Lt. Col. Charles D Clay – By Ned Boyajian

Bleeding in the Mud

Guns roared. Men and horses screamed, in anger or in agony. Amid the chaos of battle, a soldier lay on the ground, helpless, desperately wounded. A bullet had ripped into his neck – by luck or Providence just missing jugular and esophagus –and lodged there. He lay, ignored, for some five hours. Perhaps he was dazed or semiconscious; probably he was in terrible agony, before his comrades could spare the time to carry him off to a hospital. His life was saved only by the coagulating properties of his blood.1 

What had brought Charles D. Clay, grandson of the Great Pacificator, to war and a rendezvous with a Filipino bullet on the island of Luzon, somewhere near the town of Banlac? The date was March 25, 1899. Spain, trounced by American forces in a brief war, had recently ceded the Philippines to the United States. All well and good, except that the Filipinos had other ideas about who should run their country. 

About the Man

What thoughts and images may have passed through Clay’s mind as he lay wounded, no one can know. But one cannot help wonder if his inner eye turned back to the first battle he had ever witnessed, when he was a tender boy of five, nearly four decades earlier. 

In 1862, little Charley Clay was living with his mother, Susan Maria (Jacob) Clay and brothers and sisters. Their home was a farm, Ashland, which had been established outside of Lexington, Kentucky, by Charley’s grandfather, the statesman Henry Clay. Charley had been born there in 1857, soon after the family moved into the new house, constructed on the exact site where the original, flawed building had stood. Charley’s grandfather had died a few years before he was born; but he remembered his grandmother, the enigmatic, leather-faced Lucretia. When he was just a tiny boy, she would reach into a cupboard and give him tea cookies. “That was enough, he liked his grandmother very much,” Clay’s daughter would recount decades later.2 In the fall of 1862, Charley’s father, James Brown Clay, and oldest brother, Jimmy, were away, because of the Civil War. Then the others arrived, pitching their tents in the fields surrounding the house. The strangers were unwelcome, to say the least. They were Yankees. And they were intruding on the sanctum of arch-Rebels.3 

The Battle of Ashland occurred in late October 1862 when John Hunt Morgan’s men attacked Union troops from the 4th Ohio Cavalry who were camped on the farm.4 Terrified, Mrs. Clay gathered the children in her bedroom and ordered them to lay flat against the floor. But Charley could not help peeking up over the windowsill to watch the action. The Confederates won the battle, but not before Wash Morgan, John Hunt Morgan’s cousin was mortally wounded. Clay Family lore holds that Mrs. Clay provided the carriage that brought Wash to his family home in Lexington.5


Years later, Charles Clay graduated from Racine College in Wisconsin. He subsequently spent a few years engaged in business pursuits before seeking commission in the U.S. Army. President Arthur appointed him a lieutenant and Clay received his first assignment – to the 17th Infantry.6


Clay was married, late, to a younger woman – a belle from Frankfort, Kentucky with the Americana name Mariah Hensley Pepper, Ria for short. The names were pronounced “Moriah,” like the hill and the wind, and “Rya.”7  She was beautiful, intelligent, and a daughter of much privilege. By the time Clay went to war, the couple had their first child, a charming daughter, Susan.8


Clay served in Cuba during the Spanish-American war. He saw heavy fighting at El Caney, which was part of the same action around Santiago as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders’ famous assault on San Juan Hill. During the battle at El Caney, on July 1, 1898, Clay’s cousin, Charles D. Jacob, Jr., was hit in the head by shrapnel – killing him instantly – while he tried to carry a wounded comrade to cover. Young Jacob was the son of the three-time mayor of Louisville, Charles D. Jacob.9 10  But he did not inherit his father’s luck: the army reported only 280 American men killed in action during the entire ten-week war. 

The story is that Clay’s mother had quarreled with her brother, the senior Charles Jacob, years before, so Clay did not know his cousin. But he learned that young Jacob had been killed and buried – and determined to send the body home. Clay paid some men to exhume the body – they took the money, but midway through the job refused to continue. So Clay drew his pistol and compelled them to finish. He was able to identify the body by Charles Jacob’s resemblance to Clay’s sister.11

Clay was awarded a Silver Star for his bravery under fire in Cuba and was promoted to captain.12

Peeping up at first battle, earning a Silver Star, wooing and winning the high-spirited Ria. No one could doubt that Clay was a brave man.


The fighting in Cuba over, Clay returned to the United States in late August 1898. He collected his wife and toddler daughter who had been staying with relatives in Frankfort, Kentucky, and settled with them in a cottage in Columbus, Ohio, where the 17th was stationed.13 They were not long together. In December 1898, the 17th received orders to deploy to the Philippines. The situation there was dismal. 

On the Road to the Philippines

The Philippines, an archipelago of 7,107 islands in Southeast Asia, had been seized by Spain during 16h century. The first battle of the short Spanish-America took place in the Philippines, in Manila Bay. On May 1, 1898 the U.S. Admiral Dewey14 ordered, “you may fire when ready, Gridley,”15 and destroyed the Spanish Pacific Squadron. The Filipinos (who had been rebelling from Spain for a number of years) declared independence on June 12. Under the leader Emilio Aguinaldo,16 the Filipinos quickly secured control over most of the country, except for the capital city Manila, where the remains of the Spanish forces, about 13,000 men holed up, ringed in by an army of vengeful Filipinos. On August 4, an American army arrived on the scene, under a most unlikely commander. Major General Wesley Merritt17 was an old cavalryman, which was odd because he was from New York City. When Dewey sank the Spanish fleet with unexpected speed, the U.S. rushed to cobble together an Army to leverage the victory and take control of some ground in the Philippines. That was the less-than-glorious origin of the VIII Corps and Merritt was tapped to command it. Aguinaldo graciously made room for the newcomers in the pickets around Manila. 

But Merritt quickly cut a secret deal with the leader of the Spanish forces, thus proving that he was, in fact, a New Yorker. 

On August 13, with American commanders unaware that a peace protocol had been signed between Spain and the United States on the previous day, American forces captured the city of Manila from the Spanish. Governor-General Fermin Jaudenes had made a secret agreement with Dewey and General Wesley Merritt. Jaudenes specifically requested to surrender only to the Americans, not to the Filipino rebels. In order to save face, he proposed a mock battle with the Americans preceding the Spanish surrender; the Filipinos would not be allowed to enter the city. Dewey and Merritt agreed to this, and no one else in either camp knew about the agreement. On the eve of the mock battle, General Thomas M. Anderson telegraphed Aguinaldo, “Do not let your troops enter Manila without the permission of the American commander. On this side of the Pasig River you will be under fire.”

At the beginning of the war between Spain and America, Americans and Filipinos had been allies against Spain in all but name; now Spanish and Americans were in a partnership that excluded the Filipino insurgents. Fighting between American and Filipino troops almost broke out as the former moved in to dislodge the latter from strategic positions around Manila on the eve of the attack. Aguinaldo had been told bluntly by the Americans that his army could not participate and would be fired upon if it crossed into the city. The insurgents were infuriated at being denied triumphant entry into their own capital, but Aguinaldo bided his time. Relations continued to deteriorate, however, as it became clear to Filipinos that the Americans were in the islands to stay.18

Merritt then hustled for himself a sweet job on the U.S. peace commission in Paris – and one Major General Elwell Stephen Otis19 suddenly found himself commander of VIII Corps – only a week after he first arrived in Manila.20 He was now in a position very similar to that from which Jaudenes had just extricated himself. Otis had about 22,000 troops pinned down in Manila surrounded by more than twice as many angry Filipino soldiers occupying trenches and embankments all around the city. 

On December 10, 1898, the United States and Spain formally ended the war by signing the Treaty of Paris. Spain gave up its claims to Cuba and ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States. The Spanish had tried to keep possession of the Philippines on the grounds that Manila had fallen after the August 12 ceasefire. But the American negotiators were not having it. They did, though, agree to pay Spain $20 million compensation for the loss of the Philippines. Ignored throughout this process were the Filipinos who had been allied with the U.S. against Spain and who had considered themselves independent since June. The Treaty of Paris sparked bitter debate in the United States, with many Americans, from Grover Cleveland to Mark Twain to Andrew Carnegie to William Jennings Bryant passionately opposed to the annexation of the Philippines. 

Within the U.S., opposition to the Filipino-American War never became a mass movement. It was not that necessarily that the war was popular – it just was rarely felt directly by the majority of Americans, so not much on their minds.21 Within the Clay family, opposition to the war did hit a nerve. Clay’s outspoken brother George Clay22 referred to the war as “imperialism.” And even Clay expressed some doubts (though he did so only once, and then obliquely) when he wrote in a letter that he hoped the cause was just.23


On January 20, 1899, President McKinley24 empanelled a commission to provide answers to just such qualms as the Clay brothers expressed. It was called the Schurman Commission. Its report, released on November 2, 1900, optimistically asserted:

Should our power by any fatality be withdrawn, the commission believes that the government of the Philippines would speedily lapse into anarchy…

Only through American occupation, therefore, is the idea of a free, self-governing, and united Philippine commonwealth at all conceivable

… the indispensable need from the Filipino point of view of maintaining American sovereignty over the archipelago is recognized by all intelligent Filipinos and even by those insurgents who desire an American protectorate.25


The Senate did not ratify the controversial Treaty of Paris until February 6, 1899 – but the U.S. War Department did not wait for the legislators to come to a conclusion. 

On December 15, 1898, Major General Nelson Miles sent notification that the 12th Infantry, 24th Infantry, 3rd Infantry, 4th Infantry, and Clay’s 17th Infantry had been “selected for service in the Philippine Islands.”26 The next day, General Miles issued a correction: he had selected the 22nd, not the 24th to go to the Philippines. 

General Miles issued an order on January 5 for the 4th Infantry and six companies of the 17th to “proceed by rail to New York City…in time to embark on transport Mohawk on 15th instant.”27

The 5,658-ton Mohawk had been built in 1892 by Elder Dempster & Company as a passenger steamer. She was owned by the Atlantic Transport Line until sold to the United States Army in 1898 along with her sister ship the 5,780-ton Mobile.28 General Russell A. Alger, the Secretary of War, had the ships renamed, respectively, the Grant and the Sherman on January 7, 1898.29

On or about January 18, 1899,30 “…the 4th Regiment of Infantry and one battalion of the 17th, totaling 1,713 enlisted men, 105 cabin passengers, who are thee officers with their families, with a crew numbering 136 and two extraneous persons of the newspaper craft” boarded the Grant.31 Two earlier Times articles report that four young, female nurses also were aboard.32 Prior to heading overseas:

The ship sailed up the Hudson River and fired a salute in honor of President and former Fourth Infantry officer Ulysses S. Grant.33

A salute to General Grant? One wonders at the mixed emotions that would have stirred in Clay, a proud American soldier, from a family of proud Confederates. 

The Grant’s actual departure on January 19, 1899, was a spectacle, as the New York Times reported:

The United States transport Grant sailed at 10 o’clock … for Manila. She had anchored near Liberty Island [the location of the Statue of Liberty – author’s note]. Just before she raised her anchor, the Quartermaster’s boat…rang alongside with final messages, some stores, and a lot of pajamas, ordered by the nurses aboard…The crowds which swarmed on the Battery shouted many a cheer as the Grant dropped down stream… [that] mingled with those of the harbor craftsmen and the tooting of tugs and ferryboats. Next the guns of Governor’s Island boomed out a major general’s salute…thereupon every craft in sight began an ear-splitting parting salute… The Grant passed out of the Narrows at 10:45. Salutes were fired at both Forts Wadsworth and Hamilton.

The transport presented a gala sight. She wore a full dress of colors, and the men, the officers and the members of the officers’ families were seen thick along her rail waiving handkerchiefs and returning heartily the cheers sent after them. Still another salute greeted them at the Hook…34

The breathless gusto of the Times’ writing style reflects the tastes of the day. But the paper often slips from general bullishness into unquestioning cheerleading. For example, one writer gushed that the Grant “is believed to be the most perfect troop transport in any military service.”35


Among the men on board were Brigadier General Robert H. Hall,36 who was in command of the troops during the voyage, and Major General Henry Ware Lawton, an old cavalry comrade of Clay’s older brother, Thomas.37 It was Lawton’s presence that evoked the salutes.

Secretary of War Russell A. Alger38 let it be known that Lawton would command the field forces in the Philippines while General Otis, as military governor, would play more of an administrative role. But Otis caught wind of this plan and was jealous of his position even before Lawton arrived.39

The Grant reached Gibraltar on about January 31. On February 1, Lawton’s adjutant-general, Major Clarence Ransom Edwards,40 reported to Henry Clark Corbin,41 the adjutant-general, that:

Voyage uneventful. Health fairly good. Three cases of measles, 2 mumps, 4 pneumonia, 3 meningitis developed on trip. All improving. Private Prettyman, Company M, 17th Infantry, died January 21, meningitis, seriously ill before sailing. Body hermetically sealed; casket brought into port. Coal here. Remain at least forty-eight hours.42

The New York Times correspondent on board elaborated:

…the Grant was quarantined a day because of measles in the hospital, while the passengers remained prisoners. Entering the harbor, the British flag was saluted, according to army regulations, with twenty-one guns. The Governor General, Sir Robert Biddulph, KCB,43 came aboard to pay his respects to Brig. Gen. Hall… Seventeen shots from two six-pounders greeted the Governor and the band played “God Save the Queen” and later Gen. Hall landed to return the visit. Quarantine being raised, the officers spent a day inspecting what they pronounce the finest military post in the world.44

An official telegram from the U.S. Consul Horatio J. Sprague,45 to the secretary of state notes that the quarantine was lifted only for officers and passengers, not for the crew or soldiers.46 The cheery Times writer continued:

An invitation came from the “Princess of Wales’s Own,” the Yorkshire Regiment, to General Hall and his officers to dine. The general being ill, Major Edwards of General Lawton’s staff. Capt. Clay of the 17th Regiment, and Capt. Duncan and Lieuts. E.V. Smith, Brown, Gregg, and Dorey47 of the 4th Regiment, represented the Americans. According to the reports of this delegation, the Englishmen manifested a much more formal cordiality to their visitors. After the regiment’s traditional toasts, “The Queen” and “The Princess of Wales, the latter always accompanied by the Danish national hymn,48 “the American Army” was proposed and Col. Bruce made a speech expressing the hope that the entrance of the Untied States into the East would mean the frequent and hearty fraternization of the two armies. Capt. Clay and Lieut. Brown spoke for the Americans.49


While the Grant was sailing calmly through the Mediterranean Sea, overt fighting finally broke out between the Americans and the Filipinos. That was on February 4, 1899. The Americans called their rival army the “insurgents” or used the Spanglish term, “the insurrectos.”

In the 19th century American were told that the Filipinos had started the shooting. They did not. The first shots fired were American, Private William W. Grayson, on San Juan Bridge in what is today part of Metro Manila.50


A week after leaving Gibraltar, the Grant reached Port Said, paid her $12,000 tonnage dues and sailed into the Suez Canal. The ship proceeded through the canal and Red Sea to the island of Perim. From there they sailed to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and on to the Philippines,51 arriving on March 11, 1899 local time and March 10, 1899, Washington, DC time.52


After he returned to America, Clay wrote a letter recalling several of the men of his detail he had been friendly with. He had borrowed $4.20 from Second Lieutenant W. D. Davis53 to pay a commissary bill. Davis later rose to the rank of Colonel and was killed leading his men in battle in France, just ten days before the Armistice. Fort William Davis in the Panama Canal Zone is named for him. Clay had lent $10 to a Sergeant Riley, who is the only enlisted man he names in the letter. Shortly before he was shot, Clay had borrowed a revolver and holster from a colorful character, Captain Benjamin Reichman, who went on to be a U.S. observer among the Russians in Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War; and among the Boers during the Boer War.54 Clay also had purchased $11.50 worth of stamps for Lieutenant Robert O. Van Horn.55 56


Soon after his longed-for reinforcements arrived, General Otis reorganized his enhanced army into two divisions – 1st Division under the command of General Lawson had two brigades and was deployed to protect Manila against attack from the south. 2nd Division went to General Arthur MacArthur57 – 12,000 men strong, it was organized into three brigades and ordered to go on the attack. Did Otis give the lower profile job to Lawton out of jealousy? Perhaps. At any rate, the 3rd Brigade of 2nd Division was led by Brigadier General Hall, who appointed Clay to serve as his adjutant-general.58 Hall later recalled that:

The brigade was organized by General Orders, No. 14, Headquarters Department of the Pacific and 8th Army Corps, March 17, 1899, to be composed of the 4th U.S. Infantry, the 17th U.S. Infantry, 13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, and the First Wyoming Volunteer Infantry…

The brigade was at this date much scattered, and was not assembled until under oral instructions from the division commander on the evening of March 24, the 4th Infantry and the two battalions 17th Infantry, no more of the regiment being present, were placed in rear of the troops occupying the entrenchments from La Loma Church to the powder magazine, with instructions to move into the works on the following morning when the troops there should advance. 

The battalion of Wyoming Volunteer Infantry was already in position between San Juan del Monte and the Pasig River. One battalion of the Minnesota regiment was the road between the reservoir and the pumping station, another on the Mariquina road, and the third at the reservoir.59


During this period, Clay was depressed and anxious. 

Now forty-two years old, he longed to be with his family. He wrote long passages [in his letters home] expressing his need for Ria and his eagerness to participate in his children’s lives. Describing himself as “a ship missing its rudder, drifting, drifting,” he assured Ria, “But I tell you one thing right now, if God spares us, one year is going to be the limit of this separation if I have to desert my colors…Apparently, his letters to other members of his family were equally despondent about the separation from his family. His brother George reminded Charles in a letter that he was a soldier and soldiers should expect to go to war. Charles also promised his mother at one point that he would write more “manly” letters to Ria in the future.60

For a man like Clay to even mention desertion as a possibility demonstrates the extremity of his anxiety and depression – conditions the Army (and Clay’s own mother) were not prepared to deal with in 1899. 

Into the Mud

The plan Otis and MacArthur hatched was to march from Manila to the Filipino capital Malolos, a few miles northeast, capture Aguinaldo and overturn his government. All that stood in the way were 30,000 troops in miles of fortified entrenchments, supported by native citizens who for the most part wanted the foreigners out of their country. What could go wrong?

2nd Division began to advance on March 24, 1899, Captain Clay among them. 

The most significant battle of this movement took place at a town called Malabon, near Caloocan, from March 25 through March 26. One U.S. participant, Anthony Michea of the 3rd Artillery described the goings-on:

We bombarded a place called Malabon, and then we went in and killed every native we met, men, women, and children. It was a dreadful sight, the killing of the poor creatures. The natives captured some of the Americans and literally hacked them to pieces, so we got orders to spare no one.61

Meanwhile, smaller engagements were taking place on March 25 at Caloocan, San Francisco del Monte, and Polo. The fighting reached Malinta and Meycauayan on the next day.62

General Hall continued the story as his men experienced the events:

The orders of the division commander required me to join the Minnesota regiment on the Mariquina road and move it northward at 5 a.m. on the 25th of March until reaching the Banlac road, and then make dispositions to cover the right and rear of the 2nd Brigade of the division, which should be advancing through San Francisco del Monte toward Talipapa. (It was not, however, until 5:30 a.m. that the regiment began to advance, the delays being caused by the commander of the 2nd Battalion of the regiment, which, for some inexplicable cause, failed to reach in time the left of the 1st Battalion.) The regiment went forward, however, in good order, notwithstanding the difficult ground over which it moved – rice fields and bamboo thickets – for about a mile63 before meeting opposition. Then fire came on the 3rd and portion of the 2nd Battalion, followed almost immediately by like resistance in front of the 1st. 

The division commander had authorized me to call for assistance, if necessary, on the Colorado regiment, a portion of which was on the Mariquina road; and presently, when the enemy’s fire became energetic enough to indicate determined opposition to our further advance, I dispatched a staff officer to the colonel of that regiment with a request that he send a company to turn the left flank of the entrenchments on our right, in which a considerable body of the enemy seemed to be established. The insurgent fire having almost entirely ceased in front of the 1st Battalion, the two right companies were now turned to the right, and under the very gallant direction of Capt. Charles D. Clay, 17th Infantry, adjutant-general of the brigade, and of First Lieutenant John C. Gregg, 4th Infantry, aid-de-camp, assailed the entrenchments in front, while Lieutenant Colonel Moses, of the Colorado regiment, attacked their left. This soon routed the enemy, and the line was restored to its normal condition.64

It was during this assault on the entrenchment that Clay was shot. Up until the bullet hit him, Captain Clay had been “very active in assisting the advance,” wrote Major A. M. Diggles,65 13th Minnesota Volunteers, who commanded 1st Brigade.66 Hall went on:

In this engagement … near Banlac both officers and men behaved well. As coming under my own observation, I especially commend for coolness and gallantry Capt. Charles D. Clay, 17th Infantry, acting assistant adjutant-general, who was seriously wounded in the neck; First Lieut. John C. Gregg, 4th Infantry, aid-de-camp, who killed one of the enemy in a personal encounter, and their efforts to assist me at all times in bringing about the defeat of the enemy.67

Although his wound was serious, help was slow to arrive, Hall recalled:

Possibly because of a change made late in the evening, before the advance, in the position of brigade surgeon, the medical attendance on the field was faulty in the extreme. There were no litters or litter bearers, nor did I see any medical officers giving attention to the wounded on the field, although I was told that a station was established on the Mariquina road to the rear.68

It was some time – family tradition says five hours – before some men could be spared to carry Clay (and perhaps some of the 15 wounded enlisted men) to where they could receive medical attention – perhaps at the medical station on Mariquina road. At some point he was brought to a hospital in Manila.

Clay prepared to die. He even asked his friend First Lieutenant John C. Gregg, of the 4th Infantry, who had sailed with him on the Grant and was an aid to General Hall, to take news to his wife, should he die. Gregg expected to carry out that grim duty, which he revealed in a letter to his sister.69

Clay lived. But ironically, Lieutenant Gregg was killed just a few days later – at 11 a.m. on March 31, near Mariquina (now Marikina).70 71

The Long Road Home

Clay now had the problem of how to deal with the bullet lodged in the base of his neck. The Army wanted him to undergo surgery in Manila. No fool, Clay insisted on being sent home for the operation. The Army acquiesced. But he faced a long, terrible journey when very jolt caused him pain. 

Fortunately for Captain Clay, some help had arrived.

On March 21, 1899, the transport Sherman had pulled into Manila Bay.72 On board were a number of troops, including the remainder of the 17th – among whom was Clay’s friend and brother-in-law, First Lieutenant Thomas Lee Smith. Accompanying Smith was his beautiful young wife, Mrs. Clay’s sister, Lyne, known in the family as Pinnie.74 The Sherman had sailed in early February with great fanfare:

The United States transport Sherman, dressed in bunting, her sides glistening in a new coat of white paint, her siren screeching, her decks alive with soldiers…drew out from her pier at the foot of Pacific Street, Brooklyn, at 4:30 … yesterday afternoon. Five tugs assisted her to swing around in the stream, while all the ferryboats and harbor craft in sight set up a tooting. …She went to anchor off Liberty Island. She will get underway at 10 o’clock this morning, passing out at Sandy Hook and over the bar on the flood tide.75


Despite having just arrived in the Philippines, Pinnie Smith selflessly agreed to accompany Charles back home. 

They sailed from Manila on the Sheridan76 on or about April 27, 1899, bound for San Francisco, via Nagasaki.77 The transport arrived at San Francisco during the night of May 22, 1899.78 Probably, Clay and Smith traveled back toward the Blue Grass by train. During a stop in Chicago, Clay could not refrain from playing his role as Wounded Warrior. A New York Times article quotes him as saying:

We have not troops enough to occupy what we have conquered. The place at which I was wounded had been taken three times before and was many times abandoned because we had not force enough to hold it.79


Clay and Smith left Chicago for Kentucky on the night of May 28. Apparently, they went to Frankfort, where Mariah Clay, Charles’ wife, was staying with her and Smith’s mother. Smith later rejoined her own husband in the Philippines.80

An article clipped from the Lexington Morning Herald (the article’s date was not preserved) described Clay arriving in town from Frankfort with his wife and mother.

Captain Clay was attired in full uniform and attracted considerable attention as he walked up Main Street.81

The article noted that Clay would soon leave for New York to have the bullet removed. The article also stated that Clay expected eventually to return to his unit in the Philippines. He did go to New York for his surgery. It was successful. But he did not return to the Philippines. 

A letter Clay wrote on February 16, 1900, to his friend Tom Smith revealed just how serious and miserable his wound had been. 

No one knows, my dear man, what suffering both physical and mental I have been through. When I went into the operating room the surgeon could not tell me whether I would come out of it alive. A swelling as large as a hen’s egg had made its appearance at the juncture of the shoulder and the neck and the surgeon could not tell whether it was from an aneurism or inflammation. He made an incision six inches long in the top of the shoulder and nearly four inches deep into the root of the neck and forced the bullet accompanied by half a pint of pus. The bullet was so near the spine that he could feel the spine nick his finger. 

…The surgeon said that if I had delayed the operation another week, I would have been a dead man as the pus was cutting its way down into the cavity of the left lung.82

Ever the soldier, Clay also reported to Smith that the bullet was “a .45 caliber Remington83 with the brass jacket torn off.”84

The letter was written on stationery from the U.S. Recruiting Station, 145 Cherry Street, Nashville, Tennessee. Clay was now stationed there, thanks to Smith’s recommendation. It was, perhaps, not a very demanding job as a passage suggests that Clay was writing in the office before going home to lunch. Clay thanked Smith, writing: 

 [This assignment] came to me as a great surprise for I was making preparations to return to Manila in January. Under the circumstances [this assignment] was very acceptable for I do not feel that I am strong enough even yet for active field work.85

Clay went on to describe how wonderful it felt to be reunited with his “little family,” which now included his infant son, Charley, Jr.86

As much as he longed for peace, quiet, and the warmth of his family, Clay felt a pang at having left his Army friends behind:

My dear fellow, I think of you very often and were it not for my physical condition and the separation from my dear wife and babies I would like very much to be with you and do my part in sharing your hardships and dangers.87

Not his part in spreading democracy, or other windy political rhetoric, but in standing by his friends. But for Clay, the call of comradeship was no match for what he found at home. 

And the Band Played On

Though the war was over for Clay, it was only really getting started – though it took some time for the U.S. generals to realize this. On November 23, 1899, General Arthur MacArthur wrote:

The so-called Filipino Republic is destroyed. The congress has dissolved… The president of the so-called Republic is a fugitive, as are all the cabinet officers, excepting one in our hands.88

Which, of course, meant that the U.S. had no idea where Aguinaldo was and the long, savage guerilla war was on.

During the official war (casualties from 1902 to 1913 are not included):

  • 1,020 U.S. military personnel died from combat.
  • 3,176 U.S. military personnel died disease.
  • 2,930 U.S. military personnel were wounded
  • 2,000 members of the Philippine Constabulary, allied to the Americans, were killed or wounded (over half of these were killed). 
  • 16,000 (counted)-20,000 (estimated) Filipino soldiers died from combat.
  • 14,000-18,000 (estimated) Filipino soldiers died from other causes.
  • 200,000 civilians (estimated) died directly or indirectly due to the war, though other estimates range much higher – up to 1 million civilians killed, since a cholera epidemic broke out during the war. 

It should be noted that water-boarding, so infamous today, was a popular tool of the Americans in the Philippines. To his benefit, Clay escaped this phase of the war. His friends did not. General Lawton, for example, was shot just a few weeks after MacArthur’s proclamation – on December 19 – and died a few days later. 

The war finally ended on July 2, 1902. Or at least it did officially. But no one seems to have told the guerillas. Clay’s friend Tom Smith, now a captain, experienced that first hand on July 17, 1905 – three years after the war supposedly ended:

A column under command of Capt. Thomas L. Smith, 17th Infantry, consisting of detachments from Company D, 17th Infantry; Company H, 23rd Infantry; and 49th Company, Philippine Scouts, was attacked in the woods north of Fort Pikit, Mindanao, P.I., by a strong party of Moros under Datto Ali, who fired upon the detachment.

The fighting dragged on for 12 years after the war “ended.”


In 1902, Clay retired from the Army. But he took a series of civilian assignments with the Army from 1903 to 1908. Clay’s final stint in the army came during the Great War, when he was re-commissioned, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He died in 1935. Ria died in 1939. 

Some Sources

Annual Reports of the War Department for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1899, Report of the Major-General Commanding the Army, in Three Parts, Part 3. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1899.

Apple, Lindsey, “The Evolution of a Family,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 94, No. 4, Autumn 1996, pp 363-395.

Apple, Lindsey, Cautious Rebel: A Biography of Susan Clay Sawitzky, Kent, Ohio, Kent State University Press, 1997. 

Blanford, Elizabeth Starling Clay (1904-1999). Charles Donald Clay’s youngest daughter was an astute student of her family history. She had numerous conversations with the author. Blanford also was interviewed by Lindsey Apple and Bettie Kerr, May 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 1987, cassette tape, Special Collections, Margaret I. King Library, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. 

Brown, Dee Alexander, Morgan’s Raiders. New York, Konecky & Konecky, 1959.

Connelley, William Elsey; Ellis Merton Coulter; and Charles Kerr (ed), History of Kentucky, Vol. III, Chicago, the American Historical Society, 1922. 

Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain and Conditions Growing Out of the Same, Including the Insurrection in the Philippine Islands and the China Relief Expedition, between the Adjutant-General of the Army and Military Commanders in the United States, Cuba, Porto Rico, China, and the Philippine Islands from April 15, 1898 to July 30, 1902, Vol. 2, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1902. 

Denger, Mark J. “Major-General Henry Ware Lawton, U.S. Volunteers,” California Military Museum, California State Military Department, website: The site does not cite its original sources, so use with care. 

Dumindin, Arnaldo, “Philippine-American War, 1899-1902,” ©2006. A very well constructed website, rich with contemporary photographs, including one of a train car overflowing with men of the 17th Infantry. 

Logan, P.W., “The 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment 1815-2003,”, Web site, ©2003. The site does not cite its original sources, so use with care. 

Ramsey, Robert D. III, Savage Wars of Peace: Case Studies of Pacification in the Philippines, 1900–1902, The Long War Series Occasional Paper 24, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2007., maintained by S. Swiggum and M. Kholi, © 1997-2009, Updated February 14, 2009.


Blanford, conversations with author. See also Apple/Kerr Interview.

2 Blanford, Apple/Kerr Interview

Blanford, conversations with the author

Brown, p 261.

Blanford, conversations with the author. See also Brown, p 134.

Connelley, Coulter, and Kerr, p 10.   The 17th was stationed in Columbus, Ohio. From January through September 1896, Clay was stationed at Fort Apache, in Arizona, apparently serving in a different unit. But he obtained transfer back to the 17th and Columbus to be nearer to his fiancée, Miss Mariah Hensley Pepper, of Frankfort, Kentucky. See Apple/Cautious Rebel, p 261, note 27.

Mariah Hensley Pepper (1870-1939) was born and raised in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Susan Jacob Clay (1897-1981) was the oldest of the Clay’s four children. She grew up to be a respected if little known poet and married the art historian Vassili Sawitzky (1879-1947). See:

9 Charles Donald Jacob (1838-1898) was mayor of Louisville 1873-78, 1882-84, and 1888-90; and the U.S. minister to Colombia in 1885-86

10 The New York Times, July 14, 1898

11 Blanford, conversations with the author. Interview by Lindsey Apple

12 Apple/Cautious Rebel, p 34, and Connelley, Coulter, and Kerr, p 10.

13 Apple/”The Evolution of a Family,” pp 388-389.

14 George Dewey (1837-1917) as a child was a feared schoolyard bully and he put those traits to work against the Spanish (and later against the Filipinos). Incomprehensibly, Dewey was given the highest rank ever attained in the U.S. Navy, Admiral of the Navy, for his lopsided pummeling of a much weaker enemy.

15 Charles Vernon Gridley (1844-1898) had been in the navy since 1860. He had served under Admiral Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay, so was on hand for two of the three most famous lines from American naval history: Farragut’s bold, “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” and Dewey’s nonchalantly contemptuous, “Fire when ready.” He was not yet born when John Paul Stevens defiantly proclaimed that he had “not yet begun to fight.”

16 General Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy (1869-1964)

17 Wesley Merritt (1836-1910) happily retired to Virginia.

18 “Philippine-American War,”, February 16, 2009

19 Elwell Stephen Otis (1838-1909) condoned and tried to justify all manner of brutality against the Filipinos.

20 Ramsey p 13.

21 “Dissent in Wars: The Spanish-American War and the Filipino Insurrection,” Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, 2006

22 George Hudson Clay (1858-1934) was a successful thoroughbred breeder in Lexington, Kentucky

23 Correspondence between the author and Dr. Lindsey Apple

24 William McKinley, Jr. (1843-1901), the 25th president of the United States, attended the author’s alma mater, Allegheny College, for one term. The local legend is that young McKinley was expelled for putting a cow in the main campus building’s clock tower


26 Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain, p 854.

27 Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain, p 869.


29 Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain, p 875.

30 The New York Times, January 20, 1899

31 The New York Times, March 17, 1899.

32 The New York Times, January 20, 1899. See also: The New York Times, January 17, 1899

33 Logan,

34 The New York Times, January 20, 1899

35 The New York Times, January 17, 1899

36 Robert Henry Hall (1837-1914)

37 Henry Ware Lawton (1843-1899) was a longtime solider who played a significant role in the final capture of Geronimo, when Lieutenant Gatewood convinced Geronimo to give himself up. Charles Clay’s brother, Lieutenant Thomas Jacob Clay (1853-1939) served under Lawton and also took part in Geronimo’s final capture. Lawton died in battle in the Philippines. Ironically, he was shot by a man under the command of general named Licerio Geronimo

38 Russell A. Alger (1836-1907). Despite his good judgment in preferring Henry Lawton, Alger was so poor an administrator that “algerism” became a byword for incompetence in the army and he was forced to resign as secretary of war

39 Denger,

40 Edwards (1859-1931) later became a major general; Camp Edwards in Falmouth, Massachusetts is named for him.

41 Henry Clark Corbin (1842-1909) was born in Clermont County, Ohio, and was with President Garfield when he was shot and at his bedside in Elberon, New Jersey, when he died

42 Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain, p 892.

43 General Sir Robert Biddulph (1835-1918) had previously served as High Commissioner of Cypress and wrote a book on the island’s history that includes moving passages on its deforestation.

44 The New York Times, March 17, 1899

45 Horatio J. Sprague (1823-1901) At the time of his death was the oldest working U.S. consul and had represented the United States at Gibraltar since 1843, when he had inherited the job from his father. Horatio Sprague’s own son, Richard L. Sprague, succeed him as consul at Gibraltar.

46 Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain, p 892.

47 Second Lieutenant Halstead Dory of the 4th Infantry later typed the letter sent by General Hall to the 2nd Division’s adjutant-general recommending that Captain Clay and First Lieutenant Gregg be brevetted for services “eminently deserving of recognition.” Dory was wounded in 1905 while fighting the Moros on the Island of Jolo. He lived. In later years he  commanded the Civilian Military Training Camp at Plattsburgh, New York, on the shore of Lake Champlain.  This was a center of a program that was in time developed into the ROTC.

48 The Princess of Wales at that time, Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia, was a daughter of the King of Denmark

49 The New York Times, March 17, 1899.

50 See also Dumindin,

51 The New York Times, March 17, 1899.

52 Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain, p 928.

53 William David Davis (1869-1918). See Arlington National Cemetery Website, See also: CZ Images Photo Room, The Early Days of Fort William Davis,

54 Carl Reichman joined the U.S. Army in 1881 as private and later received a commission. From September 9, 1903 to March 31, 1904, Reichman served as military governor of Cottabato, Moro Province. He resigned to accept a detail as an attaché with the Russian Army in Manchuria. Later he served as an instructor at West Point. In 1906 he complained publicly that he was not being promoted to the Army’s general staff due to prejudice against his German birth. See The New York Times November 17, 1906. See also: Miller, James Martin, Thrilling Stories of the Russian-Japanese War, Publication Location Unknown, Publisher Unknown, 1906, p 297. Viewable at: See also: See: Fifth Annual Report of the Philippine Commission, 1904, Part 2, Washington, Government Printing Office, p 573

55 On April 4, 1904, Van Horn, now a captain, succeeded Reichman as governor of Cottabato. See: Fifth Annual Report of the Philippine Commission, 1904, Part 2, Washington, Government Printing Office, p 573.

56 Charles D. Clay to Thomas L. Smith, February 16, 1900, author’s collection

57 Arthur MacArthur (1845-1912) had come to the Philippines under Wesley Merritt. MacArthur’s son, Douglas, is also well known for his connection with the Philippines.

58 Apple/”The Evolution of a Family,” p 389. Military records refer to Clay as General Hall’s adjutant-general, assistant adjutant-general, and acting assistant adjutant-general, all in the same few days. It would be nice to know which it was

59 Annual Reports of the War Department, p 487

60 Apple/“Evolution of a Family,” pp 389-390

61 Dumindin,

62 Dumindin,

63 Major A.M. Diggles, 13th Minnesota Volunteers, who commanded the 1st Brigade, wrote that the enemy was encountered about 500 yards from the Americans’ starting point. See Annual Report of the War Department, p 496

64 Annual Reports of the War Department, pp 487-488

65 On May 8, 1899 Major Diggles was wounded in the head while reconnoitering near San Miguel. He died of his wound on May 27. See The New York Times, May 28, 1899.

66 Annual Reports of the War Department, p 496

67 Annual Reports of the War Department, p 488. General Hall also made a point of praising these men: Lieut. Col. Cassius M. Moses, 1st Colorado Volunteer Infantry, deserves commendation for the skill and determination with which he advanced on the enemy’s entrenchments in the morning and repulsed their threatened attack in the evening of the day. Capt. E.A. McKenna, Signal Corps, U.S.V., rendered valuable service. He established telegraphic communication with department headquarters as soon as the halt was made on the Banlac road, and thereafter accompanied the lines in every change of position

68 Annual Reports of the War Department, p 488

69 Apple/Cautious Rebel, p 263, n 19

70 Today Marikina is part of the metropolitan Manila area. It is considered one of the cleanest, greenest cities in the Philippines and is home to the Shoe Museum. The Shoe Museum’s holding include Imelda Marcos’ infamous collection as well as shoes that belonged to various world leaders

71 John C. Gregg (1864-1899) had graduated from West Point in 1887. The 27th Annual Reunion of the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, June 11, 1896, p 158 carries this recollection by an officer writing on April 1, 1898: “Lieutenant Gregg was killed almost instantly yesterday by a Mauser bullet. He was on the right of the line not far from the Mariquina [sic] road. His horse was first killed. At the same time a man from the 23rd Regiment saw a sharpshooter in a tree not far away and called Jack’s attention to him. Lieutenant Gregg continued to advance, however, and after going ten or fifteen feet, in order to get a better view with his field glass, the sharpshooter fired and Jack fell. The man who had seen the Filipino ran forward to where Jack lay, tore open his shirt and examined the wound. The bullet entered the upper right breast and lodged either in or near the heart. I have heard he fell without saying a word and again I have heard he grasped his chest with his hands and said, ‘My God!’ His death was the saddest of any that has occurred.

72 Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain, p 941.

73 An Indiana native, Thomas Lee Smith (b1871) had a long Army career eventually retiring a full colonel in 1919

74 Family tradition told to the author by Elizabeth Starling Clay Blanford. See also Apple/Cautious Rebel and Apple/”The Evolution of a Family.

75 The New York Times, February 3, 1899.

76 A sister ship to the Sherman and the Grant, the 5,673-ton Sheridan originally was an Atlantic Transport Line steamer called the Massachusetts

77 Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain, p 975.

78 Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain, p 994.   A message from Major General Shafter in San Francisco to Adjutant-General Corbin specifies that Captain Clay was on board. William Rufus Shafter (1835-1906) weighed 300 pounds and suffered from gout. He had commanded the American invasion of Cuba during the Spanish American War. It succeeded, with heavy casualties, despite his vague plans.

79 The New York Times, May 30, 1899

80 Family tradition told to the author by Elizabeth Starling Clay Blanford

81 Photocopy of an undated clipping from the Lexington Morning Herald, in the author’s collection

82 Charles D. Clay to Thomas L. Smith, February 16, 1900, author’s collection

83 Remingtons were considered rather old-fashion at that time

84 Charles D. Clay to Thomas L. Smith, February 16, 1900, author’s collection

85 Charles D. Clay to Thomas L. Smith, February 16, 1900, author’s collection

86 Charles Donald Clay, Jr. (1899-1922) also joined Army and was murdered at Fort Snelling, Minnesota

87 Charles D. Clay to Thomas L. Smith, February 16, 1900, author’s collection

88 “The Islands and the Peoples: Facts About the Filipinos,” Vol. 1,No 1, May 1, 1901, p 45, Philippine Information Society

89,thousand%20of%20which%20were%20fatalities and

90 Annual Reports of the War Department for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1905 Volume I, Washington. Government Printing Office. 1905.


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