Jacob H. Smith

Jacob H. Smith
Jacob Hurd Smith
General jacob smith2.jpg
Smith in Tacloban, Philippines, 1901
Nickname "Hell-Roaring Jake"
Born January 29, 1840(1840-01-29)
Died January 3, 1918(1918-01-03) (aged 77)
San Diego, California
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1861-1902
Rank Brigadier General

American Civil War

Indian Wars
Spanish American War
Philippine-American War

General Jacob Hurd Smith (January 29, 1840 - March 1, 1918) was a United States Army officer best known for ordering an indiscriminate retaliatory attack on a group of Filipinos during Philippine-American War after more than forty American soldiers were massacred in a surprise attack on the Island of Samar.[1] His orders included, "kill everyone over the age of ten" and make the island "a howling wilderness.[2] Court-martialed for the incident,[1] he was dubbed "Hell Roaring Jake" Smith, "The Monster", and "Howling Jake" by the anti-imperialist press as a result.


Civil War and postbellum

Smith enlisted early in the Civil War, but was disabled in the Battle of Shiloh. He tried to return to duty that summer, but the wound would not heal properly, so he became a member of the Invalid Corps, serving out the remainder of the Civil War as a mustering officer/recruiter in Louisville for three years. His service record states that he was good at recruiting "colored" troops.[citation needed]

While working in Louisville, he met and later married Emma L. Havrety in November 1864.

In 1869, Smith's father-in-law, Daniel Havrety claimed bankruptcy. The lawyers for the bankruptcy court noticed a tremendous enlargement of Jacob Smith's assets while in Louisville, from $4,000 in 1862 to $40,000 in 1865. Smith admitted that he was involved in a brokerage scheme using bounty money for army recruits to finance a side business and speculations in whisky, gold, and diamonds. Smith said he receipted for a package sent via Express from New Orleans to Cleveland. The package came from his father-in-law and was addressed to Smith's mother-in-law. Smith later learned the package contained $13,000.[3]

Army judge advocate position

In 1869, Smith was trying to get a temporary army judge advocate position converted into a permanent position. One of the parties in the bankruptcy case, John McClain, informed the Senate Committee on Military Affairs about Smith’s bounty brokerage scheme.

Smith wrapped himself in the flag and argued to the committee that he had been in seven engagements and had been wounded in the Battle of Shiloh, and referring to himself said: “one who took upon himself all the odium that the rebels and conservatives of Louisville, Kentucky, heaped upon him, by being the first officer, to my knowledge, who commenced mustering into service the colored man in Kentucky during the year 1863.” Smith said that he had scoured Kentucky’s prison pens, jails, and workhouses to find these men. He concluded that his only aim was to serve his God and his country properly. Smith admitted to speculating, but justified it by saying that others had made three times as much money as he had in Louisville during the war, and he had not defrauded anyone.

His military superiors did not accept this patriotic excuse. So Smith wrote a more apologetic explanation, painting himself as a gullible dupe. Everyone who could substantiate his story had either died or left the country. Smith had also conveniently destroyed or lost all of his own bank account records for that period. Smith insisted he had not cheated any of the colored recruits out of their $300 bounty money/enlistment bonus.

Military officials did not believe Smith. Smith’s temporary appointment as judge advocate was revoked by the President and it was recommended by Joseph Holt that the entire file of papers be sent to the Senate Committee. Holt mentioned by Smith’s own testimony how Smith felt it was alright to mislead and deceive military auditors. “By his conflicting statements and his unfortunate explanation, he is placed in a dilemma full of embarrassment.”[3]

Smith’s future gaffes

In 1877, Smith responded to a written reprimand from his colonel with a disrespectful longhand response. Technically, the Colonel could not censure Jacob Smith because he had been released from his command because of the incident that was being investigated. When Jacob’s company was marching away, the Colonel indicated his displeasure. Smith’s reply made fun of the colonel, saying he was like Prussian general von Moltke. Smith said the colonel’s rebuke was like an “Irishman who was remonstrated with for letting his wife whip him, and answered, ‘It is fun for her, and don’t hurt me”. The colonel notified Smith there would be a court-martial, and so Smith wrote the colonel a nasty letter. Smith was not court-martialed, and instead Major John Pope lectured Smith and recommended the whole affair be dropped since Smith had apologized.[4]

Legal problems

During the 1870s, Smith was called away from duty for several lawsuits for debt. One case dragged on in a Chicago court from 1869 to 1883.

Another creditor, named Henry, continued a claim against Smith for $7 for payment of a harness. The case dragged on from 1871 to 1901. Henry even sent a letter to President McKinley about Smith and his $7 debt.

On July 31, 1884, Smith was sued again in Chicago by the legal firm Pedrick and Dawson.

Smith was court martialed in 1885 in San Antonio for “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, for deeds in the “Mint Saloon” in Brackett Texas. The opposing party claimed Smith had been playing a game of draw poker with M.S. Moore and C.H. Holzy A.K.A. Jiggerty, lost $135 to Moore, and welshed on the debt. Smith was found guilty and was confined to Fort Clark for a year and forfeited half his pay for the same time period. The Reviewing Authority thought the court was too lenient on Smith. It also felt that Smith’s courtroom tactics made a mockery of the legal procedure:

  • demanding witnesses from distant and impractical locations especially since he never actually used the witnesses in court,
  • local civilian witnesses for some reason were intimidated so they refused to testify against Smith,
  • local civilian witnesses for the defense selectively decided which questions they would answer and which they would not.

While the draw poker case was pending in 1885, Smith wrote a letter to the Adjutant General of the Army. The letter was regarding the case and the Adjunct found out that many of the statements were lies. Because of this, Smith was tried again in 1886 and was found guilty, and would have thrown him out of the military. Smith was only saved by President Grover Cleveland who allowed Smith to return to the military with only a reprimand.

In 1891, Smith was charged with using enlisted men as his servants in his home.[5]

Philippine-American War

Smith with Major General Adna Chaffee in Tacoblan, Leyte, 1902

Smith was sent to the Philippines during the Philippine-American War.

Smith brags to media about war crimes

In December 1899, Colonel Jacob Smith informed reporters in the Philippines that, because the natives were "worse than fighting Indians", he had already adopted appropriate tactics that he had learned fighting "savages" in the American west, without waiting for orders to do so from General Elwell S. Otis. This interview provoked a headline announcing that "Colonel Smith of 12th Orders All Insurgents Shot At Hand," and the New York Times enthusiastically endorsed Smith's lawlessness as "long overdue."[6]

Smith's alleged war crimes in the Philippine-American War, like those of General J. Franklin Bell. were not investigated.[7]

William Howard Taft’s mistake

Because of Smith’s bravery in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, William Howard Taft, who was the civilian governor of the Philippines, decided to promote Smith to Brigadier General with a caveat. Taft wrote, Smith “had reached a time when promotion to a Brigadier Generalship would worthily end his services, for I believe it is his intention to retire upon promotion.” Smith was promoted, but he decided not to retire.

Starting in the late 1880s, the U.S. Army had adopted the system of filling each brigadier general position not by qualifications, but by mere seniority. The system usually gave elderly colonels a few more months, weeks or days of active duty with a new title, followed by nearly immediate retirement at a higher pay rate. The problem with Jacob Smith was that he was slightly younger and his promotion to general was made too soon because he had three years left until retirement became mandatory by law.[8]

Smith causes an uproar in Luzon

Spanish Dominican Friars of the Catholic Church were a principal cause of the Filipino revolution against Spain, and many friars had been massacred and tortured by the Filipino population.[9] American foreign policy was to stay strictly neutral in religious matters.

In September 1900, while Smith was the military governor of Pangasinan, Tarlac, and Zambales on Luzon, Smith intervened in a religious dispute in the village of Dagupan. Smith sided with a priest who was friendly with the friars. This caused an angry civilian uproar in central Luzon.[10]

Samar campaign

On September 28, 1901, more than forty American soldiers of Company C of the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment who had been stationed in the town of Balangiga, the third largest town on the southern coast of Samar island were killed in a surprise guerrilla attack. They had been deployed to Balangiga to close its port and prevent supplies reaching Filipino forces in the interior,[11] which at that time were under the command of General Vicente Lukban. Lukban had been sent there in December 1898 to govern the island on behalf of the First Philippine Republic under Emilio Aguinaldo.[12]

The massacre provoked shock in the US public, with newspapers equating the massacre to George Armstrong Custer's last stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Major General Adna R. Chaffee, military governor of the Philippines, received orders from President Theodore Roosevelt to pacify Samar. To this end, Chaffee appointed Smith to Samar to accomplish the task.

Enraged by the surprise guerrilla massacre of U.S. troops on the Island of Samar, Smith carried out an indiscriminate retaliatory campaign upon its inhabitants.[1] His order "Kill Everyone Over Ten" became a caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902. The Old Glory draped an American shield on which a vulture replaced the bald eagle. The caption at the bottom proclaimed, "Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines." Smith's conduct of this campaign eventually resulted in his court-martial.[1]

Smith instructed Major Littleton Waller, commanding officer of a battalion of 315 US Marines assigned to bolster his forces in Samar, regarding the conduct of pacification:

"I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.” General Jacob H. Smith said.
Since it was a popular belief among the Americans serving in the Philippines that native males were born with bolos in their hands, Major Littleton "Tony" Waller asked "I would like to know the limit of age to respect, sir?."
"Ten years," Smith said.
"Persons of ten years and older are those designated as being capable of bearing arms?"
"Yes." Smith confirmed his instructions a second time.[citation needed]

As a consequence of this order, Smith became known as "Howling Wilderness Smith".[13] However, it was known that Smith earned his sobriquet, "Hell-Roaring Jake" not due to his violence in war, but because of his penchant for making outrageous oaths and the extravagance of his language.

A sustained and widespread massacre of Filipino civilians followed. Food and trade to Samar were cut off, intended to starve the revolutionaries into submission. Smith's strategy on Samar involved widespread destruction to force the inhabitants to stop supporting the guerrillas and turn to the Americans from fear and starvation. He used his troops in sweeps of the interior in search for guerrilla bands and in attempts to capture Philippine General Vicente Lukban, but he did nothing to prevent contact between the guerrillas and the townspeople. American columns marched across the island, destroying homes and shooting people and draft animals. Littleton Waller, in a report, stated that over an eleven-day period his men burned 255 dwellings, shot 13 carabaos and killed 39 people.[14]

The Judge Advocate General of the Army observed that only the good sense and restraint of the majority of Smith's subordinates prevented a complete reign of terror in Samar. However, the abuses were still sufficient to outrage anti-Imperialist groups in the United States when these became known in March 1902.

The exact number of Filipino civilians killed by US troops will never be known, but an exhaustive research made by a British writer in the 1990s put the figure at about 2,500; Filipino historians believe it to be around 50,000.[15]

Waller’s court martial

A court martial began on March 17, 1902 of Major Littleton Waller, one of Smith’s subordinates. Major Littleton Waller was being tried for ordering the execution of eleven mutinuous Filipino porters.[16]

Waller did not use Smith’s orders “I want all persons killed” to justify his deed, instead relying on the rules of war and provisions of a Civil War General Order Number 100 that authorized exceeding force, much as J. Franklin Bell had successfully done months before. Waller’s counsel had rested his defense.

The prosecution then decided to call Smith as a rebuttal witness. Smith was not above selling out Waller to save his career. On April 7, 1902, Smith perjured himself again by denying that he had given any special verbal orders to Waller.

Waller then produced three officers who corroborated Waller’s version of the Smith-Waller conversation, and copies of every written order he had received from Smith, Waller informed the court he had been directed to take no prisoners and to kill every male Filipino over 10. This is how the infamous order became public.[17]

General Adna R. Chaffee, military governor of the Philippines and VIII Corps Commander, cabled the War Department requesting permission to keep Smith in the islands for a short time, since he feared that Smith, if given the opportunity to talk to reporters, could speak “absurdly unwise” and might say things contrary to the facts established in the case, "or act like an unbalanced lunatic."[10]

Smith's court-martial

In May 1902, Smith faced court-martial for his orders, being tried not for murder or other war crimes, but for "conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline". The court-martial found Smith guilty and sentenced him "to be admonished by the reviewing authority."

To ease the subsequent public outcry in America, Secretary of War Elihu Root recommended that Smith be retired. President Theodore Roosevelt accepted this recommendation, and ordered Smith's retirement from the Army, with no additional punishment.[3]

Later life

Smith retired to Portsmouth, Ohio, doing some world traveling. He volunteered his military services by letter to the Adjutant General’s Office on April 5, 1917 to fight in World War I. He died the next year in San Diego, California, on March 1, 1918.[8]

Battle wounds

By his 1902 court-martial, Smith had been wounded in battle three times:

  • Smith had a scar from a saber cut on the head that he had received in July 1861 in Barboursville, Virginia.
  • Since April 7, 1862 he had been carrying a Minie ball from the Civil War Battle of Shiloh in his hip.
  • Smith also had a bullet in his body from a wound at El Caney, Cuba during the Spanish-American War.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Jacob F. Smith."(2010). Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
  2. ^ Miller p. 220; PBS documentary "Crucible of Empire"; Philippine NewsLink interview with Bob Couttie author of "Hang the Dogs, The True and Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre" Ten days after President McKinley’s death, the residents of Balangiga, a tiny village 400 miles southeast of Manila, attacked the local U.S. garrison. While U.S. soldiers ate breakfast, the church bells rang a signal. Filipinos brandishing machetes emerged from their hiding places. Forty-eight Americans, two-thirds of the garrison, were butchered, in what is called the Balangiga massacre. On the orders of General Jacob H. Smith, U.S. troops retaliated against the entire island (600 square miles) of Samar where Balangiga is located. The exchange is known because of two courts-martial: one of Waller, who was later court-martialed for ordering or allowing the execution of a dozen Filipino bearers, and the other of Gen. Jacob H. Smith, who was actually court-martialed for giving that order. They jury is out to the extent that order was carried out, because Littleton Waller actually countermanded it to his own men and said "[Captain David] Porter, I've had instructions to kill everyone over ten years old. But we are not making war on women and children, only on men capable of bearing arms. Keep that in mind no matter what other orders you receive." Undoubtedly, some men did commit atrocities regardless of Waller's commands.
  3. ^ a b c d Fritz, p. 187
  4. ^ Fritz, p. 188
  5. ^ Fritz, p. 188-189
  6. ^ Miller p. 95; Death For Luzon Bandits; Guerrillas Caught by Col. Smith Will Be Shot or Hanged. Criminals Infest the Island Some American Officers Say the Campaign Is Worse Than Fighting Indians. New York Times, December 13, 15, 1899; San Francisco Call, August 28, 1899, January 11, 1900; Boston Evening Transcript, January 12, 1900
  7. ^ Miller, p. 227 (See Littleton Waller)
  8. ^ a b Fritz, p. 190
  9. ^ Wolff, Leon (1961). Little Brown Brother: How the United States purchased and pacified the Philippine Islands at the Century's Turn. Doubleday. ASIN: B0006AWZ6Q.  p. 25
  10. ^ a b Fritz, p. 189
  11. ^ "A Philippine Newslink Interview with Bob Couttie, Author of:Hang the Dogs, The True and Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre, page 1". Philippine Newslink. 2004-12-15. http://www.philnews.com/2005/da1.html. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  12. ^ "A Philippine Newslink Interview with Bob Couttie, Author of:Hang the Dogs, The True and Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre, page 2". Philippine Newslink. 2004-12-15. http://www.philnews.com/2005/da2.html. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  13. ^ Karnow, Stanley. "Two Nations". http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bataan/sfeature/sf_philippines.html. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  14. ^ Nebrida, Victor. "The Balangiga Massacre: Getting Even". http://www.bibingka.com/phg/balangiga/default.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  15. ^ Dumindin, Arnaldo. "Philippine-American War, 1899-1902". http://www.freewebs.com/philippineamericanwar/balangigamassacre1901.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  16. ^ Miller, p. 226-8
  17. ^ Miller, p. 230-232; Fritz, p. 189


  • Before the "Howling Wilderness": The Military Career of Jacob Hurd Smith, 1862-1902 David L. Fritz Military Affairs Vol. 43, No. 4 (December, 1979), pp. 187; "Most of the material for this article is derived from The Adjutant General's Office (AGO) 1890-1917, National Archives (NA), record group (RG) 94, File 309120 "Considerable older material is filed under the same numerical file number, but has the additional designation of S293CB1867."
  • Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903, Stuart Creighton Miller, (Yale University Press, 1982).

Further reading

  • The Philippine "Lodge committee" hearings (A.K.A. Philippine Investigating Committee) and a great deal of documentation were published in three volumes (3000 pages) as S. Doc. 331, 57th Cong., 1st Session An abridged version of the oral testimony can be found in: American Imperialism and the Philippine Insurrection: Testimony Taken from Hearings on Affairs in the Philippine Islands before the Senate Committee on the Philippines—1902; edited by Henry F Graff; Publisher: Little, Brown; 1969. ASIN: B0006BYNI8

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