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Baltimore Affair - Chile - 16 Oct 1891 - Feb 1892

In the year l89l, the people of Chile, a revolutionary- ridden republic, were again in a state of open insurrection against the faction then supposed to be controlling the government. Conditions were in a deplorable state, due to the capture in August, of Valparaiso by the forces of the Congressional party. Foreigners residing within the boundaries of the republic, especially those living in the captured city, were in great danger of losing their lives and property. Even foreign legations and consulates were in danger of being violated. During the course of this revolution, a bitter feeling against the United States arose, due, it is believed, to the false and malicious accusations put forth at Iquique and later at Valparaiso in reference to the action of the Navy of the United States. The American Minister, Patrick Egan, concurred in the belief that foreign armed forces were necessary, not only for the morale effect on the insurrectionists, but as a means of protection for Americans and American interests.

In the latter part of March 1891, Rear Admiral George Brown had been ordered to Chilean waters as the relief of Rear Admiral William F. McCann, and was issued definite and detailed instructions for his guidance in view of the un settled state of affairs in the latter country. Admiral Brown proceeded in the San Francisco, and in company with the Baltimore, was present at Valparaiso when that city was captured by the revolutionists.

The American Minister applied to Admiral Brown for a suitable guard for the Legation, and his request was granted. A detachment of 36 Marines and 36 sailors, under the command of Captain William S. Muse, USMC, was landed on the 28th of August and remained until the 30th, when they were withdrawn.

About six weeks after the withdrawal of the Marine Guard from the American Consulate, an affair took place which assumed grave aspects - one which merited the landing of Marines to again protect American citizens, and indicated in no unmistakable terms the extreme ill-iecling that the Chileans harbored toward the Americans. The affair referred to, was the attack on October l6th, in the City of Valparaiso, on members of a liberty party of the Baltimore. However, Admiral Brown, because of this extreme ill-feeling, and believing that the matter could be more appropriately handled through diplomatic representation by the United States Department of State, deemed it inadvisable to use the Marine landing force at his disposal.

On this date a number of men belonging to the Baltimore, went on shore in uniform for liberty, in accordance with the universal practice prevailing on board the ships of war in foreign ports. Two weeks had passed since the surrender of Valparaiso, and the city was quiet. Other foreign war ships had already given liberty, and no reason existed for withholding a like privilege from the men of the Baltimore. At 6 p.m. the men had been ashore about four hours, and the testimony is that they were then orderly, sober, and well behaved. The first encounter appears to have taken place at this time between one of the members of the liberty party and a Chilean, who spat in his face. The sailor knocked the Chilean down and was immediately set upon, with his companion, another of the Baltimore's crew, by an angry crowd. The two sailors took refuge in a passing street car. They were dragged from the car by the crowd. One of them, Petty Officer Charles Riggin, was stabbed, and left to die in the street. His companion, Talbot, an apprentice, escaped, but was afterwards arrested, catgut nippers were put on his wrists, and he was struck again and again by the police on his way to prison.

Another Petty Officer, Johnson, then in a neighboring house, seeing Riggin lying helpless in the street, went to his assistance. The crowd now left. Finding Riggin still breathing, Johnson took him in his arms to carry him to a drug store nearby. At this moment a squad of Chilean police, with fixed bayonets, came up the street. When at close quarters they fired at Johnson, being so near that his face was blackened by this discharge. One shot entered Riggin's neck and shoulder, inflicting a death wound. Another shot passed through Johnson's clothing.

The affair of the street car was only one of many simultaneous attacks made upon the Baltimore men. The attacks "lasted for an hour. They were not confined to one locality, but occurred at several widely separated points in the city. In many instances the American sailors were in restaurants and hotels, quietly getting supper when attacked by crowds numbering from 25 to 200 men. The part borne by the police in these attacks is shown by the re port. Thirty-six of the Baltimore's men were arrested and taken to prison, being subjected on the way to treat ment of the utmost brutality. Catgut nippers were placed on their wrists, and in the case of one man, McWilliams, a lasso was thrown about his neck. Williams, another apprentice, l9 yeajrs of age, was arrested by a mounted policeman who. put the nippers around his wrists and then started his horse into a gallop, throwing the boy down. Coal-heaver Quigley, in trying to escape from the mob was struck with a sword by a police officer. Petty Officer Hamilton was dragged to prison dangerously wounded and unconscious and his companions, attempting to relieve his sufferings were threatened with blows from musket butts, and compelled to desist.

Coal-heaver Turnbull received 18 wounds in the back, two of which penetrated his lungs and subsequently caused his death. Other men were seriously injured and several of the wounds were caused by bayonet thrusts, clearly showing the participation of the police. As a result of the attacks, two of the men, Riggin and Turnbull, died, and eighteen others were more or less disabled by wounds.

At the examination immediately following the arrest, which was conducted secretly, a request was made of the authorities by Captain Schley to allow one of his officers to be present in court. The request was denied. Before the men were discharged they were required to sign a paper in Spanish. A court official, whom one of the men asked what might be the meaning of the paper, declared that it was a mere form, stating that the signer had not been en gaged in the trouble.

The members of the liberty party during the attack were without arms and therefore defenseless. Of the thirty-six men arrested and examined, all were discharged, there being no proof of any violation of the peace on their part. The judicial investigation into the conduct of the men failed to show that a single one was found drunk or disorderly. It is clear that their only offense lay in wearing the uniform of the country to which they belonged.



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