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
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.

38th Infantry on the Luneta

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
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.

The band in the March 1909 blizzard inauguration of President 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-corrected
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:

Sister-Seeking-Brother-Manila-Times-Revised-Thin

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:

bugling-army-life-1901

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

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

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:

Forbidden-City-Boxer-Rebellion-cannon

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-drill-rifle-shoulders-1901

And this:

army-drill-rifle-bend-back

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-neglige-exercise-1901

Negligée? I have all sorts of images in my head there. All. Sorts. Especially in some of these drills…

army-drills-1901-manual

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:

Balangiga location for Sugar Moon in Sugar Sun meaty historical romance series

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.)

Baseball in the Philippines

Baseball arrived in the Philippines with Commodore George Dewey in May 1898. After sinking the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay and taking over Cavite Naval Base, the Olympia‘s team, the Diamond Diggers, played the first Army-Navy game on Philippine soil. I could not find out who won.

The 1899 Philippine Islands baseball championship cup.

Though basketball proved a more popular sport amongst Filipinos in the long term, baseball is a fitting metaphor for the entire American occupation.

Let us be honest: American justifications for imperialism were racist right out of the gate. The Yanks claimed to be “benevolently assimilating” the Filipinos, and assimilation included sport. General Franklin Bell (of reconcentrado fame) claimed that “baseball had done more to civilize Filipinos than anything else,” and the Manila Times called it a “regenerating influence, or power for good” (quoted in Gems 112).

Boston Globe racism in Philippines
An overtly racist illustration called “Expansion, Before and After,” from the front page of the Boston Sunday Globe on 5 March 1899.

And colonial racism was not limited to Filipinos. The Americans mistreated their own, too, including the 24th and 25th Infantries, both African-American regiments. Jim Crow America came to Manila, including all-white barber shops and all-white baseball leagues. The 25th—who played for “Money, marbles, or chalk, money preferred”—got a small bit of revenge by winning the island championships for four years in a row.

25th Infantry baseball team in 1916
The 25th Infantry baseball team, pictured here in 1916.

If sport was to “civilize,” it had to be a part of the Thomasite educational program from the beginning. The teachers hoped that it would replace cockfighting, though that goal ultimately proved too ambitious. Still, baseball did catch on. One Thomasite reported: “We first got hold of the Jolo boys through baseball” (quoted in Elias 44). Because English was the language of the diamond, it was seen as a way to advance a holistic curriculum. Maybe it was too successful. According to public health commissioner, Victor Heiser:

…a group of yelling Igorots (mountain tribespeople) had been seen playing baseball in a remote clearing. The catcher wore only a G-string and mask, and the runner on first started for second amid cries of: “Slide, you son of a bitch, slide!”

Girls playing baseball in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Remember that public schools were started in the first place because “no measure would so quickly promote the pacification of the islands,” according to the colonial government’s 1903 Census. In other words, Americans wanted to rule with books, not Krags. (Not a bad inclination.) Baseball was another “weapon” in the search for peace. The Los Angeles Times claimed that “The American athletes will teach them that the bat is more powerful than the bolo” (quoted in Franks 17).

Igorot baseball in the Philippines
An Igorot baseball team, as photographed by Philippine Commissioner Dean C. Worcester at National Geographic.

Baseball may have provided a more romantic substitution, as well. Local courtship tradition demanding that a prospective groom impress his bride’s family with a “scalp of their bitterest enemy,” but conveniently this new game provided an alternative: home runs. According to sportswriter Ernie Harwell, “Americans, acting as muscle-bound cupids, often played simple grounders and easy outs into home runs so their Filipino friends could escape bachelorhood” (quoted in Elias 45).

Fortunately, girls could play, too, following the Thomasite emphasis on coeducation—maybe the best thing the Americans brought to the Philippines, in my opinion. Both boys and girls in the Philippines still play to great success. Youth league world championships often feature Filipino teams as the representative champions of Asia, and sometimes they win the whole thing:

Softball world champion team from Manila
The students have become the teachers: the 2012 Big League Softball World Series Champions, Team Philippines.

I will end with a little confession for you: I used to date a baseball player before Mr. Hallock came along, and I have a thing for men in striped pants. Therefore, adding a touch of sports romance to the upcoming Sugar Moon was both historically accurate and fun:

Allegra did not know the score, nor did she care. Most of the time she could not be bothered to exert herself, but she did have a sharp eye for talent, especially in one man. Shortstop Ben Potter needed only a few graceful steps to cover half the infield, like a ballet of baseball.

I hope you will enjoy it! Look for release news in the coming months.

(By the way, if you are looking for contemporary baseball romance with a small town American feel, please check out Jen Doyle’s Calling It series. It’s hot and cozy at the same time. As Jen’s tagline says, “Life is short. Read happy.”)

Guide to the history behind Sugar Sun

At the start of Under the Sugar Sun, Georgina Potter travels to the Philippines to search for her brother, Ben—a soldier missing since the Philippine-American War. The night she arrives, she walks into a fire set by the cholera police to “cleanse” a neighborhood. Right away we are rooted in the history of the American colonial period.

But why were Americans in the Philippines in the first place? How did war with Spain in the Caribbean turn into an empire in Asia?

Here on my blog, I have written a lot of history—no surprise since it is my day job. Here are links to the most relevant posts, complete with illustrations.

1896 election history for Sugar Sun history
The bid for empire started with an election about making America great (again?), with jobs, industrialism, and trade. Sounds familiar. Find out more.
Spanish American War Part 1
American imperialism was a cause and effect of the Spanish-American War. Why fight at all? It’s the economy, stupid!? Find out more.
Spanish-American War Part 2
Navy accidents, fake news, and a New Yorker bent on war. I mean the Spanish-American War of 1898. What were you thinking? Find out more.
Spanish-American War Part 3
Mission creep was a thing before we had the phrase. How the war in the Caribbean turned into an empire in Asia. Also, imperial euphemisms. Find out more.
New imperialism in the Philippines
What was so “new” about American imperialism in the Philippines? Also, how Mark Twain is still relevant today. Find out more.
Why the Philippine-American War matters now.
The good, bad, and ugly of your great-great-great grandparents’ Vietnam War: the Philippine-American War. Also, why it matters to you now more than ever. Find out more.
The Pulahan War parts 1, 2, and 3.
The Pulahan War was a millennialist insurrection, like ISIS. Why don’t we study it more? Find out more in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Insular euphemisms for imperialism.
Euphemisms for imperialism but not immigration reform. They called that what it was: Chinese exclusion. Find out more.
Baseball history in the Philippines
Baseball was a perfect metaphor for American colonial rule. Find out more.
Cholera epidemic in 1902 Philippines
Cholera has long been a sideshow of war. For the Americans in Manila, it was a challenge to modernity and “benevolent assimilation.” Also, silly naval surgeons. Find out more.
Army life in the Gilded Age
Soldiers in…negligées? My research rabbit hole on daily life in the U.S. Army in 1901. Find out more.
Benguet road to Baguio
For the Americans sweating it out in Manila, all roads led to Baguio—once they built them, that is. Find out more.
Missionaries in the Philippines
Learn about the real missionaries of Dumaguete, the backdrop for Tempting Hymn, and their best legacy: Silliman University. Find out more.
Balangiga occupation and attack
A case study in occupation, and a town that every American should know. Essential reading for the upcoming Sugar Moon. Find out more.
Ninth Infantry in Boxer War and Philippines
Talk about mission creep: a war against Spain fought in Cuba blossomed into a new war in the Philippines that lent soldiers to fight yet another campaign in China. Find out more.
Thanksgiving with the 30th Volunteers in Pasay
Spend the holidays with the 30th U.S. Volunteers in Pasay. Find out more.
Deaf education in the Gilded Age
Take a peek inside deaf education in the Gilded Age with heroine Della Berget, modeled on real-life adventuress, Annabelle Kent. Find out more.
Marijuana in the Gilded Age
Who won the 2016 election? Marijuana, of course. But beware! Gilded Age America preferred cocaine tooth drops. Find out more.
Gibson girls tackle international travel
Three intrepid Gilded Age women take on illiteracy, disease, and the perils of international travel. Find out more.
Gilded Age in Newport and Manila
The wealth of the Gilded Age reached both sides of the Pacific, but nowhere was it gaudier than at Newport. Find out more.
Sex Education in the Gilded Age
What did Gilded Age authorities teach about sex, virginity, and pleasure? The results may surprise you. Find out more.
New Year's 1900 and 2017
War, natural disaster, terrorism, technology, and health care: all concerns of New Years Day 1900. Find out more.

I hope you have enjoyed my snarky view of history, and I hope it enriches your reading of the Sugar Sun series.

Hingham Public Library this Monday!

Hotly contested stump speeches on transpacific trade, immigration, and Muslim separatists aren’t new to American political discourse. Join historian, teacher, and author Jennifer Hallock to learn how our first experiment in overseas empire in the Philippines (1898-1946) still shapes our country now.

 What has brought the Americans full circle back to the Philippines, and why do some Filipinos want them to turn right around again? If you are in the Boston area, please come to the Hingham Public Library this coming Monday, September 19th, at 7pm.

Apparently, there will be community cable television there, so I need all the friendly faces I can get!