James Jeffrey Roche.

By-Ways of War online

. (page 12 of 17)
Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 12 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

republic of Nicaragua, and the vessel, as her commander, Fayssoux,
politely replied, was the Nicaraguan schooner-of-war _Granada_. Sir
Robert then ordered him to come on board the _Esk_, and bring his
commission with him; to which the plucky Louisianian, with the blood of
revolutionary ancestors boiling at the impertinence, replied that he
would do nothing of the kind; and when the English captain threatened a
broadside, the Nicaraguan commander beat to quarters - he had a score of
men - loaded his two six-pound carronades, and awaited destruction as
calmly as if he had the deck of a seventy-four under his feet. But Sir
Robert, either fearing to exceed his authority, or labouring under the
delusion that the _St. Mary's_ captain might not relish the idea of
seeing his fellow-countrymen annihilated before his eyes, softened the
demand into a request for a friendly visit, which Captain Fayssoux
thereupon paid him. A nobler motive may have actuated Sir Robert, for
he was a sailor, and had traditions of his country's honour, which it
were worth an American officer's commission to entertain. The latter
has never forgotten the awful example handed down from the early days
of Commodore Porter, who was court-martialed and forced out of the
service because he exacted an apology from some Spanish vagabonds who
had imprisoned an American officer visiting Porto Rico under a flag of

When Sir Robert went to Rivas, some days afterwards, to demand an
explanation of Fayssoux's conduct, he was met by Walker, at the outset
of the interview, with the stern inquiry: "I presume, sir, you have
come to apologize for the outrage offered to my flag and the commander
of the Nicaraguan schooner-of-war _Granada_." And the gallant sailor
actually forgot his wrath in his wonder, and made a suitable apology to
the wounded dignity of the chief of a thousand men and one schooner.
"If they had another schooner," said he, "I believe they would have
declared war on Great Britain." Had he known the mission of the _St.
Mary's_ at San Juan, he might have come to a different conclusion; for
the instructions of Commander Davis, which he faithfully obeyed,
directed him to aid the Allies in forcing Walker and his men to
capitulate. Why? Walker says, because Commodore Mervin, who had given
the orders, was a bosom friend of Secretary Marcy - a possibly
sufficient reason, since Marcy's power was absolute in the conduct of
the minor foreign relations. Davis says, because the interests of
humanity prompted him to save Walker in spite of himself - a reason
perhaps as good as the other. The reader must guess at the true motive,
as Blue-books do but fulfil their mission in confusing the truth.

The enemy receiving large reinforcements, was enabled to mass about two
thousand men at San Jorge, where they were a constant danger and
annoyance. Walker determined to dislodge them. On the 16th of March he
took personal command of four hundred men, and marched out to meet the
enemy, two thousand five hundred strong. Henningsen, with two
six-pounders, one twelve-pounder, and four mortars, went ahead to clear
the way. Swingle and the rest of the battery remained to guard Rivas;
and it was well that they did so, for a large force of Costa Ricans
made a determined assault as soon as Walker was out of sight, and were
not repulsed until after a fight of some hours' duration. They fell
back on the road to San Jorge, a couple of hundred of them taking up a
position behind the adobe walls of a planter's house, and there lying
in wait for the return of Walker and his command.

The latter arrived before daybreak at the suburbs of San Jorge and at
once opened a brisk fire on the town; but the enemy were on the alert,
and swarmed like angry bees out of their streets and lanes, pressing on
the battery and throwing out lines of skirmishers on either side, who
opened a galling fire on the American cavalry. Henningsen thereupon
threw a shower of grape and canister among the plantain fields on the
right and left, driving in the skirmishers, while Walker led the main
body of his men towards the centre of the town. The enemy contested
every inch of the ground, until driven to within three hundred yards of
the plaza, where their immense superiority of numbers and the shelter
afforded by the adobe walls and church towers gave them a position of
impregnable strength. Walker, nevertheless, called for forty volunteers
to storm the place. But fifteen responded, and with that handful he
charged boldly into the plaza, fighting with desperate but vain courage
against the tremendous odds. Two horses were killed under him, and a
spent ball struck him in the throat. His men were brave to madness, but
they were worn out with the long day's service, their ammunition was
running short, and Walker at last gave order to retire to Rivas. They
left the field on which they had fought from daybreak almost to sunset
in good order, Walker riding at the head of the column, and Henningsen
covering the rear with his guns. No opposition was made to their
departure, and not until the head of the column came abreast of the
planter's house at Cuatros Esquinas did they learn of the presence
there of the 200 Costa Ricans who had been repulsed by Swingle in the

As Walker and his staff rode by the dark and silent house, a blaze of
musketry lit up its front, not thirty yards away. Fortunately the
marksmen's aim was bad, and not over half a dozen saddles were emptied;
but the column was thrown into temporary confusion, and some of the men
fell back, while others stood panic-stricken, until another volley sent
them galloping in dismay. Walker, with the invincible calmness which
never deserted him, reined in his horse, drew his revolver and fired
its six shots into the house; then putting spurs to his steed, he rode
by, erect as if on parade, while the musket balls fell like hail around
him. A long-haired Californian, Major Dolan, who was riding behind him,
deliberately imitated his commander, emptying his pistol to the last
shot, and hurling the useless weapon at the house, with an imprecation,
as he dropped from his saddle, riddled with bullets. His clothing
caught in the trappings of his horse, and he was thus dragged out of
the _melée_, to survive and fight another day. The rest of the force
ran the gauntlet as best they could. Many were killed in a vain attempt
to carry the house by storm. The rear guard with the artillery made a
detour, and losing their way, did not arrive at Rivas until the next
morning. To the poor marksmanship alone of the enemy can be charged the
small loss of the filibusters before San Jorge and in the ambuscade at
Cuatros Esquinas, the total number in killed and wounded being only
some sixty or seventy.

A week afterwards, the whole Allied force, led in by a deserter, made a
concerted attack on Rivas, at daybreak, from four different directions.
They were beaten off with dreadful slaughter, leaving six hundred dead
on the field. The attack was most serious on the north side of the
city, where a small battery was placed in a position to rake the
American lines. It was handled well and bravely by an Italian gunner
who, though exposed to a galling fire from the American sharpshooters,
continued to load and fire with the utmost deliberation, advancing his
piece a little nigher after each discharge. Henningsen, an adept in the
same branch of warfare, stood upon the parapet of the low wall, rolling
and smoking cigarettes, as he watched with admiration the actions of
his cool adversary, and directing the management of a small gun which
the American artillerymen were serving with less than their usual
skill. At last, losing patience with his men, he leaped into the
embrasure, and sighting the gun himself, threw a six-pound ball
straight into the enemy's piece, which it dismounted, killing four of
the gunners and wounding the Italian captain. The latter being made
prisoner, the hostile batteries ceased to annoy the besieged for some
time, until the gallant gunner, escaping from his captors, was enabled
to resume his duties.

In this assault the besieged suffered but a trifling loss, as the
shelter of the adobe walls ensured them safety against any force which
it was in the power of the enemy to bring forward. When the latter
pushed their barricades too close to the walls of Rivas, the besieged
fired hot shot into them and burned the swarming hordes out of their
nests. Mora cared nothing for the lives of his wretched conscripts,
whom he could afford to lose by hundreds, as long as the Americans fell
by dozens and were not reinforced, and while the Allies could cut off
supplies of food and ammunition from the beleaguered city.
Unfortunately for Walker, a more dangerous enemy than death or hunger
assailed Rivas. Desertion, which had begun with the weak-hearted new
men, gradually spread like a pestilence, until he hardly knew in whom
to trust. Whole companies deserted at a time; pickets abandoned their
posts; foraging parties sent out to collect food for the hungry
garrison never came back. As early as October, a company of rangers
sent into the Chontales district had deserted with their equipments, on
a wild attempt to reach the Atlantic by way of the Blewfields river.
They never reached the coast, for some French settlers whom they had
attempted to plunder fell upon them and slew them to a man.

Famine threatened Rivas. There was not an ounce of bread in the city;
the men were living on scanty rations of horse and mule meat, seasoned
with sugar in lieu of salt; the hospital was filled with wounded and
fever patients. Henningsen said jestingly that, rather than surrender,
they would devour the prisoners. Once it was whispered in the ranks
that Walker and Henningsen, in anticipation of a successful assault on
the town, had prepared a magazine with which to blow up the citadel in
the moment of defeat, and with it friend and foe together. The rumour
was a silly falsehood, but so much impression did it make upon some of
the hardier spirits that, as General Henningsen told the author, seven
of them came to him, each begging for the privilege of firing the
train. Walker was not reduced to any such straits; he had yet three
forlorn hopes; the arrival, by the San Juan river of Lockridge with
reinforcements; assistance from California, and, as a last resource,
flight to the north on board his schooner _Granada_. The first never
came, because Lockridge, defeated before Castillo Viejo, had given up
the hopeless task. The second failed when Morgan refused to co-operate
with his partner, Garrison, in continuing to run the steamers from San
Francisco. On the _Granada_, then, depended the only hope of retreat
with honour. Walker, however, did not as yet know that the first and
second hopes had failed him.

On the 10th of April, the Allies made another attack on the town, and
were again repulsed with even greater loss than on the previous
occasion. Commander Davis, who had been negotiating with the Allies,
sent word to Walker, on the 23rd of April, offering a safe convoy to
the women and children from Rivas to San Juan del Sur, an offer which
was thankfully accepted.

On being relieved of his non-combatants, Walker felt that no obstacle
now stood in the way of his evacuation of the city, whenever he deemed
it proper, and a safe withdrawal on board of the schooner. Fayssoux had
continued to keep a close watch on the enemy's movements in San Juan,
preventing them throwing up fortifications or doing anything which
should embarrass the occupation of the town by Walker. Commander Davis,
acting as a peace-maker between the belligerents, but finding his
office one of perilous delicacy for a raw diplomat, and being governed
apparently by secret instructions, which new orders from Washington
might nullify at any moment if he delayed too long, now brought matters
to an unexpected crisis, by demanding Walker's surrender to the United
States authorities. Such an astonishing demand had never before been
made by a subordinate naval officer upon the President of a friendly
government. It was indignantly and promptly rejected. Davis then
assured Walker of the truth of two rumours which had reached Rivas;
the first, that Lockridge had given up his attempt to retake the
Transit route; the second, that no more steamers were to come from San
Francisco. Accepting both statements, which were true, Walker replied
that he purposed holding the city as long as his supplies lasted,
after which he intended carrying his command on board the Nicaragua
schooner-of-war _Granada_, and removing whithersoever he pleased.
To which Davis responded, that it was his "unalterable and deliberate
intention" to take possession of the schooner before he sailed from San
Juan; that his instructions on that point were clear and imperative;
and nothing but a countermand of his orders should induce him to depart
from that intention. The enemy had previously made Fayssoux an offer of
five thousand dollars to surrender the schooner; but what could not be
won by force or bribe was more cheaply gained through the extraordinary
action of an officer holding the commission and authority of the United
States. Walker has been accused of ingratitude because he protested
against the interference of Commander Davis. It was said that the
United States had saved the filibusters from extermination; but there
was not a man in Rivas who did not spurn the spurious claim. Ungrateful
step-children, they had cherished a different ideal of a mother


Ultimatum of Captain Davis - Evacuation of Rivas - Statistics of the
campaign - Henningsen's opinion of his men - Characteristic anecdotes
- Frederick Ward - A filibuster's apotheosis.

The ultimatum of Davis, backed by the power at his command, destroyed
Walker's last hope of retaining his hold in Nicaragua; this too, at a
time when the tide of fortune had begun to show signs of turning. In
despair of ever taking the city by assault, the Allies had sat down to
besiege it, with scant patience. The formidable army of seven thousand
which had invested Rivas in January had decreased within two months,
through death and defection, to a comparatively small force of less
than two thousand, two-thirds of them Costa Ricans and other
foreigners. These were, moreover, short of powder, threatened with
cholera and the rainy season, and so reduced as to be unable to man
effectively the investing works, through which the American scouts
penetrated freely when they pleased. With the garrison, desertion had
done its worst. Walker had still with him 260 of his best fighting men,
with plenty of arms and ammunition and two or three days' provisions.
To cut his way through the hostile lines and reach his schooner would
have been a much less difficult feat than Henningsen's evacuation of
Granada. Capitulation had never been discussed or thought of by Walker,
nor had Commander Davis hinted at his intention of seizing the
_Granada_, until her possession had become of vital importance to the

The Leonese in the North had begun to murmur at the cost and misery of
this prolonged, fruitless war, whose advantages, should it end
favourably to the Allies, would most likely be reaped by those whom
they loved no better than they did the Americans of the North. Walker,
had he been allowed to embark his fighting men in safety, might expect
to awaken in those old friends a new and stronger friendship, and
resume the fight against the Serviles from the original point at
Realejo. The possession of over a hundred prisoners, whom he could have
carried with him as hostages, was a sufficient guarantee for the safety
of the sick and wounded whom he would have been compelled to leave
behind. Such, at least, are the arguments embodied in Henningsen's
protest, and the facts conceded by all authorities justify his
conclusions. But half of Walker's ammunition was on board the schooner,
without which it would have been madness to attempt a change of base in
presence of the enemy.

Walker, finding that Davis was firm in his determination, sent General
Henningsen and Colonel Watters to meet the naval autocrat at the
headquarters of the Allies and arrange terms of capitulation. An
agreement was drawn up and submitted to Walker, on the 13th of April,
but he declined to sign it, as it contained no provisions guaranteeing
the safety in person and property of his native adherents who should
have to remain in Nicaragua. Among the latter were many devoted men who
had kept faithful to his fortunes throughout all, and on whom the wrath
of the enemy would fall as soon as the dread filibusters should leave
the country. On the next day an agreement was submitted and accepted by
both parties, the provisions of which were as follows: -

"RIVAS, May 1, 1857.

"An agreement is hereby entered into between General William
Walker, on the one part, and Commander C. H. Davis, of the United
States Navy, on the other part, and of which the stipulations are
as follows: - Firstly. General William Walker, with sixteen officers
of his staff, shall march out of Rivas, with their side-arms,
pistols, horses, and personal baggage, under the guarantee of the
said Captain Davis, of the United States Navy, that they shall not
be molested by the enemy, and shall be allowed to embark on board
the United States vessel of war, the _St. Mary's_, in the harbour
of San Juan del Sur, the said Captain Davis undertaking to
transport them safely, on the _St. Mary's_ to Panama.

"Secondly. The officers of General Walker's army shall march out of
Rivas with their side-arms, under the guarantee and protection of
Captain Davis, who undertakes to see them safely transported to
Panama in charge of a United States officer.

"Thirdly. The privates and non-commissioned officers, citizens,
and _employés_ of departments, wounded or unwounded, shall be
surrendered, with their arms, to Captain Davis, or one of his
officers, and placed under his protection and control, he pledging
himself to have them transported safely to Panama, in charge of a
United States officer, in separate vessels from the deserters from
the ranks, and without being brought into contact with them.

"Fourthly. Captain Davis undertakes to obtain guarantees, and
hereby does guarantee that all natives of Nicaragua, or of Central
America, now in Rivas, and surrendered to the protection of Captain
Davis, shall be allowed to reside in Nicaragua, and be protected in
life and property.

"Fifthly. It is agreed that all such officers as have wives and
families in San Juan del Sur shall be allowed to remain there under
the protection of the United States consul, till an opportunity
offers of embarking for Panama or San Francisco.

"General Walker and Captain Davis mutually pledge themselves to
each other that this agreement shall be executed in good faith."

Such is the text of the treaty between the representative of the United
States and his captive. The lenity, unheard of before in Central
American warfare, which the Allies thus offered to the men whom they
had vowed to exterminate, shows how highly they valued the services of
Captain Davis. That they did not keep their merciful promise to the
native prisoners, but harried them in the good old-fashioned style as
soon as the gallant captain had sailed away, does not detract from the
merit of their promise. They would have promised anything to be rid of
the troublesome filibustero.

No stipulation had been made for the surrender of the ammunition and
weapons of the besieged. Henningsen, therefore, before the evacuation
began, set his gunners to work destroying all the artillery and
ammunition, consisting of one four-pound brass gun, three
five-pounders, two twelves, and three sixes, and four light iron
twelve-pound mortars, also 55,000 cartridges, 300,000 caps, and 1,500
pounds of powder; no contemptible supply of saltpetre for a garrison
lacking in bread.

The total number of men surrendering was 463, including 170 sick and
wounded. One hundred and two prisoners taken from the Allies were set
free and sent within the enemy's lines. Forty natives who had abided
with him to the end, bade their grey-eyed chieftain a sorrowful adieu
on the bright May morning that was his last in Rivas.

Bravely and deliberately the filibusters marched out of the town,
Walker riding at the head, with blade on thigh and pistol in belt, and
the same impassive visage that he would have worn in mounting a throne
or a gallows. After him, Henningsen, tall, martial, frank of face, then
bearded like a whiskered Pandour, and not without traces of powder from
his morning's work. Gaunt Hornsby, a Northern Quixote in face and
figure, rode beside phlegmatic Bruno Von Natzmer, erst Prussian cornet
of hussars and friend of Baron Bulow, until differences of national
adoption set them lustily to fighting each other; more fortunate than
the Costa Rican baron, he lived to fight another day; Henry and
Swingle, doughty gunners; Watters - Colonel Jack - he of the relief of
Granada; Williamson, West, and a dozen others, brave men and true,
accompanied their leader. Other brave men and true, scores and
hundreds, lay beneath the orange trees of Rivas and Granada and San
Jorge, and a score of hard-fought fields, who never again might follow
a filibuster's flag or awake to martial trump until that of Gabriel
sounds their _reveillé_.

Walker and sixteen of his officers were to go on board the _St.
Mary's_, thence to Panama, and home. It is a striking, and in its way,
an heroic picture, that of the filibuster chief parting from his wild,
wayward, but devoted comrades. First, he must say not adieu but _au
revoir_ to 250 privates and non-commissioned officers, escorted by a
United States lieutenant, who curses his job, to Virgin Bay, thence
homeward as circuitously as may be; also to the sad contingent of sick
and wounded, homeward bound by another course; finally, he gives a look
of pitying scorn upon a battalion of recreant deserters whom, for their
own safety, Captain Davis must despatch to the home which yearns not
for them, by yet another route.

So fared they forth from Rivas and on to their several fates; Walker
to gaze from the decks of the _St. Mary's_ at his beloved schooner
_Granada_, now captured by Davis, as promised, and turned over, as also
(privately) promised to the Costa Ricans, and commanded, not without
much pomp and glory, by a Jamaico negro - horribly satirical sequel to
that slavery decree which was to have regenerated Central America.
Commander Davis, most respectable of naval magnates, passed from Rivas
unto well-earned promotion, chiefly by dint of meritorious longevity,
and died, in the fulness of time, an admiral, having achieved nothing
more important in his long life than the forcible overthrow of the
filibuster chief.

The "Blue, White and Blue" has floated over Nicaraguan soil for the
last time, save that one brief moment when it shall flutter and fall
before the "Stars and Stripes" in the port of San Juan del Norte. So
many and such varying stories have been told of the number of men who
fought and died under its folds, that a summary of the actual force
which during twenty months held possession of a country may not be

It has been estimated by those who estimate by guess, that 5,000
Americans perished in Nicaragua - that is to say, five-sevenths as many
Americans as were killed and wounded in the Revolutionary War. It has
also been guessed that Walker had from 10,000 to 20,000 men at his
command. These guesses have been gravely crystallized into history,
where history has condescended to notice the subject at all. The actual
records of the adjutant-general, P. R. Thompson, show that exactly
2,843 men were enlisted in all the campaigns. In addition to these,
however, must be reckoned native volunteers, civilians who volunteered,
and others who were impressed for temporary service - whose combined
strength may have swelled the total to about 3,500.

Against them was arrayed a force, in all, of 21,000 Servile
Nicaraguans, Costa Ricans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and San Salvadorians,
with at least 10,000 Indian auxiliaries. The Allies admitted a loss of
15,000 in all the campaigns. One-third, perhaps, of the Americans died
in Nicaragua. I take the assertions of General Henningsen, in the
absence of any official figures. Some estimate of their deeds may be
gathered from the surgical report, which showed that the proportion of

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 12 of 17)