There are, differing accounts of what actually took place. US historians, mainly in the person of one Joseph L. Schott, give a colourful account of Filipino mothers smuggling machetes about the village in coffins, small boys giving the signal to attack the defenceless American soldiers whilst they ate breakfast and American soldiers being mercilessly wiped out by hordes of vicious screaming Filipino madmen, armed to the teeth with bolo knives, picks and shovels - a massacre in other words. Others have questioned this view and suggested instead that the uprising was simply an ongoing part of the, largely guerilla, Filipino attempt at achieving liberation and Statehood and some have stated the view that the townspeople of Balanggiga rose up out of fear under the US occupation of their town.
What seems to be nearest to the truth is that Company C of the US 9th Infantry were occupying the town at the time and Valeriano Abanador, the police chief, initiated the attack by assaulting Private Adolph Gamlin, who was on guard. Some undetermined time after this, a bell in the church tower was rung - which may or may not have been a signal for the other townsfolk to join battle.
Abanador grabbed Gamlin's rifle and as he did so, two other men killed the guards outside the convent and municipal hall. Other townspeople, armed with machetes, picks and shovels, (against the infantry's rifles) collapsed the US army's Sibley tents that were pitched in front of the municipal hall, entered the hall and made their way to the second floor. At the same time, other men in the church broke through into the convent through a connecting corridor and attacked and killed the officers who were billeted there. At the same time, an attack on the mess tent and the two barracks got underway.
Some of the US soldiers who had been penned up in the barracks, were able to retake the municipal hall, arm themselves and fight back. At about the same time, Adolph Gamlin recovered consciousness, found a rifle and caused considerable casualties among the people outside the municipal hall.
Faced with immensely superior firepower (i.e. guns) and a rapidly degrading attack, Abanador ordered a retreat. The 9th Infantry survivors, being in insufficient numbers to hold the town, escaped by sea, after which the townspeople returned to bury their dead, then abandoned the town.
36 US soldiers were killed during the attack (including all of the commissioned officers). 26 US infantry men survived although only 4 were not wounded. On the townspeoples' side, there were 28 deaths and 22 were wounded.
Public demand in the U.S. for retaliation became a major issue, so President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the pacification of Samar. In six months, General 'Jake' Smith transformed Balanggiga into a 'howling wilderness.' He ordered his men to kill anybody capable of carrying arms, including ten-year-old boys. Smith particularly ordered Major Littleton Waller to punish the people of Samar for the deaths of the American troops. His exact orders were: "I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn, the better you will please me."