The Luna Sharpshooters: The Most Feared Marksmen in Philippine History

The Luna Sharpshooters were called 'Marksmen of Death.'
IMAGE Presidential Museum and Library

Some 120 years ago, a handful of exceptionally skilled Filipino sharpshooters earned a reputation so legendary, their conquests are still remembered to this day. 

The Luna Sharpshooters were a crack unit of elite marksmen handpicked and trained by General Antonio Luna to serve in the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War. Wherever they were sent into battle, they were sure to turn the tide against the enemy. 


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Because Luna was able to study warfare tactics and strategy in Europe, he thought of forming a group that would fight the Americans. He formed the Philippine Revolutionary Army, whose members originally came from the Spanish Army but were recruited by Luna to fight for Filipinos. From the ranks of this army, the Luna Sharpshooters would emerge.

Marksmen of Death

The Luna Sharpshooters earned a fearsome reputation, which is why the Spaniards nicknamed them Tiradores De La Muerte or Marksmen of Death. Their mettle was tested when they clashed against the forces of General Arthur MacArthur in the Battle of Malolos, in which Luna and his force of 5,000 Filipinos faced off with five American commanders and their army of 15,000. Malolos at the time was the capital of the Philippines.


Luna knew they were outnumbered, but did not want to give Malolos to the Americans without giving them a taste of what Filipino fighters were made of. The Americans thought Malolos would be an easy capture, but the battle lasted for a whole day.

American official history noted that the campaign to capture the Philippine capital lasted from March 25 to 31 and resulted in 56 Americans killed and 478 wounded. Losses on the Filipino side are unknown. 

It would be a month later when the Americans would learn to fear and respect Luna and his Sharpshooters during the Battle of Bagbag and Pampanga Rivers on April 25 to 27, 1899.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Philippines, with American casualties numbering 700 deaths, as opposed to 200 deaths on the Philippine side. 

The Luna Sharpshooters’ Weapon

Luna provided his sharpshooters with the best equipment to ensure any target who crossed their sight was eliminated.

The marksmen used Mauser rifles, a German bolt-action rifle that saw service from 1898 to 1935. It was considered a state-of-the-art weapon when the Luna Sharpshooters wielded them. 

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Greatest Victory for the Luna Sharpshooters

The Luna Sharpshooters were instrumental in many Filipino victories during the Philippine-American War. They were often sent to the frontlines as a spearheading unit meant to pierce enemy lines in every major battle during the Philippine-American War. One of their greatest accomplishments was during the Battle of San Mateo in December 1899. 

It was a rainy and foggy day when the battle occurred. During the battle, a Luna Sharpshooter named Bonifacio Mariano killed General Henry Lawton. Lawton’s death was America’s highest-ranking casualty in the Philippine-American War. 


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Today, the Luna Sharpshooters are honored by the Philippine Army’s Light Reaction Regiment, whose motto is Tiradores de la Muerte, a nod to the impeccable skill and marksmanship of the most feared sharpshooters in Philippine history.


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