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The Devil's Causeway: The True Story of America's First Prisoners of War in the Philippines, and the Heroic Expedition Sent to Their Rescue Hardcover – September 18, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press; Complete Numbers Starting with 1, 1st Ed edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762780290
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762780297
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #708,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Praise for The Devil's Causeway

“Matthew Westfall has unearthed a strange and dramatic tale from America’s mostly forgotten imperial adventure in the Philippines in the late 1890s. Here is blundering, courage and heartbreak in equal measure.”

—Evan Thomas, author of The War Lovers Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to

Empire, 1898 and Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World


“A brutal clash of Old West and Far East, Matthew Westfall’s masterpiece blends the gritty realism of Cormac McCarthy with a filmmaker’s eye for the dramatic. This beautifully paced epic of heroes and villains emerging from the jungles of the Philippines is more than a mere Indiana Jones adventure tale; The Devil’s Causeway is a rare, enthralling gem mined exquisitely by Westfall from the faded pages of America’s lost empire.”

—Jonathan W. Jordan, bestselling author of Brothers, Rivals, Victors: Eisenhower,

Patton, Bradley, and the Partnership that Drove the Allied Conquest in Europe

“The United States served notice of its global ambitions in 1898 by defeating Spain in a short and popular war. Less than a year later, America found itself in a divisive quest to conquer and colonize the Philippines. In his superbly researched book, The Devil’s Causeway, Matthew Westfall powerfully reconstructs a tragedy at the beginning of our forgotten war in the Philippines—a prisoner-of-war saga that embodied all the hubris, heartache, and miscalculation that ultimately doomed America’s first quest for empire.”

—Gregg Jones, author of Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines,

and The Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream, an editor’s choice of The New York Times Book Review


The Devil’s Causeway documents an epic tale of military campaigning and colonial conquest. The book enthralls, entertains and educates, while proving once again that the truth is often stranger than fiction. This thrilling work is a must-read for anyone interested in the Philippines’ determined struggles for independent nationhood. It is likewise an inspiring story of courage, sacrifice and patriotism by the various protagonists—regardless of nationality.”

—Fidel V. Ramos, 12th President of the Republic of the Philippines; former Secretary of

Defense, Republic of the Philippines; Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines; and West Point graduate, USMA Class of 1950


“There has been way too little written about American military efforts, adventures and missteps after the Philippines became an American possession at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Author Matthew Westfall shines a light on that turbulent time in our military history with his new book The Devil’s Causeway. In a thoroughly researched, detail-packed and absorbing work, he tells the story of the capture and subsequent dramatic rescue of the some of our first American POWs to be taken by an enemy on foreign shores. The characters come alive in these pages and the fascinating story unfolds as if it were being told by an old veteran around a campfire.”

—Captain Dale Dye, USMC (Ret), author and military advisor to film and TV, Los Angeles

“Westfall . . . recreates in exacting detail the plight of American sailors captured by Filipino insurgents in April 1899. . . . [P]ainstakingly researched. . . . Westfall gives a thrilling and fast-paced adventure story that brilliantly illuminates an untold aspect of one of America’s first overseas wars, as well as the beginning of the complex relationship between America and the Philippines.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review


“[A] fascinating account of 15 American sailors captured at the onset of the Philippine-American War (1899–1902). Matthew Westfall carefully crafts the geopolitical cauldron into which these servicemen are cast ….There are no stereotypical good or bad guys in The Devil’s Causeway: some rebels are mindlessly cruel, others kind; some American officers are vain and incompetent, others pursue their objectives even at great personal risk. The cat-and-mouse game between captives, captors and rescuers . . . is ultimately about how individuals strive or falter in the harshest circumstances, how stark morals can become hazy when death is always lurking.”

Shelf Awareness


 “[A] harrowing circus caused by an incompetent launch commander, short-tempered insurrectionists, the media, the U.S. Army, grand strategy, and American politics. The determined captives, a bloodthirsty insurrection commander, crusty Civil War veterans, headhunters, priests, and deranged Spanish soldiers all make appearances…. Westfall has brought to life the people and societies that clashed at the end of a century when America was determined to build a worldwide empire.”

            —Library Journal


From the Inside Flap

In 1899, a naval officer's reckless grasp for glory triggered a real American Heart of Darkness—a rebel ambush, America's first prisoners of war in the Philippines, their forced march through triple-canopy jungle and behind enemy lines, and one of the greatest rescue missions in US Army history. As the United States prosecuted a bloody campaign to pacify its newly won Philippines territory at the turn of the nineteenth century, a secret mission of mercy went terribly wrong. The result was a prisoner-of-war crisis, the likes of which our nation had never encountered before. The epic struggle for survival that followed was not only a test of the human will to live but a crucible for heroes. And yet, what was touted as a heroic rescue operation extended a war by almost two years and cost the lives of thousands. In April 1899, Admiral George Dewey dispatched the USS Yorktown to liberate a detachment of Spanish soldiers under siege by Filipino rebels. To reconnoiter enemy defenses, one of the Yorktown's armed cutters—manned by a crew of fifteen sailors—was sent toward shore. And then it happened. Defying orders, Lieutenant James C. Gillmore Jr. recklessly pushed upriver into heavy jungle—and headlong into an ambush that would kill four of his men. The survivors were dragged across mountains and through dense jungle from one pestilent prison to the next along what Gillmore called "a veritable Devil's Causeway." Their captivity and the torturous expedition sent to recover them, recalled today as one of the greatest marches in US Army history, features a tightly hewn cast of characters—including a frail yet determined teenaged sailor and his hardened seafaring mates; battle-tested veterans of the Civil War and the Indian Wars; and a fiery revolutionary commander who gave orders to bury wounded Americans alive. A sweeping military epic drawing on international primary sources, The Devil's Causeway tells their extraordinary story in its entirety for the first time.

More About the Author

Matthew Westfall is a writer, urbanist, and award-winning documentary filmmaker, whose films have featured narrators such as Malcolm McDowell, Willem Dafoe, and F. Murray Abraham, and have been broadcast worldwide. He has devoted much of his professional career to tackling poverty in the developing world. Based in Asia for nearly three decades, his work as a development banker addresses some of the most intractable issues in our increasingly urban world: megacities, slums, and managing the urban environment.

For his documentary On Borrowed Land, executive produced by Oliver Stone and funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Matthew received the prestigious Paul Davidoff National Award for Advocacy Planning from the American Planning Association.

Born in New York City and raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, Westfall currently resides in the Philippines with his family. He spends his free time reading, writing, and collecting as a means to explore the fascinating history of his adopted country.

The Devil's Causeway is his first work of narrative nonfiction. Visit matthewwestfall.com.

Customer Reviews

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Matthew Westfall did a wonderful job with the research and the back stories.
Jarrett Robinson
I have a somewhat biased review as I helped the author Matthew Westfall with some of the research for this book.
The book was well written, with a good flow to it that made it easy to read.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Darius Teter on November 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I had the good fortune of living and working in the Philippines for six years, and have explored much of the Cordillera and Baler terrain that provide the tapestry for this remarkable and rarely examined period in the shared history of the Philippines and the United States. Westfall's impeccable research and mastery of fact alone make this book an important read, but it is his the telling of the story, marked by great passion, imagination and tense pacing that make it a must have. Through Westfall's eyes you feel the incredible privation and heartbreak experienced by captive sailors, by the soldiers sent overland for months to rescue them, and by the Filipinos struggling to assert their independence from their new colonial masters. Perhaps that is the greatest achievement of this book: there are heroes and villains aplenty on both sides, and through their stories you will learn a lot more than you ever expected about this chapter in American history.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jose C. Clemente III on December 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I came upon this book completely by accident while browsing through a store. As someone into Philippine history and as an amateur historian, I feel that this book is a great contribution to the period known as the Philippine-American War.

Matthew Westfall has written an eye-opening account of a chapter in an oft-forgotten part of the history between the Philippines and the United States. While the main focus of the book is the account of the capture and rescue of the Gillmore party, the author has also provided snippets of how America went about its mission of "benevolent assimilation" in the islands.

Very impressive is the meticulous research Westfall put into his work. He breathes life into the personalities such as the vain Gillmore, the feral Novicio and others. The characterizations are vivid, giving the reader engaging images of all the players.

Moreover, recreating the tracks of the Gillmore party's trek through central and northern Luzon is no mean feat and all the more adds to the overall quality of storytelling.

For people with more than a passing interest in the history of the relationship between the Philippines and the United States, this is a book worthy to be added to one's library.

More to come please...
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Cj on September 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I really wasn't sure what to expect with this book, as I've seen a lot of poorly written history written about my country. But this title was strongly recommended by a friend so I gave it a chance.


How is it this incredible story was never taught in our schools and we're only hearing about it now? How did the author even find all the photos that appear in the book? What a treat!

This entertaining book offers a lot more than just a story of what is touted as America's first prisoners of war in the Philippines and their rescue. On a broader level, it's really more of a riveting exploration into the very roots America colonial ambitions in the Philippines and the tragic, unfortunate and probably unnecessary war that followed. I greatly appreciate the effort the author took to tell the story in a factual, even-handed way, where we come to learn our war with America wasn't one big 'black and white' morality tale, as has often been put forward, but rather a complex event nuanced with many shades of gray.

With the excellent, exhaustive research undertaken to back up the writing, this is an important contribution to my country's history, and I truly hope to see more books like this in the future.

My verdict: Highly recommended... read this one for sure. (Before it becomes a movie!)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shelton Woods on April 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Carefully researched and beautifully written, The Devil's Causeway is a masterful tale that keeps the reader fully engaged. This narrative is a little-known story that is presented in such a way that the reader cannot wait to turn the page to see what happens next. Matthew Westfall is hitting on all cylinders in this book. His use of primary documents along with his on-the-scene investigations makes this story come alive. Even if the reader has not been to the Cordillera mountain range, Westfall's writing takes us all there. One is not surprised to find that Westfall is also a film maker because this book is like watching a movie unfold--and you don't want it to end. The well-deserved praise that Westfall is receiving for this book is garnering him many fans who cannot wait to read his next book. I am one of those fans waiting for Westfall's next book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Road Warrior on September 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has been compared to "Band of Brothers" and "Citizen Soldiers" with good reason. Like Stephen Ambrose, Westfall combines rigorous research, 1sth hand accounts of the era, and a wonderfully compelling narrative style.

After having thought about the book for a while, however, I realize that it's something more than that. Although not a biography, in style and substance, The Devil's Causeway has much in common with books by Chernow or David McCullough. Westfall employs spare, yet highly evocative descriptions (a "freckle-faced" young man who weighs in at, "a windblown 111 pounds") with nail-biting adventure (I won't give any of that away), and serious historical chops.

The bottom line is that this is a really fantastic book - and I hope it will not be Westfall's last.
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