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

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Melendrez then begged the commander of the United States troops to order

Walker to surrender. Major McKinstry, who was in command of the United

States Army Post at San Diego, refused. For him to cross the line would

be a violation of neutral territory. On Mexican soil he would neither

embarrass the ex-President of Sonora nor aid him; but he saw to it that

if the filibusters reached American soil, no Mexican or Indian should

follow them.
Accordingly, on the imaginary boundary he drew up his troop, and like

an impartial umpire awaited the result. Hidden behind rocks and cactus,

across the hot, glaring plain, the filibusters could see the American

flag, and the gay, fluttering guidons of the cavalry. The sight gave

them heart for one last desperate spurt. Melendrez also appreciated

that for the final attack the moment had come. As he charged, Walker,

apparently routed, fled, but concealed in the rocks behind him he had

stationed a rear-guard of a dozen men. As Melendrez rode into this

ambush the dozen riflemen emptied as many saddles, and the Mexicans and

Indians stampeded. A half hour later, footsore and famished, the little

band that had set forth to found an empire of slaves, staggered across

the line and surrendered to the forces of the United States.

Of this expedition James Jeffrey Roche says, in his "Byways of War,"

which is of all books published about Walker the most intensely and

fascinatingly interesting and complete: "Years afterward the peon

herdsman or prowling Cocupa Indian in the mountain by-paths stumbled

over the bleaching skeleton of some nameless one whose resting-place was

marked by no cross or cairn, but the Colts revolver resting beside

his bones spoke his country and his occupation--the only relic of the

would-be conquistadores of the nineteenth century."

Under parole to report to General Wood, commanding the Department of the

Pacific, the filibusters were sent by sailing vessel to San Francisco,

where their leader was tried for violating the neutrality laws of the

United States, and acquitted.

Walker's first expedition had ended in failure, but for him it had been

an opportunity of tremendous experience, as active service is the best

of all military academies, and for the kind of warfare he was to wage,

the best preparation. Nor was it inglorious, for his fellow survivors,

contrary to the usual practice, instead of in bar-rooms placing the

blame for failure upon their leader, stood ready to fight one and all

who doubted his ability or his courage. Later, after five years, many of

these same men, though ten to twenty years his senior, followed him to

death, and never questioned his judgment nor his right to command.
At this time in Nicaragua there was the usual revolution. On the

south the sister republic of Costa Rica was taking sides, on the north

Honduras was landing arms and men. There was no law, no government. A

dozen political parties, a dozen commanding generals, and not one strong

In the editorial rooms of the San Francisco _Herald_, Walker, searching

the map for new worlds to conquer, rested his finger upon Nicaragua.

In its confusion of authority he saw an opportunity to make himself

a power, and in its tropical wealth and beauty, in the laziness and

incompetence of its inhabitants, he beheld a greater, fairer, more kind

Sonora. On the Pacific side from San Francisco he could re-enforce his

army with men and arms; on the Caribbean side from New Orleans he could,

when the moment arrived, people his empire with slaves.

The two parties at war in Nicaragua were the Legitimists and the

Democrats. Why they were at war it is not necessary to know. Probably

Walker did not know; it is not likely that they themselves knew. But

from the leader of the Democrats Walker obtained a contract to bring

to Nicaragua three hundred Americans, who were each to receive several

hundred acres of land, and who were described as "colonists liable to

military duty." This contract Walker submitted to the Attorney-General

of the State and to General Wood, who once before had acquitted him of

filibustering; and neither of these Federal officers saw anything

which seemed to give them the right to interfere. But the rest of San

Francisco was less credulous, and the "colonists" who joined Walker

had a very distinct idea that they were not going to Nicaragua to plant

coffee or to pick bananas.
In May, 1855, just a year after Walker and his thirty-three followers

had surrendered to the United States troops at San Diego, with fifty new

recruits and seven veterans of the former expedition he sailed from

San Francisco in the brig _Vesta_, and in five weeks, after a weary and

stormy voyage, landed at Realejo. There he was met by representatives of

the Provisional Director of the Democrats, who received the Californians

Walker was commissioned a colonel, Achilles Kewen, who had been fighting

under Lopez in Cuba, a lieutenant-colonel, and Timothy Crocker, who had

served under Walker in the Sonora expedition, a major. The corps

was organized as an independent command and was named "La Falange

Americana." At this time the enemy held the route to the Caribbean, and

Walker's first orders were to dislodge him.

Accordingly, a week after landing with his fifty-seven Americans and one

hundred and fifty native troops, Walker sailed in the _Vesta_ for Brito,

from which port he marched upon Rivas, a city of eleven thousand people

and garrisoned by some twelve hundred of the enemy.

The first fight ended in a complete and disastrous fiasco. The native

troops ran away, and the Americans surrounded by six hundred of the

Legitimists' soldiers, after defending themselves for three hours behind

some adobe huts, charged the enemy and escaped into the jungle. Their

loss was heavy, and among the killed were the two men upon whom Walker

chiefly depended: Kewen and Crocker. The Legitimists placed the bodies

of the dead and wounded who were still living on a pile of logs and

burned them. After a painful night march, Walker, the next day, reached

San Juan on the coast, and, finding a Costa Rican schooner in port,

seized it for his use. At this moment, although Walker's men were

defeated, bleeding, and in open flight, two "gringos" picked up on

the beach of San Juan, "the Texan Harry McLeod and the Irishman Peter

Burns," asked to be permitted to join him.
"It was encouraging," Walker writes, "for the soldiers to find that

some besides themselves did not regard their fortunes as altogether

desperate, and small as was this addition to their number it gave

increased moral as well as material strength to the command."

Sometimes in reading history it would appear as though for success the

first requisite must be an utter lack of humor, and inability to look

upon what one is attempting except with absolute seriousness. With forty

men Walker was planning to conquer and rule Nicaragua, a country with a

population of two hundred and fifty thousand souls and as large as the

combined area of Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire,

and Connecticut. And yet, even seven years later, he records without

a smile that two beach-combers gave his army "moral and material

strength." And it is most characteristic of the man that at the

moment he was rejoicing over this addition to his forces, to maintain

discipline two Americans who had set fire to the houses of the enemy

he ordered to be shot. A weaker man would have repudiated the two

Americans, who, in fact, were not members of the Phalanx, and trusted

that their crimes would not be charged against him. But the success of

Walker lay greatly in his stern discipline. He tried the men, and they

confessed to their guilt. One got away; and, as it might appear that

Walker had connived at his escape, to the second man was shown no

mercy. When one reads how severe was Walker in his punishments, and

how frequently the death penalty was invoked by him against his own

few followers, the wonder grows that these men, as independent and as

unaccustomed to restraint as were those who first joined him, submitted

to his leadership. One can explain it only by the personal quality of

Walker himself.
Among these reckless, fearless outlaws, who, despising their allies,

believed and proved that with his rifle one American could account for a

dozen Nicaraguans, Walker was the one man who did not boast or drink or

gamble, who did not even swear, who never looked at a woman, and who, in

money matters, was scrupulously honest and unself-seeking. In a fight,

his followers knew that for them he would risk being shot just as

unconcernedly as to maintain his authority he would shoot one of them.
Treachery, cowardice, looting, any indignity to women, he punished with

death; but to the wounded, either of his own or of the enemy's forces,

he was as gentle as a nursing sister and the brave and able he rewarded

with instant promotion and higher pay. In no one trait was he a

demagogue. One can find no effort on his part to ingratiate himself with

his men. Among the officers of his staff there were no favorites. He

messed alone, and at all times kept to himself. He spoke little, and

then with utter lack of self-consciousness. In the face of injustice,

perjury, or physical danger, he was always calm, firm, dispassionate.

But it is said that on those infrequent occasions when his anger

asserted itself, the steady steel-gray eyes flashed so menacingly that

those who faced them would as soon look down the barrel of his Colt.

The impression one gets of him gathered from his recorded acts, from his

own writings, from the writings of those who fought with him, is of a

silent, student-like young man believing religiously in his "star of

destiny"; but, in all matters that did not concern himself, possessed of

a grim sense of fun. The sayings of his men that in his history of the

war he records, show a distinct appreciation of the Bret Harte school of

humor. As, for instance, when he tells how he wished to make one of them

a drummer boy and the Californian drawled: "No, thanks, colonel; I never

seen a picture of a battle yet that the first thing in it wasn't a dead

drummer boy with a busted drum."

In Walker the personal vanity which is so characteristic of the soldier

of fortune was utterly lacking. In a land where a captain bedecks

himself like a field-marshal, Walker wore his trousers stuffed in his

boots, a civilian's blue frock-coat, and the slouch hat of the period,

with, for his only ornament, the red ribbon of the Democrats. The

authority he wielded did not depend upon braid or buttons, and only when

going into battle did he wear his sword. In appearance he was slightly

built, rather below the medium height, smooth shaven, and with deep-set

gray eyes. These eyes apparently, as they gave him his nickname, were

his most marked feature.

His followers called him, and later, when he was thirty-two years

old, he was known all over the United States as the "Gray-Eyed Man of

From the first Walker recognized that in order to establish himself in

Nicaragua he must keep in touch with all possible recruits arriving from

San Francisco and New York, and that to do this he must hold the line

of transit from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific. At this time the sea

routes to the gold-fields were three: by sailing vessel around the Cape,

one over the Isthmus of Panama, and one, which was the shortest, across

Nicaragua. By a charter from the Government of Nicaragua, the right to

transport passengers across this isthmus was controlled by the Accessory

Transit Company, of which the first Cornelius Vanderbilt was president.

His company owned a line of ocean steamers both on the Pacific side

and on the Atlantic side. Passengers _en route_ from New York to the

gold-fields were landed by these latter steamers at Greytown on the west

coast of Nicaragua, and sent by boats of light draught up the San Juan

River to Lake Nicaragua. There they were met by larger lake steamers and

conveyed across the lake to Virgin Bay. From that point, in carriages

and on mule back, they were carried twelve miles overland to the port of

San Juan del Sud on the Pacific Coast, where they boarded the company's

steamers to San Francisco.

During the year of Walker's occupation the number of passengers crossing

Nicaragua was an average of about two thousand a month.

It was to control this route that immediately after his first defeat

Walker returned to San Juan del Sud, and in a smart skirmish defeated

the enemy and secured possession of Virgin Bay, the halting place for

the passengers going east or west. In this fight Walker was outnumbered

five to one, but his losses were only three natives killed and a few

Americans wounded. The Legitimists lost sixty killed and a hundred

wounded. This proportion of losses shows how fatally effective was the

rifle and revolver fire of the Californians. Indeed, so wonderful was it

that when some years ago I visited the towns and cities captured by the

filibusters, I found that the marksmanship of Walker's Phalanx was still

a tradition. Indeed, thanks to the filibusters, to-day in any part of

Central America a man from the States, if in trouble, has only to show

his gun. No native will wait for him to fire it.
After the fight at Virgin Bay, Walker received from California fifty

recruits--a very welcome addition to his force, and as he now commanded

about one hundred and twenty Americans, three hundred Nicaraguans, under

a friendly native, General Valle, and two brass cannon, he decided to

again attack Rivas. Rivas is on the lake just above Virgin Bay; still

further up is Granada, which was the head-quarters of the Legitimists.

Fearing Walker's attack upon Rivas, the Legitimist troops were hurried

south from Granada to that city, leaving Granada but slightly protected.

Through intercepted letters Walker learned of this and determined to

strike at Granada. By night, in one of the lake steamers, he skirted the

shore, and just before daybreak, with fires banked and all lights out,

drew up to a point near the city. The day previous the Legitimists had

gained a victory, and, as good luck or Walker's "destiny" would have

it, the night before Granada had been celebrating the event. Much joyous

dancing and much drinking of aguardiente had buried the inhabitants in a

drugged slumber. The garrison slept, the sentries slept, the city slept.

But when the convent bells called for early mass, the air was shaken

with sharp reports that to the ears of the Legitimists were unfamiliar

and disquieting. They were not the loud explosions of their own muskets

nor of the smooth bores of the Democrats. The sounds were sharp and

cruel like the crack of a whip. The sentries flying from their posts

disclosed the terrifying truth. "The Filibusteros!" they cried.

Following them at a gallop came Walker and Valle and behind them the men

of the awful Phalanx, whom already the natives had learned to fear: the

bearded giants in red flannel shirts who at Rivas on foot had charged

the artillery with revolvers, who at Virgin Bay when wounded had drawn

from their boots glittering bowie knives and hurled them like arrows,

who at all times shot with the accuracy of the hawk falling upon a

squawking hen.
There was a brief terrified stand in the Plaza, and then a complete

rout. As was their custom, the native Democrats began at once to loot

the city. But Walker put his sword into the first one of these he met,

and ordered the Americans to arrest all others found stealing, and to

return the goods already stolen. Over a hundred political prisoners in

the cartel were released by Walker, and the ball and chain to which each

was fastened stricken off. More than two-thirds of them at once enlisted

under Walker's banner.

He now was in a position to dictate to the enemy his own terms of peace,

but a fatal blunder on the part of Parker H. French, a lieutenant of

Walker's, postponed peace for several weeks, and led to unfortunate

reprisals. French had made an unauthorized and unsuccessful assault

on San Carlos at the eastern end of the lake, and the Legitimists

retaliated at Virgin Bay by killing half a dozen peaceful passengers,

and at San Carlos by firing at a transit steamer. For this the excuse of

the Legitimists was, that now that Walker was using the lake steamers

as transports it was impossible for them to know whether the boats were

occupied by his men or neutral passengers. As he could not reach the

guilty ones, Walker held responsible for their acts their secretary

of state, who at the taking of Granada was among the prisoners. He was

tried by court-martial and shot, "a victim of the new interpretation of

the principles of constitutional government." While this act of Walker's

was certainly stretching the theory of responsibility to the breaking

point, its immediate effect was to bring about a hasty surrender and a

meeting between the generals of the two political parties. Thus, four

months after Walker and his fifty-seven followers landed in Nicaragua,

a suspension of hostilities was arranged, and the side for which the

Americans had fought was in power. Walker was made commander-in-chief

of an army of twelve hundred men with salary of six thousand dollars a

year. A man named Rivas was appointed temporary president.

To Walker this pause in the fight was most welcome. It gave him an

opportunity to enlist recruits and to organize his men for the better

accomplishment of what was the real object of his going to Nicaragua. He

now had under him a remarkable force, one of the most effective known

to military history. For although six months had not yet passed,

the organization he now commanded was as unlike the Phalanx of

the fifty-eight adventurers who were driven back at Rivas, as were

Falstaff's followers from the regiment of picked men commanded by

Colonel Roosevelt. Instead of the undisciplined and lawless now being

in the majority, the ranks were filled with the pick of the California

mining camps, with veterans of the Mexican War, with young Southerners

of birth and spirit, and with soldiers of fortune from all of the great

armies of Europe.
In the Civil War, which so soon followed, and later in the service of

the Khedive of Egypt, were several of Walker's officers, and for years

after his death there was no war in which one of the men trained by him

in the jungles of Nicaragua did not distinguish himself. In his memoirs,

the Englishman, General Charles Frederic Henningsen, writes that though

he had taken part in some of the greatest battles of the Civil War he

would pit a thousand men of Walker's command against any five thousand

Confederate or Union soldiers. And General Henningsen was one who spoke

with authority. Before he joined Walker he had served in Spain under Don

Carlos, in Hungary under Kossuth, and in Bulgaria.

Of Walker's men, a regiment of which he commanded, he writes: "I often

have seen them march with a broken or compound fractured arm in

splints, and using the other to fire the rifle or revolver. Those with a

fractured thigh or wounds which rendered them incapable of removal, shot

themselves. Such men do not turn up in the average of everyday life, nor

do I ever expect to see their like again. All military science failed

on a suddenly given field before such assailants, who came at a run

to close with their revolvers and who thought little of charging a gun

battery, pistol in hand."
Another graduate of Walker's army was Captain Fred Townsend Ward, a

native of Salem, Mass., who after the death of Walker organized and

led the ever victorious army that put down the Tai-Ping rebellion,

and performed the many feats of martial glory for which Chinese Gordon

received the credit. In Shanghai, to the memory of the filibuster, there

are to-day two temples in his honor.

Joaquin Miller, the poet, miner, and soldier, who but recently was a

picturesque figure on the hotel porch at Saratoga Springs, was one of

the young Californians who was "out with Walker," and who later in

his career by his verse helped to preserve the name of his beloved

commander. I. C. Jamison, living to-day in Guthrie, Oklahoma, was a

captain under Walker. When war again came, as it did within four months,

these were the men who made Walker President of Nicaragua.
During the four months in all but title he had been president, and as

such he was recognized and feared. It was against him, not Rivas, that

in February, 1856, the neighboring republic of Costa Rica declared war.

For three months this war continued with varying fortunes until the

Costa Ricans were driven across the border.
In June of the same year Rivas called a general election for president,

announcing himself as the candidate of the Democrats. Two other

Democrats also presented themselves, Salazar and Ferrer. The

Legitimists, recognizing in their former enemy the real ruler of the

country, nominated Walker. By an overwhelming majority he was elected,

receiving 15,835 votes to 867 cast for Rivas. Salazar received 2,087;

Ferrer, 4,447.
Walker now was the legal as well as the actual ruler of the country,

and at no time in its history, as during Walker's administration, was

Nicaragua governed so justly, so wisely, and so well. But in his success

the neighboring republics saw a menace to their own independence. To the

four other republics of Central America the five-pointed blood-red star

on the flag of the filibusters bore a sinister motto: "Five or None."

The meaning was only too unpleasantly obvious. At once, Costa Rica on

the south, and Guatemala, Salvador, and Honduras from the north, with

the malcontents of Nicaragua, declared war against the foreign invader.

Again Walker was in the field with opposed to him 21,000 of the allies.

The strength of his own force varied. On his election as president the

backbone of his army was a magnificently trained body of veterans to the

number of 2,000. This was later increased to 3,500, but it is doubtful

if at any one time it ever exceeded that number. His muster and hospital

rolls show that during his entire occupation of Nicaragua there were

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