Tirad Pass Last Stand, RP’s Battle of Thermopylae, Dec. 2, 1899


I should have posted this bit of historical note five days ago, to enliven our    search for our nation’s soul and for us to reminisce, that once in the life of our nation, we have something to be proud of our past.  That one glorious moment of our past happened 111 years and five days ago today.

The Battle of Tirad Pass at Candon, Ilocos Sur , is our local equivalent of the great Battle of Thermopylae, where approximately 7,000 Greek soldiers blocked the pass in the Summer of 480 B.C. to repel a far superior Persian army numbering in millions. The greeks were subdued,  just like our 60 defenders in the pass under the command of 24 year old general, Gregorio Del Pilar, to allow President Aguinaldo to escape to the mountains from the pursuing U.S. soldiers numbering about  300 with superior arms and limitless ammunitions.  But the revolutionaries defended the Tirad Pass with their lives.  Only 8 of Del Pilar’s defenders survived though wounded.

Our forebears fought foreign invaders and painted our souls with a sense of a nation.  Let us continue to fight against a more insidious enemy today –  ourselves, our ignorance, our disunity, our poverty and our betrayal of the ideals which our elders had sanctified with their blood.  Let the Battle of Tirad Pass refresh our memory of our illustrious past.

American war correspondent, Richard Henry Little described the battle at Tirad Pass, this way:

We had seen him cheering his men in the fight.  One of our companies crouched up close under the side  of the cliff where he had built his first entrenchment,  heard his voice continually during the fight, scolding them, praising them cursing, appealing in one moment to their love of their native land and the next instant  threatening to kill them if they did not stand firm.   Driven from the the  first entrenchment, he fell slowly back to the second in full sight of our sharpshooters and under a heavy fire.  Not until every man around him in the second entrenchment was down did he turn his white horse and ride slowly up in the winding trail. Then we who were below saw an American squirm his way out to the top of high flat rock, and take deliberate aim at the figure on the white horse.  We held our breath, not knowing whether to pray that the sharpshooter would  shoot straight or miss.  Then came the spiteful crack of the Krag and the man on horseback rolled to the ground, and when the troops charging up the mountainside reached him the ‘boy  general’  of the Filipinos was dead.

We went up the mountain  side.  After H company had driven the insurgents out of their second position and killed Pilar, the other companies rushed straight up the trail.  Just past this a few hundred yards, we saw a solitary figure lying on the road. The boy  was almost stripped of clothing, and there were no marks of rank on the blood-soaked coat.

“We got his diary and letters and all his papers, and Sullivan of our company got his pants, and Snider got his shoes, but he can’t wear them because they’re too small, and a lieutenant  got the other, and somebody swiped his cuff button and his collar with blood on it”.

So this was the end of Gregorio del Pilar.  A private sitting  by the fire was exhibiting his handkerchief.  I’ts  old Pilar’s  It’s got Dolores Hoses on the corner.  I guess that was his girl. Well, it’s  all over with Gregorio.

“Anyhow” said Private Sullivan, I got his pants.  He won’t need them anymore.

The man  who had the general shoes strode proudly past.  A private sitting on a rock was examining a gold locket containing a curl of a woman’s hair. Got the locket off his neck, said the soldier.

As the main column started its march for the summit of the mountain, a turn in the trail brought us again in sight of the insurgent general below us. There had been no time to bury him.  Not even a blanket or a poncho had been thrown over him

And when Private Sullivan went by in his trousers, and Snider his shoes, and the other man who had the cuff buttons, and the sergeant who had the spur and the lieutenant who had the other spur, and the man who had the handkerchief,  and another that had his shoulder straps, it suddenly occurred to me that his glory was about all we had left him.

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7 thoughts on “Tirad Pass Last Stand, RP’s Battle of Thermopylae, Dec. 2, 1899

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