Military Review

"Cool Walker." As an American journalist launched the "Flibusters War" in Central America and what came of it

One of the most exciting and interesting pages in stories countries of Central America is associated with the adventure of the American journalist William Walker, who in the middle of the 1850-ies. tried to seize power in the region in order to turn several Central American states into their own colonial possessions. However, on April 11 1856, a hundred and sixty years ago, Walker's troops suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Rivas. Since that time, the "star" of the American adventurer began to rapidly go out. But first things first.

First fiasco in mexico

William Walker was born 8 May 1824 in Nashville (Tennessee, United States of America). Apparently, the young man since his childhood had remarkable abilities. He graduated from the University of Naville with a degree in law, and then studied medical science in Edinburgh and Heidelberg for a year. After moving to New Orleans, Walker took up journalism. In 1850, he moved to California, where he got a job in one of the newspapers in San Francisco. However, the measured life of a provincial journalist and a lawyer (Walker, besides working in the newspaper, also practiced law) the young and ambitious American did not like. He drew attention to the militarily and politically weak countries of Central America and set out to seize power in one of them and, thus, turn from an ordinary journalist into the head of state. Walker was inspired by the American seizure of the Mexican possessions, so the journalist was counting on the support of his adventures by the US government.

15 October 1853 Mr. William Walker, having recruited a detachment of mercenaries and proclaimed himself "colonel", sailed from San Francisco towards Mexico. American adventurers landed in Baja California, where 18 January 1854 announced the creation of an independent republic. William Walker was proclaimed president of the republic, and in addition to Baja California, it included the neighboring Mexican state of Sonora. But the Mexicans turned out to be a more serious opponent than Walker had suggested. On the territory of the self-proclaimed republic, attacks of Mexican troops and militia began, and given that Walker did not take care of the economic base of his “state”, in California and Lower Sonora there were serious interruptions in food. In the end, Walker had to abandon his undertaking and return to the United States. He again took up journalism, but the dream of the laurels of the politician and the commander did not give the young William peace. After a very short time after the failure in Mexico, Walker again decided on an adventure. This time he wanted to seize power in the small state of Nicaragua, torn apart by civil war. Here, Walker was more realistic - yet the military and political potential of Nicaragua was incomparably smaller than the Mexican one. On this Walker and counted.

People Walker in the civil war in Nicaragua

From 1854 in Nicaragua there was a civil war between conservatives and liberals - the legitimistic and democratic parties. In fact, these were not so much the parties, as competing groups of the military-political elite of the country. Democratic leader Francisco Castellón turned for help to American journalist and lawyer William Walker, whose name became known in Central America after a story with a landing in Mexico. Walker agreed to help Castellón and promised to arrive in Nicaragua at the head of three hundred mercenaries. However, he managed to recruit a squad only from 56 people. True, the people hired by Walker were experienced soldiers and not a timid guys. Among the mercenaries were many French, Austrians and Germans, there were British, Irish and Swiss, as well as Poles. 4 May 1855 Mr. William Walker led a squad of 56 mercenaries to Nicaragua. When he landed on the Nicaraguan coast, over two hundred Nicaraguan and American mercenaries joined his squad. Thus, Walker had at his disposal a well-trained and armed detachment of about three hundred men.

"Cool Walker." As an American journalist launched the "Flibusters War" in Central America and what came of it

Walker's squad attacked the positions of the legitimist party near the city of Rivas and, although they were able to repel the first legitimists, the “flibusters,” as Walker mercenaries called themselves, did not suffer serious losses and were able to inflict a serious defeat on the Legitimists in the Battle of La Virgen on September 4. 1855 October 13. Walker's squad captured an American steamer sailing along Nicaragua’s lake. Thanks to this, the filibusters managed to make a quick landing in Granada, the capital of the legitimists, and capture this city - one of the largest in Nicaragua. After the capture of Granada, control of most of Nicaragua was in the hands of William Walker. Meanwhile, Francisco Castellón, who called Walker for help, died of cholera. The new president of Nicaragua was proclaimed Patricio Rivas. However, in reality, the power in the country fell into the hands of William Walker, who formally held the post of commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nicaragua. 1855 May 20 President of the United States of America Franklin Pierce announced the recognition of the new regime in Nicaragua.

In June, 1856 Mr. William Walker was officially proclaimed President of Nicaragua. In this post, in addition to the loud statements about the revival of the political and economic power of Nicaragua, Walker was noted and such odious decision as the abolition of the law prohibiting slavery. With this, the American adventurer wanted to enlist the support of the Nicaraguan planters and the political elite of the southern states of the United States. In addition, Walker proclaimed English the state language of Nicaragua, although in this country almost no one, with the exception of representatives of the elite with a good education, did not speak English. This step was taken by Walker in order to have the possibility of support from the United States. It is likely that Walker would have been able to stay in power in Nicaragua for a much longer period if he did not regularly declare his intentions to seize the rest of the Central American countries of the “isthmus” and create a unified state entity like the United States - the United States of Central America. Naturally, these statements by Walker were not to the liking of the Guatemalan, Honduran, Costa Rican, and Salvadoran political elites, who were not about to hand over their powers to the American adventurer.

The war with Costa Rica and the feat of the drummer

The first to decide tough on Walker was Costa Rican President Juan Rafael Mora. He declared war on Nicaragua, after which William Walker decided to intervene in that country. To conduct a military operation against Costa Rica, a battalion of 258 men was formed, with two guns in service. The battalion was staffed by mercenaries and included in its membership three companies - German-Austrian, French and American. However, the ethnic principle of recruitment was not respected, and in companies, except for the Germans, Austrians, French and Americans, representatives of very different nationalities served. The battalion commanded the Austrian Colonel Schlesinger.

- Hacienda Santa Rosa

19 March 1856 A battalion of mercenaries commanded by Colonel Schlesinger invaded Costa Rica. Mercenaries captured Hacienda Santa Rosa, near which the battle took place. By the evening of 20 in March 1856, a detachment of 700 Costa-Rican soldiers under the command of General José Joaquín Maura approached Santa Rosa. Began storming Hacienda. Schlesinger's mercenaries did not expect that Costa Rican troops would be nearly three times their size. Soon, the Costa Ricans managed to break into the hacienda territory, and the mercenaries preferred to retreat, leaving both guns and fleeing into the forest adjacent to the hacienda. A hand-to-hand fight of mercenaries with Costa Rican soldiers lasted only fifteen minutes. During this time, 59 mercenaries were killed, among the Costa Rican soldiers killed 15 soldiers and 4 officer.

Having defeated Walker's mercenaries, Costa Rican troops began to pursue them and invaded Nicaragua, where they were joined by troops of legitimists. The Costa Rican Commander General Mora had 1200 men at his disposal. 11 April 1856 was a major battle near the Nicaraguan city of Rivas. William Walker's "Flibusters" barricaded themselves in the wooden fort of Rivas, which Costa Rican soldiers who surrounded the fortification could not penetrate.

Most likely, Costa Ricans would not have taken Rivas if it were not for the feat of the young drummer Juan Santamaría (1831-1856). Mulatá Juan Santamaría joined the Costa Rican Army at 16. Prior to that, he managed to work as a shepherd and painter, the boy had no father, only one mother. In childhood, for the "prickly character" Juan Santamaría was called "Hedgehog". When Walker's "filibusters" barricaded themselves in the premises of Fort Rivas and shot through the windows in front of the fortress, General José Maria Cañas, who commanded the Costa Rican troops, suggested sending a volunteer with a torch to set fire to the wooden fortification. Juan Santamaría asked his colleagues to take care of the mother. Then he took a burning torch in his hands and ran to the fort - right under fire. Of course, the filibusters opened fire on him. Huan got dozens of bullets, but he managed to reach the fort and throw a torch before he fell, shot by the Walker. Fort Rivas caught fire. Costa Rican troops won another victory that day.

- monument to Juan Santamaría

The battle killed more than 200 mercenaries Walker. As for the mother of the deceased, Juan Santamaría, she received a state pension, and the deceased hero himself became one of the symbols of the Costa Rican national idea. In Costa Rica, 11 April is still celebrated as a national holiday - Juan Santamaría Day. In the capital, a monument to the legendary hero of the Battle of Fort Rivas.

How the “steamer owner” deprived Walker of power

Panic moods began to spread among the remaining "filibusters", many of them chose to desert. But the Costa Rican troops failed to complete the defeat of the troops of William Walker. In Nicaragua, an epidemic of cholera began, causing hundreds of Costa Ricans to become sick, as part of a belligerent army. Moreover, the soldiers returning home brought cholera to Costa Rica. As a result of the epidemic, the country lost about 15% of its population. Naturally, the war in Nicaragua was stopped, and William Walker got a chance to retain his power. However, he made the second mistake - he seized the property of American transport magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, located in Nicaragua. The businessman was enraged and, using extensive contacts in the leadership of the United States, achieved the abolition of recognition of the Walker regime in Nicaragua by the US government. After that, with the help of Vanderbilt, intervention was organized in Nicaragua by forces of three states - Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

In the fall of 1856, the four-thousandth united army of the three states of Central America invaded Nicaragua. By this time, only 500 soldiers and officers remained subordinate to Walker, so there was no question of any confrontation in open battle. Walker's squad entrenched in the city of Granada, which 12 October besieged the allied forces. The siege of Granada lasted two months. Understanding the meaninglessness of further finding in the besieged fortress, and given that food was about to end, Walker and his “filibusters” left the city, taking advantage of the gaps in the siege ring. Leaving Granada, the mercenaries set fire to this one of the oldest cities in Nicaragua, leaving a sign on the central square with an inscription in Spanish "Granada was here." Pursued by the Allied forces, Walker's filibusters in the spring of 1857 reached the shore of the Pacific Ocean, where they plunged onto the American sloop St. Mary commanded by Captain Charles Davis. On this vessel, about 300 people were evacuated in the US — remnants of Walker's army.

The Last Gamble and the End of the "Colonel" Walker

Having settled in California, Walker returned to law and journalistic practice. But deep down, he continued to dream that someday become the ruler of one of the Central American countries. In the end, three years after the defeat in Nicaragua, William Walker decided on his last adventure. He learned that on the coast of Honduras there are several settlements inhabited by American and English colonists. It seemed to Walker that here he would definitely be able to find the support of English-speaking settlers. Having collected a new squad of mercenaries, William Walker in August 1860 landed on the coast of Honduras.

But this time, fate turned out to be even less favorable to the American adventurer than in the history of the occupation of Nicaragua. Walker's detachment was immediately blocked from land by Honduran troops. From the sea, he was blocked by an English ship. Caught in a hopeless situation, William Walker decided to surrender to the commander of a British ship, Commander Newell Salmon. Walker hoped that the Englishman would help him escape and return to the United States. But Salmon arrested the adventurer and soon betrayed him to the military authorities of Honduras. 12 September 1860 d. 36 The summer “Colonel” William Walker, a former lawyer, journalist and president of Nicaragua, was executed by the military court of Honduras. In Central America, the invasion of William Walker is still cited as an example of the aggressive US policy towards the countries of the region, an attempt to enslave the Central American population and completely subjugate its American interests.
Photos used:,,
Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must sign in.
  1. parusnik
    parusnik April 14 2016 08: 04
    An English ship blocked him from the sea..Honduras was then in the sphere of interests of Great Britain .. The British did not need Walker ... Thank you, Ilya .. a great article, I read it with pleasure ..
  2. Cartalon
    Cartalon April 14 2016 09: 00
    Somehow running with a dozen bullets looks doubtful
    1. CTABEP
      CTABEP April 14 2016 19: 54
      As well as a building flushed from one torch, full of experienced thugs (who did not try to extinguish it). Like the losses in that hassle. But the winners write the story, they compose beautiful legends, often embellish the truth greatly :).
  3. delvin-fil
    delvin-fil April 14 2016 10: 00
  4. Normal ok
    Normal ok April 14 2016 10: 30
    Quote: Cartalon
    Somehow running with a dozen bullets looks doubtful

    Gun bullets then had a caliber of 16-17mm, respectively, the stopping effect was huge. The pain shock, even from the hit of one bullet, was supposed to be not childish.
    1. gaura
      gaura April 15 2016 09: 25
      Remember the story of how the officer’s head was chopped off and he walked some more meters there. In principle, everything is possible