THE CROSSING OF THE RIO GRANDE RIVER
"For gracious' sake, what did we want to retreat for?" demanded Ben, as soon as the command halted and Major Morris had come within speaking distance. The young captain had been at the very front of the firing line, and had seen that complete victory was only the work of a quarter of an hour or less.
"Orders from general headquarters," replied the major, in a low tone. "I fancy the staff is pretty angry, too," he added.
"We could have whipped them with ease."
"So we could, captain, but—" And Major Morris finished with a shrug of his shoulders which meant a good deal.
"I don't believe General Otis would have given such an order had he been here to see what was going on," continued Ben, earnestly.
"Well, we're ordered back to Angat, and that is all there is to it. The army must have supplies, you know."
"Hang the supplies!" muttered Gilmore, but under his breath. "We can get all the supplies we want as we go along." And Ben was rather inclined to agree with him.
There was no help, however, for the turn in the situation; and with crestfallen faces the soldiers moved still further back and went into temporary camp. Only a few had suffered, and the wounded ones were promptly cared for by the hospital corps.
"And how do you feel?" asked Gilbert, as he came up to see Ben. "Does the wound hurt still?"
"It itches, that's all," answered Ben. "But this retreat—"
"Makes one feel sore all over, doesn't it? " finished the young Southerner. "I must say I don't understand it at all. If we are going to round up any of these rebels, we can't do it by falling back and waiting for supplies."
Impatient as they were, however, the troops had to wait for two days before another movement was made. During this time supplies were hurried forward in large quantities, that there might be no more delays in the future.
In the meantime the troops under General MacArthur were by no means idle. They consisted of two brigades, that of General Hale on the right wing, and that of General Wheaton on the left wing. Of these troops the first advance was by some men of the Fourth Cavalry, who went forward to reconnoitre the enemy's position near Quingua. The start was made during the early morning, and before long the insurgents opened a heavy fire which the Americans returned with difficulty, as the rebels were well concealed by the tall grass and their intrenchments. To aid the cavalry a number of other troops were hurried forward, also several field-pieces; and in the end the Filipinos were forced from their position, with a heavy loss. In this battle the Americans lost six killed and forty wounded. Among the killed was Colonel Stotsenburg, commanding the First Nebraska Volunteers, who, after most gallantly leading his men, was shot down in the final rush upon the enemy's earthworks.
From Quingua the whole of General Hale's brigade moved down the Quingua River to Pulilan. Here no resistance was encountered, and after a brief rest the brigade pushed on toward Logundi. That town was not yet reached when the advance guard reported a breastwork across the main road, running to the river on the west and into the jungle on the east.
"Never mind, we'll go ahead anyhow!" shouted the soldiers of the Nebraska regiment; and go ahead they did, with the South Dakota and Iowa troops beside them, and several guns of the Sixth Artillery protecting their advance. The fight at the earthworks was a fierce one, some of the Filipinos refusing to surrender even when they knew they were beaten; and as a consequence many of them were slain whose lives might otherwise have been spared to them.
A short distance to the northwest of Logundi, the Quingua and the Bagbag rivers join in flowing into the Calumpit. The railroad crosses the Bagbag but a short distance away, and at this point General Hale's command reunited with that of General Wheaton, which had come up along the tracks from Malolos without difficulty. General Wheaton had with him the troops from Montana and Kansas, some Utah artillery, and one or two other commands, along with two armored cars, fitted out with Gatling and Hotchkiss guns and six-pounders.
It was soon discovered that the rebels had built strong breastworks in a semicircle along the north bank of the Bagbag and the western bank of the Calumpit Rivers, and had injured the railroad track for a distance of several hundred yards, and also the bridge spanning the river. As the approach to both rivers was largely an open one, how to dislodge the Filipinos became a serious problem.
"Forward with the armored cars!" was the cry, and they were rushed ahead as far as the torn-up condition of the railroad tracks admitted. A cannonading lasting for half an hour followed, in which one of the batteries on the highway also took part. The aim of the gunners was good, and soon the insurgents were seen to be pouring from the trenches, which were getting too hot to hold them. Yet a fair number held their ground, and when the troops on foot advanced they opened a blistering fire which laid not a few Americans low. But the victory was ours, and soon the followers of Old Glory were wading or swimming the river, while the engineering corps set to work to repair the damage done to railroad and bridge, so that the armored and baggage cars might pass through.
The cry was now, "On to Calumpit!" which town lies on the Calumpit River, and is divided into two parts by another stream, called the Rio Grande. It was found that the insurgents had practically deserted the lower half of the town, but had intrenchments on the upper bank of the Rio Grande which were even more formidable than those taken on the Bagbag. Here the rebels had also a Maxim and other guns, and it seemed as if for once the advance of the Americans was thoroughly blocked. Numerous good positions along the south bank of the river were held by our troops, but it looked as if they could not get over the stream without a tremendous loss of life.
It is said that the opportunity makes the man, and in this instance the saying proved a true one. With the soldiers under General Wheaton were the Twentieth Kansas Volunteers, who had already made a record for themselves at Malolos and elsewhere, as related in a previous volume of this series. They were commanded by Colonel Frederick Funston, a man comparatively young in years and small in stature, but one who was daring to the last degree, and who had seen much of fighting and hardships during his adventurous existence. In Cuba, Funston had fought most valiantly under Garcia for Cuban liberty long before any interference by the United States. To Colonel, afterward Brigadier General, Funston belongs the honor of the passage of the Rio Grande, for it was he who planned what was done, and he and a score of his fighting Kansans who carried it out. The daring of the scheme is one which will live long in American history.
As before mentioned, the bridge was partly broken, but enough remained for the passage of soldiers who could climb from one iron cross-section to another. At first it was hoped that a body might go over the bridge in the dark, raise a great commotion, and cause the Filipinos a panic. This scheme was tried, but it failed; for the enemy was on strict guard, and would have shot down the men as rapidly as they appeared on the bridge.
Colonel Funston then proposed to go down the river bank for a considerable distance, build rafts, and, by means of a stout rope, ferry some of the best of his men across the stream in the dark. The landing of the men was to be covered by the heaviest possible fire from the American side, and, as soon as they were safe ashore, the Kansas soldiers were to secure some position where they might enfilade the enemy's trenches, that is, fire through them from one end, so that the Filipinos might no longer find them safe. In the meantime more troops were to come over with all possible speed.
On the way down the stream the Kansas soldiers demolished several huts, selecting the best of the timber with which to build their rafts. The moon was under a cloud, and it looked as if they might get across the river without serious trouble.
But as the crowd were constructing their rafts and getting their ferry rope ready for use, the moon came out brightly; and very soon the insurgents became suspicious and fired on the Americans, who were forced to retreat to the nearest shelter. The firing kept up the greater part of two hours, and at last the plan to cross over that night was abandoned.
But the Kansas colonel and his gallant men had determined to be the first into the enemy's camp, and once again they went to the spot previously selected, but this time in the broad daylight, when they might clearly see the shore opposite. No insurgents were in sight; and, after having made three rafts all right and tight, the rope was brought forth, and two men, named White and Trembly, were asked to carry it across the stream. The soldiers plunged into the water without delay, being watched by hundreds of their comrades left behind. The men were without their uniforms or weapons of any kind.
Slowly the pair swam the turbulent waters of the stream, and hardly had they gotten fifty feet from shore when the rebels opened fire upon them, at first a few scattering shots and then a perfect volley. That the swimmers escaped is little short of a miracle. But they remained untouched, and, gaining the opposite bank, they ran forward and tied the rope's end to a tree-stump. In the meantime two other soldiers started over the Rio Grande in a dugout, but this upset and let the men into the water, and they had to swim as had the others. But they landed with their guns intact, and at once opened fire at the nearest natives that showed themselves.
All this had happened with great rapidity, and now the first raft was coming across the river, loaded with Kansas soldiers officered by Colonel Funston himself. The raft became the target for the hottest kind of fire, and as the ferrying had to be done by the soldiers pulling along the rope stretched from shore to shore, the passage was as slow as it was dangerous. But the soldiers on the craft went over in safety, and soon more followed, until over fifty were on the beach fronting the enemy's intrenchments. Then, with a wild yelling, to give the rebels the impression that a large body had come over, they pushed forward to enfilade the enemy's trenches as first proposed. But now another difficulty arose.
There was a small stream flowing into the Rio Grande near this spot, and this had to be crossed before the fire of the Americans could be made effective. How to get across was a problem, as the insurgents had a machine gun trained on the spot. This worked for a while and then stopped; and in the lull Colonel Funston secured a rowboat and went over with some of his men, and the others soon followed.
The Filipinos were now thoroughly frightened, for the Americans were making a great outcry down by the railroad bridge, and they imagined that they were to be attacked from several points at once. Some started to run, and as soon as Colonel Funston's men began to rain their bullets into the long trenches, more followed, until the enemy was in a panic. Then the Americans began to cross the bridge and stream in great numbers, and the Filipinos, although reënforced by a body of Macabebes just at this time, could not make an effective stand. Calumpit was left behind, and a running fight ensued which ended at Apalit, when a violent tropical thunderstorm put an end to the day's operations. It was thought that the rebels' headquarters would be found at Apalit; but this had, at the last moment, been removed to San Isidro, toward which General Lawton was now advancing.