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!)

Introducing Allegra Alazas

Do you ever make imaginary friends with a character from a book? I do all the time. These are often characters I have made up in my own mind—and yet I still need to get to get acquainted with them from scratch like they’re strangers. If I have done my job right, by the time the book is ready to print, the hero and heroine are my family. I love them.

Sometimes a character does not wait for her own book. She steals the show from the first moment she is introduced. Such a character is Allegra Alazas, the fiercely loyal cousin of Javier Altarejos, and the woman who plays his matchmaker in Under the Sugar Sun.

Escolta-Manila-Philippines-Sugar-Sun-Location
The Fifth Avenue of old Manila, a place to buy harness and hardware, dry goods and diamonds, and more.

Sugar Sun’s heroine Georgina Potter first meets Allegra in a store on the Escolta, in Manila. As she tells it:

Señorita Allegra was perfectly happy to keep the conversation going all on her own, just as she had done for the past half hour. They had met by chance at a dry goods store, and Georgie had not been able to shake the woman since. Allegra could not believe that any American would walk the Escolta without shopping, so Georgie now found herself unfolding a delicate slip of lace, pretending to consider it despite its prohibitive price. Even though Georgie was supposed to be getting married soon, she did not feel sentimental enough about the occasion to plunge into debt over it. This treasure was not for her.

Allegra kept talking. “I have to sew my flowers on dresses now, though Hermana Teresa will jump off the Puente de España before she believes it. Yesterday she says I will fail domestic labors class. Fail! So I say it is okay—one day I will hire her as my costurera. Do you hear nuns curse before? Very quiet, but they do.”

No doubt nuns cursed around this young woman a lot, Georgie thought. Allegra looked demure but was really quite untamed. Black, roguish eyes set off her fair, delicate skin. Her pink lips were small but curvy, as exaggerated as the outlandish words that came from them.

Lantern-slide-inspiration-Allegra-Sugar-Moon

She sounds like fun, doesn’t she? Allegra—or Allie, as she will soon be known—was inspired by the lantern slide photo above. True story. It was the look on this woman’s face that won me over. I thought her story had to be written.

Sugar-Moon-Teaser-SilhouetteIf I had to cast a movie version of Sugar Moon (and I am open to offers), I would love to see Maine Mendoza in the role:

You see the resemblance, don’t you? It is all about the attitude.

Well, I’d better get back to it, or else you will never get to read Allie’s story. I had to do a massive rewrite this past winter, and I’m about 40% through the Big Edit now. There are some complicating factors that make this book tough. The history is real, and I do not want to skim over that fact. (As author Elizabeth Kingston pointed out recently, colonialism needs to be critically examined, even in romance. Actually, especially in romance. I have tried to do this, and I will keep trying—which to me means not ignoring the difficult stuff.) Also, Ben Potter has to be carefully transformed into hero material; he was not likable in the previous book. But he will be, I promise. Barring major problems, I am gunning for a September release. Fingers crossed.

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.)

Thanksgiving Over There in the Philippine-American War

I spent many Thanksgivings in the Philippines, and it was great. We had some fun parties, including one at our farm. The only drawbacks were that it was a normal workday for me, and I did not get to watch football live all day long. This year I have a little time off: my exams are graded and student comments written, so wheeeee! And, like in recent years, we will celebrate “Friendsgiving” in New England with two vegetarians. Meh, I’m not big into Turkey, anyway, so I’ll take it.

Thanksgiving Philippine-American War for Jennifer Hallock Sugar Sun series

30TH VOLUNTEER INFANTRY REGIMENT: Thanksgiving dinner for the men of Company “D”, 30th Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the outer Manila trenches at Pasay. The photo was taken on November 24, 1899 and shows the men sitting down to their meal laid out on a long bamboo table protected from the hot sun by a canvas awning. The Soldiers from Company “D” are wearing their blue Army service shirts and campaign hats. Some of the men wear a special red kerchief around their necks, which later became a hallmark of the regiment and earned them the nickname, “The men in the crimsom scarves.” Company D was lead by Captain Kenneth M. Burr throughout their tour in the Philippine Islands. Photo and caption uploaded by Scott Slaten on the Philippine-American War Facebook Group.What would it have been like in November 1899, though, just as the Philippine-American War was moving from conventional conflict to guerrilla war? Yes, the American military had more men, more guns (though not necessarily better ones), and more bullets. And without General Antonio Luna, who had recently been assassinated, the Philippine forces lost one of its greatest strategists. But Aguinaldo made the decision to disband his forces for an unconventional conflict, and that gave the Filipino revolutionaries a new edge. For the American troops, they had to realize they might not be going home anytime soon.

While I have the advantage of hindsight and can easily say that I do not support America’s imperialist cause in this war, none of that changes history. I wonder what was going through these young men’s minds on this day. Thanks to the Philippine-American War Facebook group, and especially Scott Slaten, for posting these photos. If you are interested in this war at all, you really should follow this group. It’s free, the discussions are strident, and the photos are amazing.

Thanksgiving Philippine-American War for Jennifer Hallock Sugar Sun series

30th INFANTRY REGIMENT, USV – Thanksgiving Day at Pasay, outer Manila trenches with the 2nd Section, Company G, 30th Infantry Regiment USV, November 1899. The photo shows the men with their Krag rifles stacked on the street of their small camp. Note the sign for the 2nd Section in the middle of the photograph. Photo and caption uploaded by Scott Slaten on the Philippine-American War Facebook Group.These photos are also nice reminders that even in war, people celebrate holidays and birthdays. They even fall in love. (That’s where we historical romance authors come in, as Beverly Jenkins so often reminds us.) But what these men’s families wanted to know was not whether they were having a good time, but when they would be coming home. They would not get their answer for another whole year:

Washington Post for Jennifer Hallock Sugar Sun series

From the November 22, 1900, edition of the Washington Post.Since most of these soldiers had originally volunteered for what they had thought was a brief war in Cuba, this was probably a relief. Some did re-enlist as regulars, though, which meant a much longer commitment.

For your Sugar Sun readers out there, here’s a little Thanksgiving tidbit for you: Pilar Altarejos, daughter of Javier and Georgina, was born on Thanksgiving 1903. I thought that was appropriate. The couple could be thankful for being together— how romantic!—and I thought it would get Javier’s nationalist back up a little. (Yes, I’m terrible.)

Hopefully, wherever you are, I hope you have a great week. The best thing about this holiday is the reminder to be grateful for something. I am grateful for so many things, but I want to add you, my readers, to that list. Thank you for reading and for following the Altarejos clan through all its ups and downs. More adventures in love will be coming, I promise!

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.