Fix Bayonets! by Mustang
But what most people do not know …
On 18 December 1903, Secretary of the Navy William Moody directed the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Brigadier General George F. Elliott , to personally report to the President of the United States. His orders from President Roosevelt were to proceed in person, taking passage aboard USS Dixie, from League Island to Colón, Panama. Take command of the entire force of United States Marines and seamen that is or may be landed for service in the State of Panama.
The president’s order was significant because no Commandant had been ordered into the field since Colonel Commandant Archibald Henderson was sent to Florida to deal with the Indians in 1836. No Commandant has been ordered to the field since.
General Elliott was ordered to Panama because of Roosevelt’s reliance on the US Navy and Marine Corps in numerous diplomatic crises during his administration . Faced with the possibility of conflict in Panama in late 1903, Roosevelt instinctively reached out for sea power. This time, however, he needed the land element of the Navy-Marine Corps team. When, on 3 November, Panamanian revolutionaries declared their country’s independence, Colombia threatened the use of force to recover its lost province. General Elliott’s presidential mission was one of the most strategically audacious gambits of the early 20th century because when he sailed south to assume command of the rapidly growing force of U.S. Marines on the isthmus, he carried with him plans for the invasion of Colombia and the occupation of one of its major cities.
Based on Colombia’s behavior in early to mid-1903, President Roosevelt anticipated that Colombia would likely attempt to retake its lost province. In mid-November, Washington began forwarding intelligence reports to US military and naval commanders concerning Colombian troop movements —reports that estimated that up to 15,000 soldiers were on the move toward Panama.
Rear Admiral Henry Glass (Commander, Pacific Squadron) at Panama City and Rear Admiral Joseph Coghlan (Commander, Caribbean Squadron) at Colón believed that Panamanian weather would be their allies. Both officers remained confident of the fighting spirit and strength of the U. S. Marines in Panama. Both admirals reported to Washington that there was no chance that a Colombian force would advance upon them until after the dry season. Admiral Glass must have developed a case of indigestion a few days later after learning that a Colombian expedition of 1,100 men had already tested an overland route into Panama.
President Roosevelt had himself received that same report from a separate source in Colombia. The President was told that the Colombians intended to establish a forward base at the mouth of the Atrato River, near the Panamanian border. Moreover, American diplomats were reporting deep-seeded anger toward Americans in the capital city, Bogota.
The new government of Panama was still in the process of organization. It did not have a force able to defend against a significant assault by Colombian forces —and it was clear to all concerned that Colombia intended to reclaim its province. It was up to the Americans to defend Panama, which meant that it was up to the Marines[…]
- Marines in Panama, 1903-04 (Part I)
- The Twiggs-Myers Family, Part III
- Send in the Marines!
- The Marines’ First Amphibious Raid
Mustang has other great reads over at his two blogs – Thoughts from Afar with Old West Tales, Fix Bayonets! and via BUNKERVILLE | God, Guns and Guts Comrades! You can also follow our friend/fellow patriot and blogger from across the pond on Twitter: Mustang.