  The  real  issue was that the responsibilities of a district commander in the Philippines were never clearly defined  and that  th tactical situation necessitated his actions.  On 22 January, Waller, seeing no wrong in his actions,  sent  this message to General Smith: "It became necessary to expend eleven prisoners.    Ten were implemented [sic] in the attack on Lt. Williams and one who plotted against me."

     On  19  February the marine battalion on Samar received orders to return to Cavite and arrived there on 29 February.  The  unit returned to a welcoming home salute and party, but there was something else in store  for  Major  Waller  --  a murder charge.  Waller tended to place much of the blame for the court-martial on Lieutenant Day, although not during the trial  or  in  public;  during  the  trial  he  assumed full
responsibility  for  his  actions.    Day,   who   was   the battalion's adjutant and had not gone on the expedition, had boasted about his part in the execution.  It was  a  bit  of
"action"  for  him.    Waller  stated  after the trial in an after-action report ". . . The charge was largely instigated by  the  vail  boastfulness  of  one  of  the officers of my

     Waller's court-martial lasted from 17 March to 12 April 1902.  The court consisted of seven Army  officers  and  six Marine  Corps  officers  and  was  headed  by Army Brigadier General William H. Bisbee, "a stalwart old Indian  fighter."  Waller  argued that, because he had never been detached from his marine unit, an Army court had no jurisdiction over him.  The  court  denied Waller's lack of jurisdiction claim, then
proceeded to the specific number of natives executed and the issue  of  Waller's  guilt  or innocence.  General Smith was called to testify concerning the orders  he  had  issued  to Waller  prior  to  the  Samar campaign. (His testimony later
instigated his own court-martial.)

    Waller  could have made excuse for his actions by saying that he was injured and lying in a hospital when  he  issued his orders.  But instead, he stood committed to his actions: "As the representative  officer  responsible  for the  safety  and  welfare of my men, after investigation and from the information I had, ., . . I ordered the eleven  men
shot.    I  thought  I  was  right then, I believe now I was right.  Whatever may happen to me I have the sure  knowledge that  my  people  know, and I believe the whole world knows, that I am not a murderer."

     The court voted eleven to two for acquittal.  Headed by an old troop leader and field officer,  General  Bisbee,  it must  have weighed the tactical situation and the mitigating factors involved in the case.  Many of the court's  officers had  been  through  guerilla warfare in both the Philippines and the American West.  It  seems  that  they,  as  Waller's peers,   realistically   assessed  the  factors  influencing Waller's decisions.  Later, in the United States,  the  Army Judge Advocate General dismissed the entire case as illegal, agreeing that a Marine Corps officer was not subject  to  an
Army court. 

     The type of combat fought on Samar was some of the most brutal  of  the  Fil-American  War.  When his native bearers turned on him and his officers, Waller guided his actions on doctrinal  orders,  the  rules  of civilized warfare, and an
estimation of the tactical situation as he  saw  it.    Upon consultation  of his officers and non-commissioned officers, Waller had the natives executed.

     The  decisions  and  conduct  of  men  during war or in trying  environments  may  seem  questionable  to  outside observers,  but  seldom  questionable to the participants at the time.  The purpose of court-martial is to obtain justice by  one's  military  peers.   The officers of the court were little affected by public opinion and  high-level  politics.
The  overwhelming  majority  of  the  court  agreed with the opinions of Waller's officers and the accused, and acquitted Waller for his actions.

     Waller's court-martial had effects on its  participants and  on  the  country  as a whole.  It informed the American public as to the type of warfare that was  taking  place  in the  Philippines.    Even  to  its  most  ardent supporters, "benevolent  assimilation"  had  its  limits.    The   trial frustrated  American civilian authorities and their attempts to implement their policies in the Philippines.

     On 21 April 1902, General Smith was brought to trial on the charge of "conduct to the prejudice of  good  order  and military  discipline"  for orders issued to Waller at Samar.  He was found guilty and was eventually forced to  leave  the service.   Lieutenant Day was also court-martialed but, like Waller, was acquitted.

     Waller  continued  to  serve  in  the Marine Corps with distinction.  In 1910, the "outstanding troop leader of  the period"  was passed over for Commandant, probably because of his one blemish, the court-martial.

     Another  result  was  marine  respect.   For many years afterward, marine  messes  would  stand  whenever  a  "Samar battalion" officer was present and toast, "Stand, gentlemen, he served on Samar."

These items and much more can be found at The Marine Corps Research Center (MCRC)

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