William Walker (filibuster) William Walker
(May 8, 1824 – September 12, 1860) was an American physician, lawyer, journalist, and mercenary who organized several private military expeditions into Mexico and Central America with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as "filibustering
". Walker usurped the presidency of Nicaragua in July 1856 and ruled until May 1, 1857,
when he was forced out
of the presidency and the country by a coalition of Central American armies. He returned in an attempt to re-establish his control of the region and was captured and executed by the government of Honduras
Walker practiced law for a short time, then quit to become co-owner and editor of the New Orleans Crescent
newspaper. In 1849, he moved to San Francisco
, where he worked as editor of the San Francisco Herald
and fought three duels; he was wounded in two of them. Walker then conceived the idea of conquering vast regions of Central America
and creating new slave states
to join those already part of the Union.
These campaigns were known as filibustering
, or freebooting, and were supported by the Southern expansionist secret society
, the Knights of the Golden Circle
Duel with William Hicks Graham
Walker gained national attention by dueling with law clerk William Hicks Graham on January 12, 1851.
Walker criticized Graham and his colleagues in the Herald
, which angered Graham and prompted him to challenge Walker to a duel.
Graham was a notorious gunman, having taken part in a number of duels and shootouts in the Old West. Walker, on the other hand, had experience dueling with single-shot pistols at one time, but his duel with Graham was fought with revolvers.
The combatants met at Mission Dolores
, where each was given a Colt Dragoon
with five shots. They stood face to face at ten paces, and each aimed and fired at the signal of a referee. Graham managed to fire two bullets, hitting Walker in his pantaloons and his thigh, seriously wounding him. Walker tried a number of times to shoot his weapon, but he failed to land even a single shot and Graham was left unscathed. The duel ended when Walker conceded. Graham was arrested but was quickly released. The duel was recorded in The Daily Alta California
Invasion of Mexico
In the summer of 1853 Walker traveled to Guaymas
in Mexico, seeking a grant from the Mexican government
to establish a colony. He proposed that his colony would serve as a fortified frontier, protecting U.S. soil from Indian
raids. Mexico refused, and Walker returned to San Francisco determined to obtain his colony regardless of Mexico's position.
He began recruiting American supporters of slavery
and of the Manifest Destiny
doctrine, mostly inhabitants of Tennessee and Kentucky
. Walker's plans then expanded from forming a buffer colony to establishing an independent Republic of Sonora
, which might eventually take its place as a part of the Union (as the Republic of Texas
had done in 1845). He funded his project by "selling scrips which were redeemable in lands of Sonora
Flag of the Republic of Sonora
On October 15, 1853, Walker set out with forty-five men to conquer the Mexican territories of Baja California Territory
and Sonora State
. He succeeded in capturing La Paz
, the capital of sparsely populated Baja California, which he declared the capital of a new "Republic of Lower California"
(declared November 3, 1853), with himself as president and his former law-partner, Henry P. Watkins,
as vice president. Walker then put the region under the laws of the American state of Louisiana
, which made slavery legal.
Fearful of attacks by Mexico, Walker moved his headquarters twice over the next three months, first to Cabo San Lucas
, and then further north to Ensenada
to maintain a more secure base of operations. Although he never gained control of Sonora, less than three months later,[when?]
he pronounced Baja California part of the larger Republic of Sonora
Lack of supplies and strong resistance by the Mexican government quickly forced Walker to retreat.
Invasion of Nicaragua
William Walker's Nicaragua map
Since there was no inter-oceanic route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the time, and the transcontinental railway
did not yet exist, a major trade route between New York City
and San Francisco ran through southern Nicaragua. Ships from New York entered the San Juan River
from the Atlantic and sailed across Lake Nicaragua
. People and goods were then transported by stagecoach across a narrow strip of land near the city of Rivas
, before reaching the Pacific and ships to San Francisco. The commercial exploitation of this route had been granted by Nicaragua to the Accessory Transit Company
, controlled by shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt
In 1854, a civil war erupted in Nicaragua between the Legitimist Party
(also called the Conservative Party), based in the city of Granada
, and the Democratic Party
(also called the Liberal Party), based in León
. The Democratic Party sought military support from Walker who, to circumvent U.S. neutrality laws, obtained a contract from Democratic president Francisco Castellón
to bring as many as three hundred "colonists" to Nicaragua. These mercenaries
received the right to bear arms in the service of the Democratic government. Walker sailed from San Francisco on May 3, 1855,
with approximately sixty men. Upon landing, the force was reinforced by 110 locals.
With Walker's expeditionary force was the well-known explorer and journalist Charles Wilkins Webber
, as well as the English adventurer Charles Frederick Henningsen
, a veteran of the First Carlist War
, the Hungarian Revolution
, and the war in Circassia
Besides Henningsen, three members of Walker's forces who became Confederate
officers were Birkett D. Fry
, Robert C. Tyler
, and Chatham Roberdeau Wheat
With Castellón's consent, Walker attacked the Legitimists
in Rivas, near the trans-isthmian route. He was driven off, but not without inflicting heavy casualties. In this First Battle of Rivas
, a school teacher called Enmanuel Mongalo y Rubio
(1834–1872) burned the Filibuster headquarters. On September 3, during the Battle of La Virgen
, Walker defeated the Legitimist army.
On October 13, he conquered Granada and took effective control of the country. Initially, as commander of the army, Walker ruled Nicaragua through provisional President Patricio Rivas
.U.S. President Franklin Pierce
recognized Walker's regime as the legitimate government of Nicaragua on May 20, 1856,
and on 3 June the Democratic national convention expressed support of the effort to "regenerate" Nicaragua.
However, Walker's first ambassadorial appointment, Colonel Parker H. French
, was refused recognition.
On 22 September, Walker repealed Nicaraguan laws prohibiting slavery, in an attempt to gain support from the Southern states.
Walker's actions in the region caused concern in neighboring countries and potential U.S. and European investors who feared he would pursue further military conquests in Central America. C. K. Garrison
and Charles Morgan
, subordinates of Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit Company, provided financial and logistical support to the Filibusters in exchange for Walker, as ruler of Nicaragua, seizing the company's property (on the pretext of a charter violation) and turning it over to Garrison and Morgan. Outraged, Vanderbilt dispatched two secret agents to the Costa Rican government
with plans to fight Walker. They would help regain control of Vanderbilt's steamboats which had become a logistical lifeline for Walker's army.
Concerned about Walker's intentions in the region, Costa Rican President Juan Rafael Mora Porras
rejected his diplomatic overtures and began preparing the country's military for a potential conflict.
Walker organized a battalion of four companies, of which one was composed of Germans, a second of Frenchmen, and the other two of Americans, totaling 240 men placed under the command of Colonel Schlessinger to invade Costa Rica in a preemptive action. This advance force was defeated at the Battle of Santa Rosa
on March 20, 1856.
The most important strategic defeat of Walker came during the Campaign of 1856–57
when the Costa Rican army, led by Porras, General José Joaquín Mora Porras
(the president's brother), and General José María Cañas
(1809–1860), defeated the Filibusters in Rivas on April 11, 1856 (the Second Battle of Rivas
It was in this battle that the soldier and drummer Juan Santamaría
sacrificed himself by setting the Filibuster stronghold on fire. In parallel with Enmanuel Mongalo y Rubio in Nicaragua, Santamaría would become Costa Rica's national hero. Walker deliberately contaminated the water wells of Rivas with corpses. Later, a cholera
epidemic spread to the Costa Rican troops and the civilian population of Rivas. Within a few months nearly 10,000 civilians had died, almost ten percent of the population of Costa Rica.
Flag of Nicaragua under Walker
From the north, President José Santos Guardiola
sent Honduran troops under the leadership of the Xatruch brothers, who joined Salvadoran troops to fight Walker. Florencio Xatruch
led his troops against Walker and the filibusters in la Puebla, Rivas. Later, because of the opposition of other Central American armies, José Joaquín Mora Porras was made Commandant General-in-Chief of the Allied Armies of Central America in the Third Battle of Rivas
During this civil war, Honduras and El Salvador recognized Xatruch as brigade and division general. On June 12, 1857, after Walker surrendered, Xatruch made a triumphant entrance to Comayagua
, which was then the capital of Honduras. Both the nickname by which Hondurans are known today, Catracho
, and the more infamous nickname for Salvadorans, "Salvatrucho," are derived from Xatruch's figure and successful campaign as leader of the allied armies of Central America, as the troops of El Salvador and Honduras were national heroes, fighting side by side as Central American brothers against William Walker's troops.
As the general and his soldiers returned from battle, some Nicaraguans affectionately yelled out "¡Vienen los xatruches!
" ("Here come Xatruch's boys!") However, Nicaraguans had trouble pronouncing the general's Catalan
name, so they altered the phrase to "los catruches" and ultimately to "los catrachos."
A key role was played by the Costa Rican Army in unifying the other Central American armies to fight against Filibusters. The "Campaign of the Transit" (1857), is the name given by Costa Rican historians to the groups of several battles fought by the Costa Rican Army, supervised by Colonel Salvador Mora, and led by Colonel Blanco and Colonel Salazar at the San Juan River. By establishing control of this bi-national river at its border with Nicaragua, Costa Rica prevented military reinforcements from reaching Walker and his Filibuster troops via the Caribbean Sea. Also Costa Rican diplomacy neutralized U.S. official support for Walker by taking advantage of the dispute between the magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt
and William Walker.
President Walker's house in Granada, Nicaragua
. On October 12, 1856, during the siege of Granada, Guatemalan officer José Víctor Zavala
ran under heavy fire to capture Walker's flag and bring it back to the Central American coalition army trenches shouting "Filibuster bullets don't kill!". Zavala survived this adventure unscathed.
Walker took up residence in Granada and set himself up as President of Nicaragua, after conducting a fraudulent election. He was inaugurated on July 12, 1856, and soon launched an Americanization program, reinstating slavery, declaring English an official language and reorganizing currency and fiscal policy to encourage immigration from the United States.
Realizing that his position was becoming precarious, he sought support from the Southerners
in the U.S. by recasting his campaign as a fight to spread the institution of black slavery, which was the basis of the Southern agrarian economy. With this in mind, Walker revoked Nicaragua's emancipation edict of 1821.
This move increased Walker's popularity in the South and attracted the attention of Pierre Soulé
, an influential New Orleans
politician, who campaigned to raise support for Walker's war. Nevertheless, Walker's army was weakened by massive defections and an epidemic of cholera, and was finally defeated by the Central American coalition led by Costa Rican President Juan Rafael Mora Porras
On October 12, 1856, Guatemalan Colonel José Víctor Zavala
crossed the square of the city to the house where Walker's soldiers took shelter. Under heavy fire, he reached the enemy's flag and carried it back with him, shouting to his men that the Filibuster bullets did not kill.
On December 14, 1856, as Granada was surrounded by 4,000 troops from Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, along with independent Nicaraguan allies, Charles Frederick Henningsen
, one of Walker's generals, ordered his men to set the city ablaze before escaping and fighting their way to Lake Nicaragua. When retreating from Granada, the oldest Spanish colonial city in Nicaragua, he left a detachment with orders to level it in order to instill, as he put it, "a salutary dread of American justice". It took them over two weeks to smash, burn and flatten the city; all that remained were inscriptions on the ruins that read "Aqui Fue Granada" ("Here was Granada").
On May 1, 1857, Walker surrendered to Commander Charles Henry Davis
of the United States Navy under the pressure of Costa Rica and the Central American armies, and was repatriated. Upon disembarking in New York City, he was greeted as a hero, but he alienated public opinion when he blamed his defeat on the U.S. Navy. Within six months, he set off on another expedition, but he was arrested by the U.S. Navy Home Squadron
under the command of Commodore Hiram Paulding
and once again returned to the U.S. amid considerable public controversy over the legality of the navy's actions.
Conviction and execution
After writing an account of his Central American campaign (published in 1860 as War in Nicaragua
), Walker once again returned to the region. British colonists in Roatán
, in the Bay Islands
, fearing that the government of Honduras would move to assert its control over them, approached Walker with an offer to help him in establishing a separate, English-speaking government over the islands. Walker disembarked in the port city of Trujillo
, but soon fell into the custody of Nowell Salmon
, an officer of the Royal Navy
. The British government controlled the neighboring regions of British Honduras
) and the Mosquito Coast
(now part of modern-day Nicaragua) and had considerable strategic and economic interest in the construction of an inter-oceanic canal through Central America. It therefore regarded Walker as a menace to its own affairs in the region.
Rather than return him to the US, for reasons that remain unclear, Salmon sailed to Trujillo and delivered Walker to the Honduran authorities, together with his chief of staff, Colonel A. F. Rudler. Rudler was sentenced to four years in the mines, but Walker was sentenced to death, and executed by firing squad
, near the site of the present-day hospital, on September 12, 1860.
William Walker was 36 years old. He is buried in the "Old Cemetery", Trujillo
Influence and reputation
William Walker convinced many Southerners of the desirability of creating a slave-holding empire in tropical Latin America. In 1861, when U.S. Senator John J. Crittenden
proposed that the 36°30' parallel north
be declared as a line of demarcation between free and slave territories, some Republicans denounced such an arrangement, saying that it "would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and State owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego
The Costa Rica National Monument represents the five united Central American nations carrying weapons and William Walker fleeing.
Before the end of the American Civil War
, Walker's memory enjoyed great popularity in the southern and western United States, where he was known as "General Walker"
and as the "gray-eyed man of destiny".
Northerners, on the other hand, generally regarded him as a pirate
. Despite his intelligence and personal charm, Walker consistently proved to be a limited military and political leader. Unlike men of similar ambition, such as Cecil Rhodes
, Walker's grandiose scheming ultimately failed against the union of Central American people.
In Central American countries, the successful military campaign of 1856–1857 against William Walker became a source of national pride and identity,
and it was later promoted by local historians and politicians as substitute for the war of independence that Central America had not experienced. April 11 is a Costa Rican national holiday in memory of Walker's defeat at Rivas
. Juan Santamaría
, who played a key role in that battle, is honored as one of two Costa Rican national heroes, the other one being Juan Rafael Mora
himself. The main airport
serving San José (in Alajuela
) is named in Santamaría's honor.
To this day, a sense of Central American "coalition" among the "catracho" nations of Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, along with independent Nicaraguan allies, is remembered and celebrated as a unifying shared history.
Walker's campaigns in Lower California and Nicaragua are the subject of a historical novel by Alfred Neumann
, published in German as Der Pakt
(1949), and translated in English as Strange Conquest
(a previous UK edition was published as Look Upon This Man
Walker's campaign in Nicaragua has inspired two films, both of which take considerable liberties with his story: Burn!
(1969) directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
, starring Marlon Brando
, and Walker
(1987) directed by Alex Cox
, starring Ed Harris
. Walker's name is used for the main character in Burn!
, though the character is not meant to represent the historical William Walker and is portrayed as British.
On the other hand, Alex Cox's Walker
incorporates into its surrealist narrative many of the signposts of William Walker's life and exploits, including his original excursions into northern Mexico to his trial and acquittal on breaking the neutrality act to the triumph of his assault on Nicaragua and his execution.
A poem written by Nicaraguan Catholic priest and minister of culture from 1979 to 1987 during the Sandinista period Ernesto Cardenal
, Con Walker En Nicaragua,
translated as With Walker in Nicaragua
gives a historical treatment of the affair from the Nicaraguan perspective.
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- ^ a b Dueñas Van Severen 2006, p. 140.
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- ^ "Maps of Nicaragua, North and Central America: Population and Square Miles of Nicaragua, United States, Mexico, British and Central America, with Routes and Distances; Portraits of General Walker, Colonel Kinney, Parker H. French, and Views of the Battle of New-Orleans and Bunker Hill". World Digital Library. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- ^ McPherson, James M. (1988). Battle cry of freedom: the Civil War era. US: Oxford University Press. pp. 904 pages. ISBN 0-19-516895-X.
- ^ Tirmenstein, Lisa (May 14, 2014). "Costa Rica in 1856: Defeating William Walker While Creating a National Identity". Miami University. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
- ^ "Strange Conquest, by Alfred Neumann". Retrieved 17 March 2020.
- ^ McKinney, Mac (18 January 2011). "Life Imitating Art in Haiti? Pontecorvo's Movie Queimada (Burn!) as Presage for What May Go Down Next". OpEdNews. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
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- ^ Mitchell, Margaret. "Chapter 48". Gone With the Wind.
- ^ With Walker in Nicaragua and Other Early Poems, 1949–1954, translated by Jonathan Cohen, Wesleyan University Press, 1985
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- Dando-Collins, Stephen. Tycoon's War: How Cornelius Vanderbilt Invaded a Country to Overthrow America's Most Famous Military Adventurer (2008) excerpt and text search
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- Dueñas Van Severen, J. Ricardo (2006). La invasión filibustera de Nicaragua y la Guerra Nacional (in Spanish). Secretaría General del Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana SG-SICA.
- Gobat, Michel. Empire by Invitation: William Walker and Manifest Destiny in Central America (Harvard UP, 2018) roundtable evaluation by scholars at H-Diplo
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- May, Robert E. (2002). Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0807855812.
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- "A Serious Farce," New York Times, December 14, 1853.
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- Harrison, Brady. William Walker and the Imperial Self in American Literature. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8203-2544-9. ISBN 978-0-8203-2544-6.
- Coleman, Kevin. "William Walker, Liberal Imperialist." Diplomatic History, Volume 44, Issue 1, January 2020, pp. 165–168
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- "Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt fought war over route through Central America" from the Vanderbilt Register
- "Walker's expeditions" from GlobalSecurity.org
- "Filibustering with William Walker" from the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco
- Fuchik, Don "The Saga of William Walker" The California Native Newsletter
- Walker the 1987 Alex Cox movie, Walker, featuring Ed Harris as William Walker, at the Internet Movie Database
- Patrick Deville, Pura Vida: Vie et mort de William Walker, Seuil, Paris,2004
- "How Tennessee Adventurer William Walker became Dictator of Nicaragua in 1857 The Norvell family origins of The Grey Eyed Man of Destiny"
- the memory palace podcast episode about William Walker.
- Walker, William "The War in Nicaragua" at Google Books
- Brief recount of William Walker trying to conquer Baja California (in Spanish)
With Walker in Nicaragua by Ernesto Cardenal, translated by Jonathan Cohen
- Maps of North America and the Caribbean showing Walker's expeditions at omniatlas.com
Last edited on 3 May 2021, at 20:04
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