Remembering Gregorio del Pilar, the young general who died on December 2, 1899 at the Battle of Tirad Pass during the Philippine-American War. (The DC link is explained at the end of this post.) Here is a first-person account by R.H. Little, a Chicago Tribune correspondent:
“We had seen him cheering his men in the light. One of our companies crouched up close under the side of the cliff where he had built his first intrenchment, heard his voice continually during the fight urging his men to greater effort, scolding them, praising them, cursing them, appealing one moment to their love of their native land and the next instant threatening to kill them himself, if they did not stand firm…Not until every man around him in the second intrenchment was down, did he turn his white horse and ride slowly up the winding trail. Then we who were below saw an American squirm his way out to the top of a high rock, and take deliberate aim at the figure on the white horse. We held our breath not knowing whether to pray that the sharp-shooter would shoot straight or miss. Then came the spiteful crack of the Krag rifle and the man on horseback rolled to the ground, and when the troops charging up the mountain side reached him, the boy general of the Filipinos was dead.”
“So this was the end of Gregorio del Pilar. Only twenty-two years old, he managed to make himself a leader of men when he was hardly more than a boy, and at last had laid down his life for his convictions. Major March had the diary. In it he had written under the date of December 2, the day he was killed: “The general [Aguinaldo] has given me the pick of all the men that can be spared and ordered me to defend the pass…I realize what a terrible task is given me. And yet I feel that this is the most glorious moment of my life. What I do is done for my beloved country. No sacrifice can be too great.”
He was left unburied for days. Some soldiers stole his personal items, including a locket that contained “a curl of woman’s hair” (his girlfriend’s?), a twenty-dollar gold piece, and his collar button, as recounted in Stanley Karnow’s In Our Image.
Later the 11th Cavalry arrived and Lt. Col. Dennis Quinlan—who saw how badly his dead enemy was treated by his fellow soldiers–buried del Pilar’s body with full military honors. On the headstone Quinlan wrote: “General Gregorio del Pilar, Killed at the Battle of Tirad Pass, Dec. 2nd 1899, Commanding Aguinaldo’s Rear Guard.”
He added, “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Photo credit: Photo of del Pilar—US National Archives; December 2, 1899 entry from Peyton March’s diary – Library of Congress; news article–Chicago Tribune.
Postscript: Quinlan later became JAG and lived here in DC for a couple of years. And so did Peyton March. We traced their office and apartment building last year. We will write about them another time.