James Jeffrey Roche.

By-Ways of War online

. (page 15 of 17)
Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 15 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

dead; whereupon a fourth soldier advanced, and placing the muzzle of
his piece at the forehead of the victim, blew out his brains. The
authorities refused to bury the body, and it was deposited in the Campo
Santo by some pitying Americans and other foreigners. And so ended the
last of the filibusters!


Character of Walker - A private's devotion - Anecdote - After fate of
the filibusters - Henningsen's epitaph - Last Cuban expedition - The
_Virginius_ tragedy - An Englishman to the rescue - Finis.

As Walker was the last, so he was the greatest of American filibusters.
He was not a great man, nor by any means a good one; but he was the
greatest and the best of his class. His fault was ambition. It was a
fault with him because it was a failure. From such a verdict there is
no appeal. No apology can be offered for ambition ungratified; and
successful ambition needs none. But the world's estimate of his
personal character and actions has been needlessly severe. He was not
the insatiable monster of cruelty that his enemies have painted. He was
a man of deep, if narrow, learning, fertile resources, and grand
audacity. He was calm and temperate in words and actions, and
mercilessly just in exacting obedience from the turbulent spirits who
linked their fortunes with his. He lacked worldly wisdom; nothing could
induce him to forego the least of his rights to gain a greater ultimate
advantage. He would maintain the dignity of his office, though it cost
him the office itself. The lawyer belittled the lawgiver in his attempt
virtually to confiscate the lands of Nicaragua by the help of an
unworthy legal device; while his design for the restoration of slavery
was as impolitic as it was futile, unjust, and barbarous. The action
was, doubtless, the result of an honest belief in that "divine
institution," as well as of a desire to show his sympathy with his
devoted friends in the United States; but the effect was only to put
another weapon into the hands of his foreign enemies, without
materially strengthening him at home. It was a defiance to his powerful
British opponents, and a wanton outrage upon the free states of Central
America, alienating the sympathies of all who hoped from the evil of
conquest to extract the good of civilization. Judged, as he wished to
be judged, by his public policy, Walker was unequal to the office of a
Liberator. It would be unfair to criticize the domestic administration
of one who held his office by the sword, yet it is true that he
preserved order and enforced justice with more success than any ruler
of Nicaragua who has filled the position since the independence of the
country. Doctor Scherzer, the intelligent German traveller, writing at
a time when Walker's success seemed assured, heartily rejoices in the
new and grand career opening before Central America. He warmly commends
Walker's administration of justice, without palliating his errors, and
sees "the morning star of civilization rising in the Tropic sky."

Walker was humane in war, and allowed retaliatory measures to be
taken against the Costa Ricans only after the latter had shamelessly
abused his lenity by repeated massacres of defenceless prisoners and
non-combatants. The tales of his cruelty to his men have uniformly
proceeded from the lips of worthless and disgraced adventurers,
who were mainly deserters. Had he been the cold and haughty tyrant
painted by his enemies, the infatuated devotion of his followers is
unaccountable by any human rule. Neither ambition nor recklessness
can explain the conduct of men who followed him through life, with
unswerving loyalty. "Private Charles Brogan" is recorded among the
surrendering men at the end of the Sonora campaign. As "Private Brogan"
his name figures among the _Vesta's_ passengers. So again, it appears
on the army register and in the lists of wounded, all through the
Nicaraguan campaign. Yet again, in 1857, when the second descent on
Nicaragua ended ingloriously at San Juan del Norte, "Private Charles
Brogan" heads the list of captured rank and file. Did he see his chief
perish bravely at Trujillo? or had he himself gone before and escaped
the tragic sight? This chronicler knows not, and history, alas! has
forgotten greater men than the poor follower of the half-forgotten
filibuster. All honour here to thee, Private Charles Brogan, whom no
vision of fame or fortune tempted to serve so loyally and long the
ill-starred chieftain of a contraband cause!

The truth is, Walker's attitude towards his officers of high rank was
one of studied formality, which the necessities of his position made
imperative. Familiarity in his intercourse with such volunteers would
have been death to discipline. But towards his humbler followers he
showed the kindness and consideration of a friend, and won their
respect by sharing their dangers. "I have known him," says Henningsen,
"to get up from a sick bed, ride forty miles to fight the Costa Ricans,
whipping soundly a force of thrice his numbers, and then, after giving
his horse to a wounded soldier, tramp back his forty miles, without, as
the boys used to say, 'taking the starch out of his shirt collar.'" The
men who did their duty spoke well of him always; but it was, of
necessity, the knaves and cowards, mainly, who survived such bloody
campaigns, and returned to defame their comrades. Few even of these
accused him of selfishness, save in his ambition. For money he cared
nothing; and the soldiers of fortune complained of hard fighting and no

He had a certain grim sense of humour, which finds occasional
expression in the pages of his book. Of Guardiola's attempt to fire
the hearts of his men by plying them with _aguardiente_ before an
engagement, in which they were ignominiously routed, he says: "The
empty demijohns which were picked up on the road after the action
looked like huge cannon-balls that had missed their mark." There is
wisdom as well as humour in his remark, that "the best manner of
treating a revolutionary movement in Central America is to treat it as
a boil; let it come to a head, and then lance it, letting all the bad
matter out at once." The pompous pretence of his native friends and
enemies amused the shrewd judge of men, who possessed a happy knack of
epitomizing a character in a single phrase, as when he calls the
native custom of indiscriminate conscription, "an inveterate habit of
catching a man and tying him up with a musket in his hand, to make a
soldier of him." Kinney "had acquired that sort of knowledge and
experience of human nature to be derived from the exercise of the mule
trade." He mentions his enemy Marcy only with a contemptuous allusion
to the blunder of that statesman in referring to Nicaragua as a
country of South America, and dismisses Mora from his notice with the
qualified clemency: "Let us pass Mora in exile, as Ugolino in hell,
afar off and with silence."

His sense of the ridiculous was too keen to allow him ever to depart
from the rigid simplicity of manner and dress which was in such
striking contrast with the gaudy attire and pompous demeanour of his
native friends. His uniform consisted of a blue coat, dark pantaloons,
and black felt hat with the red ribbon of the Democratic army; his
weapons were a sword and pistols buckled in his belt, and these he
carried only in battle, where they were rather for use than ornament.

His character is in many respects like that of Cortez. Both were
unlicensed conquerors; both were served by volunteers; served well by
the faithful and brave, and obeyed through fear by the knavish and
cowardly. Bodily fatigue or danger had no terrors for either, nor were
they chary of demanding equal courage and endurance from their
followers. Cortez triumphed over his enemies in the field; but barely
succeeded in defeating the machinations of his foes in the Spanish
Cabinet. Had Walker been a Conquistador he would have conquered Mexico
as Cortez did. Had Cortez been a Californian filibuster he might have
conquered Nicaragua, but he would assuredly have succumbed to Marcy and

Unquestionably Walker was carried away by his firm belief in his
destiny. He never doubted, until he felt the manacles on his wrists at
Trujillo, that he was destined to play the part of a Cortez in Central
America. He had risked death a hundred times in battle and skirmish
without fear or doubt. Possibly he welcomed it, when at last it came,
and was sincere in hoping that it might be for the good of society.

So died, in his thirty-seventh year, the man whose fame had filled two
continents, who had more than once imperilled the peace of the world
which remembers him only in the distorted and false character of a
monster and an outlaw. The country which gave him birth, and little
besides, save injustice, forgot amid the bloody conflict into which it
was soon plunged, the fame and fate of the filibusters. Into the vortex
of civil war were swept many of the restless spirits who had survived
the sanguinary fields of Central America, and in it perished some of
the bravest and ablest who had learned their first lesson in that stern

As most of them were of Southern birth, so they generally joined the
ranks of the Confederacy. At the first call to arms, Henningsen offered
his services to the seceding states, and was given a regiment in Wise's
Legion of Northern Virginia. Frank Anderson went with him as
lieutenant-colonel, and did good service for the lost cause. He was one
of Walker's oldest veterans, having served in both the expeditions to
Nicaragua. At the first battle of Rivas he was wounded three times, and
left on the field for dead, but managed to drag himself into hiding
before his comrades were all massacred, and so escaped to rejoin his

Henningsen served throughout the war; but, in spite of his experience
on many fields, and the marked ability with which he filled his
subordinate position, he never rose to distinction in the Confederacy.
He was a natural leader in irregular warfare, as might have been
expected of a pupil in the schools of Zumalacarregui, Schamyl, and
Walker; and the scientific campaigning of the Peninsula gave no scope
for his talents. But he had espoused the cause with honest convictions
of its justice, and he supported it faithfully to the end. When that
end and ruin came he returned to private life, a man without a career,
and lived quietly and unobtrusively until his death in June, 1877. In
his later years he was a devoted adherent of the patriots who were
waging a fruitless war for freedom in Cuba. Once he visited the island
in connection with a projected uprising, but saw no promise of success
in the attempt. His death was sudden. He had been ill but a few days; a
faithful friend, Colonel Gregg, a soldier who had fought against him in
the Civil War, watched by his bedside. The sick man slept, while the
tireless brain dreamed, what dreams who can say? of the chequered
career about to close forever. Suddenly his eyes opened, and in them
was something of the old fire, as he half sat up in his bed, and
pointing to a print on the wall of the arms of "Cuba Libre," said,
"Colonel, we'll free Cuba yet!" The ruling passion found voice in his
last words - the next instant he fell back dead.

Henningsen was considered to have been the military genius of the
Nicaraguan campaign by the detractors of Walker, who could not deny the
wonderful success of the latter. But Henningsen himself always
repudiated the undeserved fame, and was foremost in awarding to his
chieftain whatever of glory was won in that profitless field. He died
as he had lived, a true, simple-hearted gentleman, a knight-errant born
centuries too late. Colonel John T. Pickett, a kindly philosopher, and
one who in his heyday followed a filibuster's luckless banner, has
engraved upon the tomb of Henningsen the apt motto from Gil Blas:
"_Inveni portum. Spes et fortuna valete! Sat me lusistis.... Ludite
nunc alios._"

The filibusters whom the winds had blown from every quarter of the
earth to the sunny vales of Nicaragua were drifted back, when the storm
had broken and spent its fury, to the world of peace and prose. A few
only of the worthier survive to recall that strange page in life's
romance. Rudler, who was with his leader in all his campaigns, and who
was sentenced to four years' imprisonment after the surrender in
Honduras, returned to share the fortunes of the seceding South, as did
also Wheat, Hicks, Fayssoux, Hornsby, and many others. In the
vicissitudes of American life a few, like Doubleday and Kewen, even
achieved wealth, which is perhaps as strange a climax to the career of
a filibuster as any that could be conceived. The two O'Neils were men
of invincible courage. Both died in battle, Cal, the younger, at the
age of twenty-one, after making a reputation for heroism that was
marked even among that valiant group. Reluctantly we part with the wild
band, Homeric heroes in more features than one; with Henry and Swingle,
the inventive gunners, Von Natzmer, the Prussian hussar, Pineda, the
great-hearted native of an unworthy country, Hornsby, Rawle, Watters,
and the Fifty-six who were "Immortal" for a day.

That most entertaining cosmopolitan, Laurence Oliphant, came very near
adding the distinction of being a filibuster to his other experiences.
He did, in fact, join an expedition which set out from New Orleans in
December, 1856, for San Juan del Norte, with the intention of
reinforcing Walker at Rivas. But the good steamer _Texas_ reached
her destination too late, Spencer and his Costa Ricans having closed
the Transit. Among the adventurous spirits in the company was one who
had taken part in the last ill-fated expedition of Lopez to Cuba, and
spent a year and a half in a Spanish dungeon. "The story of his escape
from a more serious fate," says Oliphant, "was characteristic of many
other stirring narratives of a similar description, with which on
moonlight nights we used to beguile the evening hours." He had served as
an officer on General Lopez's staff during one of the expeditions to
Cuba. When that officer, together with many of the more prominent
members of the expedition, after a desperate resistance, was captured
by the Spanish troops, my friend, who was one of the number, found
himself with many of his countrymen thrown into the Havanna jail, and
informed that he was to prepare for his execution on the following day.
As an act of grace, however, permission was given to all the captives
to indite a farewell letter to their friends, informing them of their
approaching execution. Most of his fellow-victims could think of some
one belonging to them to whom such a piece of information might prove
interesting; but the poor captain racked in vain the chambers of his
memory for a solitary individual to whom he could impart the melancholy
tidings without feeling that his communication would be what in polite
society would be called an 'unwarrantable intrusion of his personal
affairs upon a comparative stranger.' He could think of nobody that
cared about him; revolving this forlorn state of matters in his mind,
ashamed to form the only exception to the general scribbling that was
taking place, he determined to choose a friend, and then it flashed
upon him, that as all the letters would probably be opened, he had
better choose a good one. Under his present circumstances, who more
appropriate than the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at
Washington, then Daniel Webster? Not only should he make a friend of
him, but an intimate friend, and then the Spanish Governor might shoot
him if he chose, and take the risk. He accordingly commenced:

"Dan, my dear old boy, how little you thought when we parted at the
close of that last agreeable visit of a week, which I paid you the
other day, that within a month I should be "cribbed, cabined, and
confined" in the infernal hole of a dungeon from which I indite this. I
wish you would send the Spanish minister a case of that very old
Madeira of yours, which he professes to prefer to the wines of his own
country, and tell him the silly scrape I have got myself into, if
indeed it be not too late, for they talk of sending me to "the bourne"
to-morrow. However, one never can believe a word these rascals say, so
I write this in the hope that they are lying as usual, - and am, my dear
old school-mate, your affectionate friend, - - .' For once the absence
of friends proved a real blessing. Had the captain been occupied by
domestic considerations, he never would have invented so valuable an
ally as was thus extemporised, and he was rewarded for his shrewd
device on the following morning, by finding himself the only solitary
individual of all the party allowed to 'stand over.' In a couple of
hours Lopez and his companions had gone to the bourne, to which our
captain so feelingly alluded; and when, at last, the trick was
discovered, the crisis was past, and the Spanish Government finally
condemned him to two years' confinement in chains in the dungeon at
Ceuta, which was afterwards commuted to eighteen months. He had just
returned from this dismal abode in time once more to gratify the
adventurous propensities which had already so nearly cost him his life;
and it is due to him to say, that even the daring and reckless spirits
by whom he was surrounded, agreed in saying that he placed an unusually
low estimate on that valuable possession."

There is little to add to the history of filibusterism, which may be
ranked among the dead industries or the lost arts, just as one chooses
to regard it. Contrary to the predictions of the prophets, the
disbandment of a million of men at the end of the American Civil War
was effected without trouble. The European Powers breathed more freely
when it was accomplished, satisfied that the aggressive "Yankee" was
not so grasping as he had been painted. Maximilian of Mexico slept
peacefully, and his late unruly subjects renewed their fraternal
quarrels, undisturbed by interference from abroad, and finally settled
into uninteresting peace and prosperity. Filibusterism died because, in
sooth, it had no longer a reason for being. To "extend the area" of an
abolished slavery were as paradoxical as Quixotic. Nevertheless, the
peculiar institution chanced to prove the cause of yet one final,
fallacious, and ghastly episode.

Cuba, once coveted as an ally by the slaveholders of the United States,
was now the only spot on the civilized globe afflicted with the
barbarous stain. The "ever-faithful isle" was trebly cursed with
slavery, foreign rule, and martial law. Like a spendthrift come to his
last penny, Spain, having squandered a continent, clung with tenacity
to its remaining possession in the Western world. Thrones were set up
and knocked down at home, republics were born and strangled, but no
change for the better was ever felt in the wretched colony. Rather, it
suffered from every change, since each involved a change of masters.
Hungry, avaricious masters they were, spurred on by the uncertain
tenure of their office, to reap as rich plunder as might be got out of
the hapless colony, ere a new turn of the cards at home should force
them to make room for other needy patriots. The power of the
Captain-General is almost absolute at the best of times. In such times
as those it is well-nigh omnipotent. The colony was denied
representation in the Cortes, while taxed beyond endurance to support
the government, and robbed by an army of officials appointed to rule
over her without her consent or choice.

Cuba at last rebelled. The planters who found themselves robbed of the
fruits of their industry as fast as they were gathered, and who saw the
system of slavery develop into the most intolerable of all wrongs, the
wrong unprofitable, at last determined to strike for their liberty.
They freed and armed their slaves. They burned their plantations, and
in September, 1868, hoisted the lone star flag in the mountains and
bade defiance to the Spaniard. The leading insurgents were all men of
wealth and influence, while their followers were necessarily ignorant
and undisciplined. But success meant freedom to both classes; and they
threw themselves into the unequal struggle with sublime desperation.
All, or mostly all, of the leaders perished during the long and bloody
contest, which ended only after it had lasted eight years, at a cost to
Spain of two hundred thousand lives and over seven hundred million
dollars. The figures are those of Governor-General Don Joaquin

The Junta of Cuban patriots in New York sent out several cargoes of war
material, and enlisted many American adventurers; but no regular
expedition was at any time organized. Among those who participated in
the guerilla conflict were Domingo de Goicouria, once Minister of
Hacienda in Nicaragua, and Colonel Jack Allen, also not unknown to
filibuster fame.

The culminating tragedy came to pass in October, 1873. On the 23rd of
that month, the steamer _Virginius_, a former blockade-runner, cleared
from Kingston, Jamaica, for Port Limon, Costa Rica, with passengers to
the number of a hundred or more. Her true destination was the island of
Cuba, her mission the transportation of arms and filibusters. Among the
passengers were the patriot leaders, Cespedes, Ryan, Varona, and Del
Sol. The steamer touched at Port au Prince, received her cargo of arms,
ammunition, medicines, and equipments, and made sail for Cuba. She was
seen and chased by the Spanish gunboat _Tornado_, which, by a curious
coincidence, was also a former blockade-runner and a sister ship of the
_Virginius_ - a favoured sister, since she speedily overhauled and
captured her prey.

The _Virginius_, though flying the American flag on the high seas,
was made a prize and carried into the port of Santiago de Cuba. Captain
Fry, her commander, an American citizen and former officer in the
United States and Confederate navies, protested in vain against the
outrage. He was denied communication with his consul, and thrown into
prison, with all his passengers and crew. The four insurgent leaders
were first tried by summary court martial on board of the _Tornado_,
before General Buriel, Governor of the province, and sentenced to
death. The sentence was promptly executed, at sunrise on the 4th of
November, five days after the capture, before the walls of the
Slaughter House, infamous in the annals of Cuba for over thirty years.
It lies in the suburbs, about half a mile from the main wharf and on
the edge of a swampy tract, beyond which are the sluggish waters of the
bay and the blue, barren mountains, dark, desolate and forbidding. Some
squalid huts are scattered along the sides of the road. The vegetation
is scanty and the stunted palm trees are few and far between. The four
walls of the Slaughter House grounds are each about 400 feet long and
twelve or thirteen feet high, built of brick covered with stucco. The
front gate is a rather pretentious work with ornamental pillars and
strong iron pickets. Between it and the extreme left, as you face the
structure, is the place set apart for executions. It bears to-day this
inscription, surmounted by the Lone Star and two crossed palm-branches,
with, on one side, "1868," and on the other, "1898":

_Tu que paseas descubrete; este lugar es tierra con segrada.
Durante treinte años benedicida ha sido con sangre de Patriotas
immolados por la tirania._

"Thou who passest by, uncover; this spot is consecrated ground.
During thirty years it has been hallowed with the blood of Patriots
immolated by tyranny."

Ryan and Varona refused to kneel, and were shot as they stood. The
heads of the four were cut off and carried on pikes through the city
and before the windows of the prison, where their comrades lay awaiting
a similar fate. Cespedes was the son of a patriot who had died for Cuba
Libre. Varona, a chivalrous commander, had given freedom to fifteen
Spanish officers captured in battle, and those fifteen, to their credit
be it said, pleaded, though in vain, for clemency to him when he fell
into the hands of Buriel. Del Sol was a brave young man with a wife and
children. Ryan, Canadian born, was a daring adventurer. He had saved
eight persons from drowning, a short time before, and leaped into the
sea and saved one more on the day of the ship's departure. Santa Rosa,
who was shot with the next batch of victims, had fought beside Lopez in
1851 and was one of the thirteen who raised the banner of revolt in
1868. He was imprisoned but escaped to renew the struggle, and died at
last, after twenty years of strenuous endeavor for the freedom of his

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17

Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 15 of 17)