Sunday, October 28, 2007

Battle of Bud Bagsak in Sulu

They are absolutely fearless, and once committed to combat they count death as a mere incident."

From January-June, the whole Moro ward of Lati with a population of between 6,000 to 10,000, fortified themselves in a cotta in Mt. Bagsak.
On June 11, 1913 Gen. John Pershing ordered the attack with the assistance of Charlie Schuck who reported that it was easy to attack the Moro Fort. General Pershing and his American military attacked the Fort at Bud Bagsak. The Muslim led by their Nakil Amil bravely defended their Fort, first with guns and bullets and knives and bolos.

The four-day battle was personally led by U.S. Brigadier General John "Black Jack" J. Pershing of the 8th Infantry and Philippine Scouts against Moro resistance fighters armed mostly with kris, barongs, spears and few guns. In many other battles in the Morolands, the U.S. Army Colt 0.45 caliber pistol was tested and perfected as an effective "man stopper" against the brave Moro fighters.

During the battle Pershing came up to the front line and: "Stood so close to the trench, directing operations, that his life was endangered by flying barongs and spears which were being continually hurled from the Moro stronghold." At this point in the battle, Pershing sent American officers into the front lines to lead the attack.

But, after four days, the Fort at Bud Bagsak, along with every warrior fell. General Pershing in a letter to his wife, he wrote: "THE FIGHTING WAS THE FIERCEST I HAVE EVER SEEN. "
The Moros fought like Devils. They justified the observation Pershing had made of them: "They are absolutely fearless, and once committed to combat they count death as a mere incident."

Swish of the Kris
Kris versus Krag
The Battle of Bud Bagsak

The battle of Bagsak had its beginnings several months before the actual assault of the crater. The mountain peak had been for some time the rendezvous of the outlaw element of all of the southern islands, and the big problem the Americans faced was that of getting the women and children off the hill before the final clean-up was made.

So long as the Moros saw that the American troops were inactive and in barracks many of the women and children would be sent down to work in the fields, but at the first suggestion of an American expedition all of the non-combatants would be recalled to the mountain. As General Pershing had stated, when the Moro makes his last stand, he wishes his women and children with him. The Moros kept a very close check on General Pershing, for every visit of the General to Jolo was the signal for a stampede to Bagsak. Pershing soon discovered that the taking of Bagsak without the slaughter of women and children would have to be an undertaking planned with the greatest secrecy. In planning the campaign, Pershing exercised rare judgment.

To begin with, he kept his plans absolutely to himself, not even confiding in his closest officers. On June 5 he sent a telegram to the commanding officer at Jolo calling off all field operations and ordering the troops into barracks. Four days later he announced publicly that he would visit his family at Camp Kiethley in Mindanao and with that apparent plan in mind he sailed from Zamboanga on the evening of June 9. When the transport Wright was well out of sight of Zamboanga the course was changed and the ship picked up the 51st Company of Scouts at Basilan, proceeding on to Siasi to load the 52nd Scout Company.

With lights out and the smokestack muffled, the Wright then crept into Jolo harbor late on the night of June 10. The maneuver was wholly unexpected and the General found the American soldiers at a moving picture show. The call to arms was sounded and in an incredibly short time the troops were en route to Bagsak.

All of the forces were concentrated at Bun Bun on the beach and by five o'clock in the morning the advance on Bagsak had begun.

The mountain crest was defended by formidable cottas crowned by the stone fortress of Bagsak at the summit. Supporting the main cotta were five subsidiary forts admirably located for defensive purposes. These five cottas, namely, Pujacabao, Bunga, Matunkup, Languasan and Pujagan, were grouped about the huge stone fort of Bagsak in such a manner that a simultaneous assault of all of the cottas was necessary in order to prevent a great loss of life on the part of the attackers.

The American force was divided into two wings and very explicit attacking directions were issued. The right wing, consisting of the 8th Infantry and the 40th Company of mountain guns, was under the command of Major Shaw, and its objective was the cottas of Languasan and Matunkup. The left wing, composed of the 51ist and 52nd Companies of Scouts and a mountain gun detachment, was under command of Van Natta, and were ordered to attack the cottas of Pujacabao and Bunga. Pujagan and Bagsak were to be taken after these assaults had been successfully executed.

After a heavy preliminary shelling by the mountain guns, the columns moved to attack. While the attack was in progress, Captain Moylan was ordered with the 24th and 31st Companies of Scouts, to take a position on the south slope of Bagsak to cut off the retreat of the Moros, Captain Nichols led his company against Matunkup, which fell at noon of the first day's fighting. In taking Matunkup, the attacking force was compelled to climb a sheer cliff one hundred feet high, pulling themselves up the precipice by clinging to vines, while in the face of a heavy fire. There were eight casualties in the American force before the summit was finally gained. Captain Nichols then led his company on to the cotta of Pujacabao, the men opening up on the Moros at close range and then dropping within the cotta walls to battle hand to hand.

The terrific shelling Pujacabao had received from the mountain battery had eliminated many of the Moro defenders. Amil, the Moro leader, was severely wounded by a shell fragment, whereupon he retreated to Pujagan, where he was killed the following day.

The cotta of Languasan was captured without difficulty with a loss of one man, but the American forces had eight casualties during the period of Moro counter-attacks made in an effort to recover the fortress.

With three of the cottas in American hands, the surviving Moros retreated to Bagsak, Pujagan and Bunga and the first day's operations came to an end.

On Thursday, June 12, the American forces poured a continuous fire from rifles and mountain artillery upon the cottas of Bunga and Pujagan, and there was a great deal of skirmishing. The Moros began a series of rushes upon the American troops holding Languasan. The Mohammedans would rush out in groups of ten to twenty, charging madly across 300 yards of open country in an effort to come hand to hand with the Americans. Amil, his son, and the Data Jami led three of the attacks; in each instance, the charging Moros were accounted for long before they reached the American trenches. It was during one of these charges that Captain Nichols was killed by a bullet through the heart from a high-powered rifle.

The American forces holding Languasan were subjected all day long to a merciless fire from the cotta of Bunga. Notwithstanding the aid of the mountain artillery, the American forces were unable to capture any of the Moro positions during the fighting of the second day.

On the morning of the third day Captain Moylan was ordered to take the cotta of Bunga. The capture of this fortress was absolutely necessary in order to secure a position from which the tremendous stone cotta of Bagsak could be shelled. Captain Moylan took Bunga after a five-hour attack, which was supported by sharpshooters and artillery. Among his casualties was one man who was cut in two by a barong. The balance of the third day was devoted to hauling the heavy guns up the steep slope of Bunga.

On Saturday morning, the fourth day of the battle, Captain Charleton and Lieutenant Collins were sent with 51st and 52nd Companies and a detachment of cavalry to reconnoiter the rim of the crater and to find a position from which the infantry could launch a final assault on Bagsak cotta. The rest of the day was devoted to digging the troops in, in a position about 600 yards from the Moro fort, while the mountain guns fired constantly into the cotta.

Sunday morning brought preparations for the final assault. The mountain guns opened up for a two-hour barrage into the Moro fort, and at nine o'clock in the morning the troops moved up the ridge for the attack. The heavy American artillery shelled the Moros out of the outer trenches supporting the cotta of Bagsak and the sharpshooters picked them off as they retreated to the fortress. After an hour's hard fighting, the advance reached the top of the hill protected by the fire of the mountain guns, to a point within seventy-five yards of the cotta.
To cover that last seventy-five yards required seven hours of terrific fighting. The Moros assaulted the American trenches time after time only to be mowed down by the entrenched attackers.

General Pershing came in person to the firing line early in the attack, exposing himself to the full fire of the cotta. At 4:45 in the afternoon, the American forces were within twenty-five feet of the cotta. The Moros realized that their time on earth was short. They stood upright on the walls and hurled their barongs and krises at the troops beneath them, wounding four of the attacking force.

At five o'clock General Pershing gave the order for the final assault, and standing within twenty-five feet of the walls he watched Captain Charleton take his men over the walls and the battle of Bud Bagsak was won. Thirteen men were lost in the final assault.

About 500 Moros occupied the cottas at the beginning of the battle of Bagsak and with few exceptions they fought to the death.

With this battle, the organized resistance of the Moros was broken and the episode of "Kris versus Krag" came virtually to an end. There were a few more minor battles, but never again did the Moros place a formidable force in the field against the Americans. The Mohammedans fought a grand fight at Bagsak against superior weapons. They showed the Arnercans, as they had showed the Spaniards, that they were not afraid to die.
Related links :
Photos of Sulu Archipelago during the American Era - circa 1910 -1020


  1. My Great Uncle was Captain Taylor A Nichols, killed at Bagsak on June 12, 1913. Could you please correct your spelling of our last name? When referencing my Uncle, please spell his name Nichols, not Nicholls (only one L). Thanks so much, and thank you for your articles. Since my earlist recollection I listened with fascination to my Father speak of his Uncle Taylor, who lead a very interesting and honorable life and died too young. I continue to this day to absorb any and all information I can find on this fine man. Uncle Taylor's death took a great toll on the family, as he was a beloved son, brother and uncle and a fine soldier.

    Thank you for your post.
    L Nichols

    1. I have been doing some family research and I believe that we may be related in a long lost way.
      I think Taylor A. Nichols is the nephew to my Great, Great Grandfather, Oliver David Nichols.
      If you see this and can, please respond to try and confirm this and discuss other things.
      You can contact me at the following...

      Dan Nichols

  2. I just found out that my Grandfather, Elijah H. Hubbard, was at the Battle of Bud Bagsak. So I am interested in finding information on this.

  3. Yeah whatever. they are killer. The moro didnt start the war. The Moro didn't even go to America to start the war. the Moro only using the swords and shields they still don't and forced the American Army have to Fall back. The American Killed the Women and child there. All i found on this blog was sadness of the American did to the Moro.