Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 5, 1881
Mr. Dichman to Mr. Evarts
Bogotá , December 27, 1880. (Received February 21, 1881.)
Sir: Upon the conclusion of an exhibition drill by the cadets of the Colombian military school, held at the close of the exercises connected with the first annual examination of that institution, in the presence of the President of this Republic, the members of his cabinet, the diplomatic corps, and an immense concourse of spectators, President Nuñez requested me to inform you of the great satisfaction experienced by him at the result of the labors of First Lieut. Henry R. Lemly, Third Regiment of United States Artillery, by whom the school of civil and military engineering has been organized.
It will no doubt be of interest to the War Department to learn of the satisfactory manner in which Mr. Lemly has acquitted himself in the discharge of the duties of his position, and the credit his conduct reflects upon the branch of the public service to which he belongs.
At my request, Mr. Lemly prepared a brief report upon the condition and organization of the Colombian army and military school a copy of which I beg leave to inclose and to which your attention is respectfully invited.
I am, &c.,
Mr. Lemly to Mr. Dichman.
report upon the army and national military school of the united states of colombia.
Sir: In obedience to your verbal request, I have the honor to submit the following report upon the organization, equipment, &c., and the recent operations of the army of the United States of Colombia, and of the lately established national military scheol, in which, by the courtesy of our own government, I hold the position of commandant of cadets, professor of military engineering and the science of war, and instructor of tactics.
The Army of the United States of Colombia comprises, in round numbers, 5,000 men, of whom 1,000 constitute the regular garrison of Bogotá and 560 that of Panama. At present there are 1,500 men at the latter station, the increase being ostensibly due to boundary complications with Costa Rica. This fact, and perhaps a combination of political causes, have effected, during the existing administration, an addition of 2,000 or 3,000 to the ordinary strength. The 2,500 men unaccounted for above are distributed among the principal cities of the nine States which comprise the Republic.
The army is divided primarily into the general staff (estado mayor-general) and the line. The personnel of the former is as follows:
The commander or general-in-chief (ex-president Julian Trujillo).
The chief-of-staff, who is a brigadier-general.
Three first adjutant-generals (primeros ayudantes generales), who are brigadier-generals.
Four adjutant-generals, who are colonels.
Nine second adjutant-generals (segundos ayudantes generales), four of whom are lieutenant-colonels and five majors.
Ten assistants (adjuntos), who are captains and (or) lieutenants.
Two orderlies (cornetas de ordenes.)
The line comprises four divisions of two columns each, and consists of sixteen battalions of infantry and one of artillery, with which are associated one battalion of sharpshooters (tiradores) and one of sappers (zapadores.)
Each division (properly brigade) is commanded by a brigadier-general, who, with the officers of his staff, forms the cuartel general, as follows:
The brigadier-general, commanding the division.
The chief of staff, who is also a brigadier-general.
Three assistants, who are colonels and (or) lieutenant-colonels.
Three assistants, who are captains and (or) lieutenants.
One orderly (corneta de ordenes).
Each battalion contains about 250 men, and is commanded by a colonel or lieutenant-colonel, with a major second in command, and a captain as adjutant, and comprises five companies (or batteries), in each of which are the following officers and non-commissioned officers:
One captain, commanding,
One first sergeant,
Three second sergeants,
Five first corporals,
Five second corporals, and
Two musicians, one with drum, the other with bugle.
To each battery of artillery are assigned two Whitworth guns of two or three inches in diameter, which, unprovided with caissons or limbers, are drawn by the men themselves; the ammunition consisting of solid shot and shell, being transported in chests, one to each piece, slung to the carriages. There are also three Gatling guns on carriages and two on tripods, all firing the Remington rifle cartridge, which are distributed one to each battery of artillery, and some brass pieces of varying caliber, most of which were captured from the Spaniards in the war of independence.
The army is furnished with the Remington rifle and sword bayonet (Spanish model), but not with pistols. The officers carry swords only. What few munitions of war are required are transported upon the backs of beasts, or even of men and women; and tents and similar camp equipage are usually dispensed with. As for subsistence stores in barracks or upon the march, every officer and soldier provides for himself, an easy matter in this country of luxuriant and indigenous fruits and vegetables.
The topography is ill-suited to the operations of mounted troops, and there is no [Page 346] cavalry in the army. During the revolution of 1876 the government armed with the lance and Winchester carbine about 500, but they were disbanded after the war. There is, however, a very fine and spirited breed of horses of Andalusian extraction, upon the elevated plateau whereon Bogotá is situated, that deserves especial mention. They are natural pacers or rackers; and although rarely or never groomed, indifferently stabled, and fed exclusively upon the green grass of the Sabana, are distinguished alike for their beauty, docility, and endurance.
To each battalion is assigned one surgeon, with the assimilated rank of major; and both in Bogotá and Barranquilla there is a military hospital, under the immediate charge of one chief and two assistant surgeons each, and the care of the Sisters of Charity, to whom, in return for which attention, the government furnishes a partial support.
Of military bands there are three, each with a drum-major and from 16 to 20 musicians, the former ranking with a first sergeant and the latter with corporals. Two bands are permanently stationed in Bogotá and the third accompanies the general-in-chief.
The pay of the army is as follows:
|General-in-chief||per month||$400 00|
|First sergeant||per day||0 60|
In addition each soldier receives per month one pair alpargatas (a sort of shoe or sandal made of native hemp), soap with which to wash his clothes, two uniforms per year, and one blanket. They are comfortably quartered in barracks, one or two of which in Bogota are lighted with gas. The inferior commissioned officers reside in the same cuarteles with the men, but occupy distinct rooms.
The above comprehends the entire pay of the army, and as before remarked each officer and soldier has to provide his own sustenance.
Many of the officers have homes or perhaps form messes for this purpose; but while the latter means may be resorted to by a few of the soldiers, as a general thing each one has his wife or woman (distinctly called zuanas here), who, at intervals, enters the barracks with his food, which usually consists of a nutritious but cheap soup, called masamora (the pot-an-fen of the French), served in a botuma (gourd) with a wooden spoon. On the march and upon the campaign these women accompany the troops, are excellent foragers, and have been known to fight with great pertinacity in battle. Of course the soldiers are all Indians, chiefly from the States of Boyacá, Cundinamarca, and Santander. They are recruited almost as cattle are lassoed, never resist, and rarely desert. Small in stature, they have strong and well-knit frames; and although not fond of work, endure fatigue without a murmur. They are quiet in demeanor and susceptible of much discipline. Mutinies and the graver military offenses are of rare occurrence; for those of minor degree, flogging and other corporal punishment s aread-ministered. If ordered to shoot a comrade in ranks, they obey unhesitatingly; and well led, they are capable of the greatest bravery and tenacity. If surrendered or taken captives, however, they fight equally well for their captors until the chances of war, perhaps, bring them again under their old standard. The advocates of machine soldiers, would, in short, find in them fit subjects.
As the subsistence of the army is accomplished without a commissary department, neither is there a quartermaster nor a pay department. The officers of the general or special staffs may be assigned to duty in a capacity analogous to that of quartermasters, engineers, ordnance officers, or judge advocates, although their system of military jurisprudence is neither complicated nor extensive; and the payment of the troops is effected in the following manner: In each cuartel general and battalion respectively, there is annually designated by the officers thereof, a lieutenant or sublieutenant as treasurer, who receives from the national treasury in advance, five times per month or every sixth day, the sum total of their salaries and the pay of the men for such period. This is transferred to the officers at such times, and the pay of each company to its captain, who daily distributes the same to the men. The latter precaution wisely insures their subsistence, and is not only an obstacle to desertion, but to gambling and chicha (a native, undistilled, but intoxicating liquor) drinking, to which vices the Indians are greatly addicted. In a residence of four months in Bogota I have not seen [Page 347] a drunken soldier, and must confess that in this respect our bi-monthly (at times, semi-annual) payments with their attendant desertions and general ebriety, surfer greatly by comparison.
There are no factories of any description connected with the army, but uniforms and equipments, arms and munitions of war, &c., are purchased by contract or in open market. The former are of French manufacture, and comprise jackets or dolmans of dark blue cloth, trimmed with red frogs and cord; the trousers of the artillery of the same color as the coat, with two wide stripes of red, and those of the infantry of the latter color entire. The dress hat is similar to that of our own artillery, and upon parade officers and men alike wear epaulets, the former golden, the latter of yellow wool. Their fatigue cap is the French chasseur.
They execute with no little military precision the manœuvres of the Spanish tactics adopted twenty years ago by General Mosquera; and especially in the manual of arms, by drum-signals, show great aptitude.
There is no retired list. Every officer retains his commission, and is subject to military service when called upon by the government; but, except when actively engaged, he receives no salary. As a consequence of their small pay, they often continue, when practicable, other occupations with the exercise of their legitimate profession.
The families of those killed, or who die of wounds received in battle, are entitled to a small annual pension, and Congress occasionally grants an annuity for life to veterans who have especially distinguished themselves by gallantry or length of service.
For the aged soldier there is no provision.
During the civil wars, which have almost yearly ravaged certain sections of the country, guerrillas have abounded in all parts, and practiced with no little success their peculiar mode of warfare. The most recent revolution of any consequence was that of 1876, and it may not be uninteresting to briefly notice a few of the principal battles thereof.
Twenty thousand troops, more or less, were actively engaged upon each side, and the struggle lasted about one year. A political party, the conservadores (conservatives), formed the revolutionary element, and were defeated by the government troops in almost every instance.
In the first engagement of any note, that of Altogrande, in the State of Santander, General Bernal commanded for the government, and the following figures obtained: Government forces, 400; revolutionary forces, 1,200. Very few were armed, and the opposing sides closing, fought with their fists.
The first battle was that of Chancas, in the State of Cauca, in which General Trujillo commanded for the government. Government forces, 3,500; revolutionary forces, 6,000; killed and wounded, 1,000.
Battle of Garrapata, in the State of Tolima, General Acasta commanding for the government: Government forces, 4,500; revolutionary forces, 6,000; killed and wounded, 3,000. Trenches and rifle-pits were employed, notwithstanding the opponents approached and fought within seventy-five yards of each other.
Battle of Dan Juana in the State of Santander, General Camargo (now ex-minister to England and Radical candidate for the Presidency) commanding for the government: Government forces, 3,000; revolutionary forces, 4,000; killed and wounded 800.
In the skirmish of Ramiriqui, a force of 15 government troops are said to have captured 150 insurgents, losing one man killed.
The last battle of the war was that of Manizales, in the State of Antioquia, General Trujillo commanding for the government: Government forces, 6,000; revolutionary forces, 10,000; killed and wounded, 500. The town of Manizales is almost impregnably situated upon a mountain, only one side of which is accessible. The insurgents occupied and fortified the town; but in the course of several months, during which General Trujillo successfully employed regular approaches and other military engineering expedients, and displayed great humanity, patience, and tenacity of purpose, the besieged were slowly driven from one bastion to another, and the town, its remaining defenders, their arms and munitions of war, captured.
Few, if any, of the officers of the army have received a professional military education; and apparently realizing the necessity therefor, Congress, by act 69, of 1877, authorized and directed the establishment of a national “School of civil and military engineering” in the city of Bogota, in pursuance of which, the executive power (President Trujillo) on the 26th of November, 1879, decreed the organization and opening of said school upon the 2d of February, 1880. It was intended to secure two French officers to fill professorships in the military department, but through your instrumentality, it was determined to apply for American officers instead, and Mr. Thomas B. Nichols, of Pittsburgh, Pa., a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N. Y., class of 1872, and recently second lieutenant of the Sixth Regiment of United States Cavalry, and I contracted with an agent of the Colombian Government in the city of New York for this purpose. Owing to our non-arrival, the school was not opened in February, as was expected, but in August of this year, a second decree [Page 348] by the executive power (President Nuñez), No. 632, of 1880, dated July 30, supplementing the first. By it, a five years’ course of study, very similar to that pursued at the United States Military Academy, was established, and by decree No. 633, of the same date, a director, inspector, professors, surgeon, and other officers of the institution were named, since which the school has been in successful operations.
The scholastic year begins in February, for admission at which time there are more than two hundred applications. Thirty cadets, apportioned among the nine States of the republic, have also been officially appointed by the government. These receive $120 each per annum.
There are both internos and esternos, that is, cadets who live in and out of the school; but all are required to attend daily, and to submit to military discipline. The tuition is free, and board for the ensuing year has been contracted for at $8 per month. A uniform of dark blue cloth, with white gloves and belts, has been adopted, and the cadets armed with Remington rifles. The systems of reports, &c., and of punishments, &c., are similar to those in use at West Point. Annual examinations will also be held in the months of November and December, and the remaining days of the latter month and all of January will be passed by the cadets in camp and upon marches, during which time they will receive exclusively practical military instruction. At present the old convent La Candalaria is occupied by the school, but in the new year it will remove to the building known as El Seminario, now undergoing repairs for the purpose.
I omitted to state that cadets are required to be between the ages of fourteen and twenty, and to pass a preliminary physical, as well as examination in reading, writing, and other elementary branches. Those officially appointed pledge themselves to serve, when called upon, in the army.
There is, of course, little to say for the school in its present incipient state, but its future is full of promise. The reception and support given Mr. Nichols and myself have been in every respect gratifying.
By direction of the secretary of war, the tactics used by the Army of the United States have been adopted, and the cadets are twice daily drilled therein. Of their military instruction I have exclusive charge, while Mr. Nichols has several classes of officers of the army, whom he is instructing in the duties of the staff, and especially at this time in signaling.
In this connection I cannot refrain from requesting and urging you to recommend to our government the propriety of inviting the Government of Colombia to send at least two or three of the cadets who most distinguish themselves in this school, to each of our national academies (West Point and the Naval Academy of Annapolis). Such national courtesy would seem to involve no expense whatever; and while it does not appear to be of any national consequence, you cannot have failed to observe that every South American who visits the United States establishes, or induces others to establish, business connections with our citizens. However insignificant, this will, at least, be a step in the preservation of our friendly, and the extension of our commercial, relations with a country inherently so rich that with the progress of years the introduction of railways and other means of rapid communication and traffic, and possibly the construction of an isthmus canal, it must become of vastly increased commercial importance. The United States is the natural exporter to South America; yet England, France, and Germany divide half, if not the greater part of the trade (our own has greatly augmented during the last few years, especially with Colombia), and even that which remains to American merchants is largely or entirely transported in English steamships.
Begging your indulgence for this brief digression, and your favorable consideration and recommendation of the proposal which induced it,
I have, &c.,
First Lieutenant Third United States Artillery.