Accounts of War

Abraham Smith Sees

“Enlisted in the Spanish-American War Aug. 25, 1899, and served as a private in Co. L, 28th Reg’t U. S. V. Infantry, until May 1, 1901. Participated in the engagements at Puent Julian, Pasmarinos, Headwaters of Zapote River, Binan, Santa Rosa, San Antonia, and San Pedro Tunasan. The nearest he came to being harmed was to have two bullets pass through his hat, which he thought close enough, but was sick and confined to the hospital several times with malarial fever. In a letter he wrote home while at Binan he thus gives his impression of the Philippine warriors:

“ ‘In a paper sometime ago I saw that the people in the United States think the soldiers are killing these natives in cold blood, but I want to say such is not the case. People who talk like that know nothing except what they read in the papers. The trouble with the Americans is that they are too easy with these Philippinos. If you give them your finger they want your whole body. They are friends in the day time, but as soon as it begins to get dark they change from friend to enemy. They know nothing about civilized warfare. All they know is to watch for small detachments of men and ambush them. That is the only way they get our rifles. If they were to come out and fight a fair battle there would not be enough left of them to tell what became of the rest. It seems hard to see good American soldiers give their lives for this heathen country.’

“Abe’s impressions were formed under conditions that brought to his view the worst side of the Philippino character. The same things may be as truly said of all savage or half-savage people, who know little or nothing of civilized warfare. Even here in civilized America people have been quite as barbarous. Think of the thousands who were spitefully starved to death in the wretched pen at Andersonville! Think of the terrible massacre at Fort Pillow, where neither sick, nor age, nor sex, nor color was spared, but with the heartless cry of ‘No quarter,’ all were hacked to death and coolly shot down in the most barbarous manner—and of the atrocious slaughter at Lawrence, Kansas, by the infamous rebel, Quantrell, and his band of murderers. Think how the Southern troops at Manassas—many of whom were poor whites hardly half civilized, and almost as void of honor and humane feelings as savages—inhumanly treated and buried our dead, and took their skulls and bones and made them into cups and trinkets for souvenirs. There was more of the savage element even in the Union army than we like to admit, but it was kept under greater restraint. The rank and file of the Union army was made up of a more intelligent class, less vindictive, more scrupulous as to the modern rules of war, who went forth to fight for Freedom and not for Slavery. It is agreeable to be told by soldiers descended from Heinrich Gernhardt that it is false that the Americans were guilty of killing the Philippinos in cold blood. There seems to have been a persistent effort to falsify and exaggerate the conduct of our troops in the Philippines. It does indeed seem hard that good men must give their lives for the heathen. But the result will be to make the heathen race better. The uplifting effect is already manifest. It seemed very hard that so many good men had to die for the Union. And have the world’s martyrs, soldiers and missionaries, in all the ages died in vain? Even Christ died for sinful man. And it was He who said, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ ” (from Heinrich Gernhardt and His Descendants, pp. 273-274).

Back to War Accounts
Gernhardt Family Accounts of War Family Accounts Gernhardt Pictures Centralia Remembered The Family of Marie Tracing Our Family Roots fettermans.org home