On our way to Pulilan, I was on the lookout for the Bagbag Bridge, site of, according to Wikipinino.org:
“the first battle between Filipino and American soldiers during the retreat of Aguinaldo to the Ilocos Region and of the longest battle during the Filipino-American Wars (sic) led by Gen. Gregorio del Pilar on April 25, 1899. The bridge commemorates the bravery displayed by the Filipinos as they victor (sic) in the battle against the American forces.”
Upon crossing a concrete bridge, I espied the much lower, similarly concreted bridge on the right. This old, now disused bridge was impassable as one span has fallen into the river. I guess I got the right bridge as pictures at the the Bulacan provincial government website depicts it as such. However, looking at it, it begs the question “Was it the actual bridge that was the site of that battle?” “We’re Filipino forces really victorious in that battle?” First, let me state the facts, on the Battle of Calumpit, as I researched it at “Philippine-American War, 1899-1902” (written by Arnaldo Dumindin).
After taking Quingua (now Plaridel), Calumpit, only 8 kms. (5 miles) north of Malolos, became the next American objective. Gen. Antonio Luna, however, was nowhere near the town as he left for Guagua to punish Gen. Tomas Mascardo, the military commander of Pampanga, for leaving his post to inspect troops (others say to attend a fiesta or visit a girlfriend) at Arayat (Pampanga).
Gen. Mascardo, with around 21,000 men under his command at the time, had been supposed to strengthen the defense of the Calumpit–Apalit Line by providing reinforcements in the area when needed. Luna took most of the defending cavalry and the artillery with him, leaving Gen. Gregorio Del Pilar to counter the advancing American troops. Aguinaldo had ordered Luna to retreat and burn the railway bridge spanning the Bagbag River, but Luna ignored the order.
However, on April 23, 1899, Gen. Del Pilar did cut the iron girders of the railway bridge, with the intention of making the bridge collapse once the enemy’s armored artillery transport train, with 6 pounders and rapid fire guns, passed over it. However, the section of the bridge prematurely collapsed, under its own weight, before the train had reached it. Chinese porters pushed the train to the mouth of the river.
Col. Frederick Funston, with 6 men, crawled, under heavy fire, across the ironwork of the bridge and, upon reaching the broken span, dropped into the water and swam to the opposite shore, where Filipino trenches were located. Upon reaching the opposite bank, they charged the trenches and killed 25 Filipinos. Other troops promptly repaired the bridge to let their supply wagons cross over the river.
By nightfall of April 25, Luna had returned from Guagua with only Filipinos in the barrio of Sta. Lucia holding out against the Americans in the Bagbag sector. Gen. Luna tried to fight and repulse the Americans, but he was eventually forced to retreat, destroying bridges as his troops fell back to slow the American advance.
Based on this research, the bridge in question was actually a railway bridge made of iron, not concrete. The bridge in the recent photo I took was probably a more recent replacement but the location may be the same. Here’s an actual photo taken of the damaged railway bridge, then being repaired by American troops, taken after the battle. Aside from the difference in the materials used, I also noticed that the bridge supports are also different in size and shape.
Second, there was no Filipino victory in this battle. Probably, the victory being referred to was the April 23, 1899 (not April 25) Battle of Quingua (now Plaridel) where the same Gen. Gregorio del Pilar, with 700 to 1,000 men, halted the advance of 62 Scouts plus a troop of the 4th Cavalry, all led by Maj. James Franklin Bell; or of their subsequent halting of the cavalry charge of Col. John M. Stotsenberg (who was killed together with 6 of his men). This all happened in Quingua, not Calumpit. In spite of these small victories, the Americans still triumphed in the end and took the town.
This moment in history deserves a second look ……..