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United States occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–24)

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The first United States occupation of the Dominican Republic lasted from 1916 to 1924. It was one of the many interventions in Latin America undertaken by the military forces of the United States in the 20th century. On May 13, 1916,[3] Rear Admiral William B. Caperton forced the Dominican Republic's Secretary of War Desiderio Arias, who had seized power from Juan Isidro Jimenes Pereyra, to leave Santo Domingo by threatening the city with naval bombardment.[3]

United States occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–24)
Part of the Banana Wars
US Marines camp in the Dominican Republic.jpg
Camp of US Marines in the Dominican Republic during the occupation.
Fortaleza San Luis (Santiago de los Caballeros)
Date 5 May 1916–27 December 1924
Location Dominican Republic
Result American victory
 United States Dominican Republic Dominican Republic
Commanders and leaders
United States William B. Caperton
United States Harry Knapp
Dominican Republic Desiderio Arias
Casualties and losses
144 Marines killed[1] 1,000+ casualties[2]

The first major engagement occurred at Las Trencheras on June 27. There the Dominican rebels had dug trenches on two hills, one behind the other, blocking the road to Santiago. The field guns of Captain Chandler Campbell's 13th Company, along with a machine gun platoon, took position on a hill commanding the enemy trenches and opened fire. Under the cover of this fire, the Marine infantry charged the defenders' first line, covered until the last possible moment by the artillery barrage. The insurgents fled to their trenches on the second hill. They rallied there briefly, then broke and ran again as the American field guns resumed shelling. Within 45 minutes from the opening artillery shots, the Marines, at a cost to themselves of one killed and four wounded, had overrun the enemy positions. They found no dead or weapons in the trenches but later discovered five rebel bodies in the nearby woods.[4]

This engagement set the pattern for most Marine contacts with hostile forces in the Dominican Republic. Against Marine superiority in artillery, machine guns, small-unit maneuver, and individual training and marksmanship, no Dominican force could hold its ground.[4]



The biggest loss of American lives occurred not in the northern campaign, which concluded with Arias's surrender, but shortly thereafter. A hurricane blew into Santo Domingo harbor in August 1916, causing the cruiser Memphis to founder on the rocks and killing 40 U.S. sailors.[5]

The piecemeal invasion resulted in the US Navy occupying all key positions in government and controlling the army and police. The first landing took place on May 5, 1916, when "two companies of Marines landed from the USS Prairie at Santo Domingo."[6] Their goal was to offer protection to the U.S. Legation and the U.S. Consulate, and to occupy the Fort San Geronimo. Within hours, these companies were reinforced with "seven additional companies."[6] On May 6, forces from the USS Castine landed to offer protection to the Haitian Legation, a country under similar military occupation from the U.S. Two days after the first landing, constitutional President, Juan Isidro Jimenes resigned.[7]

First Regiment Band, US Marine Corps.

Admiral Caperton's forces occupied Santo Domingo on May 15, 1916. Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton's Marine units took the key port cities of Puerto Plata and Monte Cristi on June 1, and enforced a blockade.[8] The Americans marched on Santiago City, a hotbed for the resistance. On July 13, Colonel Pendelton's unit came under rifle fire from Dominican soldiers and battle began. However, the Americans advancing on the Dominican positions did not record any injuries during the initial action. To aid the US Marines under fire, Cpl. Glowin fired his machine-gun and was only pulled out of battle when forced to, a brave action that decorated him with the USA's greatest military award. After his evacuation, Sergeant Roswell Winans brought up more machine-gun positions to fight off the enemy. This gave the Dominicans more targets to fire at. The captain in charge of the pit was killed and the others wounded. Winans was awarded an award as well, for firing a Colt machine-gun at the enemy even when it was jammed. Soon, two more gun positions were formed and the Dominicans fled. The 27th and 29th divisions gave chase and killed the enemy commander, routing the Dominican rebels. The Marines counted 27 rebels dead.

Two days after the battle, Marine forces moved to Arias' stronghold in Santiago de los Caballeros.[9] However, "A military encounter was avoided when Arias arrived at an agreement with Capteron to cease resistance."[10] Three days after Arias left the country,[3] the rest of the occupation forces landed and took control of the country within two months,[3] and in November the United States imposed a military government under Rear Admiral Harry Shepard Knapp.[3] In the northeastern province of San Francisco de Macorís, governor Juan Perez, an adherent of Arias, refused to order his men to hand over their arms to the Americans.

On the night of November 19, 1916, two companies of Marines surrounded the fortress at San Francisco, and First Lieutenant Ernest C. Williams led 12 men to rush its entrance. The Dominicans, taken by surprise, were unable to slam the gate closed. The rebels were nonetheless able to let loose with a fusillade from the fort which cut down eight of the Marines in their rush for the gate. Williams and the remaining four men pushed their way through the entrance, firing their weapons as they burst into the fort. After a fierce, 10-minute firefight the fort was secured and the fight was over. First Lieutenant Williams received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.[11]


Marine Aviators in the Dominican Republic, 1919

Marines claimed to have restored order throughout most of the republic, with the exception of the eastern region, but resistance continued widespread in both, direct and indirect forms in every place.[12] The US occupation administration, however, measured its success through these standards: the country's budget was balanced, its debt was diminished, economic growth directed now toward the US; infrastructure projects produced new roads that allowed the movement of military personnel across all the country's regions for the first time in history;[13] a professional military organization that took away the power from local elites and made soldiers more loyal to the national government, the Dominican Constabulary Guard, replaced the former partisan forces responsible for the civil war with groups less hostile to the US occupation.[14]

Most Dominicans, however, greatly resented the loss of their sovereignty to foreigners, few of whom spoke Spanish or displayed much real concern for the welfare of the republic. The most intense opposition to the occupation arose in the eastern provinces of El Seibo and San Pedro de Macorís. From 1917 to 1921, the United States forces battled a guerrilla movement in that area known as the gavilleros (highwaymen). The guerrillas enjoyed considerable support among the population, and they benefited from a superior knowledge of the terrain. The movement survived the capture and the execution of its leader, Vicente Evangelista, and some initially fierce encounters with the Marines. However, the gavilleros eventually yielded to the occupying forces' superior firepower, air power (a squadron of six Curtis Jennies), and determined (often brutal) counterinsurgent methods.


After World War I, public opinion in the United States began to run against the occupation.[3] Warren G. Harding, who succeeded Wilson in March 1921, had campaigned against the occupations of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.[3] In June 1921, United States representatives presented a withdrawal proposal, known as the Harding Plan, which called for Dominican ratification of all acts of the military government, approval of a loan of $2.5 million USD for public works and other expenses, the acceptance of United States officers for the constabulary—now known as the National Guard (Guardia Nacional)—and the holding of elections under United States supervision. Popular reaction to the plan was overwhelmingly negative.[3] Moderate Dominican leaders, however, used the plan as the basis for further negotiations that resulted in an agreement between U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and Dominican Ambassador to the United States Francisco J. Peynado on June 30, 1922,[15] allowing for the selection of a provisional president to rule until elections could be organized.[3] Under the supervision of High Commissioner Sumner Welles, Juan Bautista Vicini Burgos assumed the provisional presidency on October 21, 1922.[3] In the presidential election of March 15, 1924, Horacio Vásquez Lajara, an American ally who cooperated with the United States government, handily defeated Peynado. Vásquez's Alliance Party (Partido Alianza) also won a comfortable majority in both houses of Congress.[3] With his inauguration on July 13, control of the republic returned to Dominican hands.[3]


Despite the withdrawal, there were still concerns regarding the collection and application of the country's custom revenues. To address this problem, representatives of the United States and the Dominican Republic governments met at a convention and signed a treaty, on December 27, 1924, which gave the United States control over the country's custom revenues.[16] In 1941, the treaty was officially repealed and control over the country's custom revenues was again returned to the government of the Dominican Republic.[16] However this treaty created lasting resentment of the United States among the people of the Dominican Republic.[17]

The Dominican Campaign Medal was an authorized U.S. service medal for those military members who had participated in the conflict.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ayres (2008). A Military Miscellany. 
  2. ^ Clark, George B. (2014). The United States Military in Latin America: A History of Interventions through 1934. McFarland. p. 165. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "USA Dominican Republic Resistance 1917-1921". The Dupuy Institute. December 16, 2000. Retrieved June 29, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Fuller, Stephen M.; Cosmas, Graham A. (1974). "Marines in the Dominican Republic (1916-1924)" (PDF). US Marine Corps History and Museums Division. p. 16.    This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. 2014. p. 169. 
  6. ^ a b United States Naval Institute (1879). Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute. Annapolis, Md: U.S. Naval Institute. p. 239. 
  7. ^ Atkins, G. Pope & Larman Curtis Wilson. (1998). The Dominican Republic and the United States: From Imperialism to Transnationalism. Athens, Ga.: Univ. of Georgia Press. p. 49. ISBN 0820319309. 
  8. ^ Musicant, Ivan (1990). The Banana Wars. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co. pp. 247–252. ISBN 0025882104. 
  9. ^ Musicant. Banana Wars. pp. 253–263. 
  10. ^ Atkins and Wilson (1998). The Dominican Republic and the United States. p. 49. 
  11. ^ "A Brief History of the 4th Marines" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-05-21. 
  12. ^ Franks, Julie (June 1995). "The Gavilleros of the East: Social Banditry as Political Practice in the Dominican Sugar Region 1900-1924". Journal of Historical Sociology. 8 (2): 158–181. 
  13. ^ Emmer, P. C., Bridget Brereton, B. W. Higman (2004). "Education in the Caribbean," a chapter in General History of the Caribbean: The Caribbean in the Twentieth Century. Paris, London: UNESCO. p. 609. ISBN 0-333-724593. 
  14. ^ Haggerty, Richard A. (1989). "OCCUPATION BY THE UNITED STATES, 1916-24". Dominican Republic: A Country Study. Library of Congress. Retrieved June 29, 2014. 
  15. ^ Calder, Bruce J. (1984). The Impact of Intervention: The Dominican Republic during the U.S. Occupation of 1916–1924. Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 223. ISBN 978-1-55876-386-9. Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  16. ^ a b JSTOR 2213777
  17. ^ American foreign relations: a history. Since 1895, Volume 2, pg. 163

External linksEdit