24 September 2015

Chilean-American War

The ascendancy of Chile after the War of the Pacific also lead to an increase in tensions between Chile and the United States. The 1885 Panama Crisis was one example of this tension. During the Chilean Civil War of 1891 the Itata incident saw the US seizing a ship carrying weapons to the Congressist faction in the conflict. The US was attempting to increase its influence in Chile by supporting President José Manuel Balmaceda.

Balmaceda lost the war to the Congressist faction. A month after the war was over the USS Baltimore arrived in the Chilean port of Valparaiso. On 16 October 1891 outside a saloon in Valparaiso an American sailor spit on a picture of a Chilean hero. In the resulting riot two US sailors were killed and over a dozen were injured. Many of the sailors involved were arrested by the local authorities. The new Chilean government, already upset with US actions during the civil war, rejected all of America's protests.

Secretary of State James G. Blaine had recently died of the chronic illnesses he suffered from. Without his advice President Harrison continued his bellicose rhetoric against Chile. On 11 December 1891 the Chilean response to Harrison arrived. By the afternoon President Harrison was asking Congress for a declaration of war against Chile. On 18 December 1891 The US Congress vote was 292 to 21 in the house and 39 to 35 in the Senate as a Joint Resolution.

The US military was unprepared for a a war with Chile. Construction of new ships and transports began while volunteers were being trained. By mid-April 1892 a force was ready to be deployed. 12 August 1892 saw the city of Iquique occupied by over 5,000 American troops.

During the months after the Declaration of War, Chile began to move its own forces to the northern portion of the country to counter any American invasion. While spread out over a large area, 40,000 Chilean troops were available, many of them battle-hardened during the civil war. While the Americans had better equipment they had long supply lines and were outnumbered by a foe who was fighting for their homes.

The US Navy was able to dominate the local waters. Only small naval encounters played out with the Chilean Navy resorting more to commerce raids on American commercial vessels. The blockade of Iquique and other northern ports was secure.

However, on 21 September 1892 a large-scale operation against the occupied territories was successful. Over 1,000 US soldiers died, most of the others were wounded and/or captured. It was a major disaster with only 413 escaping by sea. While America held the sea now Chile held 2,600 prisoners of war. More troops and ship were being produced in the United States and a larger, more powerful relief force would soon be ready.

The disaster in Chile spelled defeat for Harrison at the ballot box in November. Grover Cleveland won the election and had to plan how he would handle the war.

In late January 1893 the first 10,000 soldiers of a 100,000 force arrived in Peru as a staging area. The number increased to 25,000 by March 1893. Disputes between the US Army and US Navy as well as supplying the troops were problems. A planned two-pronged attack on Iquique and Coyhaique province were planned. Future arrives would reinforce which ever front needed it.

President Cleveland took office on 4 March 1893 just a week before the planned offensive. The President put the offensive on the back burner and opened diplomatic channels with Chile. He felt that enough people had suffered and died over a bar fight. The public backlash was high against Cleveland with unrelenting assaults by the press on a daily basis. The blockade of Chile was kept in place during negotiations. By June he submitted a treaty to the Senate. The treaty would see to the release of all prisoners, including the arrested crew members of the Baltimore, and the US would pay $200,000 in gold for damages to Iquique and from the blockade. The treaty only received 33 of the 59 votes it needed. They country was at war with a Commander-in-Chief who didn't want the war and a Senate that didn't want to end it.

Disease struck the military camps in Peru during August so any military operations would have to be delayed. During the three worst months of the outbreak over 3,800 Americans died. This delay did allow President Cleveland to try to acquire Easter Island from Chile in order to sweeten the deal for the Senate. By having the reparations be considered a purchase it might have a chance of passing.

November 1893 public pressure in the United States was forcing Congress' hand regarding the war. Despite the Democratic majority in the House a call was made to begin impeachment proceedings against the President for failing to carry out his duties as Commander-in-Chief, that failure leading to the loss of thousands of men to malaria and other tropical diseases as thousands of others suffered in prison camps.

On 15 December 1893 the President finally broke under the pressure. He resigned his office and Adlai Stevenson I was sworn in as the new President. Stevenson quickly organized a new campaign on Chile. Heavy fighting over the next four months on three fronts forced Chile to surrender on 14 May 1894. Five thousand additional Americans died, over 10,000 Chilean troops and thousands of civilians due to indirect fire, lack of supplies, and disease.

President Stevenson

The United States seized Easter Island and claimed $250,000 in reparations from Chile. Most of the money would never be paid as on June 3, 1884 Peru and Bolivia both declared war on Chile.

Grover Cleveland is actually one of my favorite presidents so I hope I didn't make him seem too much of a wuss in this alternate history. Perhaps he would have had no problem continuing a silly war since Britain did have some influence in Chile at the time... not sure if they had as much after the Chilean Civil War of 1891.

1) The Baltimore Crisis
2) United States intervention in Chile
3) Baltimore Affair
4) Adlai Stevenson

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...