Bits & Pieces

July 23, 2010

The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902) - Part 1

Colombia was disrupted by wars between the two main political parties, the Liberals and Conservatives, during the 19th Century. The "Liberals" favored greater sovereignty for the states, land reform and support for the peasantry. The "Conservatives" were generally the landed aristocracy who favored a strong central government.
The first clash between the parties occurred in 1885 and the second was in 1895. Both revolts were put down easily and quickly. However, in 1898, the Conservative Manuel Antonio Sanclemente was elected President of Colombia to the outrage of the Liberals who believed significant election fraud had taken place. Sanclemente, who was well into his eighties, had participated in a Conservative overthrow of the government in 1861 and was extremely unpopular among the Liberals. His health was not good, thus his grip on the government was very flimsy encouraging Liberal army generals to plot a rebellion for October 1899.
The Liberal revolt began in October with forces much weaker than the Conservatives. Yet, early victories gave them hope to continue the war for another two years against the superior forces of the Conservatives.
However, on May 1900 at Palonegro, the Liberals were routed and their defeat was only a matter of time. Finally, with their defeat at Nerlandia, Colombia, the Liberals signed the Treaty of Nerlandia on October 24, 1902. This was basically a cease-fire agreement that included the disarming of all liberal forces. The war formally ended on November 21, 1902, when a second treaty was signed on the deck of the USS Wisconsin.
The conflict had been a very bloody one and by the time it ended up to 130,000 lives had been lost. This Thousand Days War had done nothing to alleviate the long-standing differences between Liberals and Conservatives, who would again go to war in the 1940s in the conflict known as La Violencia.
Because Panama was at the time a part of Colombia, the conflict extended into the area. The war in Panama started in Nata on October 27, 1899, when the Liberals attacked the Conservative forces in a small, ineffective fight. The major battle started when Belisario Porras, on March 31, 1900, invaded the province of Chiriqui and captured the city of David. (My mother had been born in that city in July of the previous year.) From David, the Porras group started their march toward the city of Panama taking one town after another while the Conservatives fell back.
"La Negra Vieja" mountain as seen from the beach at San Carlos.
Site of battle where Liberals defeated the Conservatives.
As they approached the mountain of "La Negra Vieja", near Chame, they finally met opposition from the better equipped and organized Conservative army. Incredibly, after an eight hour battle, the Liberals beat the Conservatives who fell back on Panama. Porras camped at Chame to regroup and re-equip with a new shipment of arms from Nicaragua and Ecuador, who along with Venezuela, favored the Liberals cause.
By now, General Simon Chaux, Military and Civil Chief of the Pacific Coast in Colombia had joined Porras as had General Emiliano Herrera, Chief of Military Operations in Panama. Herrera's forces attacked the Conservatives at Corozal on July 21, 1900, and routed them.
Calidonia Bridge over railroad tracks as it looked in 1888. This view appears to be
leading away from the city.  The Miller House would later be on the right side.
Calidonia Bridge as it appeared in early 1900s. I am told that this bridge was demolished in 1912
and the railroad crossing was at same level.  The Miller House is on left.  Going over the bridge would take
you to where Plaza 5 de Mayo is now located and the train station would be across it on the left.
Miller House as seen from the top of Calidonia Bridge. Railroad passes underneath.
Following the defeat of the Conservatives at Corozal,  the combined forces of Porras and Herrera attacked Panama on July 24 clashing with the Conservatives at the Calidonia Bridge. Lack of coordination between Porras and Herrera led to a bloody defeat for the Liberals. It is estimated that the Liberals attacking the well fortified position around the bridge lost 700 men while the Conservatives loss was only 98. On July 26 a peace treaty was signed but the next phase of the battle became a guerrilla war involving the Cholos under Victoriano Lorenzo. But that is another story.
Following the war, the Colombian national government was too weak to react against the pressures of the United States as they made agreements with Panama for the separation from Colombia and the subsequent construction of one of the greatests engineering feats of the 20th Century.
Main characters in the Panama phase of the Thousand Day War were:
LIBERALS - Belisario Porras, Gen. Emiliano Herrera, Dr. Eusebio Morales, Gen. Simon Chaux, Victoriano Lorenzo, Gen. Domingo Diaz, Gen. Domingo S. de la Roas., Gen. Bejamin Herrera and Gen. Manuel Quintero.

CONSERVATIVES - Gov. of Panama Carlos Alban, Gen. Jose Maria Campo Serrano, Col. Pedro Sotomayor, Gen. Victor Manuel Salazar and Gen. Luis Morales Berti.

- Luis R. Celerier
Longview, Texas