Sugar Sun series location #13: Catbalogan

Catbalogan means “an everlasting place of safety,” and for hundreds of years it was safe—for pirates. The sheltered bayside harbor lies just north of the San Juanico Strait between Samar and Leyte, a key access point to the Pacific Ocean and the primary shipping route for the Spanish galleons. Since these vessels were headed to Manila with silver and then back to Acapulco with a hold full of porcelain and spices, they were ripe targets for pirates, right? And by “pirates” I mean the English and the Dutch privateers, who were licensed by their sovereigns to interdict and steal the Spanish bounty. Catbalogan became a haven for pirates and privateers, their crews, and lost sailors.

Visayas Philippines map Pulahan war for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The southern mouth of the San Juanico Strait is right near Tacloban. Start there and follow the curve north and west into the bay above Leyte. The strait is 38 kilometers long and, at its narrowest point, 2 kilometers wide.

The Americans would find the city no easier to manage in the early twentieth century. For the first year of the Philippine-American War, the Yanks mostly ignored Samar because they had their hands full in Luzon. But then, in January 1900, gunships arrived offshore Catbalogan and sent a messenger to General Vicente Lukban, the Philippine revolutionary in charge of Samar and Leyte. The Americans wanted to negotiate a surrender of the whole island by offering Lukban the governorship of Samar. But Lukban wanted more than a title; he wanted full local autonomy. The Americans refused, so Lukban forbade them from landing. In turn, the Americans began to bombard the town. In other words, things escalated fast. Unable to withstand the US Navy’s firepower, Lukban and many of the locals abandoned Catbalogan, burning it as they retreated.

What followed was a ruthless two-year war to subdue the revolutionary forces in Samar. Company C of the Ninth Infantry was stationed to Balangiga to prevent Lukban’s men from using the southern port to import arms and supplies. On its own accord, the town ambushed the garrison in September 1901, and the American military took revenge on all of Samar. General Jacob Smith (known in the press as “Hell-Roaring Jake”) vowed to make the island a “howling wilderness.” Dusting off a legal gem from the American Civil War known as General Order 100, the Americans aimed to starve, burn out, torture, and kill as many guerrillas as possible. Catbalogan and Tacloban (Leyte) were the centers of American authority in this period.

USS-Vicksburg-burn-town-Samar-October-1901
USS Vicksburg sailors led by Lieutenant Henry V. Butler (later rear admiral) burning a village in Samar, October 1901. Photo courtesy of Arnaldo Dumindin and his excellent website on the Philippine-American War.

General Smith’s “short, severe war” was both. But one might argue that it prompted the April 1902 surrender of Lukban’s forces in a grand ceremony in Catbalogan. (Lukban himself had already been captured.)

Lukban-Capture-Catbalogan-Samar

Those surrendering had to turn over their rifles captured from Balangiga the previous year and pledge loyalty to the United States, but then they were freed. Lukban himself would become mayor of the Tabayas province (now Quezon) within ten years. This begs the question of whether it was the severity of the fight or the quality of the peace that pacified the countryside? Amnesty is not used much in America’s modern war playbook, and I wonder if this is an oversight.

There is an interesting fashion note worth mentioning: the Americans did loan the revolutionaries a few Singer sewing machines so they could surrender in style with new (and complete) uniforms. Pride was salvaged all around.

Surrender-Lukban-Catbalogan-Samar-1902

This is not the end of the story, though. This first war—including the destruction of half the municipalities in Samar and the burning of tens of thousands of tons of rice—caused a lingering famine and sparked another war two years later. Today, we call this phenomenon “blowback.” The Pulahan War was both a civil war (inland highlanders against lowland merchants and farmers) and an anti-American insurrection. On the American side, it was fought by the Philippine Constabulary, Third District—a civil police force organized, funded, equipped (not well), and trained by Americans (usually former soldiers). And by the 39th Philippine Scouts, trained and equipped (with better rifles) by the US Army. Both these units had significant troop presences in Catbalogan, along with the 6th, 12th, and 21st U.S. Infantries.

Philippine-Constabulary-Catbalogan-39th
The 39th Company, Philippine Scouts, stands at present arms outside their barracks in Catbalogan, Samar. Photo courtesy of Scott Slaten of the Philippine-American War Facebook group.

Catbalogan was a highly fortified town, but it was still beautiful. The ring of mountains separating it from the suffering of the rest of Samar did make for a stunning backdrop.

Catbalogan-Samar-Philippines-vintage-postcard
Colorized vintage postcard of a steamer coming into to dock at Catbalogan, Samar, Philippines. Scan courtesy of Scott Slaten of the Philippine-American War Facebook group.

The city fared better than the rest of Samar through the lean times, too. Though the galleons no longer journeyed back and forth to Spain, Catbalogan was a center of the abaca trade in the 19th and 20th centuries, hence the large buildings and church. Abaca, also called Manila hemp, was in high demand as naval cordage. Its trade was dominated by ethnic Chinese and British merchants, and once Samar was no longer in ashes, the fiber would revive and bring an influx of capital to Catbalogan.

abaca-hemp-rope-making-philippines
Filipinos making rope. This photograph shows the hemp as it comes from the leaves and is put on the spool for winding. Courtesy of the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive.

The busy port was a bit out of town and had to be reached via a causeway along the coast.

Catbalogan-Samar-Bird-Eye-View-Postcard
Vintage postcard of Samar with a view of the wooden causeway connecting town to the port. Scanned image of the early 20th century card by Leo D. Cloma.

In the early twentieth century, Americans complained about the lack of poultry, eggs, and fruit in Catbalogan. (I find the fruit claim hard to believe.) They also complained about the lack of dedicated school buildings—not one in the whole town—and the lack of teachers. (Whose fault is that?) And they complained that there were only five miles of road on the whole island. (But how far were civilians likely to travel, anyway?) I traveled to Samar in 2005—and though I would not recommend December for your trip because of the rain, I loved it. The island is just as breathtaking as the postcards from 100 years ago.

Catbalogan-Samar-causeway-coast
Another view of the coast and causeway from the Quarterly Bulletin of the Bureau of Public Works.

Ben Potter of the Ninth

A week ago, I re-introduced you to Allegra Alazas, the heroine of the upcoming Sugar Moon. She already has a fan club because she stole every scene she could in Under the Sugar Sun.

Her hero (or anti-hero?) is a different kettle of fish. Ben Potter is not someone you were supposed to like in the past book—and yet I always intended to give you his story because it needs to be told.

Almanzo-Wilder-as-Ben-Potter
Imagine Ben Potter as a little rougher-around-the-edges version of this photo of Almanzo Wilder.

Ben is loosely based on the real men who served in Company C of the Ninth U.S. Infantry. These men fought at San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Just as soon as they returned to their home barracks in upstate New York, they were shipped out again to the Philippines.

What had been meant as a sideshow the war against Spain became the first American imperial war overseas. In March 1899, only one month after tensions between Filipinos and Americans erupted in open combat, the Ninth was sent to reinforce the area around Manila. But they did not stay there long, either. After fighting in several battles that year, they were shipped to China to rescue to the American legation in Beijing (known back then as “Pekin”) during the Boxer War. They scaled the walls of the Forbidden City and camped in the palace grounds.

Ninth-Infantry-Forbidden-City-Boxer-War-China
The Ninth U.S. Infantry in the court of the Forbidden City. Image accessed from the Library of Congress.

One might question what the heck America was doing. A war against Spain fought in Cuba had blossomed into a new war in the Philippines that lent soldiers to fight yet another campaign in China. Talk about mission creep. Yikes. Progressives in the Republican Club of Massachusetts claimed in a 1900 leaflet that the end justified the means: “Isn’t Every American proud of the part that American soldiers bore in the relief of Pekin? But that would have been impossible if our flag had not been in the Philippines.”

Once the foreign powers—Europe, Japan, and America—consolidated their hold on mainland China, the Ninth was sent back to the Philippine-American War. Their vacation was the steamer trip to Manila. There, the battle-weary group was given the privilege (and bother) of serving as honor guard for newly-named civilian governor (and future president of the United States), William Howard Taft.

Two years into their overseas rotation, this company of grizzly veterans was sent to one of the roughest outposts in the islands: Balangiga, Samar. Tasked with closing the port to trade—thereby preventing weapon smuggling to the Philippine revolutionaries—Company C settled down to village garrison life.

These men may have been the worst possible choice for this task. By this point, they were unlikely to trust anyone. In addition, some soldiers were likely suffering from what we would now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Finally, they were cut off from the rest of the world, without even mail call since they were not on the main steamer line. Private Patrick J. Dobbins wrote to his family:

One man in my company went crazy a week ago and escaped to the hills, probably to be killed and eaten by the natives. Another, who was sick unto death, committed suicide this morning at 6 o’clock.  His name is Schechterle and he enlisted at the same time I did in Boston. . . . A grave has been dug near our quarters, and a guard of eight men are over the grave. The body is being lowered into the earth. The flag is at half mast. Three volleys are fired, taps is sounded. It is his last call, ‘absent, but accounted for.’ He is better off. Many of us watch him as he is gently lowered with envious eyes.

Though the commanding officer of Company C, Captain Thomas Connell, was a West Point graduate (1894), he did not manage his garrison well. At first too permissive, he became stringent when he realized that his next promotion was on the line. He felt that the villagers were not obeying his commands to “clean up” the streets, so he ordered Company C to round up all the men and keep them prisoner in two tents on the square.

Yes, my character Ben will try to stop all of this from happening, but history is history. He will not be successful. A week later, the town—with help from guerrillas in the jungle—would ambush the company, killing 48 out of 74 Americans. This was real war with real consequences.

1st-Reserve-Hospital-Manila
The 1st Reserve Hospital in Manila (1900), similar to the field hospital in Basey, Samar, where Company C survivors would have been tended. Photo courtesy of the Philippine-American War Facebook group.

Obviously, my imaginary Ben Potter lived—or did he? For families like his in America, it would have been hard to know. Names in the real reports were spelled wrong. Numbers changed. It felt like even the Army did not know who had survived. When I found a real article in the Manila Times about a sister writing to a missing brother, I rewrote it in my mind to fit fiction:

Georgina search Ben Potter in Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

This is a lot of backstory, to be sure. And it is only backstory, not the plot of my book. But I think it is critical history that Americans have forgotten and been doomed to repeat: the Philippines was the Vietnam or Iraq (or Syria?) of the Gilded Age.

Ben lives through these events as a very young man, and they will haunt him for years. Love may not be a cure for combat trauma, but it can encourage Ben to face his past—especially when that past threatens his future with an amazing woman. (Want to read some teasers? There are some here. Enjoy!)

Negligées in the Morning: Army Life in 1901

I just revised my Sugar Moon flashback scenes from Balangiga, a horrible incident that Ben Potter barely survived. While I was doing that, I went down a teensy-weensy research rabbit hole. Again.

I wanted to know what a typical morning looked like in the Army in 1901. That’s sort of tough because the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War were not written about nearly as much as, for example, the Civil War or the Great War. But Google Books and the Rural New Yorker to the rescue! I found out from the (incompletely excerpted) article below that there was an awful lot of bugling:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

If you have gone to summer camp, you know what reveille sounds like:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

What about the others? The twenty-first century U.S. Army came to the rescue here. The day of a soldier has not changed much in 120 years, it seems.

Here is the tune to assemble for roll call:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

After attendance is taken, soldiers were led through basic calisthenics. What did that look like in 1901? Thanks to the Manual of Physical Drill by the U.S. Army (1900), I know it went something like this:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

I find it fascinating that the manual states to: “Never work the men to the point of exhaustion.” I think my active duty and veteran friends would laugh heartily at that one. And I think we all would find something to be desired in the instructions for how to dress for exercise:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

Negligée? I have all sorts of images in my head there. All. Sorts.

And I do not think any of us are going to exchange our moisture-wicking nylon for flannel. Egad.

After the exercises were over, the mess call would be blown:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

What happened after that? Well, you will have to wait for Sugar Moon to find out! (Or head on over to my Balangiga page for some serious spoilers. Hint: It doesn’t go well.)

Sugar Sun extras: Georgina’s search for Ben

When I started my research for Under the Sugar Sun, I spent a lot of time in the microfiche room at Ateneo de Manila looking through the Manila Times. At first, I did not know what I was looking for. Inspiration, I suppose—and I found it in a real article entitled, “Sister Hunting for Brother: His Name Is E.L. Evans and He Is Supposed to Be in the Philippines.” The sister’s letter had been misdelivered, and the recipient sent it on to the newspaper as a last-ditch effort to find the missing brother. And thus the Ben Potter and Balangiga storyline was born. (And I know you don’t like him yet. You are not supposed to. But just wait. Sugar Moon is coming, and I think Ben will change your mind.)

Back in 2011, I rewrote the original article for Georgina and Ben. Yes, I was writing the book that long.

Georgina search Ben Potter in Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Now, you cannot totally blame Georgie for being worried. These were the real headlines from the Boston Daily Globe about what happened to his unit:

Disaster in Samar. American Troops Surprised at Balangiga. Forty Officers and Men Killed by Insurgents. Company C 9th Attacked While at Breakfast.

Death List. Names of Those Lost at Balangiga, Samar. Five of the Number Went from Boston to Philippines. Thirty-Five Killed and Died of Wounds. Eight Missing.

Nine Boston Men. Seven of Them Were Enlisted Men, and It Is Feared They were All Among the Lost at Balangiga.

Wounded at Balangiga: Boston Loses One More.

Enlisted men’s families were not sent a telegram when their loved ones died. Only officers’ next of kin were offered that peace of mind. Georgie would have combed these articles and found all sorts of discrepancies, as you can read above. This is based on the truth. When I compared the newspaper lists against the Company C roster, there were lots and lots of errors. Even the early Army reports had errors—no surprise, since they were the ones who gave names to the reporters. It was enough to drive a confused family crazy.

And it did not help to read letters like the one below. This is a real letter by a private at Balangiga who, before he died, wrote to his family in Boston about the worsening conditions of his unit. His family let the newspaper print the letter in full, and I can just imagine what Georgina and her mother thought. I recreated the article so that I could edit it down to its most salient points, but it is taken from a real article on this date and in this newspaper.

Sister-Seeking-Brother-Manila-Times-Revised

This letter really defines Georgina’s obsession with finding and, ultimately, returning her brother to Boston. She didn’t know she was a romance heroine, after all. She thought her life more Gothic-style mystery, I suppose. But she will figure out the truth—after a calesa ride or two!

Extras for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

The Sugar Sun series locations

Want to learn more about the setting of the Sugar Sun series? Click on any of the graphics below. To find these places on maps of the Philippines & Manila, click here to go straight to the bottom of this post. Enjoy your visit!

Bais Negros Oriental Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Sugar country founded by Spanish & Chinese mestizos in the 19th century. Come for whale sharks, stay for the pretty.
Dumaguete Negros Oriental Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Beaches, mountains, sugar, missionaries, & sinners. This town is still one of my favorite cities in the Philippines.
Escolta Manila Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The Fifth Avenue of old Manila, a place to buy harness and hardware, dry goods and diamonds, and more.
Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series locations Clarkes. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after. By Jennifer Wallace
While you’re on the Escolta, don’t forget to get some ice cream, fresh bread, or delicious coffee at Clarke’s.
Hotel Oriente Binondo Manila Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Learn about the real Moss & Della: manager West Smith & wife Stella of the troubled, faded glory Hotel Oriente.
Luneta Manila Philippines setting of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The place to see and be seen in old Manila. Mosquito free! Then the Americans went and ruined it.
Balangiga location for Sugar Moon in Sugar Sun meaty historical romance series
This town is a case study in occupation & a name that every American should know. Essential reading for the upcoming novel, Sugar Moon.
Malecon Manila Luneta Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Where you might play, race, or even fall in love: the beautiful shoreline of Old Manila before the Americans got a hold of it.
Intramuros Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A medieval walled city plopped into the tropics: complete with moat, cathedral, and cannons. What more do you need?
Fort Santiago Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Named after Saint James the Moorslayer, but the most famous man to be slayed from this prison was a smart young doctor (and bestselling author) named José Rizal.
Manila port expansion photo for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
See how the shoreline of Manila was changed in the first massive infrastructure project of the American Philippines.
Benguet Road Baguio location post for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The Americans found a perfect place to wait out the steamy Philippine summers. But how to get there—alive?
Catbalogan-Samar-Philippines-vintage-postcard
Explore this beautiful town at the center of piracy, two anti-American wars, and a grand celebration of peace.


In case you want to know where these places are:

Philippines map for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Visayas Bisayas map for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

sugar-series-map-manila-with-port

Go back to the top.