The Roots Of US Empire: Military Actions In The 1800s

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Above: Drawing from 1899. Uncle Sam stands on map of China which is being cut up by German, Italy, England, Russia, and France (Austria is in backgr. sharpening shears); Uncle Sam clutches “Trade Treaty with China” and says: “Gentleman, you may cut up this map as much as you like, but remember, I’m here to stay, and you can’t divide Me up into spheres of influence”. From Library of Congress.

Note: The US war against Mexico, from 1846 to 1848 completed Manifest Destiny — the US going from coast-to-coast in North America. When did Manifest Destiny move to global imperialism. The Civil War ended in April 1865.  US militarism outside the United States began in March 1865. The article below describes US military action overseas from 1865 through 1900. KZ

US capture of Mexico City during Mexican-American War.

US capture of Mexico City during Mexican-American War.

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.
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 seeing action all over the world. 

No kidding! All over the world. 

Yes, American citizens were well known to live in many parts of the world by then. 

Yes, for one reason or another, American interest after the Civil War spread like wild fire. 

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.

It was on April 9th, 1865, that 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 was 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.

It’s true, U.S. Army General 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. 

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 1867, U.S. Marines landed and occupied 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 a number of 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 it’s first mission in the Hawaiian Islands

Raising the US Flag at ʻIolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawaii, August 12, 1898

Raising the US Flag at ʻIolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawaii, August 12, 1898

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! I guess that that shows that there has always been people out there who don’t want to take the responsibility for things.

On June 10th to the 12th in 1871, that was when 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 General Sherman and burning the schooner, and for later firing on other American small 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 in pursuit of 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.

Too bad we can’t take a lesson from this and go across the border and shut down the Cartels which are reaching into American towns along the border – where they kidnap and murder at will.  

And yes, as a matter of fact, in my opinion, I don’t think Washington D.C. cares at all about what happens to American citizens as they’re terrorized along the border.

From February 12th to 20th of 1874, U.S. Naval forces again landed U.S.Marines in the 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. 

Marines occupied the city armory, the Hawaiian treasury, the station house, the Honolulu jail, and the Honolulu Courthouse which was there main objective.  

All in all, U.S. Marines had control of the entire Hawaiian government. Then, in just under two weeks of sporadic fighting, order was 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 – 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 there 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 which had been 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 is was to protect American citizens and interests in Honolulu during a small quiet revolution.

It was called the Dominis Conspiracy, and was named after Liliuokalani who also went by the name Lydia K. Dominis

She had plotted to overthrow her brother for the throne. The plot was an effort to overthrow King David Kalakaua, who was King of Hawaii, and replace him with herself his sister in a Coup d’etat. But no, it didn’t work!

It was also known as the Wilcox Rebellion, because Robert Wilcox, who was her cousin and raised in Italy in Military Schools there, he was the organizer of the Coup. 

In fact he tried leading quite a few Coups, and in my opinion, it didn’t matter against who. He had no idea of what loyalty means.

First he was on the side of Liliuokalani who was the sister of David Kalakaua. She would later become Queen Liliuokalani after the death of King Kalakaua. Then later, Wilcox will decide that he was against her.

In a strange twist of fate really, a few years later after she 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 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 trying to stop seal poaching.

From August 28th to the 30th of 1891, U.S. Naval forces along with Marines landed in Chileto 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 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 then 20 year past that they had to  “preserve public order” in Honolulu. They understood very well just how bad it could get.  

As U.S. peace-keepers, Marines were at the time 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, nothing. They were ordered to assume a position of neutrality and 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 a Brazilian Civil War.  Again, like in Hawaii, U.S. Marines were 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 following 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.

Cuba Spanish-American War Capture of the hills around Santiago de Cuba after the landing of US troops at Daiquiri: Colonel Chaffee's brigade attacking El Caney. Painting by F.C. Yohn

Cuba Spanish-American War Capture of the hills around Santiago de Cuba after the landing of US troops at Daiquiri: Colonel Chaffee’s brigade attacking El Caney. Painting by F.C. Yohn

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 the struggle of 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 who originated from all over the United States to do their part.

War began in Cuba in June when 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 the 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 in order 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 ships salute! 

The Spaniard was 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 contest between the Dowager Empress and her son in China.

In 1899, 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. 

A small detachment of U.S. Marines along with the token military units and diplomats of eight other nations, Britain, British India, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Japan, defended the legation in Peking China.

Britain, U.S., British India, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Japan in Peking, China

Britain, U.S., British India, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Japan in Peking, China

The defenders withstood horrendous attack after attack while protecting the foreigners in the legation, as well as 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” – aka “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 Boxers. They believed boxing and fitness would make them impervious to bullets. Imagine that!

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 at first the Boxers wanted to destroy the Ching dynasty which had ruled China for over 250 years. They also wanted to rid China of all foreign influence which 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, they prevailed by holding out for 55 days. That was when an combined international military force of over 20,000 took Peking and subdued the Boxer Rebellion. 

The Boxer Rebellion weakened the Ching dynasty’s power and hastened the Republican Revolution of 1911 that overthrew the boy emperor and made China a republic. 

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. 

While some may have a picture of America as being only involved with the settling of the West, that was only a part of what was going on at the time.  

Those who fought in the Indian Wars, who may have supported 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 places, who never came home.

Many were cowboys and farmers, butchers, blacksmiths, and wheelmakers. The same men who enlisted to and ended up chasing the Apache, fought others as well.

They should be remembered, as well as those who fought in the American Indian Wars.

And yes, that’s just how I see it.

  • chetdude

    WARNING: Although it was a good idea to post this article here to expose how much USAmerica has meddled in other nation’s affairs…

    The author is obviously a very happy right-wing “warrior” as he presents his sanitized versions of USAmerican interventions, conquests and genocide outside of its borders from 1865-1900…

    Interestingly, although he notes a few times when USAmerican Marines landed in Hawai’i to help the “hapless” Hawai’ian Monarchy (“savages”?) control “rioters”, he completely missed the Marines’ landing at the request of rich white men to complete the theft of Hawai’i from her Native Peoples in 1898…

    “Cowboy Chronicles” indeed… :-(

  • kevinzeese

    We put our own note at the top explaining how this shows Manifest Destiny evolved into global empire and US imperialism. But you are right the Cowboy Chronicles is very pro-military, especially pro-Marines. We would agree with the most decorated Marine of all time — War is a Racket! And, his view that he was a henchman for capitalism when he served with the Marines around the world — how he made the world safe for US big business interests and made sure the population served US needs more than their own. Many do not know the length of US empire and how we have been engaged militarily around the world since the Civil War. It is an important history for those of us who oppose US imperialism to know.

  • AlanMacDonald

    Chet, here’s a far more accurate historical review, analysis, and diagnosis of the 1890′s being the most notable ‘turning point’ of America beginning to metastasize into, first a standard nation-state-centric Empire a la Paul Kennedy’s “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers 1500 to 2000″, as well as into the beginning of this current, first and last EMPIRE in human history which is an;
    ‘effectively-disguised’, ‘truly-global’, and crony ‘capitalist-fueled’
    EMPIRE today in this post-nation-state-centric NWE (New World Empire). — all presented in video form by two of my favorite authors, public intellectuals, and serious ‘students of Empires’: Christ Hedges and Stephen Kinzer:

    http://www.truthdig.com/avbooth/item/chris_hedges_stephen_kinzer_explore_birth_of_american_empire_video_20170320

  • Jon

    The section on Hawai’i is horrible! Invented stories about Lili’uokalani beinig at odds with her brother King David Kalakaua? Dominis refers to her married name, not just “also known as.”
    “They were there at the request of government” Good Gawd! What an atrocious version that is! They were there at the request of US Minister (Ambassador) John Stevens, who was integral to the coup against the much beloved queen in order to intimidate any resistance to the coup. Their plan was to push for immediate annexation, but incoming President Grover Cleveland would have none of it, calling it correctly “an act of war.” Lili’oukalani’s own book covers this in detail (Hawai’is Story by Hawai’s Queen) or you can read my book (Liberate Hawai’i! Renouncing and defying the Continuing Fraudulent US Claim to the Sovereignty of Hawai’i”

  • Jon

    Chet, please see my comments about Hawaiian history as one who has a vastly deeper grasp than the bozo who wrote the article. That action in 1898 against Hawai’i (and acquiring much of the Spanish empire) was when the US itself became an empire.

  • kevinzeese

    I’d be very interested in publishing the story of US imperialism against Hawaii. Feel free to share an accurate story. I agree this one is terrible. It is an important history for anti-imperialist activists to know.

  • Philippnes President Duterte’s ancestors were killed by American military, in fighting for independence.

  • Jon

    Kevin, thanks for this! Can I give you a call so we can talk? I am likely Maine’s and possibly New England’s foremost authority on this subject. Can you email me your phone number? So much to discuss! I can be reached at joliyoka@gmail.com

  • chetdude

    Exactly…

    What USAmerica did against the people of Cuba, the Philippines and Hawai’i starting in 1898 marks the official beginning of USAmerica’s Global Imperial greed…

  • Jon

    And Guam and Puerto Rico!

  • Jon

    You refer of course to Gen. Smedley Butler, who also exposed the attempted fascist coup against Franklin Roosevelt, anticipating arrests for treason that never came. Apparently they were to high up the ruling class ladder to touch. Time to reexamine that in light of today’s history.

  • chetdude

    Yes, sorry to leave those good people out!

  • Jon

    “One empire, under surveillance, with deceit and oppression for all.”