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Dewey's Flag Lieutenant,

Flag Lieutenant Thomas Brumby's Account of the Fall of Manila

Edited by Willard E. Wright, Contributed by Nick Mitiuckov
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Thomas Mason Brumby, Admiral Dewey's Flag Lieutenant was instrumental in the final negotiations resulting in the surrender of the city to the Americans.

The surrender of the city had been the subject of negotiations between the American forces and the Spanish Governor General for some time. In the discussions it had become somewhat clear that the city would be surrendered, but only if the Americans put on a show of force, so that the city could be surrendered while maintaining Spanish dignity. On August 13, 1898, an attack was staged, and the Spanish rapidly surrendered. Brumby's letter home focusses on the subsequent events.

The letter:


Manila, August 17, '98

My darling Sister [Mrs. Walter Izard Heyward ofMarietta, Georgia],

"News, news, my gossiping friends! I have wonderful news to tell. Some will be old when it gets to you in this letter, and there is so much of it that I hardly know where to begin. Still I hope it will prove interesting to you in the telling, so I will write whatever comes into my mind, without order or method.

To begin with, Manila is ours, and that, wonderful to relate, without the loss of a life on the part of the Navy, and only a very few in the Army. So we have gained two important victories without the loss of a single man in the naval forces. This is absolutely without a parallel in history, and the more one thinks of it, the more marvelous it seems. It demonstrates the value of sea power as nothing else in modern times has done. The 1st of May secured the complete protection of the west coast of the United States which otherwise might have been harrassed [sic] by the enemy's cruisers. The 13th of August the Navy made it possible for General [Wesley] Merritt  to take Manila with the most insignificant loss—10 killed and 40 wounded—when it would have been impossible for him to have taken it, had the Navy not assisted, without terrible loss of life. It was only our guns and the diplomacy of Admiral Dewey that planted our banner on the walls of Manila, where with only a short interval, had proudly flown the Spanish flag for nearly three hundred years.

On Sunday, the 7th inst., at the urgent request of General Merritt, a joint letter was sent from the General and Admiral of our forces to the Governor of Manila stating that any time after the expiration of 48 hours the bombardment of the city might be expected and asking that the non combatants might be sent out of the city.  The Governor replied that there were thousands of sick, women and children in the city, that he was besieged by land and sea and had nowhere to send them. At the expiration of 48 hours a demand was made upon him to surrender. He firmly declined, but asked for 24 hours to remove the neutrals to the ships in the harbor. This was granted. On Wednesday we began to clear ships for action (send hatch covers, inflamables &c ashore, for we were practically cleared) and I went to the various ships to give the Comdg. officers the final instructions of the Admiral. I notified General Merritt that we would attack. He said "I must see the Admiral" and went to the Flagship [Olympia]. He told the Admiral his troops were not ready to move, and would not be for a few days; this after the Admiral had been repeatedly urged to attack by all the generals. It was a great disappointment to the fleet when told action postponed, for the men had patiently waited for over three months to take Manila and were eager for a scrap. So it was not until Saturday 13th that the attack was made. In the meanwhile the Belgian Consul [Edouard Andre] had been an intermediary between the Admiral and the Governor General of Manila and had made every effort to get the Spaniard to surrender. But the honor and reputation of one man had to be maintained at the expense of the soldiers in the trenches and, as we thought, the women and children. (Profiting from his predecessor's example, Jaudenes was determined to surrender only after some display of resistance. Accordingly he arranged with Dewey that the batteries of Manila would not fire upon the American ships if they did not shell the city but only the southern shore batteries. In case of surrender, a white flag would be flown from a selected spot inside the city walls after the flagship had hoisted the signal flags calling for surrender. Sketches of the building and the signal flags to be flown were exchanged. But still he made concessions. He said the batteries in front of the city, and where most lives would have been lost, would not fire unless we fired upon them. To this, the Admiral actuated by the most humane motives consented. So we went into the action confident that little harm would be done unless there was treachery on the part of the Spaniards, and then we would be no worse off than before, as the Admiral wisely took care to make his disposition for battle just as if we were expecting a general attack.

At 9 A.M. 13th the squadron got underway and stood over towards Manila. To understand the action I must digress enough to tell you that all of our troops had been landed to the S[outhwar]d of Manila and had formed a line of entrenchments only a few hundred yards from that of the Spaniards. The right of the Spanish line was protected by Fort Malate on the sea face. For our troops to approach Manila they had to pass by two roads only, the country on each side being paddy fields with mud up to your knees, and one of these roads was commanded by Fort Malate and some recently constructed batteries. So our work was cut out for us, viz., to shell the Fort and batteries and enfilade the enemy's line of trenches. So at 9:30 the Olympia began firing on the Fort, followed by the Raleigh, Petrel and Callao — the captured gunboat—and a small tender of the Flagship. All these vessels were soon hard at it. The fire was short at first, but soon the range was obtained and then a hail of shell fell on the doomed Fort, batteries and trenches, making it impossible for the enemy to remain in them. In the meanwhile the Monitor (Monterey), Charleston, Baltimore, Boston, and Concord had moved up opposite the main batteries of the City, ready to go in at the signal from the Flagship. That signal was not made, as it was not necessary. Not a shot was fired from those batteries. We soon saw the enemy deserting their positions at Malate, and our troops coming out of their trenches ready to advance. The little Callao and the tender had gone inshore in shoal water and were doing splendid work with their rapid fire guns, protecting the left flank of our troops. At 10:32, the enemy being seen in full retreat and our troops as now advancing rapidly and gallantly to take the enemy's trenches the order was given "cease firing" and the day was won. The Flagship then advanced up the coast toward the walled City, hoisted the International signal "Surrender" and soon the white flag was hoisted on Fort San Juan, and also International signal "I want to parley." I was ordered by the Admiral to signal for the Belgian Consul's boat which was some distance portside of us, to. take it and go alongside the Zafiro and take from her one of General Merritt's staff, then go into the city and make the conditions of surrender. Before I could get alongside the Zafiro, [Lt.] Colonel [Charles A.] Whittier of General Merritt's Staff came alongside the boat, and we then went ashore. Upon reaching the small pier opposite the walled city we found an officer who, through the Belgian Consul, explained where we should go. We had gone but a short distance when two carriages from the governor general met us, and we drove around the city walls and then through a gate into the old walled City. As we drove along we passed regiment after regiment and battery after battery going into the walled city; having evidently come from the lines where we had just been shelling them. They looked tired and dirty from the mud of trenches. We were evidently objects of curiosity to them, but we were not only unmolested but often saluted.

When we arrived at the governor's palace the streets, lobbies, halls and antechambers were filled with officers—military and naval, as the latter had since May 1 served in the Army. We were immediately ushered into a large room where were assembled the Council and dignitaries of the place. ... A Spanish officer acted as interpreter, assisted by the Belgian Consul. The interpreter began then to translate from a written paper that had evidently been hastily drawn up stating the conditions under which they (the authorities) were willing to surrender. This was slow work. Finally we demanded a translation, which was immediately begun. But time flew and I knew the Admiral and General Merritt would be impatient. Finally Whittier drew up in a half dozen lines what we were willing to concede, it was submitted to the Governor General who after much talking with his advisers, said he would agree to it as a preliminary capitulation."As there were couriers rushing in every moment stating that the insurgents were advancing, that our troops had advanced to the city gates and were about to attack, I demanded that General Merritt be immediately allowed to come into the city with six hundred men in order to adjust matters and give orders. That was conceded, and I left Whittier and came out onto the bay for General Merritt. The latter immediately came on board my boat, orders were given to land the troops afloat, and we went into the Pasig River, landing outside the city walls. The entry of General Merritt was very democratic. There was no one to receive us and General Merritt and his staff had to walk to the palace or rather to the Cathedral, for it was there we found the Governor General. He apologized in the most humble way for our reception. From the Cathedral I drove with General Merritt to the City Hall, which was turned over to the General as his provisional headquarters. Here another compromise took place, I acting as Admiral Dewey's representative. There was present most of the officials of the former conference, except Admiral Montojo, our fallen foe of May 1. Just as soon as the capitulation was completed, I demanded permission of General Merritt to have down the official flag of Spain which had all this time been flying on the walls. He immediately granted it.  I had taken an American flag and two signal boys ashore with me.  We at once proceeded to the ramparts, hauled down the Spanish flag amid the audible crying of a number of Spanish women and scowls of Spanish soldiers and hoisted the Stars and Stripes. As the latter went up a  U. S. regimental band that I had not seen outside the walls played the Star Spangled Banner, just  as if the band had been placed there by design. You could hear the cheers from the ships as the Spanish flag came down and ours went up, and a salute from all our ships greeted the hoisting of Old Glory. It was a most dramatic scene. An empire had changed hands. Seeing that I was surrounded by Spanish soldiers and that the flag would be hauled down when we left, as the excitement increased, I sent word to General Merritt, asking for a guard. It was immediately sent and I gave orders to the officer in command not to allow any one to haul it down that night, but left it fly all night.

You can hardly conceive of the excitement on board when I returned. I was treated as [a] prince. The Admiral greeted me most joyfully, the mess set up champagne while I ate my dinner—my first morsel since six A.M. It was now 7:30—and the champagne acted on my tongue till the members of the mess said they had heard no story equal to mine, for there were many more episodes. It may interest you to know the impression made upon me by the actors in the conferences described above. To begin with the manners of our officers do not in any way compare with those of the Spaniards. Some of General Merritt's staff wore their hats in the council chamber, remained seated when presented to the man who had ruled the Philipines and 8 millions of people. But the Spaniards of the higher type are small and effete. The Governor General is about up to my shoulder, quick, nervous, affable and polite. Admiral Montojo is also small, tho slightly larger, has fine eyes, a weak mouth, white hair and moustaches. He asked to be presented to me, talked of the Admiral and of the Secretary who had spoken of him in the. Hong Kong Club in pleasant terms, said he would do himself the honor of calling on Admiral Dewey who he knows would deny that his (Montojo's) officers were on shore May 1. He is from all accounts much broken since his defeat of May 1. He speaks trench and expedited matters for me in that way, tho' he also speaks English. However, for some reason I do not know, he asked me to speak trench when it was a matter of business, tho' his English is certainly as good as his French.

I believe the campaign at Manila will have a great effect on future wars. Admiral Dewey has shown that it is possible to conduct war on humane principles. What a grand thing it is to have taken Manila without the loss of life of a single non combatant! Compare his methods with that of the Spaniards themselves against Barcelona, or more recently in the Philippines at Cebu when thousands of innocents were killed, the ships firing down the streets of the town killing right and left. The victory of August 13 is greater than that of May 1. This is an epoch-making war. The-French Admiral said to me yesterday Admiral Dewey y was humane to the last." He had the power to utterly route the Spaniards and destroy their city, yet he fired not a shot against it.

The news that will interest you the most probably is the fact that Admiral Dewey has in strong terms urged my promotion. Nothing could have come to me in this war more gratifying. Even if Congress does not give me my promotion, I will still have the satisfaction of having the approbation of the foremost naval officer of the day; and that is enough honor.

Send this to Gus when you have read it. I have too much work on hand to write another such description, and I know she will be pleased. Do not destroy this, when she returns it. For after the war I may conclude to use the material in it for an article.

With best love



Brumby, Thomas, M., "The Fall of Manila," edited by Willard E. Wright, Proceeding of the Naval Institute, Issue #690, August 1960, p. 88

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