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Expedition to Panama - 1885

In accordance with the terms of the treaty of 1848 with New Grenada, now one of the Colombian states, the United States of America guaranteed the protection of traffic across the Isthmus of Panama. The political complications resulted in the revolution of 1885. The president of each of the eight states forming the United States of Colombia, as well as the national executive, are elected for terms of two years. Each state is independent in the management of its local affairs. The elections in Panama occurred in the summer of 1884, and two candidates were balloted for,—viz., Señors Arosemena and Lambert. The former is said to have had the support of the government at Bogota. Although the results of the balloting were disputed, it was claimed that Señor Lambert had been elected.

The Constitutional Assembly, composed of thirty-two members, met on the 6th of January, 1885, decided that there had been no election, and proceeded to elect a president, as provided for by law.

General Santo Domingo Vila, who came to the Isthmus in November, 1884, as a fiscal agent of the general government to examine into the contracts between the Panama Railroad Company and the state, was chosen president of the state of Panama January 7, 1885, by the Constitutional Assembly. Señors Arosemena and Vivas Leon were chosen or appointed first designado and second designado.

The office and duties of the designado are similar to those of vicepresident, and in the event of death or absence of the president they succeed successively to the presidency. The other officers of the state government, such as secretary of state, governor of Panama, prefects, etc., are appointed by the president. The commander-in-chief of the Colombian (national) forces is appointed from Bogota, and that office was filled by General Gonima. The steamer Boyaca, which later on performed valuable service for the national government, was lying off Panama, formed part of Gonima's force, and was commanded by Colonel Ulloa.

In February a portion of the national forces stationed on the Isthmus was sent to Buenaventura, the seaport of the state of Cauca, about three hundred miles south of Panama, to aid in suppressing the revolution which had broken out in that state. About the ist of March, General Vila, obtaining two months' leave of absence, sailed himself with more national troops for Carthagena, to help suppress the rebellion in the state of Bolivar. The strength of the national forces having been thus reduced in Panama, those who were discontented with the result of the election took opportunity to attempt a revolution.

First Designado Arosemena had succeeded to the presidency of the state in the absence of Santo Domingo Vila, and General Gonima, the commander-in-chief, was in Colon. General Aizpuru, who had been president of the state of Panama for one term, in 1874, and who had served in the national legislature, was recognized as the leader of the liberal party in the state. On the 16th of March he made a demonstration against the government, which caused Señor Arosemena to take refuge on her British Majesty's ship Heroine, then lying off Panama; broke open cars, opened and blocked switches, obstructed the road, prevented repairs to the same, cut telegraph wires, seized and held railroad employés, claimed the right to exercise a censorship over the telegrams, and made it necessary to close the transit. General Gonima, hearing of this demonstration on the part of Aizpuru, proceeded by train to Panama with the national force then stationed at Colon. When Gonima arrived, on the 17th of March, Aizpuru retired from the city, and Señor Arosemena returned from the Heroine.

Colon was now without troops. Prestan, said to be "a Haytien negro, with a trace of white blood", the leader of a faction of the radical wing of the liberal party, took advantage of the opportunity and seized that city. Aizpuru and Prestan were pronounced in their dislike to all foreigners on the Isthmus, especially to the Americans living there, and this feeling was made use of to incite their adherents and hold them together.

About the 20th of March, Arosemena resigned. Vivas Leon should then, in the absence of Santos Domingo Vila, have succeeded to the presidency of Panama, but was prevented by General Gonima, who declared himself the “Military and Civil Chief of Panama.” This title and office are established by law; the national government may, under certain circumstances, make such an appointment. It is very questionable, however, whether General Gonima had a right to seize the reins of government, more particularly since the second designado, Señor Vivas Leon, was in Panama, and should, according to precedent and law, have succeeded to the presidency.

On the night of the 30th of March, General Gonima sent Colonel Ulloa (then commanding the Boyaca) by train to Colon, with a portion of the troops in Panama, to put down Prestan's revolution. In order to prevent a conflict within the limits of Colon, Mr. Burt, the superintendent of the Panama Railroad Company, notified Colonel Ulloa that he must disembark at Monkey Hill, about two miles outside of Colon. This was also made necessary by Prestan, who, hearing of the departure of national troops, went out with his force to meet Ulloa, tearing up the railroad tracks between Colon and Monkey Hill.

The two forces, numbering about one hundred and fifty men each, met on the Panama side of Monkey Hill. After a short conflict Prestan was driven from his position into Colon and behind his barricades in that city. After fighting for several hours on the morning of April 1, the insurgents were dislodged and put to flight by the national forces, led with great gallantry by Colonel Ulloa and his second in command, Colonel Broun, who was chief of police at Panama. Both officers were severely wounded in the engagement. During the conflict the city was fired by the insurgents and destroyed.

The departure of Colonel Ulloa and his command from Panama still further reduced the force of that city; and on the day of the fight in Colon, April 1, Aizpuru, with the ammunition taken on the 16th of the preceding month from a sealed car in transit to Central America, captured Panama. General Gonima, with less than one hundred soldiers in the cuartel, made a gallant defence, and held out for some time against a much larger force. He finally surrendered to Aizpuru te prevent the destruction of the cuartel by dynamite taken from contractors employed by the canal company and used for blasting.

When General Gonima surrendered, the Boyaca was included in the stipulations, but Señor José Obaldia, who was in command of her refused to be governed by the terms of the surrender, and sailed for Buenaventura, then held by the national government. General Aiz. puru, having seized the government, declared himself president of the state of Panama, and filled the offices with his friends. Colonel Ulloa, with less than one hundred national troops, held Colon; the rest of the Isthmus included in the zone of transit was held by the insurgents under Aizpuru.

This was the condition of affairs upon the arrival of the First Battalion of Marines at Colon, in the Pacific Mail Steamship Company's steamer City of Para, on the 11th of April, 1885.

On Thursday, April 2, at 12 M., an order was received by ColonelCommandant C. G. McCawley from the Navy Department to detail a battalion of Marines to sail the next day on the City of Para for Colon. Within twenty-four hours after the receipt of the telegraphic order, this battalion, organized from officers and men detached from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, sailed in the City of Para from New York, fully equipped, commanded by Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Heywood, United States Marine Corps, a veteran of the last war, who came out of that war brevetted twice for distinguished gallantry in the presence of the enemy. The battalion arrived at Colon on the night of the l1th, and disembarked the next morning at six o'clock.

At six o'clock the same night, Colonel Heywood, with the First Battalion, occupied the railroad company's buildings at the Panama end of the line, forty-seven and a half miles distant, situated outside the walls of the city, and the transit was opened.

When the battalion arrived at Panama, the city was convulsed, and great excitement ensued. The Marines were confronted by a desperate and turbulent mob, but, owing to the firm bearing and formidable appearance of these troops, an attack was not made by the insurgents as was apprehended.

The transit was kept open by a detachment on every train, and, although attempts were made by the insurgents to attack the trains at various points, a few well-directed shots, together with the admirable discipline of the men, prevented any disaster. Although the Marines were scattered along the coast from Maine to Florida, a second battalion was quickly detailed and equipped, and sailed in the steamer Acapulco, on Tuesday, April 7, under command of Captain J. H. Higbee, United States Marine Corps. With this battalion also sailed a detachment of one hundred and fifty sailors, the whole under command of Commander B. H. McCalla, United States Navy.

The Acapulco came to anchor off Colon at 9 P.M. of the 15th of April. During that day, in order to prepare for landing at once in case of necessity, two days' rations were served out, and the ammunitionboxes of the 3-inch rifles and Gatlings were supplied with shell, shrapnel, and small-arm ammunition. Each man carried forty cartridges, his blanket rolled with a change of clothing, canteens, and haversacks. Early the following morning the Acapulco hauled alongside Wharf No. 1 of the Panama Railroad Company, which had been partially rebuilt, and at nine o'clock Rear-Admiral Jouett inspected the command, expressing himself as well pleased with its appearance. Rear-Admiral Jouett had arrived on the afternoon of the 16th of April, in the flag-ship Tennessee, accompanied by the Swatara.

On the morning of the 21st of April, Commander McCalla transferred his head-quarters from Colon to Panama. On the same day Admiral Jouett inspected the several garrisons, and returned to Colon on the same afternoon. At this time it was reported that the national troops at Buenaventura were being embarked in the iron steamer Guayaquil. On that day Captain Higbee was directed to order Companies B and D, Second Battalion, under the command of Captain Collum, to proceed to Panama by the three o'clock train. After the arrival of these companies, they, with a Gatling from the Alliance, Lieutenant Sawyer, United States Navy, and a howitzer from the Swatara, Ensign Plunkett, United States Navy, all under the command of Captain Collum, were quartered at night in cars at the new passenger station, extending our lines to the bridge crossing the railroad.

On the 24th it was reported that barricades were being erected in the streets of Panama, an indication that General Aizpuru would resist the national forces, and that fighting in the streets would follow. At 11.55 A. M. our consul-general called on Commander McCalla, and notified him that two barricades were being erected at certain points, and that in consequence communication would be cut off with the Central and South American cable office. Commander McCalla considered it necessary, therefore, to occupy the city, and he notified Rear-Admiral Jouett of his intention. While the military necessity for the occupation of the city has been much criticised, yet the plan was boldly conceived, and the execution of this conception was brilliantly and successfully carried out by Colonel Heywood. In thirty minutes from the time the signal was made the United States forces had complete possession of the city.

On the following day the commanding officer of the insurgent troops asked Commander McCalla if the force would be withdrawn to Camp Jouett, provided that a guarantee were given that no barricades should be erected, and that no street fighting should be permitted. An affirmative reply was made, and, at the request of the officer, Commander McCalla saw General Aizpuru. He offered to give the guarantee before mentioned. An agreement was therefore signed by both parties. At 5.30 P. M. Company D, Captain Reid, and the Gatling from the Alliance, reported to Captain Collum, at the Plaza Santa Anna. The naval force was withdrawn from the city at 8 P. M., except the force in the Plaza Santa Anna, which remained until 9 P.M. The position at the railroad depot, occupied by Colonel Heywood when he opened the transit, was the best one stragetically that could have been selected. From the new passenger station all roads leading from the city could be occupied in a very short time.

On the arrival of Colonel Reyes at the palace, the Colombian flag was hoisted in Camp Jouett, and a national salute fired from head-quarters. On Friday, May 1, the four companies of the Second Battalion and the Naval Artillery returned to Colon, and on the 7th of May this expeditionary force sailed in the Pacific Mail steamship Colon for New York, where it arrived on the 16th.

Consul-General Adamson officially stated that the firm bearing, strict discipline, and splendid conduct of the Marines reflected great credit upon Colonel Heywood and his officers, and the presence of these fine troops allayed anxiety and distrust, enabling the foreign residents to feel that security which could not be obtained under any other circumstances. The commander of an English gunboat lying off Panama, when told that a brigade of Marines was in possession of the Isthmus, remarked that “tranquillity was then assured," that "he knew what they were, having seen a detachment of the Corps at Alexandria.”

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