Project Gutenberg's Real Soldiers of Fortune, by Richard Harding Davis

Download 0.66 Mb.
Date conversion29.04.2016
Size0.66 Mb.
1   ...   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13

colors were given him, and, in return, he established for China a modern

naval college patterned after our own. In those days throughout China

and Japan you could find many of these foreign advisers. Now, in Japan,

the Hon. W. H. Dennison of the Foreign Office, one of our own people, is

the only foreigner with whom the Japanese have not parted, and in China

there are none. Of all of those who have gone none served his employers

more faithfully than did McGiffin. At a time when every official

robbed the people and the Government, and when "squeeze" or "graft"

was recognized as a perquisite, McGiffin's hands were clean. The shells

purchased for the Government by him were not loaded with black sand,

nor were the rifles fitted with barrels of iron pipe. Once a year he

celebrated the Thanksgiving Day of his own country by inviting to a

great dinner all the Chinese naval officers who had been at least in

part educated in America. It was a great occasion, and to enjoy

it officers used to come from as far as Port Arthur, Shanghai, and

Hong-Kong. So fully did some of them appreciate the efforts of their

host that previous to his annual dinner, for twenty-four hours, they

delicately starved themselves.
During ten years McGiffin served as naval constructor and professor

of gunnery and seamanship, and on board ships at sea gave practical

demonstrations in the handling of the new cruisers. In 1894 he applied

for leave, which was granted, but before he had sailed for home war with

Japan was declared and he withdrew his application. He was placed

as second in command on board the _Chen Yuen_, a seven-thousand-ton

battleship, a sister ship to the _Ting Yuen_, the flagship of Admiral

Ting Ju Chang. On the memorable 17th of September, 1894, the battle of

the Yalu was fought, and so badly were the Chinese vessels hammered that

the Chinese navy, for the time being, was wiped out of existence.

From the start the advantage was with the Japanese fleet. In heavy guns

the Chinese were the better armed, but in quick-firing guns the Japanese

were vastly superior, and while the Chinese battleships _Ting Yuen_ and

_Chen Yuen_, each of 7,430 tons, were superior to any of the Japanese

warships, the three largest of which were each of 4,277 tons, the gross

tonnage of the Japanese fleet was 36,000 to 21,000 of the Chinese.

During the progress of the battle the ships engaged on each side

numbered an even dozen, but at the very start, before a decisive shot

was fired by either contestant, the _Tsi Yuen_, 2,355 tons, and _Kwan

Chiae_, 1,300 tons, ran away, and before they had time to get into the

game the _Chao Yung_ and _Yang Wei_ were in flames and had fled to the

nearest land. So the battle was fought by eight Chinese ships against

twelve of the Japanese. Of the Chinese vessels, the flagship, commanded

by Admiral Ting, and her sister ship, which immediately after the

beginning of the fight was for four hours commanded by McGiffin, were

the two chief aggressors, and in consequence received the fire of the

entire Japanese squadron. Toward the end of the fight, which without

interruption lasted for five long hours, the Japanese did not even

consider the four smaller ships of the enemy, but, sailing around the

two ironclads in a circle, fired only at them. The Japanese themselves

testified that these two ships never lost their formation, and that

when her sister ironclad was closely pressed the _Chen Yuen_, by her

movements and gun practice, protected the _Ting Yuen_, and, in fact,

while she could not prevent the heavy loss the fleet encountered,

preserved it from annihilation. During the fight this ship was almost

continuously on fire, and was struck by every kind of projectile, from

the thirteen-inch Canet shells to a rifle bullet, four hundred times.

McGiffin himself was so badly wounded, so beaten about by concussions,

so burned, and so bruised by steel splinters, that his health and

eyesight were forever wrecked. But he brought the _Chen Yuen_ safely

into Port Arthur and the remnants of the fleet with her.
On account of his lack of health he resigned from the Chinese service

and returned to America. For two years he lived in New York City,

suffering in body without cessation the most exquisite torture. During

that time his letters to his family show only tremendous courage. On the

splintered, gaping deck of the _Chen Yuen_, with the fires below it,

and the shells bursting upon it, he had shown to his Chinese crew the

courage of the white man who knew he was responsible for them and for

the honor of their country. But far greater and more difficult was the

courage he showed while alone in the dark sick-room, and in the private

wards of the hospitals.

In the letters he dictates from there he still is concerned only lest

those at home shall "worry"; he reassures them with falsehoods, jokes

at their fears; of the people he can see from the window of the hospital

tells them foolish stories; for a little boy who has been kind he asks

them to send him his Chinese postage stamps; he plans a trip he will

take with them when he is stronger, knowing he never will be stronger.

The doctors had urged upon him a certain operation, and of it to a

friend he wrote: "I know that I will have to have a piece about three

inches square cut out of my skull, and this nerve cut off near the

middle of the brain, as well as my eye taken out (for a couple of hours

only, provided it is not mislaid, and can be found). Doctor ------ and

his crowd show a bad memory for failures. As a result of this operation

others have told me--I forget the percentage of deaths, which does not

matter, but--that a large percentage have become insane. And some lost

their sight."
While threatened with insanity and complete blindness, and hourly from

his wounds suffering a pain drugs could not master, he dictated for the

_Century Magazine_ the only complete account of the battle of the Yalu.

In a letter to Mr. Richard Watson Gilder he writes: " eyes are

troubling me. I cannot see even what I am writing now, and am getting

the article under difficulties. I yet hope to place it in your hands by

the 21st, still, if my eyes grow worse------"
"Still, if my eyes grow worse------"
The unfinished sentence was grimly prophetic.
Unknown to his attendants at the hospital, among the papers in his

despatch-box he had secreted his service revolver. On the morning of the

11th of February, 1897, he asked for this box, and on some pretext sent

the nurse from the room. When the report of the pistol brought them

running to his bedside, they found the pain-driven body at peace, and

the tired eyes dark forever.

In the article in the _Century_ on the battle of the Yalu, he had said:
"Chief among those who have died for their country is Admiral Ting Ju

Chang, a gallant soldier and true gentleman. Betrayed by his countrymen,

fighting against odds, almost his last official act was to stipulate

for the lives of his officers and men. His own he scorned to save, well

knowing that his ungrateful country would prove less merciful than his

honorable foe. Bitter, indeed, must have been the reflections of the

old, wounded hero, in that midnight hour, as he drank the poisoned cup

that was to give him rest."

And bitter indeed must have been the reflections of the young wounded

American, robbed, by the parsimony of his country, of the right he had

earned to serve it, and who was driven out to give his best years and

his life for a strange people under a strange flag.

IT is safe to say that to members of the younger generation the name of

William Walker conveys absolutely nothing. To them, as a name, "William

Walker" awakens no pride of race or country. It certainly does not

suggest poetry and adventure. To obtain a place in even this group

of Soldiers of Fortune, William Walker, the most distinguished of all

American Soldiers of Fortune, the one who but for his own countrymen

would have single-handed attained the most far-reaching results, had to

wait his turn behind adventurers of other lands and boy officers of

his own. And yet had this man with the plain name, the name that

to-day means nothing, accomplished what he adventured, he would on this

continent have solved the problem of slavery, have established an empire

in Mexico and in Central America, and, incidentally, have brought us

into war with all of Europe. That is all he would have accomplished.
In the days of gold in San Francisco among the "Forty-niners" William

Walker was one of the most famous, most picturesque and popular figures.

Jack Oakhurst, gambler; Colonel Starbottle, duellist; Yuba Bill,

stage-coach driver, were his contemporaries. Bret Harte was one of his

keenest admirers, and in two of his stories, thinly disguised under a

more appealing name, Walker is the hero. When, later, Walker came to New

York City, in his honor Broadway from the Battery to Madison Square was

bedecked with flags and arches. "It was roses, roses all the way." The

house-tops rocked and swayed.
In New Orleans, where in a box at the opera he made his first

appearance, for ten minutes the performance came to a pause, while the

audience stood to salute him.
This happened less than fifty years ago, and there are men who as boys

were out with "Walker of Nicaragua," and who are still active in the

public life of San Francisco and New York.
Walker was born in 1824, in Nashville, Tenn. He was the oldest son of

a Scotch banker, a man of a deeply religious mind, and interested in

a business which certainly is removed, as far as possible, from

the profession of arms. Indeed, few men better than William Walker

illustrate the fact that great generals are born, not trained.

Everything in Walker's birth, family tradition, and education pointed

to his becoming a member of one of the "learned" professions. It was

the wish of his father that he should be a minister of the Presbyterian

Church, and as a child he was trained with that end in view. He himself

preferred to study medicine, and after graduating at the University of

Tennessee, at Edinburgh he followed a course of lectures, and for two

years travelled in Europe, visiting many of the great hospitals.

Then having thoroughly equipped himself to practise as a physician,

after a brief return to his native city, and as short a stay in

Philadelphia, he took down his shingle forever, and proceeded to

New Orleans to study law. In two years he was admitted to the bar of

Louisiana. But because clients were few, or because the red tape of the

law chafed his spirit, within a year, as already he had abandoned

the Church and Medicine, he abandoned his law practice and became

an editorial writer on the New Orleans _Crescent_. A year later the

restlessness which had rebelled against the grave professions led him to

the gold fields of California, and San Francisco. There, in 1852, at

the age of only twenty-eight, as editor of the San Francisco _Herald_,

Walker began his real life which so soon was to end in both disaster and

Up to his twenty-eighth year, except in his restlessness, nothing in his

life foreshadowed what was to follow. Nothing pointed to him as a man

for whom thousands of other men, from every capital of the world, would

give up their lives.

Negatively, by abandoning three separate callings, and in making it

plain that a professional career did not appeal to him, Walker had

thrown a certain sidelight on his character; but actively he never had

given any hint that under the thoughtful brow of the young doctor and

lawyer there was a mind evolving schemes of empire, and an ambition

limited only by the two great oceans.

Walker's first adventure was undoubtedly inspired by and in imitation

of one which at the time of his arrival in San Francisco had just been

brought to a disastrous end. This was the De Boulbon expedition into

Mexico. The Count Gaston Raoulx de Raousset-Boulbon was a young French

nobleman and Soldier of Fortune, a _chasseur d'Afrique_, a duellist,

journalist, dreamer, who came to California to dig gold. Baron

Harden-Hickey, who was born in San Francisco a few years after Boulbon

at the age of thirty was shot in Mexico, also was inspired to dreams of

conquest by this same gentleman adventurer.
Boulbon was a young man of large ideas. In the rapid growth of

California he saw a threat to Mexico and proposed to that government, as

a "buffer" state between the two republics, to form a French colony

in the Mexican State of Sonora. Sonora is that part of Mexico which

directly joins on the south with our State of Arizona. The President of

Mexico gave Boulbon permission to attempt this, and in 1852 he landed at

Guaymas in the Gulf of California with two hundred and sixty well-armed

Frenchmen. The ostensible excuse of Boulbon for thus invading foreign

soil was his contract with the President under which his "emigrants"

were hired to protect other foreigners working in the "Restauradora"

mines from the attacks of Apache Indians from our own Arizona. But there

is evidence that back of Boulbon was the French Government, and that

he was attempting, in his small way, what later was attempted by

Maximilian, backed by a French army corps and Louis Napoleon, to

establish in Mexico an empire under French protection. For both the

filibuster and the emperor the end was the same; to be shot by the

fusillade against a church wall.
In 1852, two years before Boulbon's death, which was the finale to his

second filibustering expedition into Sonora, he wrote to a friend in

Paris: "Europeans are disturbed by the growth of the United States. And

rightly so. Unless she be dismembered; unless a powerful rival be built

up beside her (_i.e._, France in Mexico), America will become, through

her commerce, her trade, her population, her geographical position upon

two oceans, the inevitable mistress of the world. In ten years Europe

dare not fire a shot without her permission. As I write fifty Americans

prepare to sail for Mexico and go perhaps to victory. _Voila les


These fifty Americans who, in the eyes of Boulbon, threatened the peace

of Europe, were led by the ex-doctor, ex-lawyer, ex-editor, William

Walker, _aged twenty-eight years_. Walker had attempted but had failed

to obtain from the Mexican Government such a contract as the one it had

granted De Boulbon. He accordingly sailed without it, announcing that,

whether the Mexican Government asked him to do so or not, he would see

that the women and children on the border of Mexico and Arizona were

protected from massacre by the Indians. It will be remembered that when

Dr. Jameson raided the Transvaal he also went to protect "women and

children" from massacre by the Boers. Walker's explanation of his

expedition, in his own words, is as follows. He writes in the third

person: "What Walker saw and heard satisfied him that a comparatively

small body of Americans might gain a position on the Sonora frontier

and protect the families on the border from the Indians, and such an

act would be one of humanity whether or not sanctioned by the Mexican

Government. The condition of the upper part of Sonora was at that time,

and still is [he was writing eight years later, in 1860], a disgrace to

the civilization of the continent...and the people of the United States

were more immediately responsible before the world for the Apache

outrages. Northern Sonora was in fact, more under the dominion of the

Apaches than under the laws of Mexico, and the contributions of the

Indians were collected with greater regularity and certainty than the

dues of the tax-gatherers. The state of this region furnished the best

defence for any American aiming to settle there without the formal

consent of Mexico; and, although political changes would certainly have

followed the establishment of a colony, they might be justified by the

plea that any social organization, no matter how secured, is preferable

to that in which individuals and families are altogether at the mercy of

While at the time of Jameson's raid the women and children in danger of

massacre from the Boers were as many as there are snakes in Ireland, at

the time of Walker's raid the women and children were in danger from the

Indians, who as enemies, as Walker soon discovered, were as cruel and as

greatly to be feared as he had described them.
But it was not to save women and children that Walker sought to conquer

the State of Sonora. At the time of his expedition the great question of

slavery was acute; and if in the States next to be admitted to the Union

slavery was to be prohibited, the time had come, so it seemed to

this statesman of twenty-eight years, when the South must extend her

boundaries, and for her slaves find an outlet in fresh territory.

Sonora already joined Arizona. By conquest her territory could easily

be extended to meet Texas. As a matter of fact, strategically the spot

selected by William Walker for the purpose for which he desired it was

almost perfect. Throughout his brief career one must remember that the

spring of all his acts was this dream of an empire where slavery would

be recognized. His mother was a slave-holder. In Tennessee he had been

born and bred surrounded by slaves. His youth and manhood had been spent

in Nashville and New Orleans. He believed as honestly, as fanatically

in the right to hold slaves as did his father in the faith of the

Covenanters. To-day one reads his arguments in favor of slavery with the

most curious interest. His appeal to the humanity of his reader, to his

heart, to his sense of justice, to his fear of God, and to his belief

in the Holy Bible not to abolish slavery, but to continue it, to this

generation is as amusing as the topsy-turvyisms of Gilbert or Shaw. But

to the young man himself slavery was a sacred institution, intended for

the betterment of mankind, a God-given benefit to the black man and a

God-given right of his white master.
White brothers in the South, with perhaps less exalted motives,

contributed funds to fit out Walker's expedition, and in October, 1852,

with forty-five men, he landed at Cape St. Lucas, at the extreme point

of Lower California. Lower California, it must be remembered, in spite

of its name, is not a part of our California, but then was, and still

is, a part of Mexico. The fact that he was at last upon the soil of the

enemy caused Walker to throw off all pretence; and instead of hastening

to protect women and children, he sailed a few miles farther up the

coast to La Paz. With his forty-five followers he raided the town, made

the Governor a prisoner, and established a republic with himself as

President. In a proclamation he declared the people free of the tyranny

of Mexico. They had no desire to be free, but Walker was determined,

and, whether they liked it or not, they woke up to find themselves an

independent republic. A few weeks later, although he had not yet set

foot there, Walker annexed on paper the State of Sonora, and to both

States gave the name of the Republic of Sonora.

As soon as word of this reached San Francisco, his friends busied

themselves in his behalf, and the danger-loving and adventurous of

all lands were enlisted as "emigrants" and shipped to him in the bark

Two months later, in November, 1852, three hundred of these joined

Walker. They were as desperate a band of scoundrels as ever robbed a

sluice, stoned a Chinaman, or shot a "Greaser." When they found that to

command them there was only a boy, they plotted to blow up the

magazine in which the powder was stored, rob the camp, and march north,

supporting themselves by looting the ranches. Walker learned of their

plot, tried the ringleaders by court-martial, and shot them. With a

force as absolutely undisciplined as was his, the act required the most

complete personal courage. That was a quality the men with him could

fully appreciate. They saw they had as a leader one who could fight,

and one who would punish. The majority did not want a leader who would

punish so when Walker called upon those who would follow him to Sonora

to show their hands, only the original forty-five and about forty of

the later recruits remained with him. With less than one hundred men

he started to march up the Peninsula through Lower California, and so

around the Gulf to Sonora.
From the very start the filibusters were overwhelmed with disaster. The

Mexicans, with Indian allies, skulked on the flanks and rear. Men who

in the almost daily encounters were killed fell into the hands of the

Indians, and their bodies were mutilated. Stragglers and deserters were

run to earth and tortured. Those of the filibusters who were wounded

died from lack of medical care. The only instruments they possessed with

which to extract the arrow-heads were probes made from ramrods filed to

a point. Their only food was the cattle they killed on the march. The

army was barefoot, the Cabinet in rags, the President of Sonora wore one

boot and one shoe.

Unable to proceed farther, Walker fell back upon San Vincente, where he

had left the arms and ammunition of the deserters and a rear-guard of

eighteen men. He found not one of these to welcome him. A dozen had

deserted, and the Mexicans had surprised the rest, lassoing them and

torturing them until they died. Walker now had but thirty-five men. To

wait for further re-enforcements from San Francisco, even were he sure

that re-enforcements would come, was impossible. He determined by forced

marches to fight his way to the boundary line of California. Between him

and safety were the Mexican soldiers holding the passes, and the Indians

hiding on his flanks. When within three miles of the boundary line, at

San Diego, Colonel Melendrez, who commanded the Mexican forces, sent in

a flag of truce, and offered, if they would surrender, a safe-conduct to

all of the survivors of the expedition except the chief. But the men who

for one year had fought and starved for Walker, would not, within three

miles of home, abandon him.

1   ...   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page