James Jeffrey Roche.

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men, and prepared to march on Guanacaste. A counter declaration of war
was immediately issued by President Rivas. Walker, as general-in-chief,
summoned his men to meet him on the plaza of Granada, and, having had
the proclamation of hostilities read to them, made a stirring address,
concluding with a peroration well suited to his hearers: "We have sent
them the olive branch; they have sent us back the knife. Be it so. We
shall give them war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt."

Unfortunately the officer chosen to lead the advance on Costa Rica
proved to be a knife more dangerous to the hand which held than to the
breast before it. Colonel Louis Schlessinger was given the command,
partly by way of compensation for the ill-treatment which he had
received from the Costa Ricans when he went thither as one of the peace
commissioners. Another of the commissioners named Arguello had deserted
to the enemy. The third, Captain W. A. Sutter, son of the famous
discoverer of gold in California, alone showed himself possessed of
ability and honesty. Walker was not happy in his choice of civil
officers, but it must be remembered that the supply of such material
was limited. Heaven-inspired statesmen do not flock to the support of a
cause so dangerous and unpromising as his.

If Schlessinger was a poor diplomat, he was a worse soldier. Starting
with a force of two hundred men, he crossed the border of Guanacaste on
the 19th of March. Five companies, of forty men each, had been divided,
according to their nationalities or origin, into a French company,
under Captain Legaye, a German under Prange, a New Orleans under
Thorpe, a New York under Creighton, and a Californian under Rudler. The
American companies comprised men of every English-speaking nation,
"blown from the four parts of the earth." This division, which a
skilful commander might have turned to account by exciting a generous
rivalry, was but a source of weakness in the hands of the incapable
Schlessinger, himself a foreigner and little popular with his men.

Their first and only engagement occurred at the Hacienda of Santa Rosa,
twelve miles within the boundary of Guanacaste. Schlessinger allowed
himself to be surprised, the enemy under a skilful officer, the
Prussian Baron von Bulow, attacking him with a force of five hundred
regulars, and winning an easy victory. Schlessinger did not even make a
show of resistance, but ran away at the first shot, followed by the
German and French companies. Captain Rudler and Major O'Neill made a
brave stand with the New York and California companies, until some
fifty of their command were killed, when the survivors made the best of
their way off the field and across the border. Only a poor drummer-boy
remained beating his drum with childish glee until shot down at his
post. The wounded and the prisoners were all put to death by order of
President Mora, who had proclaimed no quarter to every filibuster taken
in arms. So ended the battle of Santa Rosa, on the 20th of March.

Schlessinger was court-martialed on his return, found guilty of
cowardice, and sentenced to death, but he escaped punishment by
breaking his parole during the trial and fleeing to Costa Rica. More
than twenty years afterwards he reappears in the courts of that
country, claiming reward for the service rendered the state on the
occasion just narrated.

The heterogeneous character of the filibusters, even at this early
date, may be seen from a list of the prisoners butchered after the
battle of Santa Rosa, of whom six were natives of the United States,
three of Ireland, three of Germany, one of Italy, one of Corfu, one of
Samos, one of France, two of Prussia, and one of Panama.

So unexpected was the rout that the victors, fearing a ruse, did not
pursue their advantage. The demoralized fugitives returned in
straggling parties, some without arms, some in rags, and all
crest-fallen and disgraced. To cover their shame they exaggerated the
numbers and prowess of the enemy, who, indeed, had behaved with great
skill and courage, proving a formidable foe when well led.

For some days a panic prevailed in the Democratic headquarters. Matters
were in a critical condition. The Legitimists in the State, always
secretly disaffected, hastened to spread the news of the defeat among
their friends in the North. Honduras and the neighbouring republics
grew firmer in their refusal to recognize the Rivas Government, and
Guardiola began to mass his savage troops on the border of Leon. The
demoralization spread among the Americans themselves. Faint-hearted
officers, erstwhile thirsting for glory, suddenly began to long for a
return home, and to send in applications for furlough. Walker lay
tossing on a bed of fever, the while his enemies conspired against him
and fair-weather friends deserted him. But he had many a stout heart
among his trusty veterans, men who welcomed danger as a gambler courts
his risks, and who bade good-bye to their shrinking comrades with a
fine scorn worthy of Pizarro's old lieutenant, Carvajal, who sang:

"The wind blows the hairs off my head, mother -
Two by two it blows them away."

Another misfortune at this moment overtook the adventurers. The
steamers of the Transit Company were suddenly withdrawn, and all
communication with California was suspended. Though it stopped
desertion, this isolation also cut off the coming of recruits. This
action of the company was the result of a misunderstanding of long
date. By the terms of its charter it was bound to pay to the Government
of Nicaragua ten thousand dollars annually, and ten per cent. of its
net profits. The company claimed, and the Government denied, that the
ten thousand dollars had been paid with some regularity; but by a
process of book-keeping, well known to financiers, the accounts never
showed a balance of net profit upon which to levy the additional tithe.
Against this deception the weak and ephemeral administrations of
Nicaragua had at times feebly protested. The agents of the company
bullied, deceived, or bribed them into silence, and went on reaping a
golden harvest, until the installation of the Rivas administration.
Cornelius Vanderbilt was then managing the company's affairs in New
York, while its Western business was conducted by Morgan and Garrison
at San Francisco. Vanderbilt, a man of boundless ambition and no weak
scruples, soon made himself master of the company's resources.
Nicaragua had never challenged the Wall Street autocrat until Walker
took the country's affairs in hand. One of his first steps was the
appointment of a commission to examine the Transit Company's books. The
commission reported that the Government had been defrauded flagrantly
and systematically for years, and that a balance, amounting to over
$250,000 was lawfully due to it. Vanderbilt peremptorily declined
either to acknowledge or liquidate the debt, repeating the vague
threats with which he had been used to awe the little officials of
former days.

Thereupon the ex-lawyer of California simply directed the authorities
to seize the company's property as security, revoking at the same time
the old charter and granting a new one to Messrs. Randolph and
Crittenden. This occurred on the 18th of February. The last act of the
old company had been the transportation of two hundred and fifty
recruits from San Francisco, the draft for whose passage money was paid
by Vanderbilt, some days afterwards, while he was yet ignorant of the
sequestration of his property. The Wall Street dictator was very angry,
but bided his time and quietly despatched a draft for a much larger
sum, payable to the order of Juan Rafael Mora, President of Costa Rica.
He then made a formal protest and appeal to Secretary Marcy, invoking
the help of the United States. Marcy, however, was too old a politician
to identify himself openly with the unsavoury interests of the Transit
Company, a corporation whose history is summed up by Minister Squier,
as "an infamous career of deception and fraud." He quieted his friend
Vanderbilt with promises which were only too well kept. The vengeance
of the money king was not contented with abetting Walker's enemies.
Nothing short of the filibuster's ruin would suffice to soothe the
wounded pride of Vanderbilt. The man of millions was no mean power in
affairs commercial and political at home. When he undertook to use his
resources against an almost penniless adventurer abroad, the might of
money proved to be all but omnipotent.

In December Kewen was sent to California to dispose of a million
dollars' worth of the bonds of the State of Nicaragua. He was
instructed to sell no bonds below a minimum of ninety per cent. of the
face value, and it does not appear that he did dispose of any below
that price - few, indeed, at or above it.

Another feature of a stable government appeared about this time. In
the early Spanish invasions the outward adjuncts of religion always
followed in the wake of the army. It was in keeping with the changed
condition of affairs that the printing-press should accompany the
filibuster. Two newspapers were already in full play in Nicaragua, _El
Nicaraguense_, of Granada, and the _Herald_, of Masaya. The editors and
printers of Nicaragua were not strictly men of peace, but were wont,
when occasion served, to exchange the pen for the sword. On this
account their war despatches ought to have been most authentic, being
commonly written and published on the field. John Tabor, the editor and
proprietor of _El Nicaraguense_, was twice wounded in the pursuit of
his novel duties, but lived to accompany Walker on his second invasion,
in 1857, when, alas! his ready press was not called upon to chronicle
any glorious victories.


The Costa Ricans invade Nicaragua - Second battle of Rivas - The enemy
meet a new foe - Rivas orders an election - Walker a candidate - Treason
of Rivas - Murder of Estrada - Coalition of the Northern States against
Nicaragua - Walker chosen President - Inauguration and recognition by the
United States minister - Tradition of the "Gray-eyed Man."

Walker was less concerned about his enemies in the United States than
those nearer home, though he never committed the mistake of
undervaluing a dangerous foe or the weakness of forgiving him. Three
thousand Costa Ricans had crossed the border and overrun the southern
part of Rivas. It was no time for fever of body or mind. Walker arose
from his bed and summoned his forces to strike a vigorous blow for his
rights. Rivas, the President, was at Leon, watching and waiting; he had
placed the southern departments under martial law, and given absolute
power to the commander-in-chief. Walker no longer opposed the enemy's
march on Rivas, as his object in holding the Transit had been lost with
the withdrawal of the steamers. All the American troops at Rivas and
Virgin Bay were accordingly removed to Granada, with the ostensible
purpose of retreating at once to Leon. When the enemy entered Virgin
Bay they found there only the native inhabitants and a few foreign
_employés_ of the Transit Company. Without a word of warning, they
opened fire on the latter, killing some nine or ten unarmed servants of
Mr. Vanderbilt, and with a zeal for which that gentleman would have
been far from grateful, burned all of the company's property in wharves
and warehouses which they could find. After completing the work of
destruction, they marched to Rivas, where President Mora took up his
abode and cautiously awaited the movements of Walker. The latter kept
his counsel so well that no one knew whether he intended retreating to
Leon or abandoning the country entirely. The latter course seemed the
more probable, as the lake steamer, _San Carlos_, had been for some
days engaged in carrying men and munition across the lake and down the
river to Forts San Carlos and Castillo Viejo. A side light was thrown
on these movements, when Lieutenant Green, with only fifteen men,
surprised a Costa Rica force of two hundred at the mouth of the
Serapiqui, killing twenty-seven of them and putting the rest to flight.

At last on the morning of April 9th, Walker rode out of Granada at the
head of five hundred men, four-fifths of them Americans, and pressed
rapidly southward towards Rivas, where Mora lay encamped with Prussian
von Bulow and three thousand regulars. There were several English,
French, and Germans acting with the Costa Ricans, some as volunteers
and many as mercenaries. At eight o'clock, on the morning of the 11th,
Walker's forces entered Rivas in four detachments by as many different
routes. The order of battle was that of a simultaneous assault, the
several detachments to unite at the centre of the town. It was
faithfully carried out, although the Costa Ricans, soon recovering from
their surprise, behaved gallantly, using their firearms with precision
and coolness, and picking off the American leaders with fatal accuracy.
The combat lasted through four hours. At its termination Walker had
gained possession of the plaza and cathedral, but at a cost of fifty
killed and wounded. About two hundred of the enemy were killed and
twice as many wounded. They were receiving reinforcements, but did not
venture from behind their adobe walls to renew the contest. Setting
fire to the houses near the plaza, they kept up a desultory
sharp-shooting from the adjacent buildings. The Americans improvised a
temporary hospital within the cathedral, whence at daybreak the wounded
were deported, well guarded by their comrades. Mora did not oppose
their departure, being well content to be rid of his troublesome

Walker's loss in officers was severe. Early in the fight Colonel
Machado, commanding the native soldiers, fell mortally wounded. Five
captains and six lieutenants also perished, and there were twelve other
officers among the wounded. Of Walker's staff Captain Sutter alone
survived. This mortality was due not more to the marksmanship of the
enemy than to the reckless courage of the victims, who made it a point
of honour to volunteer for every desperate adventure. Ten of them at
one time had charged, armed only with revolvers, on a barricade, whence
they dislodged over a hundred of the enemy's riflemen.

By this time the aspect of affairs had changed materially, and the
situation of the invading army had become extremely perilous. The
Legitimists, whom Mora had expected to unite with him in expelling the
American usurpers, he found to be few and faint of heart, while the
wanton insolence of his own men had tended to alienate whatever of
sympathy they might have found among the poorer classes. In a word, the
repulse of Walker at Rivas, if that can be called a repulse which was
an unhindered withdrawal, was to Mora the signal of defeat. Unable to
conquer an enemy of one-sixth his strength, and not daring to lessen
his odds in the hazard of a pitched battle - much less in a siege of
Granada - he lay at Rivas exhausted and impotent. It needed but one
other enemy to complete his overthrow. That enemy, always a potent one
beneath the tropic sun, appeared.

The bodies of two hundred Costa Ricans had been thrust heedlessly into
the vaults and wells of Rivas, along with some fifty dead filibusters.
Hundreds more lay in the wretched hospitals, with festering wounds and
scant nursing. Cleanliness and good living did not distinguish the
Costa Rican soldier. A strict discipline was maintained, but one day an
Enemy passed the outpost, unchallenged of the watchful sentinel. The
patrol crying "Alerté!" was stricken dead by a silent hand. The soldier
at the _monte_ table, the officer in his hammock, the camp follower in
the slums, and the staff-officer in the palace - all ages, all ranks,
all valour succumbed before the dread foe. The Cholera was in Rivas,
that malady more terrible than a legion of filibusters. With the
cholera, desertion. President Mora set the example, news of trouble at
home hastening his flight southward. General Cañas remained in command
until he heard of the arrival at Granada of some hundreds of recruits,
whom the veteran Hornsby had gathered in the United States and brought
to the country by way of the river San Juan.

Anticipating justly that Walker would soon resume an offensive
attitude, Cañas hastily abandoned his wounded and fled to Guanacaste.
The march thither was long and painful; the fugitives could be traced
for leagues by the bones of their dead comrades. Whom the cholera
struck down no brotherly hand stayed to lift up. About five hundred
worn stragglers entered Costa Rica, the remnant of the gallant host
that had marched forth to drive the filibusters into the sea. With them
they carried the seeds of the pestilence, which being sown broadcast in
the country, swept off ten thousand of its inhabitants.

Nor was Walker exempt from trouble during this period. Many of his most
cherished friends were carried off by the plague, among others his
young brother, James, whom he loved, in his undemonstrative way, very
tenderly. The condition of political affairs was unsatisfactory.
President Rivas, who had remained with his cabinet at Leon, seems to
have dreaded an invasion from the North more than he did that of the
Costa Ricans. He was a weak man, easily played upon by designing
persons who had succeeded in imbuing him with a jealousy of Walker,
which, so far at least, was entirely groundless. The northeastern
districts of the State had been for some time harassed by roving bands
of freebooters, pretended and real Legitimists, whose depredations
became a serious annoyance. Against these guerillas Walker sent a body
of cavalry, under Domingo Goicouria, who speedily restored order in the

[1] Goicouria was a devoted Cuban patriot, who was executed
many years afterwards by the Spaniards at Havana.

An election for President held in May had been conducted with such
irregularity that it was decided by President Rivas to order one to be
held anew in June. In this decision the opposing candidates, Salazar
and Jerez, acquiesced. Both of them were, like Rivas, of the Leonese,
or Liberal party; so the Granadinos, or Legitimists, dreading the
influence of their rivals, cast about them for a strong candidate to
represent their interests. No Legitimist of sufficient popularity being
available, they chose Walker, preferring a neutral foreigner to a
hostile countryman. It was therefore understood, in political parlance,
that Walker was the "first choice" of the still powerful Legitimist
party. The effect was at once to unite the opposing Leonese leaders.
Rivas, supported by Salazar and Jerez, delayed issuing the call for a
new election, and entertained with favour the suggestion that the
American auxiliaries be reduced to the number of two hundred, at the
very time when that number of new recruits were disembarking from the
California steamer. The steamers had resumed their trips under the
management of a company favourable to "immigration."

Walker proceeded to Leon to confer with Rivas, receiving on the way a
popular ovation which encouraged him to maintain his rights with
firmness. To the proposition of disbanding his forces he replied that
the men were ready to leave the country as soon as they should receive
their stipulated pay, a claim which he knew that the Government
exchequer was in no condition to defray. Not to embarrass the resources
of the republic, however, he arrested Don Salazar on a charge of having
defrauded the Government of the duties upon some valuable Brazil wood,
and of having sold the same wood to the Government, with a profit to
himself seldom overlooked by contractors. The act was an offence
against an old and seldom enforced law of the country. The arrest was
doubtless meant to warn Salazar that he could not conspire with
impunity against his vigilant ally, as he was not immediately brought
to trial. Rivas, Jerez, and Salazar now decided to pronounce against
their formidable rival, but with smooth duplicity they concealed their
design, the President, on the 10th of June, issuing a decree for a
general election to take place on the fourth Sunday of the month. Next
day Walker departed for Granada, and Rivas and Salazar immediately fled
from Leon, proclaiming that Walker was a traitor. They took refuge in
Guatemala, where General Carrera was preparing a force with which to
invade Nicaragua.

Walker, as general in chief of a state disturbed by a revolution within
and threatened with invasion from without, was, of course, the head
of the government in the absence of the civil ruler. At least, there
was nobody to dispute that proposition. He accordingly appointed a
provisional director, Don Firmin Ferrer, pending the election which was
to occur in a few weeks.

In the election, when it was held, all the districts took part except
the northeastern, which was disturbed by the presence of an invading
army on its border and two pretenders to the presidency within its
precincts. One of them was Rivas; the other the almost forgotten
Legitimist puppet of Corral, Don Jose Estrada. Estrada did little of an
official character save issue proclamations which nobody heeded; still,
as a pretender is always a potential element in monarchy or republic,
whom a cunning invader might use to his own advantage, the partisans of
Rivas feared to leave to Carrera that poor excuse for betraying their
interests. Estrada was murdered in cold blood by a band of ruffians
from Leon. With him perished the last of the strictly Legitimist
claimants. To insure further their personal interests, Rivas and his
friends appointed General Ramon Belloso commander-in-chief of the army
of invasion. The allied forces were from Guatemala, Honduras, and San
Salvador, and it was from the last and smallest state that it was
deemed wise to choose the commander, as the one least likely or able to
usurp power after victory.

The lack of representation in the election of the northeastern district
was of little consequence, as it was the least populous part of the
state, and its vote would have had no influence to change the result.
The voting was entirely free and unaccompanied by disturbance. In
Nicaragua every male inhabitant over eighteen years old, criminals
excepted, is entitled to the suffrage. Representatives, senators, and
president, are all chosen by a college of electors who are themselves
elected by popular vote. Such, at least, was the law at this period.

When the votes were counted it was found that 23,236 ballots had been
cast, of which Walker had received more than twice as many as all his
rivals, viz., 15,835, Rivas having 867, Salazar 2,087, and Ferrer
4,447. Walker was accordingly declared elected and, on the 12th of
July, 1856, he was formally inaugurated President of Nicaragua. It is
worth noting that he was chosen by the largest vote ever polled in the
country, and that his actual tenure of office was longer than that of
any of his predecessors in the presidency with the exception of two,
Pineda and Chamorro. The former held office for four months - the latter
for one month - longer than did Walker. In six years there had been no
less than fifteen presidents inaugurated. Reform, even through
filibusterism, was sadly needed in Nicaragua.

So far as legality was concerned, Walker's title was as sound as that
of any prince or president in the world. It only remained for the world
to acknowledge it. The first recognition came, unwittingly enough, from
his enemy, Secretary Marcy. That statesman, after much consideration of
the case, had sent instructions to the United States minister, Colonel
Wheeler, whose suspension had been but temporary, to recognize the
existing government of Nicaragua, under the supposition that the Rivas
administration still held office. Thus much had been conceded to the
reasonable demands of Padre Vijil. Mr. Wheeler, with a possible
appreciation of the humour of the situation, yet with a strict
obedience to the letter of his instructions, thereupon tendered to
President Walker the good wishes and felicitations of the United States
Government. But Mr. Marcy never forgave the instrument of his blunder,
and one of his last official acts was to beg of President Pierce, as a
personal favour, the dismissal of Minister Wheeler, a request which the
dying administration was weak enough to grant.

We now behold Walker at the zenith of his fame, the lawful ruler of a
country whose position and resources made it a prize worth the ambition
of all Europe and America to possess. Besides a powerful native party,
he had an army of his countrymen at his back numbering over a thousand

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Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 9 of 17)