Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Late 1800s - U.S. Marine Action Overseas

A few readers have asked an interesting question, "After the Civil War, and up until 1900, what else did the U.S. military do besides fight Indians?"

The idea here is well taken. If you go with what Hollywood has to offer, then I can see how someone can really believe that all the U.S. military did after the Civil War was to build forts, fight Indians, and rescue settlers throughout the West.

I can see how some folks out there would have the impression that the only military action during the time was against Indian tribes here. After all, when most people think of the period in American History, they think of Custer getting wiped out at the Little Big Horn, or maybe have the impression that the only thing our military did in those days was fight Indians like say in John Wayne's "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" down in the South-West.

In reality, the United States Navy and the Marine Corps had America's military seeing action all over the world. No kidding! All over the world. The fact is American citizens were well known to live in many parts of the world, even in the early 1800s. For one reason or another, American interest spread like wildfire long before the Civil War.  Along with our interest came influence and, in many cases, problems.

Contrary to what some would say, it was the American Spirit that moved people to venture from our shores. The same American Pioneer Spirit that moved thousands upon thousands of Americans to go West and settle - also moved Americans around the globe to explorer new lands.

On April 9th, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders his Confederate Army to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia.  General Grant allows Rebel officers to keep their sidearms and permits soldiers to keep horses and mules.

On March 9th and 10th, 1865, a full month before Lee's surrender and the official end of the Civil War, the U.S. Navy landed U.S. Marines in Panama to protect the lives and property of American residents because of a revolution that was getting out of hand.

From June 20th to July 7th, 1866, in China, U.S. Navy and Marines retaliated against a group of Chinese for their assault on the American consul at Newchwang.

While it is true that the Navy and Marine Corps were key to conflicts around the world, in November of 1866, the U.S. Army was deployed to Mexico to protect American residents along our Southern Border. Or rather, a unit under General Sedgwick deployed itself to defend the U.S. - Mexico border.

It's true, U.S. Army General Thomas D. Sedgwick and 100 Soldiers left Brownsville, Texas, and crossed the Rio Grande to obtain the surrender of the city of Matamoras, where outlaws had ruled the town. They did this without orders from Washington. After 3 days and a quick campaign to rid the border of problems, General Sedgwick was ordered by the Chiefs in Washington to withdraw. Later, his act was repudiated by the President as an act of an over-zealous Officer. But yes, it took care of the problem for a while!

In early 1867, U.S. Marines landed and occupied the towns of Managua and Leon in Nicaragua.

That same year on June 13th, across the Pacific Ocean in Formosa, what is today called Taiwan, U.S. Naval forces landed Marines to burn several huts in retaliation against those who murdered the ship's crew of a wrecked American merchant vessel.

In 1868, from February 4th to 8th, April 4th to May 12th, June 12th, and 13th. U.S. Naval forces landed Marines in Osaka, Hiolo, Nagasaki, Yokohama, and Negata, Japan, to protect American interests during a Civil War in Japan. Their Civil War broke out over the abolition of the Shogunate and the restoration of the Mikado - the Emperor of Japan.

On February 7th and 8th, 19th to 26th of 1868, U.S. Naval forces landed U.S. Marines in Uruguay to protect foreign residents and the custom-house during an insurrection at Montevideo.

In April of that same year, 1868, this time in Colombia, U.S. Naval forces landed Marines there to protect passengers and treasure in transit at Aspinwall during the absence of local police or Colombian military on the occasion of the death of the President of Colombia.

Two years later, on June 17 and 18th of 1870, the U.S. Navy was 40 miles up the Rio Tecapan in Mexico where they destroyed the pirate ship Forward that had been run aground.

In 1870, on September 21, the United States Navy had its first mission in the Hawaiian Islands.

The U.S. Navy landed Marines to place the American flag was at half-mast at the American consul. It was upon the death of Queen Kalama, who was the wife of King Kamehameha III, and the American consul there in Honolulu would not assume responsibility for lowering the American flag to half-mast. Imagine that! That shows that there have always been people out there who don't want to take responsibility for things.

From June 10th to the 12th in 1871, the U.S. Navy and Marines attacked and captured five forts in Korea

Their mission was in retaliation for the depredations on Americans. Particularly for murdering the crew of the USS General Sherman and burning the schooner and for later firing on other small American boats taking soundings up the Salee River.

In 1873, on May 7th to 22nd, September 23rd to October 9th,  U.S. Naval forces again landed Marines in Colombia at the Bay of Panama to protect American citizens during hostilities over possession of the government of the State of Panama.

In 1873, Americans were again in Mexico. This time the United States Army Soldiers crossed the U.S.-Mexican border to pursue cattle rustlers, thieves, bandits, and murderers that raided the American towns along the border.

In fact, American troops actually entered Mexico repeatedly while chasing the bandits. Yes, there were some reciprocal pursuits by Mexican troops into the border territory as well. Mexico protested frequently. Notable cases were at Remolina in May 1873 and at Las Cuevas in 1875. Against the wishes of Mexico and working on behalf of the American people, Washington's orders often supported these excursions. From this, agreements between Mexico and the United States, the first in 1882, finally legitimized such raids. They continued intermittently, with minor disputes, until 1896.

From February 12th to 20th of 1874, U.S. Naval forces again landed U.S.Marines in Hawaii. This time it was at the request of the Hawaiian government. Yes, it's true!

As a result of the Hawaiian government's request, two Marine Detachments were landed to restore order to the rioting in Honolulu, fight a rebellion instituted by the opposition candidate, and assist with the orderly coronation of King David Kalakaua.

During the fighting, the Marines actually seized most government buildings. That was 1874, and U.S. Marines occupied the city armory, the Hawaiian treasury, the station house, the Honolulu jail, and the Honolulu Courthouse, which was their main objective. All in all, U.S. Marines had control of the entire Hawaiian government. Then, in just under two weeks of sporadic fighting, they had order restored. The Marines returned power to King Kalakaua and returned to their ships.

It is interesting to note that Hawaiians hated Kalakaua a great deal back then, yet today he is probably Hawaii's most beloved King. He is commonly referred to as "The Merry Monarch."

In 1876 on May 18th, again, U.S. Army forces from Texas entered Mexico to police the town of Matamoras temporarily while it was without other government authorities.

From July 14th to the 18th of 1882, this time in Egypt, U.S. Navy forces landed Marines to protect American citizens and interests during warfare between the British and Egyptians. The Arabs there had all but completely destroyed the city of Alexandria through mass looting and violence. Marines restored order there before leaving.

On January 18th and 19th, 1885, again in Panama. This time U.S. Marines were landed to guard valuables in transit over the Panama Railroad.

Then in March, April, and May, in the cities of Colon and Panama, the Marines helped reestablish freedom of transit during the revolutionary activity there.

In June of 1888, the U.S. Navy sent Marines ashore to protect American residents in Seoul, Korea, during unsettled political conditions when an outbreak of the populace was expected.

By December 20th of that same year in 1888, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps persuaded the Haitian Government to give up an American steamer they had seized on the charge of breach of a blockade in Haiti.

From November 14th, 1888, to March 20th, 1889. the U.S. Navy again landed Marines. This time it was in Samoa to protect American citizens and the Consulate during their Civil War.

In 1889, on July 30th and 31st, U.S. Marines were again in the Hawaiian Islands. This time, Marines protected American citizens and interests in Honolulu during a small revolution within the Hawaiian monarchy.

It was called the Dominis Conspiracy and was named after Liliuokalani, who also went by the alias Lydia K. Dominis. She had plotted to overthrow her brother for the throne. The plot was to overthrow King David Kalakaua, King of Hawaii, and replace him with herself, his sister, in a coup d'etat. But no, it didn't work!

That coup was also known as the Wilcox Rebellion because Robert Wilcox, who was her cousin and raised in Italy in Military Schools there, was organized the Coup. In fact, he tried leading quite a few coup d'etat. It didn't matter against who. He had no idea of what loyalty meant.

First, he was on the side of Liliuokalani, who was the sister of King David Kalakaua. She would later become Queen Liliuokalani after the death of King Kalakaua. Then later, Wilcox decided that he was against her. Yes, in a strange twist of fate, a few years later, after Liliuokalani became Queen, Wilcox organizes another plot in 1892 by forming a group called the Hawaiian Patriotic League to enact a coup against her Queen Liliuokalani. But then, in 1893, Queen Liliuokalani, who originally conspired to a coup against her brother, ended up losing her throne to even another coup d'etat by members of her own cabinet.

In 1890, U.S. Marines landed to protect the U.S. consulate and legation in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from unrest in that country.

In 1891, in Haiti, U.S. Naval forces sought to protect American lives and property on Navassa Island.

From July 2nd to October 5th of 1891, way up North in the Bering Strait, the U.S. Navy was tasked with stopping seal poaching.

From August 28th to the 30th of 1891, U.S. Naval forces and Marines landed in Chile to protect the American consulate and the women and children who had taken refuge in it during a revolution in Valparaiso.

From January 16th to April 1st of 1893, the U.S. Marines were back in Hawaii.  Again the Marines landed to protect American lives and property there, and again at the request of the Hawaiian government. Unlike in 1874, this time, the Marines did not fire a shot. They did not take control of any government building, seize any property, jail anyone, or conduct any Combat Action.

The fact is that they were there because of the potential unrest as the internal crisis within the Hawaiian government continued. About 160 Marines landed and were given specific orders by Captain G. C. Wiltse to "land in Honolulu for the purpose of protecting our legation, consulate, and the lives and property of American citizens, and to assist in preserving public order." 

Just as they did in 1874? Well, yes. The Marines had seen the riots and rebellion of 1874 in Hawaii, and it was less than 20 years past that they had to  "preserve public order" in Honolulu. They understood very well just how bad it could get. 

U.S. Marines and Sailors from U.S.S. Boston
As U.S. peacekeepers, Marines were stationed at Arion Hall, the U.S. Consulate, and the U.S. Legation, under orders of strict neutrality and out of any potential line of fire between the Provisional Government and Royalist forces.

Since Hawaiian History says that the Queen surrendered to "the superior force of the United States of America," what did the Marines do?

Well, unlike 1874, American Marine did nothing at all in 1893. They were ordered to assume a position of neutrality and simply stood by for orders. Yes, they waited. They basically positioned themselves and camped out at the legislation building across from Iolani Palace and waited for orders, then they returned to their ship.

In January of 1894, the U.S. military was in Brazil.  The U.S. Navy was there to protect American commerce and shipping at Rio de Janeiro during the Brazilian Civil War.  Again, as was the case in Hawaii, U.S. Marines stoodby in the ready. 

From July 6th to August 7th of 1894, U.S. forces sought to protect American interests at Bluefields following a revolution in Nicaragua.

In 1894 and 1895, U.S. Marines were stationed at Tientsin in China and moved to Peking for protection purposes during the Sino-Japanese War. While the Marines were moving, support the legation in Peking, a U.S. Navy ship, the U.S.S. Petrel was beached and used as a fort at Newchwang for the protection of American nationals aboard. It became known as "Fort Petrel" as all hands made ready for attacks and prayed for a fair outcome.

During that same time, July 24th, 1894 to April 3rd, 1896, in Korea,  U.S. Marines were sent to protect the American legation and American lives and interests at Seoul during and after the Sino-Japanese War.

On March 8th and 9th of 1895, the U.S. Navy and Marines protected American interests during an attack on the town of Bocas del Toro by a bandit chieftain in Colombia.

On May 2nd and 4th of 1896, again in Nicaragua, U.S. forces were there to protect American lives and interests in Corinto during political unrest there.

Then again, two years later, in 1898 in Nicaragua, on February 7th and 8th, U.S. Marines were landed to protect American lives and property at San Juan del Sur.

Of course, on April 25th of 1898The Spanish-American War started when the United States declared war with Spain. The declaration of War followed the sinking of an American Battleship, the U.S.S. Maine, in the Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, and a Cuban insurrection against Spanish rule.

The U.S. supported Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines for independence against Spanish rule. This would be the first declared war fought overseas by the United States, and it involved campaigns in both Cuba and the Philippine Islands. The majority of Spanish-American War soldiers were volunteers from all over the United States to do their part.

War began in Cuba after it was believed that the Spanish sank the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15th, 1898. By June, U.S. Marines captured Guantanamo Bay, and the U.S. Army landed at Siboney and Daiquiri, east of Santiago, Cuba. 

U.S. troops attacked the San Juan heights on July 1, 1898. Dismounted cavalry troopers, including the African-American Ninth and Tenth cavalries and the Rough Riders, commanded by Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, went up against Kettle Hill. This, while other U.S. forces led by Brigadier General Jacob Kent charged up San Juan Hill and pushed Spanish troops further inland while inflicting 1,700 casualties.

The Spanish fleet guarding the Philippines was defeated by the U.S. Navy under the command of Commodore George Dewey on May 1, 1898.  President McKinley authorized the assembling of troops to mount a campaign against the capital of Manila, not realizing Dewey's win.

On August 13th, American soldiers captured the city of Manila, unaware that the Spanish-American War had actually ended a day earlier. Guam was captured without a shot being fired. Well, actually, the facts are that Captain Henry Class on the U.S.S. Charleston fired two warning shots on June 20th. A Spanish officer in charge of the island's garrison boarded the ship and requested to borrow some powder to return the ship's salute! The Spaniards were told that the United States and Spain were at war, and after getting the island Governor to the ship. Guam officially surrendered. True story!

After just 109 days, the Spanish-American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. The war established the independence of Cuba, ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States, and allowed the U.S. to purchase the Philippines Islands from Spain for $20 million. The war cost the United States $250 million and 3,000 lives, 90% of whom perished from yellow fever, typhoid fever, and other infectious diseases.

The war served to repair relations between the American North and South. The war gave both sides a common enemy for the first time since the end of the Civil War in 1865, and many friendships were formed between soldiers of northern and southern states during their tours of duty. This was an important development since many soldiers in this war were the children of Civil War veterans on both sides.

From November 5, 1898, to March 15, 1899, the U.S. Navy and Marines provided a guard for the legation at Peking and the consulate at Tientsin during a contest between the Dowager Empress and her son in China.

In 1899, U.S. Marines were again in Nicaragua. American and British naval forces landed Marines to protect national interests at San Juan del Norte, February 22 to March 5, then again at Bluefields a few weeks later in connection with the insurrection of Gen. Juan P. Reyes.

February to May of 1899, American and British naval forces were landed to protect national interests and to take part in a bloody contention over the succession to the throne in Samoa.

Officially in 1899, the Philippine-American War started. The Philippine-American War was a direct result of what happened when the U.S. forces took control of the Philippine Islands after defeating the Spanish in the Spanish-American War. It was sort of what happened in Iraq. A short war to rid the place of despots and dictators, then insurgents and guerrilla warfare for the next ten years or more. While it is said that the U.S. defeated the Filipinos in their war for independence in 1902, the fact is that it lingered on, in one shape or another until, well after the last battle in 1913. American Soldiers were still being killed in the Philippines even into the 1920s and '30s!

From May 24th to September 28th in the year 1900, it was China, and it was called the Boxer Rebellion.
Britain, U.S., British India, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Japan

A small detachment of U.S. Marines and token military units and diplomats of eight other nations, Britain, British India, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Japan, defended the legation in Peking China. The defenders withstood horrendous attack after attack while protecting the foreigners in the legation and the Chinese-Christians living there.

The Boxers formed beginning in 1898. They were groups of peasants in northern China that band together into a Secret Society known as "Iho Ch'uan," also known as the "Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists." 

Americans called them "Boxers," mostly because the Western press started called them "Boxers. The reason was that members of the "Iho Ch'uan" practiced boxing and calisthenic rituals. Thus they became known as "Boxers." They believed boxing and fitness would make them impervious to bullets. 

So OK, Boxers weren't very bright! But friends, there were lots of them! Actually, there were more Boxers than we had ammo to defend the legation.

History says that the Boxers wanted to destroy the Ching dynasty at first, which had ruled China for over 250 years. They also wanted to rid China of all foreign influence they considered a threat to the Chinese culture. The Chinese Empress knew that the Boxers needed a distraction, so the Empress Dowager backed the Boxers -  and the Boxers turned solely to ridding China of foreigners.

By late 1899, bands of Boxers were massacring European and American-Christian missionaries - and Chinese-Christians every chance they had. By May of 1900, the Boxer Rebellion had come out of the countryside and was being waged in the capital of Peking - what is today Beijing. On June 18, 1900, the Empress Dowager ordered all foreigners to be killed.  Several foreign ministers and their families were murdered by ambush and mobs of Boxers.

The legation not only survived, but they also prevailed by holding out for 55 days. That was when a combined international military force of over 20,000 took Peking and subdued the Boxer Rebellion. For many years after this experience, a permanent legation guard of U.S. Marines was maintained in Peking and was strengthened at times as trouble threatened.

For the Chinese, the result of the Boxer Rebellion was that of weakening the Ching dynasty's power and hastened the Republican Revolution of 1911 that overthrew the boy emperor and made China a republic.

And by the way, after reading this, ask yourself this, why didn't we plant our flag and claim all sorts of territory, like say the British and French did all over the world? If it is true that we Americans were this huge "imperialist power" as many say we were, then why didn't we make colonies out of all of the places I've listed above? 

Yes, especially those places where we lost troops? The answer is that we were not an "imperialist power," and the term is used for "American influence and interest," not territorial claims.  

While some may have a picture of America as being only involved with the settling of the West from 1865 to 1900, that was only a part of what was going on at the time. Those who fought in the Indian Wars, who may have served under Custer, who may have chased Apaches, and who were responsible for taking on bandits along the Mexican border, they were not the only American troops who had their hands full - and followed the Stars and Stripes in harm's way. There were many on distant shores in far-off lands who never came home.

Many were cowboys and farmers, butchers, blacksmiths, wheel-makers, and more. The same men who enlisted to be ready for duty and immediate deployment saw action around the world no differently than those who fought in the Civil War, than those who fought the Sioux and Apache during the Indian Wars or chased Mexican bandits. All were men who did their duty and fought overseas in many places that were unknown to folks back home. And indeed, many found their graves in exotic lands of story and mystery. 

Of course, while that is the case, they too should also be remembered.

That's just how I see it.

Tom Correa


  1. Not bad, a rather unknown period of US history...just wish you didn't skirt around some of the dirtier bits.

  2. Throughout all this, considering the times and the technology, consider the unsung heroes who were couriers that had to hustle to and from Washington to relay news that troops were needed here, and there, and why. The sheer number of messages that had to be carried back and forth just boggles the mind.


Thank you for your comment.