History of Flag Career of Rear Admiral W.B. Caperton, U.S. Navy
Commencing January 5, 1915
Image of RADM William B. Caperton, USN, view taken circa 1915 aboard USS Washington (CA-11), while serving as Commander, Cruiser Squadron, US Atlantic Fleet.
History of Flag Career of Rear Admiral W.B. Caperton, U.S. Navy
Commencing January 5, 1915
Haitian Campaign of 1915 (pages 34-69)
Sudre' Dartiguenave - President
Orders from the Department had been received by me, conveying unusual information. From them it appeared French marines had been landed in Cape Haitien. Consequently, I was directed to proceed thither in the flagship Washington; thank the French commander and personally see that adequate and necessary measures for the protection of foreign lives and property, and the preservation of law and order were taken. From Vera Cruz we weighed anchor on June the 25th, 1915. Again were we bound for that turbulent republic, so full of the inconsistencies of nature and of tropical personalities.
It may well be said that we were somewhat astonished to find ourselves again in Cape Haitien. Only this time it was on the first of July, 1915 that the Washington anchored off Picolet Point. Up in the hills I saw the familiar outlines of San Souci [Christophe’s Castle], the famous castle and impregnable stronghold erected at the cost of the lives of thousands of blacks, who toiled ceaselessly and under duress that King Christophe might have a veritable Gibraltar in the hills which the French could not take. For Christophe feared their wrath and justly so, since but recently the French colonists in the Island had been nearly exterminated by the natives.
Anchored near the town was the French cruiser Descartes, with which we exchanged salutes. She belonged to the Allied English and French Patrol Squadron of the West Indies and North Atlantic. Before holding a consultation with her commanding officer, it seemed wise to ask the Department to order the Eagle to Port au Prince, since to gauge properly any situation in Haiti direct communication with the capital was essential. This the Department realized, for shortly thereafter the Eagle was ordered thither; placed under my command, and ordered to submit a report upon conditions at Port au Prince.
On the evening of our arrival at Cape Haitien the commanding officer of the Descartes, Captaine de Fregate H. Lafrogne, paid an official call on me and explained in great detail his operations at that port. He had received instructions from his Minister at Port au Prince to go to Cape Haitien and, upon his arrival there on the 19th of June, had found the Revolutionary Forces under Dr. Rosalvo Bobo, ex-minister of the Interior under President Theodore Davilmar, in charge of the town. It will be remembered that this same Bobo was reported several months before as heading a revolution against the government, but that he had gone to Monte Cristi and was subsequently lost sight of during the rise of Guillaume Sam to power. But the day of the arrival of the Descartes witnessed the withdrawal from Cape Haitien of Bobo and his revolutionary forces and the entry of the government troops under General Blot, special delegate of the North, in charge of the military operations against the revolutionists, [page 35] sent there especially to quell the incipient revolt. When the government forces entered the city, the Descartes landed fifty men for the protection of the French Consulate, their Monastery and the National Bank of Haiti, besides affording protection for the other foreigners.
The French commander also stated his government had no desire to take any political action in Haiti, or to influence any party in their relations with the United States. Citizens of his country needed protection, though, as a matter of fact, they had expressed a hope the United States would intervene and settle for once and for all the chaotic conditions of the Black Republic, so they could carry on their business in peace.
These French sailors were kept ashore until the 24th of June, when, conditions becoming more like normal, they were returned to their ship. Their captain was loath to keep them ashore unnecessarily, doubly so since upon his advent to Haitian waters the Haitian government as well as the German minister had protested against his remaining there as a breach of neutrality, -- France then being a belligerent power.
So Capitane Lafrogne placed himself at my disposal and at my orders, for the protection of foreign interests, and asked if my instructions interfered with his remaining at Cape Haitien. He was assured they did not in any wise. I then thanked him as cordially as possible for his action there in protecting foreign and our interests.
Shortly after his departure the American Consul, Mr. Livingston paid me an official call. He also went into detail and related the several incidents since Dr. Bobo on the 25th of April, at the head of five hundred revolutionists, entered and took control of the town. Later the Haitian Navy the Nord Alexis and Pacifique blockaded the harbor, while government troops, under command of General Blot, approached from the southwest. On the 19th of June, after a battle at Haut de Cap, the revolutionists withdrew and Blot, at the head of his victorious army, entered the city. With the exception of some slight looting, and an insignificant attempt by the gunboats to silence Fort Picolet, Cape Haitien had been quiet and order was being maintained. The cables from Cape Haitien, viz: one to Puerto Plata, one to New York and one to Mole St. Nicholas were open and in working order.
When I arrived on the first of July the revolutionists occupied and controlled the country and the railroad in the vicinity of Quartier Morin and Limonade, at which latter place, eight miles south of Cape Haitien, Bobo had established temporary headquarters. Government forces were in Cape Haitien and to the eastward, westward and southward of that place.
[page 36] The great draft of the Washington caused her to anchor three miles off Cape Haitien, a distance entirely too great to support properly any force we might have to land against the town or even for regular purposes of communication. I, therefore, requested the Department to order the Eagle to Cape Haitien after the completion of her investigation at Port au Prince. Her light draft would render her extremely valuable in case of operations.
The Department approved of my scheme and ordered her to report to me at Cape Haitien.
The next day, July 2nd, I called upon the French commander and informed him that the United States assumed charge of the protection of foreign interests in Cape Haitien and relieved him of all responsibility in that place, and that should his orders recall him from Haiti, he could rest assured that French interests there would be cared for with the same solicitude we showed for our own. To this he expressed his appreciation, stating he would communicate the facts to his minister. He again voiced his concern because of his protracted stay in Haitian waters, recalling the protests of the German Minister and that of the Haitian Government. He frankly admitted the possibility of an embarrassing situation arising between the United States and European nations because of our primary interests in Haiti and his continued violation of Haitian neutrality. It seemed obviously undesirable for the Descartes to remain longer in Haitian waters. Unfortunately, her situation was further complicated by lack of orders which the French commander had long since requested and by the presence in the Descartes of Dr. Bobo’s chief of staff and five other adherents to whom asylum had been given when their forces were driven from the city. Though the French Minister had directed Captaine Lafrogne to surrender to the Government troops Bobo’s chief of staff, he had declined to do this for reasons of humanity and because the French Legation was offering asylum to politicians under similar circumstances.
I then held conversation with Bobo’s chief of staff, who intimated that his chief had between three and four thousand men under his command, and, since they were plentifully supplied with ammunition, they were engaged in operations for the recapture of Cape Haitien. These statements were obviously not quite in accordance with the facts, since had Bobo possessed such an army, he never could have been driven out of Cape Haitien.
Occasional encounters were taking place outside of the city, usually after dark, with no important results.
My chief of staff, Captain E. L. Beach, next called upon General Blot, who commanded the Government troops in Cape Haitien. This general was distinctly and carefully informed that U.S. Naval forces were in Haitian waters for the purpose of protecting the lives and property of Americans and foreigners and that because of their numbers, it was impossible for fighting in the city to otherwise than endanger them. It was impressed upon Blot that we did not wish to threaten Haiti, but [page 37] did wish for her peace and prosperity. On the other hand, it was absolutely necessary that no fighting occur within the city limits.
Failure to observe this expressed wish would force the United States to land men for the protection of its citizens. To this General Blot cordially gave his consent, averring he had orders to provide complete security for foreigners and their interests and that he would do so, and that the revolutionists were few in number, short of funds and the movement would soon be crushed.
In order that there be no misunderstanding as to our attitude or intentions, I confirmed this conversation by sending General Blot a letter embodying my wishes and our understanding. A letter similar to that was written to General Bobo and another one dispatched to Capitaine Lafrogne, in order that he might be informed of the action we had taken and to renew assurances of our determination to afford adequate protection for the French and their property. To this he replied most gratefully.
The proper transmission of messages between the American Consulate and the Washington was of primary importance, so to that end we established a field radio set at the railroad station - which was American property - and there landed one officer, eleven marines and an operator. Of these actions I informed General Blot and to them he made no objection.
The Navy Department had authorized my use of the Eagle, so that I advised her commanding officer, Lieutenant Shoup, of the Department’s wishes; and directed him to report to me for duty at Cape Haitien.
Since my operations in these waters during the Guillaume revolution were controlled almost entirely by the necessity and the importance of supporting the State Department’s negotiations then pending, I asked Lieutenant Shoup [He having come directly from the Minister at Port au Prince] if there were any important diplomatic negotiations under consideration between the United States and Haiti.
The fourth of July found the Eagle in the port of Cape Haitien. Lieutenant Shoup submitted his written report on conditions existing at Port au Prince. From his investigation, it appeared that Port au Prince was quiet and that the Guillaume Government was in control of all of Haiti except a small section in which the revolutionists, under Bobo, were operating
On this date the Haitien gunboat Nord Alexis arrived and landed about 300 government troops at Cape Haitien.
It was interesting to note that the government claims to have sent 20,000 troops into the interior to quell the Bobo insurrection. [page 38] That asseveration brought to my recollection the story told of a French admiral, who, with the President of Haiti, was watching a review of Haitian troops. It was to have been a gala occasion and the Frenchman supposed many thousand were to be paraded. Upon the approach of a cavalry regiment, with but a handful of mounted men, the President gravely turned to the Admiral and remarked in French: “Lost heavily during the recent war”, and so was presumably with the twenty thousand.
The new government, though apparently proceeding normally at the capital by jailing a number of persons for political reasons and driving others into the asylum of the Legations, had as yet done nothing to solve the numerous questions concerning the public debt which had been pending for years, though it was reserving for its own uses all funds received through the customs. Such a procedure could hardly cause surprise in Haitian politics. As a matter of fact, the proper use of public moneys would create a stir on a national scale. It had also put into circulation eight million gourdes in paper money, the issuance of which had been voted by the Theodore Government.
From the report of Lieutenant Shoup we learned that Germany, France, Italy and some of the smaller nations had recognized the Guillaume Government, but, because of the withholding of this recognition by the United States, there had been practically no intercourse between Washington and Port au Prince.
Shoup also ascertained that Mr. Fuller, who had recently gone to Haiti on a special commission from the State Department, had, it was assumed, rendered an unfavorable report, for, though absent from the Island for some time, no copy of his findings or recommendations had been received at the Legation.
It furthermore was apparent that the Haitian President placed great confidence in General Blot and that were he successful in putting down the Bobo revolution, Blot would be made Minister of the Interior, the highest office within the gift of the Administration. That year the fourth of July fell on Sunday and the customary honors were, therefore, postponed to the following day, and every one interested so advised. On the fifth, consequently, the Washington, the Eagle, the Descartes and the Nord Alexis and the Pacifique full dressed ship and fired salutes of twenty-one guns in honor of our day of independence.
On that day I sent my chief of staff, Captain E. L. Beach, to deliver to General Bobo at Petite Anse my letter forbidding fighting near the town. Captain Beach talked with Bobo’s Minister of War, who stated that they were anxious to avoid injury to foreigners, but that if the Government troops did not come out and fight, the revolutionists proposed to attack them in the city. The Chief of Staff was rather of the opinion such a statement smacked more of bravado than of intention.
[page 39] The sixth of July, however, found the opposing forced locked in a struggle three miles southeast of Cape Haitien. Early during the afternoon General Blot with two hundred and fifty men and twelve thousand rounds of ammunition proceeded in the direction of the conflict.
No decision seemed to have been reached during the day, and, despite this expenditure of ammunition, three government troops who had been killed and twenty-five wounded were brought into Cape Haitien during the day.
Throughout the seventh comparative quiet reigned over the city. Desultory firing and the movement to the front of about 250 more Government troops were the outstanding features. General Blot conveyed to me from his chief, President Guillaume, the latter’s expressed orders that all possible courtesies be extended to us.
Notwithstanding the apparent fatigue of the antagonists, neither was successful, and a continuance of the struggle was unavoidable. The present deadlock might be broken at any moment by both sides rushing into Cape Haitien and reaching a conclusion by arms within the confines of the city. This had happened on two earlier occasions. It was, therefore, deemed highly expedient to take measures of a preventative kind, especially so since the Washington could not lie closer than three miles from the town and boating was rendered extremely difficult, if not hazardous, by the unusually high trade winds which blew steadily most of the day.
It was obvious that a small force entrenched across the Cape Haitian-Petite Anse Road would delay the entrance of revolutionary troops until the government had made a proper disposition of its troops. To prevent fighting in the city, we selected the railroad station for this purpose. It was there that our field radio set had already been mounted. This position was situated on a peninsula about fifty yards wide, flanked on one side by the Haut du Cap River and on the other side by the sea. An outpost of thirty marines at this place and supported by the Eagle’s guns would act as a sufficient deterrent until we could land additional men or make other arrangements.
The separation of the contending factions became the solution of the problem. With this in mind, I issued Campaign Order Number Three, to cover these operations, and Lieutenant Willcox of the Marines, with eighteen additional men, the necessary equipment and provisions, was ordered to land and take up a position at the railroad station.
On the morning of the ninth one of my staff [Coffey], under orders from me, went with the American Consul to see General Blot and inform him of my intentions and secure, if possible, his assent. This, for obvious reasons, he withheld.
[page 40] Much as he appreciated our desire to protect American and foreign interests, he could not see why his promise to safeguard them was insufficient. He feared lest revolutionist propaganda would lead Haitians to believe foreign powers were aiding the Government, etc., etc. He was assured that was a matter of Haitian politics and had no bearing on the situation then existing. He begged for time to consult with President Guillaume. As there was no objection to his consultation with his superior, he was informed that the outcome of that deliberation could not affect our decision to land a force for the protection of American lives and property in Cape Haitien. We stated our regrets for the necessity of coming to such a conclusion, but reiterated our statements that there was no intention of questioning the sovereignty of Haiti, or of maintaining any but a neutral attitude towards the contending forces.
Convinced of our friendliness, but determination, the interview, amicably conducted on both sides, came to an end. At eleven o’clock on the morning of the ninth of July the additional marines landed with their full equipment and the Eagle moved up to a berth closer inshore, where she could better support our men.
The commanding officer of the Descartes was immediately informed of my operations. Satisfaction was expressed and a willingness to cooperate when asked to do so.
During the day the Pacifique desired to make an impression and fired a few rounds into Bord de Mer, about six miles to the eastward of Cape Haitien. When this had been done she returned to the city. Intermittent firing occurred throughout the tenth, while the Pacifique weighted anchor and disappeared.
It was of interest to note a perfervid utterance of Rosalvo Bobo as found placarded in Cape Haitien. This famous proclamation in French contained the following extracts:
“Today, as in 1910, when the MacDonald affair cost me two and a half months in irons and eleven months in exile, I desired to explain to you my sentiments towards Americans. There is no people whose genius and industrial activity I admire more than theirs. To introduce into our country its industries, its capital, its methods of work is one of my most ardent and constant dreams. But to turn over to them our custom houses and our finances, to put ourselves under their tutelage, never, never, NEVER.” (An illuminating exhibition of Haitian turn of mind. He next invited attention to the iron collar the United States had placed upon the neck of Santo Domingo, where neither the President, minister, nor anyone could think without permission from the American Minister.)”. This lot the government of Guillaume accepts or is going to accept for us. The revolution which I have undertaken has for its aim the prevention of this excess of disgrace.
[page 41] To arms, citizens and soldiers, the most sacred duty - that of saving your county calls you. Honor and success away you.”
And this vivid proclamation was signed in a characteristic way “Rosavlo Bobo, Graduate of the Faculties of Law and Medicine of Paris, former Envoy Extraordinary to Santo Domingo”.
The next two days witnessed nothing of importance. The commanding officer of the Descartes informed me that because of his shortage of coal, he would sail for Kingston on the 12th of July. This he did. There was desultory firing outside of the city. On the morning of the thirteenth, the government troops achieved a great victory at the Riviere Anise, four miles south of Cape Haitien; while one hardly less important occurred when they drove the revolutionists back to Quartier Morin, capturing one gun and a number of women. The fourteenth passed quietly while the fifteenth brought confirmation of the important victories of their 13th. The revolutionists were undeniably retreating to the eastward and to the southward. The train which left Grand Riviere, fifteen miles distant, on the 26th of April, having been permitted to resume its trip, pulled into Cape Haitien during the evening of July the 16th.
The government troops continued their advance, driving Bobo to Boule Noire on the Dominican frontier between Fort Liberte and Ouanaminthe.
Cape Haitien resumed its normal condition and the shipments of produce from the interior recommenced. The Brutus, having coaled the Washington and the Eagle, got underway for Guantanamo.
The Government of Santo Domingo became interested in Dr. Bobo’s movements and the Dominican Consul General in Haiti appeared at Cape Haitien the following day, requesting the American Consul to intercede in his behave and secure passage to Monte Cristi aboard an American warship.
This request was made because other means of transportation had failed him, the Haitian Navy having suddenly and without due warning broken down. But as the Dominican official was anxious to get into his country, to prevent the shipment of arms and ammunition across the border, to the Bobo revolutionists, I immediately represented the matter to the Department and requested instructions. Within twenty-four hours an answer came authorizing me to use my discretion in the matter and to make report of the action we had taken.
Upon consultation with General Blot, we received the information that the revolutionists were scattered throughout the mountains; while the government forces were concentrating against Le Trou, where Bobo’s adherents might make a stand. Blot, himself, intended going to Grande Riviere to reorganize the pursuit of the revolutionists. In the mean- [page 42] time he issued a proclamation, granting amnesty to all the revolutionists except their chiefs. This clever move showed a keen appreciation of the character of his countrymen. For he believed Bobo to be short of funds. Such a situation could hardly have escaped the notice of his followers. The publication of the terms of the amnesty and visions of funds from the government strongbox would operate strongly in favor of the Guillaume army. A shortage of ammunition added to Bobo’s discomfiture. The end of his tether was in sight. So figured General Blot.
All indications pointed to a rapid decline of the revolution. Yet, since my information was procured from governmental sources, alone, it seemed wise to make an effort to inform myself from others. We determined, consequently, to send two staff officers to Ouanaminthe and to Dajabon via Monte Cristi for this information.
The Dominican Consul General and his Consul were then informed that the United States would transport them to Monte Cristi, with my two staff officers, if they so desired to go.
The Eagle was, therefore, directed to transport them thither and to return to Cape Haitien not later than the twenty-first instant.
The ship arrived at Monte Cristi early on the 19th of July, returning the next day with the Dominican Consular officers and the two members of my staff. These latter, Captain Van Orden, the Fleet Marine Officer, and Lieutenant R.B. Coffey of the Navy, my Flag Secretary, submitted an interesting written report of their observations. The revolutionists occupied several small towns in the vicinity of Terre Rouge, a jungle country. Mountainous and covered with almost impenetrable forests, such a terrain made guerrilla warfare advisable. Such a course suited Bobo. He appeared to be short ammunition, though about a month previously the Dominican Governor of Monte Cristi had sent to Bobo from the Dominican arsenal there 58,000 rounds of ammunition. The President of Santo Domingo immediately caused his removal.
It was not unlikely the reprehensible official had made quite a sum by his sale of government ammunition. It was generally believed that Bobo’s source of ammunition had then been cut off. He could, however, -- and probably did -- secure a limited supply by reloading cartridges.
The government forces consisted probably of not more than three thousand men, who were scattered in the vicinity of Grande Riviere, Limonade, Grosse Roche, Valliere, Bahon, Ouanaminthe, and Fort Liberte. Darius Baourand, the Minister of the Interior, was at Ouanaminthe, operating in conjunction with other loyal troops. His progress was, [page 43] it will be remembered, not satisfactory to President Guillaume. The former was quite optimistic and predicted the fall of Bobo within a month.
We were inclined, on the other hand, to disagree with his conclusions. Bobo’s guerrilla warfare, his strong positions and his ability to manufacture some ammunition, as well as his communication with the sea at Caracol, led us to believe the revolutionary movement would be prolonged for several months.
The staff officers found that the town of Ouanaminthe was practically in ruins. It had witnessed many revolutions. A notable difference existed between the towns on both sides of the frontier between Haiti and Santo Domingo. Those in the former country were dilapidated and dirty; while those across the line were comparatively prosperous, clean and well laid out.
The Dominican Consular Officials reported that a revolution had broken out at Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo. This hastened to verify by sending a cablegram to the American Consul, Mr. Henry, there. To this he replied, stating that the movement had collapsed and the leaders had surrendered.
This I reported to the Navy Department and to the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet. Similar advices, by direction of the Department, were being made daily since our arrival in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
On July the 23rd the Haitian gunboat Pacifique arrived at Cape Haitien with money and thirty thousand rounds of ammunition for the government troops. Seven thousand rounds of the latter were sent to the southward for General Blot’s forces.
During the day some of my staff were ordered to accompany Mr. Woolard, the manager of the railroad, in a tour of inspection, as far as the train could go.
The train proceeded without incident to a point about five miles from Bahon, the end of the railroad. It was unable to move farther, because a thick jungle had grown over the track during the three months’ disuse of the railroad, due to the revolutionary conditions.
It was learned from General Monpoint at Grande Riviere that Government troops had advanced as far as Sainte Suzanne, their objective being Le Trou.
Throughout this period Cape Haitien remained quiet; and conditions were normalized once more.
[page 44] On July 25th General Blot, accompanied by Mr. Aybar, the Dominican Consul at Cape Haitien, came off to the Washington and called upon me. The former stated that his troops had encountered some opposition between Limonade and Le Trou, but that within a week he expected to advance all his forces against the revolutionists in the vicinity of Le Trou.
This humdrum state of affairs came to a sudden stop when on the 26th of July there was received from our outpost on shore a report that a number of arrests of revolutionary sympathizers had been made during the day, and that two of them had been forcibly removed from the home of the French Consular Agent. This apparent violation of the French consulate caused me to send one of my staff officers to make and immediate investigation. He found, after visiting the outpost, the American Consul and French Consular Agent, that Reon Paret, former Administrator of Finance under Bobo, and Edouard Leveille, a Haitian, had, uninvited, taken up their residence on the property of a French citizen, under the impression this would afford them a greatly needed asylum. As that property was not connected in any manner with either the French Consular Agent’s house or the French Consulate, the Haitian authorities legally arrested the squatters. And with them went to prison a clerk in a drug store of which the French Consular Agent was proprietor. These arrests had been made in accordance with law and the French Consular Agent had no complaint to make.
On the morning of the 27th of July information was received from the manager of the French cable station at Cape Haiten, that the Palace at Port au Prince had that morning been attacked by a revolutionary faction and that fighting was going on there. The staff officers I sent ashore to verify the report found an abundance of confirmatory messages. I, therefore, sent a message to our Secretary of Legation, Mr. Davis, at Port au Prince, requesting him to make an immediate report of conditions at the capital. In reply, he stated that President Guillaume and Government officials were refugees in the French Legation; that the revolutionists controlled the city and that the outgoing administration, by way of farewell, had shot in their cells seventy political prisoners, including ex-President Oreste Zamor.
Later in the afternoon another cable was received from the American Legation, Port au Prince, stating that the French Legation was threatened and a forcible entry attempted for the purpose of taking out President Gillaume; that the English Charge’ and French Minister had cabled for ships; that the situation was very grave and the presence of warships was necessary as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, General Blot received a message from the revolutionists, asking him to join the movement. This message was signed by Delva, Polynice, Delinois, Robin, Etienne, Dalencourt, and Charles Zamor.
Cape Haitien remained quiet, through a certain uneasiness appeared [page 45] after the knowledge of the situation at Port au Prince had become generally known.
The chaotic conditions at the capital and the number of Americans and foreigners there, as well as their extensive interests, filled me with a natural apprehension.
And as the need for their protection was greater there than at Cape Haiten, I decided to order the Washington to get under way immediately for Port au Prince.
General Blot was not overlooked, however. He might still have to be reckoned with, so the Eagle was ordered to remain at Cape Haitian. The detachment ashore was hastily withdrawn and returned to the flagship. With this slight increase in my landing forces, I then at best could only be assured of two companies of marines and three of seamen. These were insufficient for possible operations in the disturbed city. I forthwith requested the Naval Station at Guantanamo Cuba, to hold in readiness the marine company there and directed the collier Jason to be prepared to proceed to Haiti with these marines.
The Washington left the same evening, coming to anchor off Port au Prince the morning of July the 28th. She was directed to anchor as near the city as was possible with safety, in accordance with plans previously worked out during our stay there, when a careful survey was made and berths assigned for vessels, in case it became necessary to land and take possession of the City.
Two officers of my staff were immediately landed, Van Orden and Coffey, to ascertain the news. At the American Legation they conversed with Mr. Davis, the charge d’Affaires. Soon thereafter the three went to the French Legation, where they found the French Minister and the British Charge d’ Affaires.
They all then came off the Washington, where we held a consultation and where they confirmed, in detail, the reports we had received.
The local paper “Le Matin” published a list of sixty-one prisoners who had been massacred by the outgoing Guillaume Government. As a matter of fact, one hundred seventy-five prisoners were sought out by General Oscar and all but six were murdered under the most foul circumstances. It was reported that President Guillaume directed General Oscar to kill all political prisoners the moment the first revolutionary shot was fired in the city. These unfortunate victims, all of them shot in cold blood while in their cells, were men of prominence in business and politics.
[page 46] It was also disclosed that the Dominican Legation had been violated on the twenty-seventh by General Polynice, who forcibly removed the bloodthirsty General Oscar, who commanded that district, and killed him, out of revenge for the death of Polynice’s two sons, who had been among those murdered by the orders of General Oscar that same morning. Threats had also been made against the French Legation. The morning of the twenty-eighth, almost an hour before the arrival of the Washington, when she was reported on the horizon, coming under full steam, the relatives of the murdered prisoners, then engaged in the burial of their loved ones, rushed from the cemetery, crying, “The Washington is coming. Now is our time; for when she arrives it will be too late”. They were joined by a frenzied crowd of a hundred Haitiens of the better class; and, running to the French Legation, forcing its entrance, despite the vigorous protests of the French Minister, they found President Guillaume, whom they dragged from a bath room upstairs. They continued to pull the terror stricken wretch by the heels over the rough stone driveway to the back gate. They murdered him just outside the inclosure. To add a native touch to an already barbarous proceeding, they cut his body in pieces, and with his hands, feet and head impaled on sticks, and with his memberless torso secured with a rope, they paraded the remains round the city.
When the Washington came to anchor I could see that parade through my glasses. And I wondered. It was not until later that I understood what it meant. Charles Zamor, an ex-Minister during a previous administration, was one of the leaders of the band which forcibly entered the French Legation. He had been alienated from Guillaume Sam and had taken refuge at one time in the French Legation, where for several months, he had been cared for and fed by the hands of the French Minister’s own daughters. When Zamor attempted to force his entrance, this same young woman met him and upbraided him for his conduct; and reminded him of his obligation to her and to the French Government. This plea had its effect, for Zamor decided to withdraw, remarking, as he went, that he would be responsible for the non-interference of soldiers, but he could not promise to hold back the civilians, whose relatives had been so barbarously massacred that morning.
At the first sign of trouble President Guillaume, so the story ran, rushed to the door in the high wall which separated the French Legation from the Palace Compound and which opened therein. The key to this had been carried by previous presidents against such contingencies. Finding that the lock was rusted and that it was impossible to get into the French Legation in that manner, Guillaume escaped by climbing over the stone wall. While attempting to escape, along with a number of his followers, Guillaume was wounded in the leg. [page 47] Once over the wall, he was under protection of the French Legation, where, hidden in the bathroom of an upper story, he was discovered the next morning by the irate mob; and, despite frantic endeavors of his followers. This door also was locked, so that Guillaume’s pursuers were forced to effect an entrance from the transom; and the trembling President was dragged out in the same manner. Once in possession of the person of the President, the mob, finding the gate also locked, and being anxious to hurry him from the sacred precincts of the Legation, put a rope round his body and attempted to drag him over the iron palings on the top the fence. As the consequence, by the time Guillaume was gotten outside, he was nearly dead. There, outside of the gate, he was shot, and his head, feet and hands removed.
There was no government or authority in the city. A so-called Committee of Safety, composed of Polynice and three other generals, was supposedly in control. It made, however, no attempt to preserve order or show its authority. Further more, other rival leaders endangered their authority.
The French cruiser Descartes was on her way to Port au Prince.
The French Minister, deeply stirred and profoundly indignant because of the violation of his Legation, insisted upon the landing of men from the Descartes and the placing of a guard from that vessel at both the Legation and at the French bank. Consequently, I decided to land at once and to assume control so there would be as little excuse as possible for the French to disembark. Our armed landing force had already been assembled on deck and all preparations made. At the end of the conference I gave orders that our armed troops be landed for the prevention of further rioting, for the protection of foreign life and property and for the preservation of law and order ashore. Captain Beach and Lieutenant Ferguson, of my staff, were sent ashore to advise General Polynice and his Committee of Safety that I intended landing men for the protection of life and the preservation of order. To this Committee was made an expression of hope they would cooperate in bringing order out of chaos. They assented to my scheme but would not guarantee our entry, unhampered by the populace, whom, however, they stated they would attempt to pacify. It was then necessary for us to land or permit Europeans to do so. Despite tactical reasons, I decided to land that evening as soon as possible; for reasons of policy greatly outweighed those of tactics.
At five that afternoon of the 28th of July the disembarkation of armed men from the Washington began. These, composed of two companies of marines and three of seamen, under command of Captain George Van Orden, U.S.M.C., landed and began their march along the Bizoton Road to the city. Van Orden’s orders were covered by Campaign Order [page 48] Number Four, based upon an estimate of the situation previously worked out during our visit in February.
The American Secretary of Legation had been notified of the landing and asked to advise all Americans and foreign representatives, in order they might hoist the flags of the several nationalities; stay within doors and refrain from any acts which might possibly be construed as a demonstration against the American landing force.
The Commandant of the Naval Station at Guantanamo was then directed to expedite to Port au Prince the departure of marines in the Jason.
Captain Van Orden, with his command, advanced to the market place in the northern part of the city.
Guards were left at several legations, while a few civilians and Haitian soldiers were disarmed.
The slight resistance offered by firing from the roof tops was soon overcome without casualty to our men. The main body of our landing force bivouacked for the night in the market place. Occasional rifle shots during the night were the only occurrences of note.
During the day the Commandant at Guantanamo advised me of his instructions from the Department to send all available marines to Port au Prince, and they were then being embarked. Another message, but from the Eagle, stated that conditions at Cape Haitien were quiet, but that she had landed twenty men, at the request of the French Consul, for the protection of the refugees in the French Consulate.
General Blot had also made known his intention to keep control of Cape Haitien until assured of the overthrow of the Guillaume regime.
When that untoward event came to pass, he thought it would be wise to leave Haiti.
Five hours after our forces had landed and taken possession of the city during the night of July the 28th word from the Department expressed the desire of the Secretary of State that American forces be landed for the protection of lives and property, and that the representatives of England and France be so informed and advised that their interests would be safeguarded; and that they further be requested not to land. I was also authorized to act at discretion.
The work to be accomplished loomed large and the paucity of our forces in a city of that size immediately became only too obvious.
Early the morning of the 29th the Washington shifted her berth to [page 49] one nearer the city, from which anchorage she would be better able to support the landing force ashore.
Thanks to the presence of our men, the night in Port au Prince passed quietly.
But with the dawn and the awakening of normal activities throughout the city, it became apparent that there was no government or authority in the capital; that no group of men was able to dominate the city or mould necessary measures; that the natives were hysterical, and that, as a direct result, we should have to assume military control of the city. I requested by cable, therefore, that the Department send us at once a regiment of marines, suggesting, if necessary, the Montana, or one of that class be used for their transportation.
The commander of the landing force was then directed to disarm all Haitians in the streets, cooperating with their leaders where possible. Orders were also given him to place outposts at all the approaches to the Capital, and to confiscate all arms and ammunition going in or out of Port au Prince, and to suppress promptly all disorder, whether by day or by night. Fixed guards were to be kept at the several legations.
The chief of staff, Captain E.L. Beach, was, by this time, ashore, in consultation with Captain Van Orden and some of the prominent Haitians, with a view of disarming local soldiery and civilians. The “Revolutionary Committee”, as they styled themselves, was composed of Generals Polynice, Delva, Charles Zamor, Noel, Nau, Samson Monpoint and Robin. This unwieldy organization, after much discussion, agreed at my instigation to undertake the disarmament of all Haitians and to place in the palace, under a guard of police with clubs, all guns and ammunition thus acquired. They raised no objections to my assuming the right to exercise supervision over their operation and agreed to cooperate with and to meet daily my representatives, in order to insure complete harmony of movements.
In the morning I directed Captain E.L. Beach, my chief of staff, to proceed ashore and to assume the duties of Senior Naval Officer Ashore, in charge of the military operations and such civil functions as might from time to time be taken over by my direction. The American Charge’ d’ Affaires [Secretary or Legation] was informed of my actions and requested to communicate this fact to all the foreign diplomatic and consular officials.
The day passed quietly and order was maintained. An under current of great uneasiness was noticeable in the populace. Both houses of the congress met on the day and a stormy session ensued, following an effort to elect a President. There were no sufficiently strong candidates then in sight to allay the populace and their fears for their safety. Bobo and Cauvin were apparently the leading candi- [page 50] dates.
During the afternoon of the 29th a report was circulated, that an attack upon the American forces would possibly be made that night from outside of the city. A rearrangement of the landing force was immediately made and disposed as follows:
One marine company in the vicinity of the Customs House, to cover the northern approaches to the City; the seaman battalion at Fort Lerebours, covering the approaches from the south; and two companies of marines to guard the foreign section, the legations and the approaches from the eastward.
The Washington was directed to support these operations throughout the night, using her searchlights and three inch and six inch guns, if needed.
The Jason, with a company of marines under command of Captain W. G. Fay, arrived during the afternoon. These were immediately landed to reinforce the seaman battalion ashore.
The Eagle was then advised of the situation at Port au Prince and directed to keep me informed of the movements of Haitian men of war and of affairs at Cape Haitien. Lieutenant Shoup’s brief “Quiet here” reassured us, though later in the day a report from the French Consul at Cape Haitien indicated Blot’s intention to support, for the Presidency, General Baourand, who had been Guillaume’s Minister of the Interior. As they were both in the woods together, chasing the elusive Bobo, this seemed like a good gamble on his part. Lieutenant Shoup also reported that General Blot stated he would maintain Cape Haitien until assured of the overthrow of the Guillaume Government, in which event he would probably leave Haiti.
There was reason now to worry about the Eagle. Her small size and the presence of two Haitian gunboats at Cape Haitien convinced me of the necessity of making an earnest recommendation to the Department for the presence of the Nashville at Cape Haitien and of the Castine as soon as available for the duty. The necessity ashore for some of the Eagle’s crew rather emphasized the situation. This phase I cabled to the Secretary of the Navy.
The rumor was not without foundation, for during the night of the 29th an attack, in the form of sniping from bushes, was made on the seaman battalion from the southward. William Gompers, seaman, and C.S. Whitehurst, ordinary seaman, were killed. None was wounded.
Six Haitians lost their lives during the fighting and two were wounded.
[page 51] Throughout the 30th the disarming of natives continued uninterruptedly. Five wagon loads of arms and cartridges were deposited in the Palace. These we guarded. The work was well started, though the size of the city rendered its early completion a matter for conjecture, and further sniping was anticipated.
The Revolutionary Committee announced on the 30th its support of Rosalvo Bobo for President. It was generally believed this was done after the office had been offered to twelve others, who declined the honor. The history of the stormy republic recorded no such unprecedented bashfulness. Meanwhile, the Blot Party in Cape Haitien announced it’s intention to support Bauraud, and as the entire army and Bobo and Bauraud were in the north, the controlling factors of the political situation were not then in Port au Prince. It was a very maze, a crazy quilt of a state of affairs. Political conditions in the city, under the circumstances, must, of necessity, be chaotic. Another element and a dangerous one was injected by the existence in the capital of a large force of unemployed and disarmed soldiers. The prompt employment of these men and the assurance of regular pay would greatly improve the situation. The Haitian Construction Company, American owned, had a contract for public works, for paving streets and laying sewers, which would handle twelve hundred men. But all activities had been stopped for lack of funds. And the Haitian Treasury was empty, as usual.
Cape Haitien next bid for attention. One-half of the Haitian Navy the Pacifique attempted to leave the harbor, but was prevented by the other half the Nord Alexis, while one officer was taken off and imprisoned.
The French Minister was still deeply incensed at the insult offered his government in the violation of his Legation and, though much gratified by the ample protection given him by our guard, then permanently quartered in the Legation Compound, he still greatly regretted that French marines were not landed to uphold the dignity of his flag; further averring that the natives might believe he had been deserted by his government and that the prestige of France would irrevocably suffer.
Fearing that he would insist upon landing his marines, I thereupon suggested to the State Department the wisdom of attempting some arrangement through the Embassy in Washington which would be mutually satisfactory.
The French cruiser Descartes then came to anchor in the harbor, on July 30th, 1915.
Later in the day a cablegram from the Department directed me to [page 52] retain possession of the town until further orders, and advised me that Castine and Nashville had been ordered to report to me, in accordance with my request; adding that no additional marines would be sent for a time.
We at once ordered the Nashville, under command of Commander Olmstead, to proceed to Cape Haitien and take charge of the situation there. She left for her destination the same day 30th July. At the same time orders were issued to the Castine to proceed to Port au Prince as soon as possible.
On the morning of the 30th I again sent a dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy, explaining more fully the situation at Port au Prince, laying great stress upon the necessity of patrolling the capital and maintaining order in a city of 100,000 inhabitants. The present force of four hundred men was insufficient to perform that arduous duty. The men were working hard under the rays of a particularly trying tropical sun and in an unhealthy climate, and many of them were exhausted.
The possibility of having to contend with the Haitian army, then in the north, and not knowing what action they would take when word reached them of American occupancy, made reinforcements mandatory. After presenting these arguments for consideration, I strongly urged that at least one regiment of marines be rushed to Haiti. Late that evening a reply from the Secretary announced that 500 marines, commanded by Colonel Cole, on the Connecticut, would embark the next day July 31 at Philadelphia. Machine guns, field pieces and ammunition would be expedited by that vessel. The Secretary laid stress upon his desire that the landing force then ashore be not withdrawn, except in case of absolute necessity. Thus were we embarked upon an undertaking of considerable magnitude.
We were all much gratified later in the day when another cablegram from the Department was received which read “Department appreciated excellent manner in which disturbance at Port au Prince has been handled, and directs that you maintain military control of city until further orders. Daniels.” [30 July 1915]
Questions of finance had been forcing themselves into prominence and many activities ashore demanded attention. The method of providing money for the Navy’s needs in such circumstances had not been foreseen by Congress, and, in order that our good work ashore be not hampered, I asked the Department to authorize the expenditure of $5,000 from “Contingent Navy” to meet emergencies and extraordinary expenses impossible to anticipate.
[page 53] The Revolutionary Committee had now reached the proclamation stage and during the day issued and posted three. Its personnel was announced, the existence of a state of siege, a prohibition against the carrying of arms, the assembling of people in meetings having a political character, and a warning against the circulation of people in the streets between 8.00 p.m. and 5 a.m. The third proclamation involved orders for the better control of the city. This I hastened to supplement by advising the Committee that our men would carry out the provisions of that particular order.
And thus, with the daily report to the Department, ended the thirtieth of July.
The last day of the month found Port au Prince quiet but uneasy. Bright and early the French Minister called upon me with the information he had received to the effect that the French Embassy at Washington had been directed to inform the United States Government that France considered the landing of a Legation Guard at Port au Prince as a national point of honor.
He repeated his conviction that we were efficiently protecting life and property in Port au Prince, but assured me his guard would be confined to the Legation and that their arms would not be carried outside the limits of the building. Nor would he in any way interfere with our actions in the city.
Press dispatches from the United States that same day indicated a belief at home of the existence of a “de facto government” in Port au Prince. As a matter of fact, all governmental functions were practically in force, but were carried on by a committee of citizens acting under our control and direction. The Chamber of Deputies during the 31st asked my permission to elect a president. We deferred granting this request until a more suitable time presented itself. For the election of a chief magistrate while the populace was so worried and anxious would be productive of further trouble.
Lieutenant Shoup of the Eagle next reported heavy firing at Quartier Morin and that it was rumored Bobo would attempt to enter Cape Haitien. General Blot was, however, still in complete control of that place. Information was also received that the Blot forces had captured Gonaives.
Disturbances and further bloodshed seemed imminent. The army in the north and the presence of Blot and Bobo all menaced law and order. Signs of uneasiness began to appear in Cape Haitien, and the French Minister became anxious that steps be taken to guard his nation’s interests there. The occupation of Cape Haitien then [page 54] seemed desirable, and the Department would probably be asked to send another regiment of marines to Haiti.
That night another cable was dispatched to the Secretary of the Navy and an intimation was made that further reinforcements might subsequently be required.
Attempted robberies and an assault upon the Wesleyan Mission added a little local color to an already brightly drawn picture. One of the men who had assisted in the wholesale execution of prisoners sought asylum in the Mission, whence a mob had unsuccessfully attempted to remove him. The bloodthirsty assembly was dispersed. And yet one hardly blamed these people for seeking by some means to secure a just retribution, for these political prisoners had been murdered in cold blood, and under the most terrifying and brutal circumstances.
The savagery exhibited by the adherents of the tottering administration only too readily recalled the massacre of 1849, when that ex-captain of the black guards, Emperor Soulougne, caused his guard to fire into the crowded galleries where his ministers were assembled.
Obviously, the city was still unsettled and we continued throughout the first of August to collect firearms, though many Haitian soldiers, who carried no arms, retained their organization. Yet, without a larger force, we could not expect to have full control of the city and patrol it; nor could we expect reasonably to insure order. So we again we represented this situation to the Navy Department and requested it to direct the Connecticut to arrive at Port au Prince with the least possible delay.
The assembly of citizens had previously been forbidden and their dispersal carried out. The carrying out of these and other necessary orders made only too patent the necessity for the additional marines that had been requested. Prices of food were soaring, so that the poor who possessed neither money nor food were in sorry straits.
This would seem to justify the free distribution of food under the direction of the local clergy, who had an organization capable of handling this laudable project. This also we recommended to the Secretary of the Navy. Such a humane act would relieve great suffering and tend to ameliorate the general situation.
Later during the day, and after a conference, it was decided that no lasting peace would reign in the Black Republic so long as there were rival armies in the north, actually engaged in operations. The disbanding of these contending forces was obviously advantageous [page 55] from many standpoints, and we welcomed with enthusiasm any project which would accomplish that greatly desired result. It was then concluded that a mixed commission would best promote this, and to that end orders were issued to Lieutenant R.B. Coffey, U.S.N., of my staff, to proceed to Cape Haitien in the Jason with this mixed commission, and attempt to disband the armies in the North; disarm them and get them to return to their several homes; while at the same time, convince Blot and Bobo of the wisdom of joining a conference at Port au Prince, for the promotion of peace and order in their country. On this same commission I placed Legetime, ex-President of Haiti during 1888-1889, Archbishop Conan, of the French Catholic Church, Charles Zamor, ex-minister, General Polynice, and Colonel Chevalier.
These gentlemen, attired in their black silk hats and frock coats, accompanied Lieutenant Coffey, and on August the first embarked in the Jason, which promptly set sail for Cape Haitien.
In the meantime the Nashville put in her appearance at Cape Haitien, and the Celtic arrived at Port au Prince, the latter with much needed stores and provisions and an additional consignment for five hundred men for thirty days. During the day word was received from the Department to permit French marines to be landed as a Legation Guard.
Little of interest occurred during the night, though the disarming of natives continued. Uneasiness was still noticeable in the city. It was not to be wondered at. Years of unrest, sudden political eruptions, frequently followed by murders of opponents, had ingrained in the Haitian character an expectation of disorder. So we were not surprised on the next day to find that the Ex-Senator Dessources, who recently had announced his candidacy for President, had been rushed to prison by General Roban of the Revolutionary Committee. When called upon to explain this highhanded action Roban informed Captain Van Orden that Dessources was agitating against his Committee, and against Americans and that his arrest was necessary for public safety and the avoidance of trouble. Where, there was possibly little doubt that Dessources’ enforced imprisonment would permit more peace of mind for the Revolutionary Committee, after a thorough investigation of the incident, I ordered him released and sent him home under guard. To this General Roban protested, in excellent English, averring that the employment of such measures in his country would prove unavailing and merely create trouble. He was very indignant and terminated his interview with Van Orden by saying that perhaps they would not meet again in friendship. And with a final flourish of oral trumpets, he left. Probably mere bravado.
[page 56] In the early morning of August 2nd the French Cruiser Descartes landed an officer and thirty men for the Legation Guard; after which the French Minister, accompanied by the Commanding Officer of the Descartes called upon me to extend thanks for the protection afforded him and his Legation by the United States guard that had been furnished him, and which we had just withdrawn.
We were still apprehensive because of the existence in Port au Prince of about fifteen hundred Cacos, ostensibly unarmed, but conceivably with arms and ammunition hidden within the city limits. These lawless negroes, most of whom lived a carefree and irresponsible life in the mountains, were professional bandits and soldiers, acknowledging allegiance to their numerous leaders, who owned them body and soul. These, in turn, could easily be induced to accompany any chief or faction, or support any government by the display or promise of remuneration. The Cacos recognized no government, needless to say. These mercenaries, feared by all law abiding Haitians, might be said to be in practical control of the internal politics of the Black Republic. At that time they were supporting Dr. Rosalvo Bobo and were demanding his election to the Presidency. So terrorized, indeed, were the members of the Haitian Congress, that under the then existing circumstances, the election of anyone but Bobo seemed extremely doubtful. It, therefore, appeared wise to suggest that Congress postpone the election until the commission had returned from Cape Haitien, as I believed I could control Congress until that time.
Now the disbanding of the Cacos would do much towards the betterment of insular conditions in a political, as well as a moral way. That we aimed to accomplish. With the armed force already at my disposal, we could successfully combat any outbreak of the Cacos in Port au Prince; though, after the arrival of our reinforcements on the Connecticut, we could prevent any untoward incidents on a large scale. The majority of Haitians were orderly and peaceloving and would welcome the elimination of Cacos from their insular affairs. That could only be accomplished by force. No other method than the strong arm would have the desired result. And if the United States had any desire to effect with Haiti a lasting understanding upon financial affairs, the power of the Cacos had, of necessity, to be forever broken. Another regiment of marines would be become a sine qua non. An able commissioner from the United States then became essential. As such, at the time, I recommended Captain E.L. Beach, U.S. Navy, my Chief of Staff.
While we were cogitating upon affairs in the immediate vicinity of Port au Prince, renewed disturbances at Les Cayes and Jeremie in the Department of the South caused us on August the second to direct the Castine, then at New Orleans, to proceed as soon as possible to Port au Price direct. Nor had Cape Haitien been entirely forgotten [page 57] in the march of events. Commander Olmstead of the Nashville reported that refugees in the French Consulate there were using their asylum as revolutionary headquarters and were sending to and receiving messages from their chiefs in the field. This, Commander Olmstead peremptorily stopped. The Jason arrived the same day at Cape Haitien; while later that evening Coffey reported that he, ex-President Legetime, Archbishop Conan and the American Consul had held a preliminary conference with General Blot, who, though favorably inclined towards the proposals made him, asked for time to consult with his generals before reaching a final decision. He was guaranteed protection by me while in Port au Prince. Yet, during the same day, General Blot had assured Olmstead that he represented the Haitian Government and refused to treat with Bobo, Charles Zamor, or any others connected with the revolutionary movement.
During the day great interest was being manifested at Port au Prince in the work of the commission. This fact was communicated to the commission; while at the same time Coffey was directed to advise the captain of the steamer Nickerie not to land at any port en route the arms and ammunition consigned to the Haitian Government at Port au Prince.
This precautionary measure enabled us better to control the situation at the capital and gave the congress a freer hand in the election of their president.
Cape Haitien, on the third of August, remained quiet, though some firing was heard outside the town. Coffey reported that General Blot refused to treat with Zamor or Polynice, of the Commission, on the grounds that they represented the Revolutionists. General Blot declined to go to the capital and then resigned his command of the government forces in the north. Pique, and a realization of his frustrated hopes, probably played a large part in his decision. Whereupon a committee was formed in Cape Haitien to administer the affairs of the town.
General Bourand, ex-Minister of the Interior in the Guillaume Cabinet, who was in command of the government troops along the northern and eastern borders, with headquarters at Ouanaminthe, arrived in Cape Haitien. He and Laroche, one of Bobo’s chiefs, expressed their willingness to go to the Capital with the Commission. Coffey had previously been unable to get in touch with Bobo, but arranged to hold an early conference with the leader. The labors of the Commission were not without incident, for upon their arrival, Coffey would not permit Zamor, Polynice and Chevalier to land. Zamor had just escaped from prison and he and his party were politically inimical to the late government. Coffey feared that the landing of Zamor would cause bloodshed. Zamor was indignant when kept aboard ship, [page 58] and launched into one of his renowned flights of oratory, for which he was justly famous. But a half-hour of verbiage cooled him and he abandoned himself to reason; while Coffey made arrangements to have his wife and children come off to see the father they had not seen for months.
During the conference with Blot, the mention of Zamor’s name caused an excited remonstrance. Months afterwards Zamor thanked Coffey for restraining him in the Eagle, averring his action saved the life of the Haitien.
At Port au Prince things were going along with a reasonable degree of smoothness. The Revolutionary Committee desired to show some evidence of its displeasure at the release of Dessources, and posted squads of unarmed soldiers in many places throughout the city.
As as these men challenged all pedestrians and demanded countersigns, the populace again had an attack of “nerves”.
There was no actual disturbance, however.
We were inclined to view the actions of the Revolutionary Committee with goodnatured tolerance, since, in order to obtain the confidence and goodwill of the better class of Haitians, the use of unnecessary force and the display of intolerance would jeopardize our policy of conciliation. As a consequence, many functions of the civil administration of the city were still being performed by officials of the late government. Captain Beach was proving himself successful in carrying out ashore our predetermined course and to such an extent that Haitian members of Congress and others of prominence in Port au Prince expressed the hope that Captain Beach would be appointed commissioner, if the treaty with Haiti was to be brought about.
During the afternoon of the third we requested and received information from the Connecticut that she would arrive at Port au Prince during the afternoon of the following day. I directed her to expedite her arrival, in order that the marine regiment be landed in time to make camp before nightfall.
The Navy Department next advised arrival of the SS Nickerie of the Dutch Line, with a shipment of arms and ammunition for Bobo, and directed me to prevent the delivery of these arms, which were presumably to be landed at Petite Anse. This message was immediately relayed to the Nashville, whose commanding officer the next day reported that the stores from that vessel had already been landed, but that the boxes in the Customs House contained no arms; and that the officials had been advised to inspect everything before delivery.
[page 59] The fourth of August found Port au Prince sufficiently quiet and confident to permit the announcement of the candidacies of several gentlemen who aspired to presidential honors. A number of disarmed Cacos, presumably disgusted with the pervading sense of security and of order in Port au Prince, made preparations to leave the City. No obstructions were put in their way.
We greeted with unfeigned pleasure the arrival of the battleship Connecticut, commanded by Captain Durell. She came to anchor in the harbor of Port au Prince at four o’clock in the afternoon, and, in accordance with the provisions of Campaign Order Number Six, immediately began the disembarkation of the Second Regiment of Marines, in command of Colonel E.K. Cole. Stores and equipment were landed throughout the night; boats from the Connecticut, Washington and Osceola (the latter ordered from Guantanamo to bring stores and mail) lending their assistance.
At six p.m. of the same day our forces took possession of the Caserne (National Haitian Barracks) in which the native soldiery, upon our entrance, abandoned quantities of arms and ammunition.
General Desire, commanding the Palace Guard, sought an interview with me, stating that he was with the Americans in everything and requested guaranty for himself, General Robin and the soldiers. He told me he had the keys to the Palace and held them at our disposal. I replied that we guaranteed the lives of General Robin and all other Haitians from harm by Americans, so long as they committed no hostile act; that we had at the present time no intention of occupying the Palace. I then requested him to resume his post.
Upon the disembarkation of the Second Regiment, I directed Colonel E.K. Cole of the Marines to relieve Captain Beach of the military duties ashore, leaving to that latter officer charge of all matters pertaining to the civil administration and all negotiations of a non-military nature. Of this action of mine I informed our Charge d’Affaires [Secretary of Legation] ashore, requesting him to advise similarly the other foreign diplomatic and consular officials in Port au Prince. The commanding Officer of the French cruiser Descartes, Captain Le Frogne, was also informed.
While the Connecticut was landing marines in Port au Prince, General Blot, at Cape Haitien, had embarked in Pacifique and set his course for Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic; while some other general boarded the Nord Alexis. Before Blot had departed he requested Olmstead to land and take charge of the situation in Cape Haitien. This the captain of the Nashville deemed unnecessary at the time. The General appeared quite unable to make up his mind [page 60] about the conference at Port au Prince, apparently suspecting treachery.
He may well have had in mind the method employed by the French, who, early in the nineteenth century, and under circumstances of the greatest treachery, captured Toussaint L’Overture. The situation became more complicated when one of his generals, entering Cape Haitien, and without Blot’s permission, published a proclamation adhering to the candidacy of Laroche. This latter gentleman declined to run. This was further intensified by the hurried departure to Santo Domingo of Blot who, it was generally believed, was paid to leave. The Nashville landed a force on the fourth and took charge of Cape Haitien. Order seemed restored until General Bobo’s troops made an attempt to enter Cape Haitien. Most of the government supporters, deserted by their leader, took refuge in the grounds of the archbishop’s palace, while others, less optimistic over their chances of remaining unharmed, threw their rifles into the sea and made an attempt to swim off to the Nord Alexis. A few took to their heels in the direction of Haut de Cap. About an hour afterwards Bobo’s men appeared and consternation reigned in the town. As Lieutenant Shoup, Commanding the Eagle, had been instructed to fire ahead of the column of approaching troops, in case they attempted to rush the city, the Eagle’s six pounders were immediately put to work and, after a few shots, the black troops discouraged, then retreated. It was reported that the first shot from the six pounders carried away the fore legs of the horse upon which rode the Bobo general leading the charge. This surprising marksmanship of Shoup’s men nonplussed the revolutionists and dampened their ardor. Lieutenant Shoup’s small detachment the informed Bobo’s followers that if they wished to enter the town they would be compelled to deposit their arms and ammunition with the Americans. The Haitians, swearing their only desire was to attend church, readily assented to disarmament, and were permitted to enter the city until the next morning.
Our joint Haitian-American Commission managed to hold a conference with General Bobo at Caracol, on the morning of the fourth. He agreed to march his troops to Port au Prince and disarm them there. He promised further, personally, to go as far as St. Marc, and to have one division of his troops march to Port au Prince, via Limbe, Plaisance, Gonaives and St. Marc, and the other by way of Hinche and Mirebalais, reaching their destination in about six days. Lieutenant Coffey moreover promised Bobo transportation from St. Marc to Port au Prince in a United States vessel. These seemed to be the most advantageous agreements to which Bobo would consent. And as we had insufficient men to follow up the movement; find the locality of his forces; or insure [page 61] disarmament elsewhere, it was deemed sufficient, and Bobo’s promise was considered as binding. He was apparently acting in good faith and the conference was carried on in a most friendly spirit.
Cape Haitien at this time, suddenly released from the yoke of General Blot, then as suddenly put itself on record as supporting the Bobo pretensions. Obviously, most of the inhabitants were agreeable to any scheme or leader whose presence insured even a temporary respite. Commander Olmstead’s action in keeping the armed Bobo forces out of town was most opportune and restored confidence in the United States, though it did not prevent Cape Haitien from espousing the cause of General Bobo or deter the ex-Blot forces from following suit.
“Le roi est mort! vive le roi!” (“The King is dead! Long live the King!) Charles Zamor and Polynice assured us that their adherents were most loyal and extremely anxious to cooperate with the Americans.
The undesirability of having a great number of troops coming into Port au Prince, even if they were unarmed, was most apparent, and Coffey was directed to present this aspect of the situation to Bobo and to the commission and convey to them my wishes that his troops be not allowed to enter Port au Prince, and to discuss with this Commission the wisdom of preventing large bodies of armed troops marching through the country, at such an unsettled time.
The existence of a considerable supply of firearms in Cape Haitien and possible disorders there compelled me to act upon the advice of Commander Olmstead, the captain of the Nashville, and send the Connecticut to Cape Haitien, in order that her seaman battalion might patrol the city and keep order. She sailed the next day. In the meantime, Mr. Davis, the American Charge d’Affaires, requested me, if possible, to transport from Cape Haitien to Port au Prince sixteen sisters of the Order of St. Joseph. This request was favorably acted upon, since the conditions in Cape Haitien were none to pleasant for sisters of charity and transportation from that place was practically non-existent.
During the night of the fourth, the tug Osceola, carrying mail and stores, came to anchor off Port au Prince. Far into the night the Connecticut continued the work of unloading stores and equipment for the marines ashore.
On the fifth of August the Haitian Congress published a notice of the election of a president the following Sunday, but, upon my request, this was again postponed. There is reason to believe that the Congress would elect Menos, the Haitian Minister to the United States, were he in Port au Prince. In his absence Mr. S. Dartiguenave seemed then to be the favorite. He was the President of the Senate, a man of honor and patriotism, and had never been connected with any revolutionary movement. His ability and his sincere desire for Haiti’s regeneration created a favorable impression. He professed agreement [page 62] with any plans we might deem necessary for the good of his country and promised his influence in their support. He, not unnaturally, considered that the protection of the United States was mandatory, no matter who might be elected. Dr. Rosalvo Bobo late general was the only other candidate of prominence. His many friends asserted his excellent qualities. But we were of the opinion that his election could only be accomplished through congressional fear of the Cacos, and that his election would automatically start another revolution, thereby continuing the time honored government by intimidation.
As classes, except the Cacos, a few Senators and some influential citizens, expressed satisfaction at the presence of American troops and, though somewhat anxious about their future independence as a sovereign power, voiced the almost universal relief from a rule by terror.
We represented this to the Navy Department with an expression of the conviction we held that the United States must expect to remain in Haiti until the natives had been educated to respect a self-sustaining government, its laws and its decisions, as well as assist in their several functions.
But, no matter who was elected, revolutions in Haiti would not, as a consequence, cease and determine unless the Government were sustained by the United States. The Haitians, themselves, with few exceptions, seemed desirous of having at once some form of stable government, either under a legally elected President, or under a provisional form of government.
In the afternoon and about four o'clock one company of seamen and two of marines marched up and occupied Fort National. No shots were fired and practically no resistance was offered. When occupied, it contained fourteen different field pieces, four hundred rifles, a million rounds of ammunition, one thousand cans of ammunition and twenty-two prisoners. When the garrison abandoned the fort they managed to take with them a few rifles.
Reports received during the day indicated that Cape Haitien was peaceful. The Commanding Officer of the Nashville and the Commission met General Bobo at the railway station early in the morning. There a popular demonstration took place, unaccompanied by any disturbance. Bobo issued orders that his troops remain in their camps, and, consequently, very few appeared at our outposts, and they were unarmed. Sentiment in favor of Bobo was so strong at Cape Haitien that the Captain of the Nashville inquired of me if we intended to turn over Cape Haitien to the revolutionary general. The Committee of Safety in the town was anxious to lean upon either Zamor or Bobo. We, therefore, advised Olmstead to retain military control of the place and to administer civil affairs through the local native Committee of Safety, and that the city was to be turned over to no faction. Some of the [page 63] Blot forces, numbering about 450, had taken refuge in the Bishop's Palace. They all came from Port au Prince and were about to be returned to their homes, by means of the Haitian gunboat Nord Alexis.
Other Haitian soldiers in the city had hidden their arms. Despite these precautions, the Nashville's landing force succeeded in finding and taking possession of sixty thousand rounds of ammunition.
Meanwhile, General Bourand had approximately nine hundred troops at Ouanaminthe and Fort Liberte. To these he issued orders to hold their present positions and to make no advance except by his explicit instructions. He signified his intention, thereupon, to go to Port au Prince in the Jason. The rival factions were apparently cognizant of the foolishness of their antagonism to some properly constituted authority and were gradually acquiescing to our policy. But, from the safety of their intrenched positions in the Eagle and the Jason, members of the Commission began to choose a presidential candidate. Before long, word from Coffey showed some apprehension on his part and indicated that Charles Zamor and Polynice, acting in conjunction with the Committee at Port au Prince, intended to elect Bobo and establish a government as soon as possible. They even indicated the future cabinet, to be composed of Leger, for eleven years Minister to the United States, Charles Zamor, Polynice, Delva and a Caco. So Coffey, fearful lest some action be taken by the Haitian Congress, stated that he considered it important that no election be held before the return of the Commission. With this I agreed and so informed him. Moreover, he was anxious to get Bobo out of the North and away from the stronghold of the Cacos, with whom he (Bobo) obviously had considerable influence.
During the third and fourth of August outbreaks were reported at Petite Goave, Miragoane, Jacmel and Petite Riviere de Nippe; while the captain of the Nickerie sent us a radiogram detailing the situation at Gonaives, where a mob was forming, with the intention of confiscating the cargo in the customs house, and where the merchants were directed to pay customs taxes to some unauthorized firm, and feared for their lives in case of refusal.
The new evidence of unrest caused me to order Lieutenant Commander Willis McDowell, of the Navy, the Executive Officer of the Washington, to assume command of the tug Osceola and, after embarking some men and small field pieces from the Washington, to proceed to Gonaives for the protection of life and property, and to preserve order.
The Osceola sailed the afternoon of the fifth, shortly after the receipt of her orders.
In the same afternoon the Jason sailed from Cape Haitien for Port au Prince. She had a notable gathering of Haitians, all bound for [page 64] the capital to witness the election. General Bobo was on board with a staff of twenty-six generals, beside General Laroche and General Bourand. Seventeen nuns also took passage.
Coffey had a very amusing time trying to persuade Bobo to go to Port au Prince with fewer than forty generals. A compromise on twenty-six was finally decided upon. Moreover, Bobo wanted a triumphal procession of his generals and troops through the Cape. He was finally permitted to parade the streets, accompanied by the twenty-six field officers he was to take to the Capital with him.
In the Jason it had been necessary to separate the factions. Bourand and his party were quartered forward; and Bobo and his, aft. The doctor talked incessantly about his plans for the regeneration of Haiti, but had no specific cures. Practical details were missing. Coffey considered him unbalanced. To Coffey, Zamor and Chevalier confided that Bobo was crazy. They further explained their adherence to him as the repayment of a political debt, for they had promised their support to any man who would overthrow the Guillaume administration.
At eleven o'clock in the morning of the sixth of July the Jason steamed into Port au Prince. The Haitian-American Commission called upon me before going on shore and I expressed to them my thanks and the thanks of the United States Government for their services towards promoting peace and order in Haiti.
I had previously signified my desire to hold a conference with Bobo and with Dartiguenave at the American Legation and had indicated the hour of four that afternoon. Yet, fearing lest a public demonstration turn Bobo's head and cause him to overlook this important engagement, I sent a boat to the Jason to bring him on board for a conference with my Chief of Staff and later with me, before he landed.
He could not have been greatly pleased at this unexpected turn of affairs, for we had previously directed that he be permitted to land with only four of his accompanying generals. All of the twenty-six had been armed and their presence in such numbers ashore was manifestly undesirable.
As Bobo, in a sailing launch, with four of his Generals (Cabinet officers, we learned) approached the Flagship, he stood up and I had my first glimpse of this famous redheaded mulatto.
Attired in a frock coat and high hat, despite the intense heat, he arose. Assuming a commanding attitude, with one hand, Napoleon-like, stuck in his coat, tall and erect, he faced the Washington and [page 65] gazed in a lofty manner at her as she came alongside. When they mounted the ladder, it was observed that Bobo and his four frock-coated, dusky followers all carried dress suit cases, upon which had been painted: "Dr. Rosalvo Bobo, Chief Of Executive Power", "Dr. So and So, Minister of the Interior", etc. Bobo was prevailed upon to part with that visible evidence of his self assumed office and went into the cabin, where Captain Beach and two other officers conveyed to him my wishes. Bobo was livid with anger when he stalked into the cabin.
The Chief of Staff informed him that this action of the United States was taken to insure peace and promote law and order in the Black Republic and that our country had no other interest than to help establish a stable government. He was bluntly told that the continued existence of his armed forces constituted a grave menace to the country. He was appealed to as a patriot to renounce the title "Chief of Executive Power"; dismiss his cabinet and go ashore as a private citizen; and issue the necessary orders to his generals. After some minutes' conversation with my officers, they all came in to see me, and Captain Beach announced that Dr. Bobo had graciously consented to drop his presidential title and pretensions and go ashore as a mere citizen. When questioned as to this, he reluctantly admitted he had made that statement, whereupon we shook hands, as evidence of his good faith. Evidently, to permit a free election which did not carry him into power was almost incomprehensible. He was also told that so long as even one Caco remained armed and attempted to intimidate the natives, he, Bobo, would be an unacceptable candidate for the Presidency. After some deliberation, he capitulated and at our suggestions, sent the following message in French:
To: Committee of Public Safety, Cape Haitien.
I hereby order all generals of the Caco army to enter town and surrender their arms to the American captain. Carry out my orders that we may save our menaced fatherland.
To: General Bobo's Generals
Lead your men into town and surrender your arms to the American Captain. Carry out my orders without hesitation or restrictions in the name of our threatened country, which we should save at any cost and sacrifice. Sincerely, Bobo".
[page 66] Bobo then left the ship, after promising to meet me at a conference in the American Legation that afternoon. As a matter of interest, I went up on the quarterdeck and with a powerful glass, followed his movements ashore. These were subsequently verified by a local priest, who described them to me. It seemed that Bobo went to his home and there attracted a crowd by the promise of money. He arranged that people follow him in a procession through the streets. To accomplish this end, and to advance the interests of his own popularity, he mounted a dilapidated carriage, from which he threw handfuls of small change into the street. As a consequence, a considerable crowd followed him through the city, since he seemed possessed of the necessary amount of money to compel their interest. The priest assured me that I could secure a similar procession by adopting a similar expedient, since it was necessary only to excite sufficient attention to command the necessary followers. Thus had Presidents been carried into power upon occasion.
After General Bobo's departure, General Bourand, Mr. Laroche and Deputy Durand came aboard the flagship and were interviewed by my aids. To them was repeated the substance of the remarks made to Bobo. They readily assented to our desires, for they appeared to be earnest in their wishes for the peace and prosperity of Haiti.
Later in the day General Bourand sent to one of his subordinates at Ouanaminthe and to two of his generals at Fort Liberte the following message in French:
"In the interests of peace and to hasten the free election of a new president, I wish you to surrender to the American Admiral at the Cape your forces and arms. Best wishes. Bourand".
Throughout the morning the arresting of Cacos continued. Their presence in Port au Prince was extremely undesirable and I had that day directed they be ordered to disperse and return to their homes. After 11 A.M. those found in the streets were promptly arrested. At first some excitement ensued, but when the realized what was being done for their good, much of the incipient discontent subsided.
A detachment of marines encountered the only real opposition. While marching with some arrested Cacos to a detention camp, they were fired upon from a crowd on the sidewalk, near the Customs House. Several Cacos then attempted to escape. All but one halted when ordered to do so, and he was shot and killed while attempting to effect his escape. Another Caco met a similar fate.
Haitian soldiers in uniform, and living in Port au Prince, were [page 67] informed after arrest and release that if they were again seen wearing a uniform they would be rearrested and punished. Those living outside the city limits were escorted to the outskirts, released and instructed not to return. All of the native soldiers who been arrested were without food, so we gave orders to the Commanding Officer of the Landing Force to issue sufficient rations to feed them temporarily.
This was the best we could do since the Secretary of the Navy had stated that there were no funds available to relieve the famine conditions existing in Port au Prince, but we could, if necessary, give them such provisions as could be spared from our own supplies.
The Haitian gunboat Pacifique arrived during the morning of the sixth of August. She was boarded by Lieutenant Oberlin, one of my staff, and directed to berth alongside the Customs House wharf, where all passengers were landed and a guard placed on board. A hundred rifles and some ammunition were found in her. Her captain told my representatives that General Blot had been landed at Monte Cristi.
In the same forenoon the Connecticut had arrived at Cape Haitien and disembarked her seamen battalion, establishing headquarters in a civilian building recently occupied by General Blot. Her commanding officer consulted prominent citizens in an endeavor to elect a committee to work in connection with Commander Olmstead, in the administration of public affairs. Much piqued at this action, a committee of eight, designated by Bobo, claimed the right to act. This the commanding officer of the Connecticut refused to recognize. Later in the day the Nord Alexis with about seven hundred men, sailed for Port au Prince, with orders to report to me upon arrival under severe penalty for failing to do so. These soldiers formerly belonged to Blot's army and lived in the south.
That night the SS Nickerie, then at Petit Goave, reported all quiet there and St. Marc, which he had left that morning.
Late the customary report of operations was cabled the Navy Department.
Port au Prince was undisturbed during the night of August 6th. The morning of the 7th brought news of further depredations committed by one Des Gents, and his followers, who were pillaging plantations to the north of the capital and near Croix des Bouquets.
We, therefore, determined to put a stop to the activities of that band. Under command of Captain W.G. Fay of the Marines, three squads of his men were entrained during the afternoon. Accompanied by a native guide, whose house had been raided the night before, [page 68] Captain Fay encountered the bandits in the streets of Croix des Bouquets, where they captured Des Gents and ten other bandits. Three of these brigands succeeded in making good their escape, despite attempts to overtake them. The natives showed great pleasure at his capture and many exclamations of gratitude from their lips were heard.
Des Gents was reputed to be a murderer of the most fiendish variety, taking peculiar enjoyment at cutting out the tongues of his victims and drinking their blood. So anxious to see him where the Haitians that Fay had to put him a car window so that the bloodthirsty brute could be seen. Des Gents claimed to have been a General in the employ of Bobo, for the last three months. Upon their arrival at Port au Prince, they were immediately confined in the prison.
In the afternoon the Osceola, commanded by Lieutenant Commander McDowell, returned from Gonaives and St. Marc. McDowell reported that all was quiet at Gonaives. When he arrived there, however, a force of ex-government troops, commanded by General Auguste, was approaching the town. At the suggestion of the Committee of Safety, McDowell, the Consular Corps and several others, went out of town to interview the General and dissuade him from entering Gonaives. After parleying an hour, they were successful, and the black army of one hundred and ninety men set out for St. Marc, without entering Gonaives. This McDowell verified before the Osceola sailed for St. Marc, which, though quiet, at that time, later in the day was fearful lest the approach of General Auguste cause trouble.
Peace could hardly be said to have enveloped the country, for the SS Nickerie reported that fighting had been going on a few days before, outside of Miragoane, though at the moment the town was quiet. Aux Cayes also reported that conditions were satisfactory.
We then turned our attention to affairs in the North. It became imperative soon that some disposition should be made of the several members of the rival factions in the North, whom we had brought down in the Jason. We, therefore, directed that Durand, Laroche and Bourand, ex-Minister of the Interior under the Guillaume Government, be put ashore and be escorted to the house of Bourand. A guard was placed around his residence and orders were issued to insure him protection during his stay in Port au Prince.
Thus the Commission, headed by Lieutenant Coffey, had succeeded in bringing to the capital the principal leaders in the North - Bobo and his twenty-six generals, Bourand in command of the ex-Government troops in Ouanaminthe and Fort Liberte, and Laroche, a leader in the former [page 69] Blot party. There were then but two contending forces in the North - Bourand and Bobo. They both had assured the Commission they would maintain their present positions, and issued orders to that effect, as well as those requiring the disarmament of their troops.
Lieutenant R.B. Coffey, the Senior Member of the Commission that returned in the Jason, rendered a most interesting report of their experiences. The results of their endeavors were most satisfactory. It was freely said and generally believed that without the influence of the ex-President Legetime and Archbishop Conan, and the powerful Catholic influence they wielded, that Bobo never could have been persuaded to come to Port au Prince.
Source: Caperton, William B. “History of Flag Career of Rear Admiral William B. Caperton, US Navy, Commencing January 5, 1915.” (Washington, DC: n.d [1919?]): 34-69. [The original document is located at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC, in Record Group 45. A photocopy is located in the Navy Department Library. Admiral Caperton authored this document at the end of his career. The full document contains a firsthand account of operations in Haiti, 1915-1916; Nicaragua and Mexico, 1916; and in the South Atlantic, 1917-1919.].