Copyright
James Jeffrey Roche.

By-Ways of War online

. (page 11 of 17)
Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 11 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


The Order of Isabella the Catholic was subsequently conferred on him,
with promotion, for his gallantry before Madrid, but a wound received
in the foot, which caused him much suffering and refused to heal,
compelled him to ask for sick leave. As he was with difficulty wending
his way homeward he was pursued by the enemy and abandoned by his
guide. After hiding for three days he was captured and imprisoned with
three other foreigners. Feigning an illness which afterwards became
real, he was removed to a hospital. The English doctor in attendance
knew only of the prisoner's feint and admired the natural way in which
the shivering fits were counterfeited. In vain the patient, who was
really ill, protested that he was so, until after a time the truth of
his assertion became apparent, for typhus fever had declared itself and
the doctor was, too late, convinced of it. For twenty-one days
Henningsen's life was despaired of, during which time his friends
interceded for him. His release was demanded by the British Government,
but General Espartero sternly refused it, saying his life was
forfeited, for he had both with his sword and pen proved himself a
dangerous foe. At the reiterated request of Lord Palmerston, backed by
the Duke of Wellington and others, Espartero, however, was compelled to
yield, as the withdrawal of the foreign legion was threatened if he
persisted in his refusal.

Henningsen, on his return to England, published a couple of volumes of
personal recollections, which still hold a place in literature. His
story was told in a simple and direct style, which showed marked
literary ability. But the world was then too full of doing, for an
active mind to content itself with thinking or saying. Schamyl the
Prophet had unfurled his sacred banner, lit the fires of revolution on
the Caucasus, and thrown the gage of battle to the mighty Czar himself.
His cause was just enough, his case was desperate enough, to enlist the
sympathies of the young knight-errant, who soon found himself battling
beside wild mountaineers in Caucasian snows, and completing the
education begun on the vine-clad hills of Spain. That campaign over, he
improved his leisure in writing two or three books on Russian life,
which increased his literary reputation without inducing him to take up
a life of letters. The restraints of civilisation were too irksome, and
he fled to the wilds of Asia Minor, where the news of Hungary's revolt
against Austrian and Russian despotism found him. He arrived on the
scene of action too late to take part in anything but the sorrowful
ending. Gorgey's treason, if such indeed it were, had turned the scale
against the patriots. Henningsen submitted a plan of operations to
Kossuth, who decided that it was now too late for offensive action. All
that remained was to offer his sword to the forlorn hope. The offer was
gladly accepted. He joined Bem in the last ditch at Komorn, aiding not
a little in the stout defence of that place.

When the pitiful collapse came, Henningsen was one of the chieftains
who were outlawed and had a price set upon their heads. He narrowly
escaped capture and its inevitable consequence, death. Once he was
saved by the tact of a lady, a relative of Kossuth, who, when the
police were searching for a likeness of the fugitive, allowed them to
find a portrait of some stranger, upon which she had hastily written
the words, "From your friend, C. F. Henningsen." Being questioned, she
averred that the likeness was not Henningsen's, but with so much
apparent confusion as to make them disbelieve her. Copies of it were
accordingly printed and distributed with the hue and cry, to the
manifest benefit of the fugitive. Again, upon the very border of
Turkey, he was chased so closely by a party of Haynau's bloodhound
troops that capture seemed inevitable, and he had prepared a dose of
poison, which he always carried with him, to be swallowed at the moment
of arrest. His Caucasian experience had taught him that mercy was not
to be expected of Cossack victors. More fortunate than many of his
comrades, he managed to elude his foes and escape across the boundary,
to join Kossuth. With him he crossed the Atlantic, never to return. In
the United States he shared the social and political distinction of his
leader.

Henningsen at this period was thirty years old, tall and strikingly
handsome, with the polish and breeding of a man of the world and a
scholar. In Washington he met and loved a Southern belle, at the time
when Southern society ruled in the national capital. The lady, who was
a widow, was a niece of Senator Berrien of Georgia. She returned his
affection, and they were married after a brief courtship.

It was a critical period in American politics. It was the reign of King
Pierce the Irresolute, to be followed shortly by that of King Buchanan
the Unready. Henningsen by his matrimonial alliance was thrown into the
society of those who favoured slavery, wherein he imbibed opinions in
harmony with the upholders of that institution. The adherents of
slavery felt that in the political field they were fighting a losing
battle. The more farsighted saw that the success of their cause could
be promoted only by "extending the area of freedom," as they phrased
it. Thus the filibusters acquired new importance in the eyes of friend
and of foe at home.

Henningsen's wife, with the spirit of a Roman matron, acquiesced
heroically when her knight volunteered to go forth and do battle for a
cause which would have won his sympathy for its very danger alone. His
reputation as a soldier was well established. He had introduced the
Miniê rifle into the United States service, and was an authority upon
his speciality, the use of artillery. Nor did he come empty-handed to
Nicaragua; but brought with him military stores, arms, and ammunition,
to the value of thirty thousand dollars, the contribution of himself
and his wife, besides an equally liberal offering from George Law and
other sympathizers with the cause. Walker immediately placed him on
active service, with the rank of brigadier-general.

Henningsen had scarcely assumed his command before he was sent to clear
the Transit road of marauding bands of Costa Ricans, a large body of
whom had landed at San Juan del Sur, under General Cañas. Henningsen
scattered them promptly, and admitted a force of recruits from
California, who had arrived on the steamer _Cortes_. The reappearance
of the Costa Ricans on the Transit was too dangerous a menace to the
communication with the United States, however; and Walker saw that to
preserve his base of supplies, and at the same time to garrison the
large city of Granada, was a task too serious for his slender forces.
But as he did not wish to let the latter important stronghold fall into
hostile hands, with the moral and material benefits accruing from the
possession of the seat of government, he resolved to destroy the city.
Previous to evacuating Granada he made another attack on Masaya, in
order that the enemy might remain on the defensive and not suspect his
intended movement of retreat southward. A trifling engagement took
place, in which the artillery was well handled. On the 19th of November
the sick and wounded were transported in the lake steamer to the island
of Omotepe, where they were placed in charge of Colonel Fry and a corps
of medical attendants.

This island is one of the healthiest places in the country, being a
volcanic upheaval, with a mountain towering from its centre to a height
of five thousand feet. A few families of native Indian fishermen, rude
and savage, are its only inhabitants, and their frail huts dot the
margin of the lake. In the interior a dense jungle bars the road to the
mountain top. The rank growth of the tropics hides the ruined monuments
of a civilization which preceded Conquistador and Aztec. The traveller
who cuts his way through the rank vegetation finds himself, here and
there, in the presence of quaintly sculptured, hideous idols
overturned. In remoter nooks, whither his Indian guide cares not to
lead him, he would see the gods whom the Christians threw down,
reinstated on their pedestals; and the good folk of Granada say in
whispers, that thither, at stated times, flock silent, dusky
worshippers, to offer up unholy rites and pray for the return of the
gods of their fathers, who fed on human victims, and spoke to their
people in the awful accents of the volcano. Little knew or recked the
bold filibusters, quarantined beneath the frowning peak of Omotepe, of
the alleged idolatrous practices or the evil repute in which the
islanders were held by their mainland neighbors. They nursed their
wounds with scant patience, recovered, and sought a chance to get new
ones, or died and were forgotten, as though their passports to the
realm of Death had been viséd by the most legitimate of all lawful
war-makers.

Walker, having entrusted to Henningsen the duty of destroying Granada,
set out for Rivas. Upon his departure, many of the men and some of the
officers, feeling that the severe restraints of discipline were
withdrawn, plunged into a wild debauch. Henningsen, with the aid of
such as were in decent condition, began the work of firing the town. As
the smoke of the burning houses arose in the air the enemy's pickets
saw and reported it to General Belloso, who rightly surmised the cause
and ordered an immediate attack. The miserable debauchees awoke from
their stupor to find that they had aroused a formidable foe. Five
thousand furious Serviles were pouring into the city, and had already
secured a strong strategic point in the church of the Guadaloupe,
whence their sharpshooters were keeping in play the useful men whom
Henningsen could gather about him.

Under a fierce fire Henningsen continued the work of destruction until
almost the entire town was reduced to ashes. His position, encumbered
as he was with sick and wounded, was so perilous that he determined to
capture the Guadaloupe church at any cost, as that important position
commanded the passage to the lake. That end was not attained without
the loss of many valuable lives and two days of hard fighting. Finally,
on the 27th of November, the church was carried by assault, and all the
American force, with their supplies, ammunition, and non-combatants,
were safely transferred to the new quarters. A guard of thirty men,
detailed to protect the wharf on the lake, three miles away, had been
betrayed and captured two days before. Henningsen, in order to secure
communication with the lake, began throwing up a line of earthworks
along the whole distance, the enemy contesting every inch of the road.
To keep the latter in check, Captain Swingle and his howitzers were
employed night and day. When ammunition ran short the ingenious gunner
made balls from scraps of iron piled in a mould of clay and soldered
together with lead.

As soon as they had effected communication with some adobe huts half
way to the lake, Henningsen removed the sick and wounded to the more
healthful land near the water. It was none too soon, for over a hundred
men had perished from the ravages of cholera and typhus in the crowded
quarters of the Guadaloupe. Lieutenant Sumpter with seventy men was
left to garrison the church. Meanwhile the enemy had not been idle;
they had thrown up earthworks between the lake and Henningsen's
defences, and gathered a strong force to prevent the advance of relief
from that direction.

For three weeks the unequal fight lasted, until of the four hundred men
who had remained to burn Granada, less than one hundred and fifty
answered to the roll-call on the 13th of December. To Zavala's demand
for their surrender Henningsen sent back word that he would parley only
at the cannon's mouth. Their position, nevertheless, was so critical
that many of the men talked openly of forsaking their helpless comrades
and cutting their way to the lake. Finding that the first sign of such
a proceeding would be greeted with a volley of grape, for Henningsen
had learned from his chief the way to deal with insubordination, a few
of the malcontents deserted to the enemy. The rest imitated the heroic
fortitude of their officers, and all shared together their sorry
rations of mule and horse meat as long as they lasted. That was not
long; they had reached the limit of their supplies on the 12th of
December, and Henningsen sent a message to Walker begging immediate
relief. A native boy of the Sandwich Islands, who had come to Nicaragua
on the _Vesta_, and who was known in the army as "Kanaka John,"
volunteered to carry the note. It was given to him sealed and enclosed
in a bottle. The boy made his way unperceived through the enemy's
lines, and reached the water in time to see the lake steamer, _La
Virgen_, lying beyond the line of surf, with lights shrouded and not a
sign of life on board. The amphibious Kanaka swam out and boarded the
steamer, where he found Walker and three or four hundred new recruits
from the States.

Colonel John Watters, with a hundred and sixty men, was at once ordered
to relieve the beleaguered force under Henningsen. Watters on landing
was met by a stout resistance from a large body of Allies guarding the
wharf and adjacent earthworks; but the Californians rushed upon the
barricade with a yell and carried it by storm. Henningsen heard the
distant firing, and, recognizing the sharp note of the American rifle,
made a sortie against the nearest post of the enemy. The firing lasted
all night, for Belloso was frantic at the thought that the prey for
which he had hungered so long was about slipping from his paws.
Watters, finding the enemy so strong, made a detour so as to enter
Granada by the north-eastern road, and sent a courier to notify
Henningsen of his approach. It was daybreak ere the relief reached the
city, having carried four strong lines of barricades on the march, and
routed thrice their number of Allies. The enemy, as soon as the
junction was effected, abandoned further opposition to the retreat of
the filibusters and withdrew from the lake road. The evacuation of the
Guadaloupe was completed in peace on the morning of December 14, 1856.

When the Allies entered the place they found only a wilderness of
smouldering ruins to mark the site of the city beloved by the Serviles
and hated by the Leonese. The latter rejoiced secretly, the former
mourned aloud, over the loss of the proudest city of the isthmus. In
the Plaza they found a scornful souvenir of the destroyer, a lance
stuck in the earth and bearing a raw hide, upon which was inscribed the
legend, "Aqui fué Granada" - "Here was Granada!"

Three hundred men, including Watters' command, embarked on the lake
steamer and sailed to Virgin Bay. Three-fourths of the garrison of
Granada had died in the three weeks' siege. The Allies had suffered
more severely. Of the six thousand who joined their standard at Masaya
only two thousand now remained; but they received new strength in the
arrival of General Cañas with the Costa Ricans who, on the appearance
of Walker and Henningsen at Virgin Bay, had evacuated Rivas and marched
northward. Belloso and Zavala were constrained to turn the command of
the Allied forces over to Cañas, as the success of the Costa Ricans in
another quarter had given them a moral superiority over their less
fortunate friends. The importance of that success can be estimated only
by narrating its effect on the fortunes of Walker.




CHAPTER XIV

Vanderbilt joins issue - Titus outwitted - Siege of Rivas - Death in the
Falange - Desertion - Captain Fayssoux and Sir Robert McClure - Battle of
San Jorge - Allies assault Rivas - Famine and devotion - Commander Davis
as a peacemaker.


President Pierce had recognized the government of Rivas and Walker, as
a cheap concession to the friends of the filibusters in the United
States, for President Pierce was looking to a re-nomination in the
forthcoming convention. No party so weak but the average Presidential
candidate will scatter his bait before it. The nomination was not given
him, but it was too late to recall the friendly act. The recognition of
Walker's administration was, as we have seen, an accidental courtesy
which Mr. Marcy would not hesitate to retract if occasion offered. The
friends of Walker saw that to establish his power firmly he must be
aided liberally and without delay. The bonds of the republic were
accordingly offered for sale, and freely disposed of in many places.
Thousands of dollars were collected in the Southern cities and expended
in the purchase of munitions of war, and for the transportation of
recruits. Every steamer carried out large numbers of enlisted men and
consignments of war material. For the former, California could always
be relied on, but the latter had to be procured in "the States."
Vanderbilt saw a chance to revenge himself by cutting off the base of
supplies, and cast about him for an able tool.

He found willing instruments in the persons of Webster and Spencer, two
adventurers of daring character and questionable antecedents. Webster
drew up a plan of operations which met the approval of Vanderbilt, and
Spencer was entrusted with its execution. This Spencer was a man of
good family. His father had been Secretary of War. His brother was
hanged for mutiny at the yard-arm of the brig-of-war _Somers_ in 1842,
the only American officer who ever achieved that infamy. Spencer went
to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, whence he set out, with one
hundred and twenty picked men, for the head waters of the River San
Carlos, which flows into the San Juan. Arrived there, they constructed
rafts and floated down to the mouth of the Serapiqui. There they
surprised a force of Americans, and continuing the descent to San Juan
del Norte, soon made themselves masters of the Transit Company's
steamers. With them and a reinforcement of eight hundred Costa Ricans,
commanded by a brother of President Mora, they speedily captured all
the fortified positions on the river and both of the lake steamers.
Lake and river being thus secured, it only remained for Mora to cross
the district of Chontales and effect a junction with the Allies at
Granada.

The enemy had effectually cut off Walker's communication with the
Atlantic States. California remained open to him just so long as the
agents of the line in San Francisco, whose friendship for him was, of
course, secondary to their self-interest, should consider it profitable
to continue running their steamers.

Vanderbilt had triumphed. We may anticipate events so far as to say
that President Mora's indebtedness to the Wall Street magnate taught
him respect for the absolute power of money. But ere many years his
confidence in another rich friend was repaid by treachery, which drove
him from power into exile, disgrace, and death. Eighteen days after the
execution of Walker at Trujillo, Juan Rafael Mora and General Cañas
perished by the fusilade, after an abortive attempt to regain their
lost power. It is recorded of the wealthy ingrate who had betrayed Mora
that he died not long after his victim, and of a strange
disease - ossification of the heart.

Many attempts to recover control of the lost river route were made
during the months of January, February, March, and April, 1857. Various
expeditions from New Orleans and New York landed at San Juan del Norte,
where eight British men-of-war were concentrated to watch the
operations. The interference of the latter, though annoying, was not
openly hostile, yet it was marked enough to affect seriously the
fortunes of the expeditions. The English commander incited desertion by
spreading among the men rumours of the terrible dangers they must risk
in attempting the passage of the river. Many Europeans were thereby
induced to claim British protection, which was gladly granted, though
the loss of such deserters may have been a questionable calamity. A
strong force, under the command of a certain Colonel Titus, a windy
"Border ruffian" from Kansas, succeeded in ascending the river as far
as Castillo Viejo, and were on the point of capturing that key to the
situation, when their leader weakly allowed himself to be hoodwinked
and befooled by its commandant. The latter, finding himself sore
pressed, begged for a twenty-four hours' truce before surrendering;
which being granted, he sent for reinforcements, and by the time the
truce had expired was prepared to laugh at the simplicity of his
antagonists.

The mistake was irreparable. Through the incompetence of Titus and
Lockridge, the key to Nicaragua was lost, perhaps for ever. With the
Transit route in his power, Walker could have brought a host of
recruits into the country and bidden defiance to all Spanish America.
Without it, the labour of years was wasted and the conqueror thrown on
the defensive. Knowing naught of the disasters which had befallen his
arms on the river, Walker waited and watched through the long weeks for
the relief which was never to come.

Towards the end of January the Allies had advanced to Obraje, nine
miles from Rivas, and soon occupied San Jorge, within a league of the
American outworks. Rivas, embowered in her orange groves and cocoa
palms, was slowly being encircled by the lines of the Allies, now
numbering some seven thousand. They held those points, in spite of
repeated attempts to dislodge them. Walker, not desiring to waste his
men's lives in useless attacks, contented himself with occasional
forays, while Henningsen prudently strengthened the fortifications and
was careful of his scanty ammunition. Aided by the resourceful Captain
Swingle, he cast round-shot from all sorts of old iron, and gathered
together the bronze and silver bells of the city to melt into cannon
balls.

The Transit road between San Juan del Sur and Virgin Bay still was
theirs, and nearly every steamer from San Francisco brought down a
little band of recruits whose arrival was hailed with joy. But the
advantages resulting from such additions to the garrisons were more
than offset by the losses from desertion and death. The latter had made
sad havoc in the ranks of the tried veterans. In February, Major Cal.
O'Neill died in a skirmish with the Allies. He was a favourite soldier
of the commander, having distinguished himself in almost every
engagement during the campaign. His brother was slain in the evacuation
of Granada, and the survivor had grown reckless of life thereafter. He
was only twenty-one years old at the time of his death, but the
Irishman's instinctive military bias and courage made up for the
inexperience of youth. Other brave officers fell during the next few
months, Conway, Higby, Dusenberry, and a score of veterans who were
the flower of the army. The surviving members of the Falange found
themselves surrounded by strange faces. The brave men died, and the
cravens deserted. Unfortunately the evil did not end with the loss of
worthless cowards; their example had a baneful effect upon good but
reckless men, who otherwise would have remained faithful. It was not in
weak human nature to content itself with scant rations of mule meat and
plantains, while snug treason flaunted itself across the picket lines,
boasting of rich fare and no duty. The hungry sentry was tempted by
the sight of his late comrades and taunted by the sound of a brass
band, which had deserted _en masse_ one night, and now drew from the
instruments bought with the money of the republic, seductive dancing
tunes and Servile melodies, instead of the loyal strains of the "Blue,
White, and Blue," which they had been hired to play. On his confused
mind, perchance, dawned the suspicion that the Nicaragua which he had
come thousands of miles to see and enjoy was to be found rather in
the fleshpots of the Allied army than in the hungry camp of the
filibusters. Small wonder if the poor fellow forgot his duty and
elected to follow the example before him.

Early in February the monotony of the siege was broken by the arrival
at San Juan del Sur of the American man-of-war _St. Mary's_, Commander
C. H. Davis. Promptly in her wake came the British steamer _Esk_,
Captain Sir Robert McClure. The two formidable ships lay not many cable
lengths apart in the harbour. The day after his arrival Sir Robert sent
a boat's crew aboard a small schooner lying near the shore to ask the
meaning of the ensign which she was flying at the masthead. It was a
handsome flag, composed of three horizontal stripes, blue, white, and
blue; in the middle stripe, which was twice the width of either of the
outer ones, was a five-pointed red star. The ensign was that of the new


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 11 of 17)