James Jeffrey Roche.

By-Ways of War online

. (page 6 of 17)
Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 6 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

It was burned three times between 1670 and 1680. Finally it was
abandoned for the new town, three miles inland.

Nicaragua, though liable to predatory forays, had not wealth enough to
tempt the buccaneers from richer prey. Cape Gracias a Dios, on its
north-eastern boundary, was a rendezvous of the freebooters; but the
Atlantic coast was even less inviting to the plunder-seekers than the
Pacific. The narratives of the buccaneers touch lightly on it. Its name
of the Mosquito Coast appears to have been well deserved. De Lussan
speaks with lively horror of the pestiferous little insect which "is
sooner felt than seen."

The buccaneers passed away, but left a legacy. Great Britain in 1742
laid claim to the Bay Islands, which had been captured by English
buccaneers just a century before. A war with Spain ensued, without
material gain to either party. By the treaty of 1763, England renounced
her claim on Central America, and evacuated all the disputed territory,
except the Island of Ruatan, on the Atlantic coast of Honduras, a
shirking of her obligations which awakened a renewal of hostilities. In
1780 Colonel Polson was sent to invade Nicaragua. Landing a force of
two hundred sailors and marines at San Juan del Norte, he ascended the
river in boats, carrying with little trouble the half-dozen fortified
positions on its banks. At the head of the river, where it receives the
waters of Lake Nicaragua, the expedition was confronted by the frowning
batteries of Fort San Carlos, then, as now, guarding the mouth of the

At this point in the narrative, history and tradition part company, the
former averring, upon historical and biographical English authority,
that Horatio Nelson, then a simple unknown captain commanding the naval
forces, reduced the fort, inflicted a severe chastisement upon the
enemy and returned victorious to his ships. Tradition tells a prettier

As the flotilla neared the shore in line of battle, the stillness was
unbroken, save by the plash of their oars and the music of the surf.
Not a soldier was visible on the ramparts, for the cowardly varlets of
the garrison, taking advantage of the Commandante's sickness, had fled
to the woods at the first sight of the enemy. The gallant hidalgo in
command was left without a single attendant, save his lovely daughter.
But she was a true soldier's child, with the spirit of a heroine. The
boats drew rapidly near the shore, their oars flashing in the morning
sun, the gunners awaiting with lighted matches the order to fire.
Nelson stood up to bid his men give way, and at the instant a flash was
seen in one of the embrasures of the fort; the next moment the roar of
a cannon broke the stillness of lake and forest. Immediately gun after
gun echoed the sound, but the first had done the work of an army, by
striking down Horatio Nelson. The boats pulled rapidly out of range and
down the river, beaten and discouraged. Nor did they escape heavier
losses; for the Spaniards so harassed and plagued them on the retreat
that, of the two hundred men who had started from San Juan, but ten
returned in safety. Nelson's wound cost him the loss of an eye; and he
who had never turned his back on a foe-man fled from the guns of San
Carlos, served by a girl of sixteen. It was the Commandante's daughter,
Donna Rafaela Mora, who had fired the battery and saved Nicaragua. The
heroine of Fort San Carlos was decorated by the King of Spain,
commissioned a colonel in the royal service, and pensioned for life.

Such is the tradition, accepted as authentic by the natives and
supported by the testimony of several trustworthy travellers. None of
Nelson's biographers make mention of the heroic maiden. According to
those historians, Nelson ascended the river as far as Fort San
Juan - probably Castillo Viejo - which he reduced after a somewhat
protracted siege and a heavy loss to his forces. They place the scene
of the accident by which he lost his eye at the siege of Calvi, in the
Island of Corsica. Yet Captain Bedford Pim, of the Royal Navy, in his
book of Nicaraguan travel, gives unquestioning credence to the legend
of the country; which has also been accepted by other English writers
who may be supposed to have a familiar acquaintance with the life of
Nelson. So firmly is it believed in Nicaragua that, upon the strength
of his inherited glory, General Martinez, a grandson of the heroine,
was chosen President of the state in 1857, although there was at the
time a regularly-elected President claiming and lawfully entitled to
the office - a fact which should suffice to silence the most captious
critic. In an iconoclastic age it were needless cruelty to rob the poor
Nicaraguan of the only bit of heroic history he possesses. Possibly
Nelson's biographers suppressed an incident which did not redound to
the glory of their hero; perchance, his Catholic Majesty was imposed
upon, or the tradition of the Maid of San Carlos may be but another
transplanted solar myth. _Quien sabe?_


British intrigues on the Isthmus - Morazan and the Confederacy - The
Mosquito Dynasty - Bombardment of San Juan - Castellon calls in the
foreigner - Doubleday and his free lances - Cole's contract approved by

So long as Central America remained a province of Spain, England's
policy was one of peaceful words and hostile deeds. Binding herself, by
treaty after treaty, to the renunciation of all claims upon the
country, she steadily maintained and extended her hold upon various
objective points - Ruatan, Belize, and the Bay Islands which command the
Gulf of Mexico, being her favourite spoils. Some equivocal clause in a
treaty, a frivolous pretence of avenging some imaginary dishonour, a
buccaneer's legacy, a negro king's grant, if no better offered, was put
forward as the excuse for armed occupation. Spain's ill-gotten
possessions were beginning to bear the usual fruit. At length, in 1821,
the colonies of the isthmus heard the cry of liberty from the North
echoed by a responsive one from the South. Spanish America shook the
chain fretted and worn in the friction of centuries, snapped the frail
links asunder, and stood up among the nations, free. But the iron had
done its work. The cramped limbs refused their offices; the eyes, wont
to peer half closed in dungeon light, blinked and were dazed in the
sudden noon of liberty. The body was that of a freeman, but the soul
was the soul of a slave. When liberty comes to a nation prematurely,
she must be born again in pain and travail ere the boon be valued by
its receiver.

A disunited union of a few years' duration, a travesty of power under
Iturbide's pasteboard crown, secession, reunion, discord,
revolution - the annals of Central America are the Newgate Calendar of
history. Yet, among the ignoble or infamous names of Central American
rulers, there is one worthy of a brighter page, as its owner was of a
better fate. Don Francisco Morazan, first president of the five united
states, hardly deserved the title given him of the "Washington of
Central America." He was an able, brave, and patriotic man, but cruel
and vindictive towards his opponents. He was chosen to the presidency
in 1831, and filled the office nine years; at the end of which time the
natives had grown heartily tired of the civilized innovations, which
were as unfitted to their inferior nature as the stiff garments of
fashion to their supple limbs. Morazan had neither the grace nor the
wisdom to accept philosophically the people's choice of a reactionary
demagogue who catered to their tastes, and so he began to intrigue
against the government of his successor, failing in which he was forced
to fly to South America. Two years afterwards he landed with only three
hundred followers in Costa Rica, and made himself master of the
capital. But the President of that state soon rallied a force of five
thousand and besieged the invader, who, after a gallant resistance of
two days, was compelled to surrender. He was tried and found guilty of
conspiring against the confederated states, and was put to death,
together with his chief adherents, on the 15th of September, 1842.
Guatemala ended the troublesome question of representative government
in 1851 by electing Carrera, a half-breed, to the office of president
for life.

The states of Central America, torn by internal strife, wasting their
scant resources in fruitless wars and sad faction fights, were fast
lapsing into a barbarism below that of Nicarao when he bowed to the
Spanish yoke. Untainted by foreign blood, the independent native tribes
proved themselves superior to the mongrel descendants of Cordova and
D'Avila. The Indians of Darien and the Rio Frio region and the
mountains of northern Costa Rica to this day preserve their freedom,
whilst Nicaragua and Costa Rica have been wrangling, year after year,
for the empty honour of being called their sovereign.

To this man-cursed land nature had given a noble heritage, coveted by
many a powerful nation, though none dared clutch it single-handed. It
is the lake, or inland sea, which covers five thousand square miles of
the state, elevated one hundred and seven feet above the mean
tide-level of the ocean, a natural reservoir, with an outlet ninety
miles long - the San Juan river. By making this outlet navigable for
large vessels, a comparatively easy work, and by cutting a canal
sixteen and one-third miles in length, across the neck of land lying
between the Lake and the Pacific Ocean, a highway could be opened to
the commerce of the world, whose benefits it would be hard to
over-estimate. It was a noble scheme, appealing to the enterprise of
the civilized world and to the enlightened statesmanship of men like
Bolivar and Morazan. Humboldt advocated it. Louis Napoleon beguiled his
prison hours at Ham by writing a pamphlet showing its feasibility and
need. As a commercial undertaking, its value was beyond question: the
eye of national aggrandizement saw in it even more alluring features.
The nation that should control that canal might be the dictator of
America. Such nation was not, and could not be, that which, like the
nerveless Ottoman, holds a point of vantage by the right of
geographical position and by that alone. The power which held the key
to the Mediterranean, and stood ready to seize the Isthmus of Suez,
looked wistfully towards Nicaragua. Many and plausible were the dormant
claims of England upon the territory of her weak enemy. For years she
had exercised a nominal protectorate over the eastern coast known as
the Mosquito kingdom.

The monarchs of Mosquito were ignorant negroes, ruling a scattered
tribe, the savage descendants of a slave cargo wrecked upon the coast
in the seventeenth century. They were appointed at various times by
British man-of-war captains, being installed or dethroned at the will
of their masters. Nicaragua, while never acknowledging this authority,
lacked power to assert her own over the comparatively worthless tracts
of her eastern coast, holding possession only of the river and town of
San Juan. In 1839, the reigning king of Mosquito, His Majesty Robert
Charles Frederick the First, cancelled a debt contracted for sundry
liquors and other royal supplies, by making a grant of territory
amounting to twenty-two and a half million acres or more. The grantees,
Peter and Samuel Shepard, transferred the grant to the Central American
Colonization Company, an American Association. This was the foundation
of what became afterwards known as the Kinney Expedition.

The royal line of Mosquito may be classed among the unfortunate
dynasties of the world. The first monarch, whose name is lost to
history, was killed in a drunken brawl; his half-brother and successor
was dethroned by a British captain, who placed a distant scion, George
Frederick by name, on the vacant throne. The reign of the latter was
short. His son, Robert Charles Frederick the First, was a merry
monarch, "scandalous and poor," who sold his birthright to the Shepards
for a mess of Jamaica rum and sundry pairs of cotton breeches. His son,
George William Clarence, was reigning in 1850.

The superior swiftness of American ships had enabled the United States
to forestall their English rivals in seizing California; whereupon the
latter took the bold step, in 1848, of occupying at the same time Tigre
Island, on the Pacific coast of the isthmus, and San Juan del Norte, on
the Atlantic, which latter place they christened Greytown, in honour of
a governor of Jamaica. England thus had the keys of the isthmus in her
hands; the canal, worthless without a safe entrance and exit, might
fall to the lot of him who chose the barren glory of building it. But,
strange to say, the United States possessed at that time a useful
diplomatic servant in their minister to Central America, the Honourable
E. G. Squier, one, moreover, whose claim to honour rests upon a broader
basis than the thankless triumphs of public service. He promptly
seconded the protest of Honduras against the utterly indefensible
robbery of her territory, Tigre Island. His government took up the
question, and the island was reluctantly given up.

At the same time, the United States formally protested against the
seizure of San Juan. Long and wordy negotiations ensued, ending in the
so-called Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. It was a practical victory for Great
Britain, as it entrapped the American Government into an obligation to
refrain from "ever holding any exclusive control over the said ship
canal, erecting or maintaining any fortifications commanding the same,
or in the vicinity thereof, occupying, fortifying, colonizing or
assuming or exercising any dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the
Mosquito Coast, or any part of Central America." Great Britain, with
apparent fairness, bound herself to equal neutrality. The difference
was that the United States promised to abstain from ever taking any
steps to control the only avenue then available between the Eastern and
the Western States of the Union, thus being placed upon the same
footing with distant European nations which could have no such vital
interests in the isthmus. Great Britain agreed to refrain from acts
which were not only dangerous and inexcusable, but of very doubtful
feasibility. Another difference: the United States kept the pledge;
Great Britain broke it within fourteen months. The treaty was signed by
both parties, and proclaimed on the 5th of July, 1850. In August of the
following year, Captain Jolly, of the Royal Navy, solemnly annexed the
island of Ruatan to the colony of Belize, which, notwithstanding the
treaty, had remained a nominal dependency of England. In July, 1852,
Augustus Frederick Gore, Colonial Secretary of Belize, proclaimed that
"Her Gracious Majesty, our Queen, has been pleased to constitute and
make the islands of Ruatan, Bonacca, Utilla, Barbarat, Helene, and
Morat to be a colony to be known and designated as the Colony of the
Bay Islands." It was the buccaneer's legacy _redivivus_.

Now, if ever, was a favourable time for the application of a theory set
forth by a President of the United States nearly thirty years before:
"That the American Continents, by the free and independent position
which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be
considered as subjects for future colonization by any European power."
So reads the extract from President Monroe's seventh annual message,
dated the 2nd December, 1823, and known as the "Monroe Doctrine." This
bold assumption of a protectorate over two continents was nothing more
than the expression of its author's private opinion, unsupported by
official action, either at home or abroad. But it fell like a bombshell
into the diplomatic circles of the world. It was criticized, derided,
repudiated by every nation of Europe; but it was secretly feared and
not openly disobeyed by any, even in the much-vexed discussion of the
Central American question. England carefully based her claim to the
coveted territory upon the alleged facts of long possession and
colonization. It is needless to say that the "Monroe Doctrine," even
had it been incorporated in the American constitution, could not have
been entertained for a moment in the high court of nations, save after
the manner that such doubtful claims are always conceded to the right
of might.

The British no longer claimed for themselves or their royal puppets of
Mosquito, authority over the port of San Juan. Nevertheless, the
traditional British man-of-war within a day's sail of anywhere
continued to haunt the Caribbean Sea. The Transit Company's steamers
sailed regularly between New York and San Juan. In May, 1854, a captain
of one of them shot a negro in the streets of San Juan, and fled from
arrest to the United States Consulate. The American minister, Borland,
refused to surrender the fugitive to the officers of justice. A mob
surrounded the consulate, and during the fray which ensued the minister
was hit on the cheek by a bottle thrown by some rioter. Consul Fabens,
then on board the steamer _Northern Light_, sent a boat ashore to take
off the minister and his criminal guest, Captain Smith. Before the
steamer sailed with the minister on board, a guard of fifty Americans
was armed and left behind to protect the Transit Company's property at
Puntas Arenas, a point of land opposite the town of San Juan. The boat
which carried Minister Borland to the steamer was fired upon by the
natives, but, as it appears, not with fatal results. Still the
indignity offered to the representative of a great nation must be
atoned for. The United States sloop-of-war _Cyane_ was sent out as
soon as the matter was reported at Washington. Her commander, Captain
Hollins, on arriving off the town, found the inevitable British
man-of-war lying between him and the shore. He promptly notified the
Nicaraguan authorities of his intention to bombard the town, which was
thereupon hastily evacuated. The captain of H.B.M. ship _Express_
refused to move out of range, until the guns of the _Cyane_ had been
trained to rake his decks, when he reluctantly dropped astern, after
protesting that the American superiority of armament alone saved the
dispute from being settled by the last argument of kings and captains.
The disparity is to be regretted, in view of the wearisome and vain
diplomacy afterwards spent upon a question which force alone, or the
show of it, could finally settle.

While the guns of the _Cyane_ were squandering powder on the frail
huts of San Juan in lieu of a worthier target, Nicaragua was too deeply
engrossed in her usual internecine strife to resent the outrage from
abroad. Don Fruto Chamorro, who succeeded Pineda as president in 1851,
found himself towards the close of his term, ambitious of another lease
of power. Chamorro was the leader of the Legitimist, or Servile party,
as it was called; Don Francisco Castellon was the choice of the Liberal
or Democratic party. At the biennial election in 1853, both parties
claimed the victory, and, as is usual in such disputes, possession was
the strongest point of law. Chamorro proclaimed himself duly elected,
and was installed in office at Granada, the chief city of the Servile
faction. Leon, the larger and more prosperous city, favoured the cause
of Castellon, whereupon Chamorro promptly arrested his rival with
several of his adherents, and banished them from the country. They took
refuge in Honduras, whose president, Cabañas, received them hospitably.
Chamorro, to make his position more secure, had himself, on April 30,
1854, proclaimed president for two terms or four years. A usurpation so
bold was calculated to defeat its own object.

Castellon landed at Realejo within a week after its declaration, with
only thirty-six followers. The Leonese rallied to his support, and
drove Chamorro out of the department and into the Servile stronghold,
the city of Granada. Soon after they obtained control of the lake and
river and laid siege to Granada. The siege lasted nine months without
material advantage on either side. Castellon was proclaimed Provisional
Director by his party. Chamorro dying on the 12th of March, 1855, was
succeeded by Senator Don Jose Maria Estrada, a weak substitute for his
brave, popular, and ambitious predecessor. Each party had now a _de
facto_ president. General Jose Trinidad Munoz, a veteran of Santa
Ana's, and like that luckless hero, fully impressed with the delusion
that he was a physical and mental counterpart of the great Napoleon,
commanded the army of Castellon. The Serviles were headed by Don
Ponciano Corral, a clever, unscrupulous man, who relied upon the
military assistance of adjacent states to strengthen the arms of his

Such was the state of affairs in Nicaragua in August, 1854, when an
American, named Byron Cole, presented himself before Castellon with a
novel offer. Cole, who had been formerly a Boston editor, was
proprietor of the newspaper which we left under the editorial
management of the late President of Sonora. His faith in the military
genius of his editor was in nowise abated by the disastrous end of the
Sonora expedition. Arriving in the camp of the Democrats when their
earlier conquests were gradually slipping from their hands, and the
long siege of Granada had been raised in despair, Cole's offer of aid
was eagerly embraced by Castellon and his party.

They had already known and rated the value of the American rifleman as
an auxiliary. At an early period of the civil war, an adventurous
California pioneer, named C. W. Doubleday, found himself at the port of
San Juan del Sur, the Pacific terminus of the Transit. He was
homeward-bound after years of absence, but being thrown into the
society of some Democratic leaders, he did not require much persuasion
before deciding to abandon his cabin passage, already paid to New York,
and become an apostle of Democratic principles among his fellow
passengers. He worked with such good effect that thirty of them
volunteered under his lead and marched to the aid of the army investing
Granada. They were reckless fighters, who looked upon Central American
warfare as holiday pastime. Nevertheless, although reinforced from time
to time by occasional American recruits, who had drifted into the
country on their way to or from California, ere the siege was raised
they had been reduced by war and disease to the number of four.
Doubleday then organized from the flower of the native army a corps of
sharpshooters with whom he covered the retreat to Leon, losing nearly
all his company, but impressing the native soldiery with a favourable
opinion of the Americans as bold and reckless fighters.

Cole's plan to bring in a formidable American contingent to aid the
Democratic cause, came at a time when foreign help was doubly welcome.
Castellon's Honduran allies had been abruptly recalled to meet an
invasion of their own country by Guatemala. The Serviles, now in
possession of lake and river, were slowly but surely advancing on Leon.
The strength which the Leonese might have received from the Democratic
states adjoining was needed by these at home to protect themselves
against their aristocratic enemies, and against the alert, wily
intrigues of European agents.

Therefore, in October, 1854, Byron Cole made a contract with the
government of Castellon to supply to the Democratic army three hundred
American "colonists liable to military duty." The settlers should be
entitled to a grant of 52,000 acres of land, and should have the
privilege of becoming citizens upon a formal declaration of that
intention. Cole took his contract and sailed for California to receive
his chief's ratification.


Purchase of the _Vesta_ - May 4th, 1855, sailing of the "Immortal
Fifty-six" - The American Phalanx - First battle of Rivas - Punishing a
desperado - Trouble in Castellon's Cabinet - Battle at Virgin Bay - Death
of Castellon.

Walker submitted the contract, worded with legal precision, to the
civil and military authorities at San Francisco, and was gratified to
learn that it in nowise threatened to violate the neutrality laws of
the country. General Wool, to whom Walker had surrendered on his return
from Sonora, professed himself satisfied; the district attorney of the
United States found no flaw; but everybody in San Francisco knew that
Walker was about to colonize Nicaragua with filibusters, and smiled at
the peaceful fiction. The legal difficulties overcome, there remained
the graver question of funds. To add to his embarrassments, Walker fell
sick. It was late in April before he had succeeded in getting the few
thousand dollars needed to charter and fit out a vessel. Meanwhile

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 6 of 17)