Thousand Days' War

Last updated
Thousand Days' War
Part of the Colombian Civil Wars
Government soldiers at a banquet, 1899.
Date17 October 1899 – 21 November 1902
(1,130 days)

Conservative victory

  • Continuation of the present day republic
  • Dissolution of the National Party
  • Separation of Panama
  • Economic and administrative crisis

Military flag of Colombia.svg Flag of Colombia.svg Republic of Colombia

Commanders and leaders

Single Color Flag - 0434B1.svg José Santos
Single Color Flag - 0434B1.svg Guillermo Quintero Calderón
Single Color Flag - 0434B1.svg José Domingo Ospina Camacho
Single Color Flag - 0434B1.svg Arístides Fernández
Single Color Flag - 0434B1.svg Roberto Urdaneta Gómez
Single Color Flag - 0434B1.svg Alfredo Vásquez Cobo
Single Color Flag - 0434B1.svg Víctor Manuel Salazar
Single Color Flag - 0434B1.svg luis morales berti
5,000 (1899)
26,000 (1902)
15,000 (1899)
50,000 (1901–1902)
Casualties and losses
100,000, [1] -180,000 [2] [3]

The Thousand Days' War (Spanish : Guerra de los Mil Días) was a civil war fought in Colombia from 17 October 1899 to 21 November 1902, at first between the Liberal Party and the government led by the National Party, and later – after the Conservative Party had ousted the National Party – between the liberals and the conservative government. Caused by the longstanding ideological tug-of-war of federalism versus centralism between the liberals, conservatives, and nationalists of Colombia following the implementation of the Constitution of 1886 and the political process known as the Regeneración, tensions ran high after the presidential election of 1898, and on 17 October 1899, official insurrection against the national government was announced by members of the Liberal Party in the Department of Santander. Hostilities did not begin until the 11th of November, when liberal factions attempted to take over the city of Bucaramanga, leading to active warfare. It would end three years later with the signing of the Treaty of Neerlandia and the Treaty of Wisconsin. The war resulted in a Conservative victory, and ensured the continued dominance of the Conservative Party in Colombian politics for another 28 years. Colombia's political structure as a unitary state has not been challenged since.


As an international conflict, the war extended into Ecuadorian and Venezuelan territories. Conservative and liberal factions of those two countries, as well as of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, backed their respective parties within Colombia. American interests in the Panama Isthmus led to an American intervention and naval deployment in Panama (then part of Colombia) under the guise of upholding the Mallarino–Bidlack Treaty.

With an estimated 100,000 to 180,000 fatalities, about 2.5-3.8 percent of the nation's population at that time, the conflict was the deadliest and most destructive war in the history of Colombia. It led to severe economic, political, and social repercussions for the country, including a partial collapse of the nation's economy, continued governmental instability, and the eventual loss of the Department of Panama as an incorporated territory of the republic in 1903.


Throughout the 19th century, Colombia was a politically unstable country. Different political forces – largely coalesced into conservatives and liberals – pushed for a unitary state on one side versus a federalized state on the other. Following the Civil War 1885, when radical factions of the Liberal Party rebelled but ultimately failed against the administration of Rafael Nuñez – a moderate liberal who had the backing of the Conservative Party – the federalized Constitution of Rionegro of 1863 was replaced by the Constitution of 1886, thus beginning a centralist political process known as the Regeneración.

The Regeneración brought relative peace to Colombia, but ultimately failed to resolve the internal political and economic disputes between the disparate departments of the country. Continued tensions, coupled with a power vacuum left by President Manuel Antonio Sanclemente's inability to lead his office due to illness, eventually boiled over once more, leading to open insurrection and active warfare. On 17 October 1899, official insurrection against the National government was announced by members of the Liberal Party in the Department of Santander, and hostilities began in earnest on 11 November with the Battle of Bucaramanga.

Departments of Colombia in 1890 Mapa de Colombia (1890).jpg
Departments of Colombia in 1890


Liberal Revolt

The intended date for the beginning of the civil war was October 20, 1899. However, due to the imprudence of some of the Liberal generals, especially Paolo Emilio Villar, [4] who wished to begin the war on October 17, it was changed. The reaction of many Liberals was hesitant, since they believed that they did not have sufficient numbers or organization. Despite this, the rebellion began in the municipality of Socorro, Santander, and the rebels awaited military reinforcements from Venezuela.

The Conservative government, however, was not idle while this was occurring. They prepared a military force to be sent to Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander. The force never arrived, however, because the troops refused to accept payment by "tickets", which the government had to use due to the dire economic situation. No one expected, or was prepared for, a war that would last three years and would result in disaster to the country. With time, the war spread to every part of Colombia.

paintings depicting government troops after a victory Soldados Marchando.jpeg
paintings depicting government troops after a victory

The first Liberal defeats came early during the war, with the Conservative victory at the Battle of Magdalena River on October 24. However, the Conservatives were in a delicate situation as well. The Conservatives had split into two factions, the Historical and National, in a frenetic attempt to bring order to the country. First, they dismissed President Sanclemente and replaced him with Jose Manuel Marroquin. In response, the Liberals nominated Gabriel Vargas Santos for the presidency.

The battles of Peralonso and Palonegro (in Santander) caused substantial damage. At Peralonso, the Liberals achieved victory by the direction of Rafael Uribe Uribe. At Palonegro (May 26, 1900) the Conservatives halted the enemy in what was an extraordinarily bloody encounter.

Beginning of the end

Child soldiers in Panama during the civil war of 1895. Child soldiers figured prominently in all of Colombia's civil wars during the 19th century, including the Thousand Days. Thousand Days War.jpg
Child soldiers in Panama during the civil war of 1895. Child soldiers figured prominently in all of Colombia's civil wars during the 19th century, including the Thousand Days.

After Palonegro, the Liberals were divided into two different factions, this time pacifists and the warmongers. The Nationals of the Conservatives believed it was time to end the war, which by this time was mainly in the province of Panama and on the coast of the Caribbean Sea.

With that decision, internationalization of the war was avoided, though internationalization was promoted by Venezuelan president Cipriano Castro (who recognized Uribe Uribe as President of Colombia). Conservative troops commanded by Marroquín managed to reduce Venezuelan aid to the Liberals on 29 July 1901 during the Battle of San Cristóbal, who at this time were suffering defeats by the Conservative General Juan B. Tovar.

President Castro of Venezuela was the driving force of the war in late-1901, eventually pushing its continuation into 1902. [5] In September 1901, Castro deployed 1,200 Venezuelan troops along with cannons, rifles and a machine gun into Colombia, with Venezuelans comprising a large portion of Liberal troops in border area. [6] During the Battle of Riohacha, Castro sent a gunboat to block Conservative reinforcements from entering the city's harbor and order Venezuelan general José Antonio Dávila to manage Venezuelan troops alongside the Liberals. [6] Errors by Venezuelan forces resulted with Colombian reinforcements landing near Riohacha and countering the joint Liberal-Venezuelan forces, resulting in a mass retreat and a victory for the Colombian army. [6]

Eventually, General Uribe saw that the Liberals would not be able to defeat the Conservatives, and therefore was inclined to surrender, albeit with certain conditions.

Treaties of Neerlandia and Wisconsin

The first peace treaty, which formalized the cessation of hostilities, was signed on the plantation Neerlandia on October 24, 1902; the fighting had ended by the mid-point of that year in Panama. From late 1901, fighting occurred between the ships Admiral Padilla (Liberal) and the Lautaro (Chilean property, lent to the conservatives), which was defeated by the former in front of the City of Panama on January 20, 1902.

Later the threat was from the American navy, sent by the government of Theodore Roosevelt to protect the United States' future interests in the construction of the Panama Canal. The Liberals, commanded by General Benjamin Herrera, were then forced to surrender. The subsequent assassination of Victoriano Lorenzo is understood among indigenous Panamanians as the loss of their struggle for land rights. [7]

Signing of the Treaty of Wisconsin Tratado de Paz del Wisconsin.jpg
Signing of the Treaty of Wisconsin

The definitive peace treaty was signed on the American battleship Wisconsin on November 21, 1902. The Liberals were represented by General Lucas Caballero Barrera, who was in charge of the united army of Cauca and Panama, and Colonel Eusebio A. Morales, who was representing General Benjamin Herrera. The Conservatives were represented by General Víctor M. Salazar, governor of the Department of Panama, and General Alfredo Vázquez Cobo, Chief of Staff of the Conservative army on the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific, and Panama. Together, representing the entire government, they signed the end of the war.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Magdalena River</span>

The Battle of the Magdalena River, also known as the Battle of Los Obispos or the Battle of Gamarra, was the first major battle of the Thousand Days' War. It took place on the Magdalena River on 24 October 1899, near the town of Gamarra, Magdalena, Colombia. The Liberal Party rebelled against the Conservative government of Manuel Antonio Sanclemente on 17 October 1899 and attempted to seize the Magdalena River in a bid to sever riverine transportation to Bogotá. A rebel flotilla composed of converted passenger steamships and a dredge temporarily impeded Conservative advances down the river, but on the night of 24 October, two Conservative gunboats under General Diego de Castro destroyed the rebel flotilla.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Bucaramanga (1899)</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Peralonso</span> 1899 military action in Colombia

The Battle of Peralonso, also known as the Battle of La Amarilla or the Battle of La Laja, was a major battle in the Santander Campaign of the Thousand Days' War in Colombia. It was fought between the Conservative government and the Liberal rebels between 15 and 16 December 1899, ending in an important Liberal victory. The Liberal rebels had suffered a series of major defeats culminating in the failed attack on Bucaramanga on 13 November. Afterward, the Liberal forces splintered into three autonomous forces, led by Rafael Uribe Uribe, Benjamín Herrera, and Justo L. Durán, but they first regrouped in Cúcuta. The autonomous rebel armies shifted to new positions on and around the heights of Cerro Tasajero, north of Cúcuta and close to the border with Venezuela.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colombian Civil War of 1895</span>

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  1. Waiss, Óscar (1954). Nacionalismo y Socialismo en América Latina. Prensa Latinoamericana, pp. 17. esta cifra carece de fundamento e implicaría prácticamente la perdida total de las fuerzas de combate de ambos bandos.
  2. | In Spanish, “Guerra de los Mil Dias”
  3. BBC. "Colombia Timeline" . Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  4. "Así Comenzó la Guerra de los Mil Días". 8 September 1998.
  5. de La Pedraja, René (2015). Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. McFarland. pp. 30–31. ISBN   9780786482573.
  6. 1 2 3 de La Pedraja, René (2015). Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. McFarland. pp. 30–31. ISBN   9780786482573.
  7. Müller-Schwarze, Nina K. (2015). The Blood of Victoriano Lorenzo: An Ethnography of the Cholos of Northern Coclé Province. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Press.
  8. García Márquez, Gabriel (November 2006). Memories of My Melancholy Whores. Vintage Books. p. 11. ISBN   9781101911167 . Retrieved 15 November 2014.