The American Gunboat Diplomacy in Panama Before the Canal

After the French effort to build the Panama Canal failed, the United States decided to take up the project. Panama at the time was part of Colombia, but when that country proved uncooperative to the effort, the USA decided that the ownership of the isthmus might change.

And of course it somehow did. The rebellion drew the attention of some Colombian gunboats, but American ships were also poised to watch over the situation. At first it was the USS Nashville, a gunboat, that confronted its Colombian counterpart, the unprotected cruiser Almirante Lezo (Also known as the Cartagena; a ship purchased from Morocco). Although the two ships were similar in size, the Nashville may have had some advantage in number of guns. The Colombian ship was escorting a troop transport to Colon (Atlantic/north side of Panama) but withdrew.

On the Pacific/southern side, small Colombian gunboats Bogota and Padilla were at Panama City; the Bogota exchanged fore with a rebel shore battery but there were few casualties. The US Navy's rapid buildup on both sides of Panama is believed to be the factor that discouraged Colombia from trying harder to suppress the rebellion. Eventually, the American ships on the Caribbean side included the Ohio-class battleship Maine (replacement for the ill-fated one), the protected cruiser Atlanta, the Nashville, and the armed merchant ships Dixie and Prairie. On the Pacific side, the US Navy brought in the monitor Wyoming, the cruisers Boston (CP sister to Atlanta) and Marblehead (CU), and the gunboat Concord. Boston and Concord were veterans of Dewey's victory at Manila Bay.

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