The Thousand Days War

1899 - 1902

This was a Columbian civil war, that was fought almost entirely in Panama. This civil war was between the two major political parties in Colombia at the time, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. The Conservatives were in power at this time, and the animosity between them had existed for over 80 years.

The Liberals started planning for a revolt against the Conservatives, in 1899, and their plan was to create a disturbance in the department (Colombia refers to its states, as departments) of Panama. The intent was to divert Conservative troops from Columbia, where the Liberals planed to attack.

The war officially started in Natá on October 27, 1899, when the Liberals attacked the Conservative forces in a small, ineffective skirmish.

The Players

Liberals Gen. Rafael Uribe - Colombian Army

Bellisario Porras - Civil Chief of the Department

José  Zelaya - President of Nicaragua

Gen. Eloy Alfaro - President of Ecuador

Gen. Emiliano Herrera - Chief of Military Operations

Dr. Eusebio Morales - Secretary of the Treasury

Gen. Simon Chaux - Military and Civil Chief of the Pacific Coast in Colombia

Victorinao Lorenzo - Indian Cacique of La Trinidad, Las Churuquitas, Casao, La Pintada and  Sorá.

Gen. Domingo Diaz - Civil and Military Chief of the Army

Gen Domingo S. de la Roas - Commander in Colon

Gen. Benjamin Herrera - Director of the War for Cauca and Panama

Gabriel Vargas Santos - Supreme Director of War and Provisional President of Columbia

Gen Manuel Qintero - Commanded forces that captured David

Gen. Sergio Perez - Inspector General of the Army

Liberal Party - Generals in David, Panamá

Conservatives Rajael Nuñez - President of Colombia

Carlos Albán - Governor of Panama (Colombian)

Gen. Jose Maria Campo Serrano - Colombian 

Col. Pedro Sotomayor - Colombian army

Capt. Thomas Perry - US Navy

Gen. Victor Manuel Salazar - Civil and Military Chief of the Department of Panama

Gen. Luis Morales Berti - Commander of forces at Aguadulce

R. Adml. Silas Casey - commander of US gunboat Wisconsin

The major battle started when Porras, on March 31, 1900, invaded the province of Chiriqui, and captured the city of David. From David, they advance toward Panama City, taking one town after another, that the Conservatives would quickly abandoning, as the Liberal Army approached. The Conservatives, regrouped and set up their defenses and counter attacked, in an area know as "La Negra Vieja", near Bejuco.

The Conservative army was well equipped, with modern weapons, and the Liberals, was a makeshift group of men, with obsolete arms. Most of the weapons, were old, some did not work, given to them by the Dictator of Nicaragua. The Liberals were still able to beat the Conservatives after an eight hour battle. This improved moral, and attracted many new recruits to the cause. On July 4, 1900, Morales arrived with a shipment of new arms, that he was able to secure from Nicaragua and Ecuador. At the time, Porras was now camped in Chame. Gen Chaux, joined Porras army, with plans to attack Panama City and use La Chorrera and Chepo as staging areas.

Dr. Porras, sends a message to Victoriano Lorenzo for assistance in transporting arms and providing additional men for the Liberal cause. The plan was to attack Panama from the hills of Cangrejo, Bella Vista and Perry's Hill. Herrera routed the Conservative forces at Corozal, and then request that Alban surrender. When Porras heard of Herrera's ultimatum, he became jealous and sent his own. The Conservatives were at this time, strengthen the fortifications around Panama City. Alban, refused to surrender.

On July 24, 1900, the Liberal forces attacked Panama, and were badly defeated in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The next day, a truce was sponsored by the US, English and French consuls, so that the wounded could be cared for. On that day, Gen Serrano arrived from Colombia with re-enforcements, in Colon.

The situation for the Liberals was lost. On July 26, a peace treaty was signed, and this concluded the first part of this war. The biggest cause of the Liberal defeat, was due to the dislike, and fighting between Herrera and Porras.

The next phase of the battle, became a guerrilla war. When the peace treaty was signed, the Liberals were ordered to give up their arms. The Cholos, under Lorenzo, were in the process of returning to the mountains, when Alban ordered Sotomayor to peruse the Cholos, and capture Lorenzo. In the process, Indian villages were burned, and the inhabitants abused and killed. At this point, we now had an Indian war, against the Conservatives. 

The Liberals appointed Gen. Domingo Diaz as Civil and Military Chief of the Army. Diaz was well liked and had many friends in the country. He left Patiño and Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega in charge of the army, while he went to Nicaragua to raise money, get arms, and recruit men.

Porras was in Costa Rica, also trying to raise an army, and returned in August of 1891 and landed in Penonome.. He called his allies, Lorenzo, and soon has a large Indian force to help him. At the same time, Diaz lands in San Carlos, with another large force. During this time, Patiño was busy, commanding attacks all along the railroad, and raiding Conservative villages near Panama City. The large Liberal Army, went on the offences and took the city of Colon. The Liberal commander, Patiño drowns crossing the Fox River, and Gen de la Roas, is given command of Colon. The US sent its marines, under the command of Capt. Thomas Perry,  to protect American interest in the Railroad, and anything else, at the request of the US Consul and the Railroad Superintendent.

The Liberal forces, again surrender, and another treaty is signed on November 29, 1901, between Gen de la Rosa, for the Liberals and Carlos Ablán, in the presence of Commander Perry and other American officers.

With the Liberal surrender of Colon, Porras, again asks  Lorenzo for help, and he responses by showing up with 700 warriors. On December 24, 1901, the Liberals invaded Panama for the last time, with a force of 1,500 hundred, well trained men. They were commanded by Gen Herrera, who also had at his disposal, a small navy in the Pacific Ocean. After some naval success, Herrera turn his objective to Panama and Colon.

As his forces approached the cities of Panama and Colon, he was informed that the US was going to defend the cities, after Colombia, had asked for help in putting down the rebellion. Herrera then retreated and moved his forces to Aguadulce. Here he defeated the Conservative forces, and they surrendered on February 24, 1902.

The new military commander of the Conservatives, was Salazar. He was aware of the Conservatives military shortcomings, and waited for re-enforcements being sent from Colombia. Herrera retreated to David, where he found that Gen Manuel Qintero had captured and controlled the city of David. Herrera moved his forces over the mountains and attacked the Conservative forces in Bocas de Toro, against the advice of Qintero. When Salazar became aware of how all of Herrera's forces were on the island of Bocas, he directed the Colombian navy (and US navy) to surround the island, and capture the Liberal forces. Although the Liberals controlled the Pacific, the Conservatives controlled the Atlantic.

At the intervention of Captain McLean, the US commander of the US ship that helped in the capture at Bocas, Herrera's forces were allowed to return to David, fully armed, after signing a peace treaty. While the Liberals were in a state of turmoil, the Conservatives were amassing the largest army of veterans fighters, a force of over 5,000 men, to put down the Panama rebellion, once and for all.

Herrera, went back to Aguadulce, and after a very bloody battle, defeated the Conservatives under the command of Gen Berti. Victoriano Lorenzo, was back in the battle again, with his Cholos, attacking the Conservative positions between Aguadulce and La Chorrera, cutting off re-enforcements from Panama.

Herrera now made plans to attack the cities of Panama and Colon, again. Only to be informed, again by US consul, Gudger, that the US would not allow any fighting inside the cities of Panama or Colon, or along the railroad. Although Herrera now commanded a force of over 9,000 men, he was worried about US intervention. Seeking advice of his generals, he presented his dilemma to his officers. They, led by Gen. Perez (my great-grandfather), suggested that they attack, and forget the US troops. While this meeting was taking place, Herrera received a letter from Rear Admiral Silas Casey, reminding him that the US  would not allow any action along the railroad and its terminal cities on September 19, 1902.

Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, Herrera started negotiations with Salazar for peace. Since Herrera controlled all of Panama, except the  narrow strip of land between and Panama and Colon. Therefore, he wanted peace, on his terms, which were unacceptable to Salazar.

   Liberal Soldiers of Panama, 1902
The final blow for the Liberals, was when Gen Uribe, was defeated in the battle of Nerlandia, in Colombia, on October 28, 1902, and he advised Herrera, to cease all resistance.

On November 19, 1902, all sides met on board the US Battleship, Wisconsin, and a treaty was signed, ending all hostilities

Before The Five Frontiers
Panama from 1821 - 1903

by:  Alex Perez-Venero
Publisher:  AMS Press, New York

Panama History Home

September 19, 2001