The Philippine American War

Tirad Pass and the Capture of Aguinaldo

While the pacification of Visayas was going on, American troops in Luzon were also battling the revolutionary army of Aguinaldo. The capture of Aguinaldo had become the foremost goal. In order to elude the American forces, Aguinaldo and his government was forced to flee from Bulacan, Central Luzon, to northern Luzon to seek refuge on the massive Cordillera mountain chain. It was this pursuit that became the background for one of the infamous episodes in the Philippine-American War. This was the Battle of Tirad Pass on December 2, 1899, in which sixty brave Filipino revolutionaries led by a twenty-three year old Tagalog general, Gregorio del Pilar, fought hundreds of American soldiers tasked with apprehending Aguinaldo. In Candon, Ilocos Sur, Aguinaldo and his troops went east and crossed the Ilocos range over a high mountain cut en route to the mountains of the Cordillera Central. This passageway to the Cordillera was Tirad Pass.

Del Pilar saw the potentials of the formidable Tirad Pass. From atop, one can clearly see the pursuing Americans while its terrain would shield the defending Filipino troops. Del Pilar and sixty of his men asked to be left behind with the mission of defending the pass and delaying the pursuing Americans, thereby putting more distance between the fleeing Aguinaldo and the American forces in pursuit. They were eventually killed after a long battle and only after a Filipino soldier betrayed them by revealing to the Americans the secret passage to the mountain top from the rear.

Even after losing his top aide, Aguinaldo continued exhorting his troops to persevere in the struggle. He was able to elude arrest until March 23, 1901 when he was captured at Palanan, Isabela. Despite his captivity, the war continued and the mantle of leadership fell on the remaining Filipino generals. By this time, the war had entered new dimensions. Epidemics from contagious diseases multiplied the casualties and speeded up the resolution of the conflict.