Real Soldiers of Fortune
Richard Harding Davis

Part 2 out of 3

In October, 1898, a month after the battle of Omdurman, Churchill
made his debut as a political speaker at minor meetings in Dover
and Rotherhithe. History does not record that these first speeches
set fire to the Channel. During the winter he finished and
published his "River War," and in the August of the following
summer, 1899, at a by-election, offered himself as Member of
Parliament for Oldham.

In the _Daily Telegraph_ his letters from the three campaigns in
India and Egypt had made his name known, and there was a
general desire to hear him and to see him. In one who had attacked
Kitchener of Khartum, the men of Oldham expected to find a
stalwart veteran, bearded, and with a voice of command. When
they were introduced to a small red-haired boy with a lisp, they
refused to take him seriously. In England youth is an unpardonable
thing. Lately, Curzon, Churchill, Edward Grey, Hugh Cecil, and
others have made it less reprehensible. But, in spite of a vigorous
campaign, in which Lady Randolph took an active part, Oldham
decided it was not ready to accept young Churchill for a member.
Later he was Oldham's only claim to fame.

A week after he was defeated he sailed for South Africa, where
war with the Boers was imminent. He had resigned from his
regiment and went south as war correspondent for the _Morning

Later in the war he held a commission as Lieutenant in the South
African Light Horse, a regiment of irregular cavalry, and on the
staffs of different generals acted as galloper and aide-de-camp. To
this combination of duties, which was in direct violation of a rule
of the War Office, his brother officers and his fellow
correspondents objected; but, as in each of his other campaigns he
had played this dual role, the press censors considered it a
traditional privilege, and winked at it. As a matter of record,
Churchill's soldiering never seemed to interfere with his writing,
nor, in a fight, did his duty to his paper ever prevent him from
mixing in as a belligerent.

War was declared October 9th, and only a month later, while
scouting in the armored train along the railroad line between
Pietermaritzburg and Colenso, the cars were derailed and
Churchill was taken prisoner.

The train was made up of three flat cars, two armored cars, and
between them the engine, with three cars coupled to the
cow-catcher and two to the tender.

On the outward trip the Boers did not show themselves, but as
soon as the English passed Frere station they rolled a rock on the
track at a point where it was hidden by a curve. On the return trip,
as the English approached this curve the Boers opened fire with
artillery and pompoms. The engineer, in his eagerness to escape,
rounded the curve at full speed, and, as the Boers had expected, hit
the rock. The three forward cars were derailed, and one of them
was thrown across the track, thus preventing the escape of the
engine and the two rear cars. From these Captain Haldane, who
was in command, with a detachment of the Dublins, kept up a
steady fire on the enemy, while Churchill worked to clear the
track. To assist him he had a company of Natal volunteers, and
those who had not run away of the train hands and break-down

"We were not long left in the comparative safety of a railroad
accident," Churchill writes to his paper. "The Boers' guns, swiftly
changing their position, reopened fire from a distance of thirteen
hundred yards before any one had got out of the stage of
exclamations. The tapping rifle-fire spread along the hills, until it
encircled the wreckage on three sides, and from some high ground
on the opposite side of the line a third field-gun came into action."

For Boer marksmen with Mausers and pompoms, a wrecked
railroad train at thirteen hundred yards was as easy a bull's-eye as
the hands of the first baseman to the pitcher, and while the engine
butted and snorted and the men with their bare bands tore at the
massive beams of the freight-car, the bullets and shells beat about

"I have had in the last four years many strange and varied
experiences," continues young Churchill, "but nothing was so
thrilling as this; to wait and struggle among these clanging,
rending iron boxes, with the repeated explosions of the shells, the
noise of the projectiles striking the cars, the hiss as they passed in
the air, the grunting and puffing of the engine--poor, tortured
thing, hammered by at least a dozen shells, any one of which, by
penetrating the boiler, might have made an end of all--the
expectation of destruction as a matter of course, the realization of
powerlessness--all this for seventy minutes by the clock, with only
four inches of twisted iron between danger, captivity, and shame
on one side--and freedom on the other."

The "protected" train had proved a deathtrap, and by the time the
line was clear every fourth man was killed or wounded. Only the
engine, with the more severely wounded heaped in the cab and
clinging to its cow-catcher and foot-rails, made good its escape.
Among those left behind, a Tommy, without authority, raised a
handkerchief on his rifle, and the Boers instantly ceased firing and
came galloping forward to accept surrender. There was a general
stampede to escape. Seeing that Lieutenant Franklin was gallantly
trying to hold his men, Churchill, who was safe on the engine,
jumped from it and ran to his assistance. Of what followed, this is
his own account:

"Scarcely had the locomotive left me than I found myself alone in
a shallow cutting, and none of our soldiers, who had all
surrendered, to be seen. Then suddenly there appeared on the line
at the end of the cutting two men not in uniform. 'Plate-layers,' I
said to myself, and then, with a surge of realization, 'Boers.' My
mind retains a momentary impression of these tall figures, full of
animated movement, clad in dark flapping clothes, with slouch,
storm-driven hats, posing their rifles hardly a hundred yards away.
I turned and ran between the rails of the track, and the only
thought I achieved was this: 'Boer marksmanship.'

"Two bullets passed, both within a foot, one on either side. I flung
myself against the banks of the cutting. But they gave no cover.
Another glance at the figures; one was now kneeling to aim. Again
I darted forward. Again two soft kisses sucked in the air, but
nothing struck me. I must get out of the cutting--that damnable
corridor. I scrambled up the bank. The earth sprang up beside me,
and a bullet touched my hand, but outside the cutting was a tiny
depression. I crouched in this, struggling to get my wind. On the
other side of the railway a horseman galloped up, shouting to me
and waving his hand. He was scarcely forty yards off. With a rifle I
could have killed him easily. I knew nothing of the white flag, and
the bullets had made me savage. I reached down for my Mauser
pistol. I had left it in the cab of the engine. Between me and the
horseman there was a wire fence. Should I continue to fly? The
idea of another shot at such a short range decided me. Death stood
before me, grim and sullen; Death without his light-hearted
companion, Chance. So I held up my hand, and like Mr. Jorrock's
foxes, cried 'Capivy!' Then I was herded with the other prisoners in
a miserable group, and about the same time I noticed that my hand
was bleeding, and it began to pour with rain.

"Two days before I had written to an officer at home: 'There has
been a great deal too much surrendering in this war, and I hope
people who do so will not be encouraged.'"

With other officers, Churchill was imprisoned in the State Model
Schools, situated in the heart of Pretoria. It was distinctly
characteristic that on the very day of his arrival he began to plan to

Toward this end his first step was to lose his campaign hat, which
he recognized was too obviously the hat of an English officer. The
burgher to whom he gave money to purchase him another
innocently brought him a Boer sombrero.

Before his chance to escape came a month elapsed, and the
opportunity that then offered was less an opportunity to escape
than to get himself shot.

The State Model Schools were surrounded by the children's
playgrounds, penned in by a high wall, and at night, while they
were used as a prison, brilliantly lighted by electric lights. After
many nights of observation, Churchill discovered that while the
sentries were pacing their beats there was a moment when to them
a certain portion of the wall was in darkness. This was due to
cross-shadows cast by the electric lights. On the other side of this
wall there was a private house set in a garden filled with bushes.
Beyond this was the open street.

To scale the wall was not difficult; the real danger lay in the fact
that at no time were the sentries farther away than fifteen yards,
and the chance of being shot by one or both of them was excellent.
To a brother officer Churchill confided his purpose, and together
they agreed that some night when the sentries had turned from the
dark spot on the wall they would scale it and drop among the
bushes in the garden. After they reached the garden, should they
reach it alive, what they were to do they did not know. How they
were to proceed through the streets and out of the city, how they
were to pass unchallenged under its many electric lights and before
the illuminated shop windows, how to dodge patrols, and how to
find their way through two hundred and eighty miles of a South
African wilderness, through an utterly unfamiliar, unfriendly, and
sparsely settled country into Portuguese territory and the coast,
they left to chance. But with luck they hoped to cover the distance
in a fortnight, begging corn at the Kaffir kraals, sleeping by day,
and marching under cover of the darkness.

They agreed to make the attempt on the 11th of December, but on
that night the sentries did not move from the only part of the wall
that was in shadow. On the night following, at the last moment,
something delayed Churchill's companion, and he essayed the
adventure alone. He writes: "Tuesday, the 12th! Anything was
better than further suspense. Again night came. Again the dinner
bell sounded. Choosing my opportunity, I strolled across the
quadrangle and secreted myself in one of the offices. Through a
chink I watched the sentries. For half an hour they remained stolid
and obstructive. Then suddenly one turned and walked up to his
comrade and they began to talk. Their backs were turned.

I darted out of my hiding-place and ran to the wall, seized the top
with my hands and drew myself up. Twice I let myself down again
in sickly hesitation, and then with a third resolve scrambled up.
The top was flat. Lying on it, I had one parting glimpse of the
sentries, still talking, still with their backs turned, but, I repeat,
still fifteen yards away. Then I lowered myself into the adjoining
garden and crouched among the shrubs. I was free. The first step
had been taken, and it was irrevocable."

Churchill discovered that the house into the garden of which he
had so unceremoniously introduced himself was brilliantly lighted,
and that the owner was giving a party. At one time two of the
guests walked into the garden and stood, smoking and chatting, in
the path within a few yards of him.

Thinking his companion might yet join him, for an hour he
crouched in the bushes, until from the other side of the wall he
heard the voices of his friend and of another officer.

"It's all up!" his friend whispered. Churchill coughed tentatively.
The two voices drew nearer. To confuse the sentries, should they
be listening, the one officer talked nonsense, laughed loudly, and
quoted Latin phrases, while the other, in a low and distinct voice,
said: " I cannot get out. The sentry suspects. It's all up. Can you get
back again?"

To go back was impossible. Churchill now felt that in any case he
was sure to be recaptured, and decided he would, as he expresses
it, at least have a run for his money.

"I shall go on alone," he whispered.

He heard the footsteps of his two friends move away from him
across the play yard. At the same moment he stepped boldly out
into the garden and, passing the open windows of the house,
walked down the gravel path to the street. Not five yards from the
gate stood a sentry. Most of those guarding the school-house knew
him by sight, but Churchill did not turn his head, and whether the
sentry recognized him or not, he could not tell.

For a hundred feet he walked as though on ice, inwardly shrinking
as he waited for the sharp challenge, and the rattle of the Mauser
thrown to the "Ready." His nerves were leaping, his heart in his
throat, his spine of water. And then, as he continued to advance,
and still no tumult pursued him, he quickened his pace and turned
into one of the main streets of Pretoria. The sidewalks were
crowded with burghers, but no one noticed him. This was due
probably to the fact that the Boers wore no distinctive uniform,
and that with them in their commandoes were many English
Colonials who wore khaki riding breeches, and many Americans,
French, Germans, and Russians, in every fashion of semi-uniform.

If observed, Churchill was mistaken for one of these, and the very
openness of his movements saved him from suspicion.

Straight through the town he walked until he reached the suburbs,
the open veldt, and a railroad track. As he had no map or compass
he knew this must be his only guide, but he knew also that two
railroads left Pretoria, the one along which he had been captured,
to Pietermaritzburg, and the other, the one leading to the coast and
freedom. Which of the two this one was he had no idea, but he
took his chance, and a hundred yards beyond a station waited for
the first outgoing train. About midnight, a freight stopped at the
station, and after it had left it and before it had again gathered
headway, Churchill swung himself up upon it, and stretched out
upon a pile of coal. Throughout the night the train continued
steadily toward the east, and so told him that it was the one he
wanted, and that he was on his way to the neutral territory of

Fearing the daylight, just before the sun rose, as the train was
pulling up a steep grade, he leaped off into some bushes. All that
day he lay hidden, and the next night he walked. He made but little
headway. As all stations and bridges were guarded, he had to make
long detours, and the tropical moonlight prevented him from
crossing in the open. In this way, sleeping by day, walking by
night, begging food from the Kaffirs, five days passed.

Meanwhile, his absence had been at once discovered, and, by the
Boers, every effort was being made to retake him. Telegrams
giving his description were sent along both railways, three
thousand photographs of him were distributed, each car of every
train was searched, and in different parts of the Transvaal men
who resembled him were being arrested. It was said he had
escaped dressed as a woman; in the uniform of a Transvaal
policeman whom he had bribed; that he had never left Pretoria,
and that in the disguise of a waiter he was concealed in the house
of a British sympathizer. On the strength of this rumor the houses
of all suspected persons were searched.

In the Volksstem it was pointed out as a significant fact that a
week before his escape Churchill had drawn from the library Mill's
"Essay on Liberty."

In England and over all British South Africa the escape created as
much interest as it did in Pretoria. Because the attempt showed
pluck, and because he had outwitted the enemy, Churchill for the
time became a sort of popular hero, and to his countrymen his
escape gave as much pleasure as it was a cause of chagrin to the

But as days passed and nothing was heard of him, it was feared he
had lost himself in the Machadodorp Mountains, or had
succumbed to starvation, or, in the jungle toward the coast, to
fever, and congratulations gave way to anxiety.

The anxiety was justified, for at this time Churchill was in a very
bad way. During the month in prison he had obtained but little
exercise. The lack of food and of water, the cold by night and the
terrific heat by day, the long stumbling marches in the darkness,
the mental effect upon an extremely nervous, high-strung
organization of being hunted, and of having to hide from his
fellow men, had worn him down to a condition almost of collapse.

Even though it were neutral soil, in so exhausted a state he dared
not venture into the swamps and waste places of the Portuguese
territory; and, sick at heart as well as sick in body, he saw no
choice left him save to give himself up.

But before doing so he carefully prepared a tale which, although
most improbable, he hoped might still conceal his identity and aid
him to escape by train across the border.

One night after days of wandering he found himself on the
outskirts of a little village near the boundary line of the Transvaal
and Portuguese territory. Utterly unable to proceed further, he
crawled to the nearest zinc-roofed shack, and, fully prepared to
surrender, knocked at the door. It was opened by a rough-looking,
bearded giant, the first white man to whom in many days Churchill
had dared address himself.

To him, without hope, he feebly stammered forth the speech he
had rehearsed. The man listened with every outward mark of
disbelief. At Churchill himself he stared with open suspicion.
Suddenly he seized the boy by the shoulder, drew him inside the
hut, and barred the door.

"You needn't lie to me," he said. "You are Winston Churchill, and
I--am the only Englishman in this village."

The rest of the adventure was comparatively easy. The next night
his friend in need, an engineer named Howard, smuggled Churchill
Into a freight-car, and hid him under sacks of some soft

At Komatie-Poort, the station on the border, for eighteen hours the
car in which Churchill lay concealed was left in the sun on a
siding, and before it again started it was searched, but the man who
was conducting the search lifted only the top layer of sacks, and a
few minutes later Churchill heard the hollow roar of the car as it
passed over the bridge, and knew that he was across the border.

Even then he took no chances, and for two days more lay hidden at
the bottom of the car.

When at last he arrived in Lorenzo Marques he at once sought out
the English Consul, who, after first mistaking him for a stoker
from one of the ships in the harbor, gave him a drink, a bath, and a

As good luck would have it, the _Induna_ was leaving that night
for Durban, and, escorted by a body-guard of English residents
armed with revolvers, and who were taking no chances of his
recapture by the Boer agents, he was placed safely on board. Two
days later he arrived at Durban, where he was received by the
Mayor, the populace, and a brass band playing: "Britons Never,
Never, Never shall be Slaves!"

For the next month Churchill was bombarded by letters and
telegrams from every part of the globe, some invited him to
command filibustering expeditions, others sent him woollen
comforters, some forwarded photographs of himself to be signed,
others photographs of themselves, possibly to be admired, others
sent poems, and some bottles of whiskey.

One admirer wrote: "My congratulations on your wonderful and
glorious deeds, which will send such a thrill of pride and
enthusiasm through Great Britain and the United States of
America, that the Anglo-Saxon race will be irresistible."

Lest so large an order as making the Anglo-Saxon race irresistible
might turn the head of a subaltern, an antiseptic cablegram was
also sent him, from London, reading:

"Best friends here hope you won't go making further ass of


One day in camp we counted up the price per word of this
cablegram, and Churchill was delighted to find that it must have
cost the man who sent it five pounds.

On the day of his arrival in Durban, with the cheers still in the air,
Churchill took the first train to "the front," then at Colenso.
Another man might have lingered. After a month's imprisonment
and the hardships of the escape, he might have been excused for
delaying twenty-four hours to taste the sweets of popularity and the
flesh-pots of the Queen Hotel. But if the reader has followed this
brief biography he will know that to have done so would have been
out of the part. This characteristic of Churchill's to get on to the
next thing explains his success. He has no time to waste on
postmortems, he takes none to rest on his laurels.

As a war correspondent and officer he continued with Buller until
the relief of Ladysmith, and with Roberts until the fall of Pretoria.
He was in many actions, in all the big engagements, and came out
of the war with another medal and clasps for six battles.

On his return to London he spent the summer finishing his second
book on the war, and in October at the general election as a
"khaki" candidate, as those were called who favored the war, again
stood for Oldham. This time, with his war record to help him, he
wrested from the Liberals one of Oldham's two seats. He had been
defeated by thirteen hundred votes; he was elected by a majority of
two hundred and twenty-seven.

The few months that intervened between his election and the
opening of the new Parliament were snatched by Churchill for a
lecturing tour at home, and in the United States and Canada. His
subject was the war and his escape from Pretoria.

When he came to this country half of the people here were in
sympathy with the Boers, and did not care to listen to what they
supposed would be a strictly British version of the war. His
manager, without asking permission of those whose names he
advertised, organized for Churchill's first appearance in various
cities, different reception committees.

Some of those whose names, without their consent, were used for
these committees, wrote indignantly to the papers, saying that
while for Churchill, personally, they held every respect, they
objected to being used to advertise an anti-Boer demonstration.

While this was no fault of Churchill's, who, until he reached this
country knew nothing of it, it was neither for him nor for the
success of his tour the best kind of advance work.

During the fighting to relieve Ladysmith, with General Buller's
force, Churchill and I had again been together, and later when I
joined the Boer army, at the Zand River Battle, the army with
which he was a correspondent had chased the army with which I
was a correspondent, forty miles. I had been one of those who
refused to act on his reception committee, and he had come to this
country with a commission from twenty brother officers to shoot
me on sight. But in his lecture he was using the photographs I had
taken of the scene of his escape, and which I had sent him from
Pretoria as a souvenir, and when he arrived I was at the hotel to
welcome him, and that same evening three hours after midnight he
came, in a blizzard, pounding at our door for food and drink. What
is a little thing like a war between friends?

During his "tour," except of hotels, parlor-cars, and "Lyceums," he
saw very little of this country or of its people, and they saw very
little of him. On the trip, which lasted about two months, he
cleared ten thousand dollars. This, to a young man almost entirely
dependent for an income upon his newspaper work and the sale of
his books, nearly repaid him for the two months of "one night
stands." On his return to London he took his seat in the new

It was a coincidence that he entered Parliament at the same age as
did his father. With two other members, one born six days earlier
than himself, he enjoyed the distinction of being among the three
youngest members of the new House.

The fact did not seem to appall him. In the House it is a tradition
that young and ambitious members sit "below" the gangway; the
more modest and less assured are content to place themselves
"above" it, at a point farthest removed from the leaders.

On the day he was sworn in there was much curiosity to see where
Churchill would elect to sit. In his own mind there was apparently
no doubt. After he had taken the oath, signed his name, and shaken
the hand of the Speaker, without hesitation he seated himself on
the bench next to the Ministry. Ten minutes later, so a newspaper
of the day describes it, he had cocked his hat over his eyes, shoved
his hands into his trousers pockets, and was lolling back eying the
veterans of the House with critical disapproval.

His maiden speech was delivered in May, 1901, in reply to David
Lloyd George, who had attacked the conduct of British soldiers in
South Africa. Churchill defended them, and in a manner that from
all sides gained him honest admiration. In the course of the debate
he produced and read a strangely apropos letter which, fifteen
years before, had been written by his father to Lord Salisbury. His
adroit use of this filled H. W. Massingham, the editor of the _Daily
News_, with enthusiasm. Nothing in parliamentary tactics, he
declared, since Mr. Gladstone died, had been so clever. He
proclaimed that Churchill would be Premier. John Dillon, the
Nationalist leader, said he never before had seen a young man, by
means of his maiden effort, spring into the front rank of
parliamentary speakers. He promised that the Irish members would
ungrudgingly testify to his ability and honesty of purpose. Among
others to at once recognize the rising star was T. P. O'Connor,
himself for many years of the parliamentary firmament one of the
brightest stars. In _M. A. P._ he wrote: "I am inclined to think that
the dash of American blood which he has from his mother has
been an improvement on the original stock, and that Mr. Winston
Churchill may turn out to be a stronger and abler politician than
his father."

It was all a part of Churchill's "luck" that when he entered
Parliament the subject in debate was the conduct of the war.

Even in those first days of his career in the House, in debates
where angels feared to tread, he did not hesitate to rush in, but this
subject was one on which he spoke with knowledge. Over the
older men who were forced to quote from hearsay or from what
they had read, Churchill had the tremendous advantage of being
able to protest: "You only read of that. I was there. I saw it."

In the House he became at once one of the conspicuous and
picturesque figures, one dear to the heart of the caricaturist, and
one from the strangers' gallery most frequently pointed out. He was
called "the spoiled child of the House," and there were several
distinguished gentlemen who regretted they were forced to spare
the rod. Broderick, the Secretary for War, was one of these. Of him
and of his recruits in South Africa, Churchill spoke with the awful
frankness of the _enfant terrible_. And although he addressed them
more with sorrow than with anger, to Balfour and Chamberlain he
daily administered advice and reproof, while mere generals and
field-marshals, like Kitchener and Roberts, blushing under new
titles, were held up for public reproof and briefly but severely
chastened. Nor, when he saw Lord Salisbury going astray, did he
hesitate in his duty to the country, but took the Prime Minister by
the hand and gently instructed him in the way he should go.

This did not tend to make him popular, but in spite of his
unpopularity, in his speeches against national extravagancies he
made so good a fight that he forced the Government, unwillingly,
to appoint a committee to investigate the need of economy. For a
beginner this was a distinct triumph.

With Lord Hugh Cecil, Lord Percy, Ian Malcolm, and other clever
young men, he formed inside the Conservative Party a little group
that in its obstructive and independent methods was not unlike the
Fourth Party of his father. From its leader and its filibustering,
guerilla-like tactics the men who composed it were nicknamed the
"Hughligans." The Hughligans were the most active critics of the
Ministry and of all in their own party, and as members of the Free
Food League they bitterly attacked the fiscal proposals of Mr.
Chamberlain. When Balfour made Chamberlain's fight for fair
trade, or for what virtually was protection, a measure of the
Conservatives, the lines of party began to break, and men were no
longer Conservatives or Liberals, but Protectionists or Free

Against this Churchill daily protested, against Chamberlain,
against his plan, against that plan being adopted by the Tory Party.
By tradition, by inheritance, by instinct, Churchill was a Tory.

"I am a Tory," he said, "and I have as much right in the party as has
anybody else, certainly as much as certain people from
Birmingham. They can't turn us out, and we, the Tory Free
Traders, have as much right to dictate the policy of the
Conservative Party as have any reactionary Fair Traders." In 1904
the Conservative Party already recognized Churchill as one
working outside the breastworks. Just before the Easter vacation of
that year, when he rose to speak a remarkable demonstration was
made against him by his Unionist colleagues, all of them rising
and leaving the House.

To the Liberals who remained to hear him he stated that if to his
constituents his opinions were obnoxious, he was ready to resign
his seat. It then was evident he would go over to the Liberal Party.
Some thought he foresaw which way the tidal wave was coming,
and to being slapped down on the beach and buried in the sand, he
preferred to be swept forward on its crest. Others believed he left
the Conservatives because he could not honestly stomach the taxed
food offered by Mr. Chamberlain.

In any event, if he were to be blamed for changing from one party
to the other, he was only following the distinguished example set
him by Gladstone, Disraeli, Harcourt, and his own father.

It was at the time of this change that he was called "the best hated
man in England," but the Liberals welcomed him gladly, and the
National Liberal Club paid him the rare compliment of giving in
his honor a banquet. There were present two hundred members.
Up to that time this dinner was the most marked testimony to his
importance in the political world. It was about then, a year since,
that he prophesied: "Within nine months there will come such a
tide and deluge as will sweep through England and Scotland, and
completely wash out and effect a much-needed spring cleaning in
Downing Street."

When the deluge came, at Manchester, Mr. Balfour was defeated,
and Churchill was victorious, and when the new Government was
formed the tidal wave landed Churchill in the office of
Under-Secretary for the Colonies.

While this is being written the English papers say that within a
month he again will be promoted. For this young man of thirty the
only promotion remaining is a position in the Cabinet, in which
august body men of fifty are considered young.

His is a picturesque career. Of any man of his few years speaking
our language, his career is probably the most picturesque. And that
he is half an American gives all of us an excuse to pretend we
share in his successes.


IN the Chinese-Japanese War the battle of the Yalu was the first
battle fought between warships of modern make, and, except on
paper, neither the men who made them nor the men who fought
them knew what the ships could do, or what they might not do. For
years every naval power had been building these new engines of
war, and in the battle which was to test them the whole world was
interested. But in this battle Americans had a special interest, a
human, family interest, for the reason that one of the Chinese
squadron, which was matched against some of the same vessels of
Japan which lately swept those of Russia from the sea, was
commanded by a young graduate of the American Naval Academy.
This young man, who, at the time of the battle of the Yalu, was
thirty-three years old, was Captain Philo Norton McGiffin. So it
appears that five years before our fleet sailed to victory in Manila
Bay another graduate of Annapolis, and one twenty years younger
than in 1898 was Admiral Dewey, had commanded in action a
modern battleship, which, in tonnage, in armament, and in the
number of the ships' company, far outclassed Dewey's _Olympia_.

McGiffin, who was born on December 13, 1860, came of fighting
stock. Back in Scotland the family is descended from the Clan
MacGregor and the Clan MacAlpine.

"These are Clan-Alpine's warriors true,
And, Saxon--I am Roderick Dhu."

McGiffin's great-grandfather, born in Scotland, emigrated to this
country and settled in "Little Washington," near Pittsburg, Pa. In
the Revolutionary War he was a soldier. Other relatives fought in
the War of 1812, one of them holding a commission as major.
McGiffin's own father was Colonel Norton McGiffin, who served
in the Mexican War, and in the Civil War was Lieutenant-Colonel
of the Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers. So McGiffin inherited
his love for arms.

In Washington he went to the high school and at the Washington
Jefferson College had passed through his freshman year. But the
honors that might accrue to him if he continued to live on in the
quiet and pretty old town of Washington did not tempt him. To
escape into the world he wrote his Congressman, begging him to
obtain for him an appointment to Annapolis. The Congressman
liked the letter, and wrote Colonel McGiffin to ask if the
application of his son had his approval. Colonel McGiffin was
willing, and in 1877 his son received his commission as cadet
midshipman. I knew McGiffin only as a boy with whom in
vacation time I went coon hunting in the woods outside of
Washington. For his age he was a very tall boy, and in his
midshipman undress uniform, to my youthful eyes, appeared a
most bold and adventurous spirit.

At Annapolis his record seems to show he was pretty much like
other boys. According to his classmates, with all of whom I find he
was very popular, he stood high in the practical studies, such as
seamanship, gunnery, navigation, and steam engineering, but in all
else he was near the foot of the class, and in whatever escapade
was risky and reckless he was always one of the leaders. To him
discipline was extremely irksome. He could maintain it among
others, but when it applied to himself it bored him. On the floor of
the Academy building on which was his room there was a pyramid
of cannon balls--relics of the War of 1812. They stood at the head
of the stairs, and one warm night, when he could not sleep, he
decided that no one else should do so, and, one by one, rolled the
cannon balls down the stairs. They tore away the banisters and
bumped through the wooden steps and leaped off into the lower
halls. For any one who might think of ascending to discover the
motive power back of the bombardment they were extremely
dangerous. But an officer approached McGiffin in the rear, and,
having been caught in the act, he was sent to the prison ship. There
he made good friends with his jailer, an old man-of-warsman
named "Mike." He will be remembered by many naval officers
who as midshipmen served on the _Santee_. McGiffin so won over
Mike that when he left the ship he carried with him six charges of
gunpowder. These he loaded into the six big guns captured in the
Mexican War, which lay on the grass in the centre of the Academy
grounds, and at midnight on the eve of July 1st he fired a salute. It
aroused the entire garrison, and for a week the empty window
frames kept the glaziers busy.

About 1878 or 1879 there was a famine in Ireland. The people of
New York City contributed provisions for the sufferers, and to
carry the supplies to Ireland the Government authorized the use of
the old _Constellation_. At the time the voyage was to begin each
cadet was instructed to consider himself as having been placed in
command of the _Constellation_ and to write a report on the
preparations made for the voyage, on the loading of the vessel, and
on the distribution of the stores. This exercise was intended for the
instruction of the cadets; first in the matter of seamanship and
navigation, and second in making official reports. At that time it
was a very difficult operation to get a gun out of the port of a
vessel where the gun was on a covered deck. To do this the
necessary tackles had to be rigged from the yard-arm and the yard
and mast properly braced and stayed, and then the lower block of
the tackle carried in through the gun port, which, of course, gave
the fall a very bad reeve. The first part of McGiffin's report dealt
with a new method of dismounting the guns and carrying them
through the gun ports, and so admirable was his plan, so simple
and ingenious, that it was used whenever it became necessary to
dismount a gun from one of the old sailing ships. Having,
however, offered this piece of good work, McGiffin's report
proceeded to tell of the division of the ship into compartments that
were filled with a miscellaneous assortment of stores, which
included the old "fifteen puzzles," at that particular time very
popular. The report terminated with a description of the joy of the
famished Irish as they received the puzzle-boxes. At another time
the cadets were required to write a report telling of the suppression
of the insurrection on the Isthmus of Panama. McGiffin won great
praise for the military arrangements and disposition of his men,
but, in the same report, he went on to describe how he armed them
with a new gun known as Baines's Rhetoric and told of the havoc
he wrought in the enemy's ranks when he fired these guns loaded
with similes and metaphors and hyperboles.

Of course, after each exhibition of this sort he was sent to the
_Santee_ and given an opportunity to meditate.

On another occasion, when one of the instructors lectured to the
cadets, he required them to submit a written statement embodying
all that they could recall of what had been said at the lecture. One
of the rules concerning this report provided that there should be no
erasures or interlineations, but that when mistakes were made the
objectionable or incorrect expressions should be included within
parentheses; and that the matter so enclosed within parentheses
would not be considered a part of the report. McGiffin wrote an
excellent _resume_ of the lecture, but he interspersed through it in
parentheses such words as "applause," "cheers," "cat-calls," and
"groans," and as these words were enclosed within parentheses he
insisted that they did not count, and made a very fair plea that he
ought not to be punished for words which slipped in by mistake,
and which he had officially obliterated by what he called oblivion

He was not always on mischief bent. On one occasion, when the
house of a professor caught fire, McGiffin ran into the flames and
carried out two children, for which act he was commended by the
Secretary of the Navy.

It was an act of Congress that determined that the career of
McGiffin should be that of a soldier of fortune. This was a most
unjust act, which provided that only as many midshipmen should
receive commissions as on the warships there were actual
vacancies. In those days, in 1884, our navy was very small. To-day
there is hardly a ship having her full complement of officers, and
the difficulty is not to get rid of those we have educated, but to get
officers to educate. To the many boys who, on the promise that
they would be officers of the navy, had worked for four years at
the Academy and served two years at sea, the act was most unfair.
Out of a class of about ninety, only the first twelve were given
commissions and the remaining eighty turned adrift upon the
uncertain seas of civil life. As a sop, each was given one thousand

McGiffin was not one of the chosen twelve. In the final
examinations on the list he was well toward the tail. But without
having studied many things, and without remembering the greater
part of them, no one graduates from Annapolis, even last on the
list; and with his one thousand dollars in cash, McGiffin had also
this six years of education at what was then the best naval college
in the world. This was his only asset--his education--and as in his
own country it was impossible to dispose of it, for possible
purchasers he looked abroad.

At that time the Tong King war was on between France and China,
and he decided, before it grew rusty, to offer his knowledge to the
followers of the Yellow Dragon. In those days that was a hazard of
new fortunes that meant much more than it does now. To-day the
East is as near as San Francisco; the Japanese-Russian War, our
occupation of the Philippines, the part played by our troops in the
Boxer trouble, have made the affairs of China part of the daily
reading of every one. Now, one can step into a brass bed at
Forty-second Street and in four days at the Coast get into another
brass bed, and in twelve more be spinning down the Bund of
Yokohama in a rickshaw. People go to Japan for the winter months
as they used to go to Cairo.

But in 1885 it was no such light undertaking, certainly not for a
young man who had been brought up in the quiet atmosphere of an
inland town, where generations of his family and other families
had lived and intermarried, content with their surroundings.

With very few of his thousand dollars left him, McGiffin arrived in
February, 1885, in San Francisco. From there his letters to his
family give one the picture of a healthy, warm-hearted youth,
chiefly anxious lest his mother and sister should "worry." In our
country nearly every family knows that domestic tragedy when the
son and heir "breaks home ties," and starts out to earn a living; and
if all the world loves a lover, it at least sympathizes with the boy
who is "looking for a job." The boy who is looking for the job may
not think so, but each of those who has passed through the same
hard place gives him, if nothing else, his good wishes. McGiffin's
letters at this period gain for him from those who have had the
privilege to read them the warmest good feeling.

They are filled with the same cheery optimism, the same slurring
over of his troubles, the same homely jokes, the same assurances
that he is feeling "bully," and that it all will come out right, that
every boy, when he starts out in the world, sends back to his

"I am in first-rate health and spirits, so I don't want you to fuss
about me. I am big enough and ugly enough to scratch along
somehow, and I will not starve."

To his mother he proudly sends his name written in Chinese
characters, as he had been taught to write it by the Chinese
Consul-General in San Francisco, and a pen-picture of two
elephants. "I am going to bring you home _two_ of these," he
writes, not knowing that in the strange and wonderful country to
which he is going elephants are as infrequent as they are in

He reached China in April, and from Nagasaki on his way to
Shanghai the steamer that carried him was chased by two French
gunboats. But, apparently much to his disappointment, she soon
ran out of range of their guns. Though he did not know it then,
with the enemy he had travelled so far to fight this was his first
and last hostile meeting; for already peace was in the air.

Of that and of how, in spite of peace, he obtained the "job" he
wanted, he must tell you himself in a letter home:

TIEN-TSIN, CHINA, April 13, 1885.

"MY DEAR MOTHER--I have not felt much in the humor for
writing, for I did not know what was going to happen. I spent a
good deal of money coming out, and when I got here, I knew,
unless something turned up, I was a gone coon. We got off Taku
forts Sunday evening and the next morning we went inside; the
channel is very narrow and sown with torpedoes. We struck
one--an electric one--in coming up, but it didn't go off. We were
until 10.30 P.M. in coming up to Tien-Tsin--thirty miles in a
straight line, but nearly seventy by the river, which is only about
one hundred feet wide--and we grounded ten times.

"Well--at last we moored and went ashore. Brace Girdle, an
engineer, and I went to the hotel, and the first thing we heard
was--that _peace was declared!_ I went back on board ship, and I
didn't sleep much--I never was so blue in my life. I knew if they
didn't want me that I might as well give up the ghost, for I could
never get away from China. Well--I worried around all night
without sleep, and in the morning I felt as if I had been drawn
through a knot-hole. I must have lost ten pounds. I went around
about 10 A.M. and gave my letters to Pethick, an American U. S.
Vice-Consul and interpreter to Li Hung Chang. He said he would
fix them for me. Then I went back to the ship, and as our captain
was going up to see Li Hung Chang, I went along out of
desperation. We got in, and after a while were taken in through
corridor after corridor of the Viceroy's palace until we got into the
great Li, when we sat down and had tea and tobacco and talked
through an interpreter. When it came my turn he asked: 'Why did
you come to China?' I said: 'To enter the Chinese service for the
war.' 'How do you expect to enter?' 'I expect _you_ to give me a
commission!' 'I have no place to offer you.' 'I think you have--I
have come all the way from America to get it.' 'What would you
like?' 'I would like to get the new torpedo-boat and go down the
Yang-tse-Kiang to the blockading squadron.' 'Will you do that?' 'Of

"He thought a little and said: 'I will see what can be done. Will you
take $100 a month for a start?' I said: 'That depends.' (Of course I
would take it.) Well, after parley, he said he would put me on the
flagship, and if I did well he would promote me. Then he looked at
me and said: 'How old are you ?' When I told him I was
twenty-four I thought he would faint--for in China a man is a
_boy_ until he is over thirty. He said I would _never_ do--I was a
child. I could not know anything at all. I could not convince him,
but at last he compromised--I was to pass an examination at the
Arsenal at the Naval College, in all branches, and if they passed
me I would have a show. So we parted. I reported for examination
next day, but was put off--same the next day. But to-day I was told
to come, and sat down to a stock of foolscap, and had a pretty stiff
exam. I am only just through. I had seamanship, gunnery,
navigation, nautical astronomy, algebra, geometry, trigonometry,
conic sections, curve tracing, differential and integral calculus. I
had only three questions out of five to answer in each branch, but
in the first three I answered all five. After that I only had time for
three, but at the end he said I need not finish, he was perfectly
satisfied. I had done remarkably well, and he would report to the
Viceroy to-morrow. He examined my first
papers--seamanship--said I was _perfect_ in it, so I will get
_along_, you need not fear. I told the Consul--he was very well
pleased--he is a nice man.

"I feel pretty well now--have had dinner and am smoking a good
Manila cheroot. I wrote hard all day, wrote fifteen sheets of
foolscap and made about a dozen drawings--got pretty tired.

"I have had a hard scramble for the service and only got in by the
skin of my teeth. I guess I will go to bed--I will sleep well

"I did not hear from the Naval Secretary, Tuesday, so yesterday
morning I went up to the Admiralty and sent in my card. He came
out and received me very well--said I had passed a 'very splendid
examination'; had been recommended very strongly to the Viceroy,
who was very much pleased; that the Director of the Naval College
over at the Arsenal had wanted me and would I go over at once? I
_would_. It was about five miles. We (a friend, who is a great rider
here) went on steeplechase ponies--we were ferried across the Pei
Ho in a small scow and then had a long ride. There _is_ a path--but
Pritchard insisted on taking all the ditches, and as my pony jumped
like a cat, it wasn't nice at first, but I didn't squeal and kept my seat
and got the swing of it at last and rather liked it. I think I will keep
a horse here--you can hire one and a servant together for $7 a
month; that is $5.60 of our money, and pony and man found in

"Well--at last we got to the Arsenal--a place about four miles
around, fortified, where all sorts of arms--cartridges, shot and
shell, engines, and _everything_--are made. The Naval College is
inside surrounded by a moat and wall. I thought to myself, if the
cadet here is like to the thing I used to be at the U. S. N. A. _that_
won't keep him in. I went through a lot of yards till I was ushered
into a room finished in black ebony and was greeted very warmly
by the Director. We took seats on a raised platform--Chinese style
and pretty soon an interpreter came, one of the Chinese professors,
who was educated abroad, and we talked and drank tea. He said I
had done well, that he had the authority of the Viceroy to take me
there as 'Professor' of seamanship and gunnery; in addition I might
be required to teach navigation or nautical astronomy, or drill the
cadets in infantry, artillery, and fencing. For this I was to receive
what would be in our money $1,800 per annum, as near as we can
compare it, paid in gold each month. Besides, I will have a house
furnished for my use, and it is their intention, as soon as I _show_
that I _know_ something, to considerably increase my pay. They
asked the Viceroy to give me 130 T per month (about $186) and
house, but the Viceroy said I was _but a boy_; that I had seen no
years and had only come here a week ago with no one to vouch for
me, and that I might turn out an impostor. But he would risk 100 T
on me anyhow, and as soon as I was reported favorably on by the
college I would be raised--the agreement is to be for three years.
For a few months I am to command a training ship--an ironclad
that is in dry dock at present, until a captain in the English Navy
comes out, who has been sent for to command her.

"_So Here I am_--twenty-four years old and captain of a
man-of-war--a better one than any in our own navy--only for a
short time, of course, but I would be a pretty long time before I
would command one at home. Well--I accepted and will enter on
my duties in a week, as soon as my house is put in order. I saw
it--it has a long veranda, very broad; with flower garden, apricot
trees, etc., just covered with blossoms; a wide hall on the front, a
room about 18x15, with a 13-foot ceiling; then back another rather
larger, with a cupola skylight in the centre, where I am going to
put a shelf with flowers. The Government is to furnish the house
with bed, tables, chairs, sideboards, lounges, stove for kitchen. I
have grates (American) in the room, but I don't need them. We
have snow, and a good deal of ice in winter, but the thermometer
never gets below zero. I have to supply my own crockery. I will
have two servants and cook; I will only get one and the cook
first--they only cost $4 to $5.50 per month, and their board
amounts to very little. I can get along, don't you think so? Now I
want you to get Jim to pack up all my professional works on
gunnery, surveying, seamanship, mathematics, astronomy, algebra,
geometry, trigonometry, conic sections, calculus, mechanics, and
_every_ book of that description I own, including those
paperbound 'Naval Institute' papers, and put them in a box,
together with any photos, etc., you think I would like--I have none
of you or Pa or the family (including Carrie)--and send to me.

"I just got in in time--didn't I? Another week would have been too
late. My funds were getting low; I would not have had _anything_
before long. The U. S. Consul, General Bromley, is much pleased.
The interpreter says it was all in the way I did with the Viceroy in
the interview.

"I will have a chance to go to Peking and later to a tiger hunt in
Mongolia, but for the present I am going to study, work, and
_stroke_ these mandarins till I get a raise. I am the only instructor
in both seamanship and gunnery, and I must know _everything_,
both practically and theoretically. But it will be good for me and
the only thing is, that if I were put back into the Navy I would be
in a dilemma. I think I will get my 'influence' to work, and I want
you people at home to look out, and in case I _am_--if it were
represented to the Sec. that my position here was giving me an
immense lot of practical knowledge professionally--more than I
could get on a ship at sea--I think he would give me two years'
leave on half or quarter pay. Or, I would be willing to do without
pay--only to be kept on the register in my rank.

"I will write more about this. Love to all."

It is characteristic of McGiffin that in the very same letter in which
he announces he has entered foreign service he plans to return to
that of his own country. This hope never left him. You find the
same homesickness for the quarterdeck of an American
man-of-war all through his later letters. At one time a bill to
reinstate the midshipmen who had been cheated of their
commissions was introduced into Congress. Of this McGiffin
writes frequently as "our bill." "It may pass," he writes, "but I am
tired hoping. I have hoped so long. And if it should," he adds
anxiously, "there may be a time limit set in which a man must
rejoin, or lose his chance, so do not fail to let me know as quickly
as you can." But the bill did not pass, and McGiffin never returned
to the navy that had cut him adrift. He settled down at Tien-Tsin
and taught the young cadets how to shoot. Almost all of those who
in the Chinese-Japanese War served as officers were his pupils. As
the navy grew, he grew with it, and his position increased in
importance. More Mexican dollars per month, more servants,
larger houses, and buttons of various honorable colors were given
him, and, in return, he established for China a modem 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

"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

"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

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

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 Etats-Unis_."

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 savages."

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 _Anita_.

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

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.

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 man.

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 warmly.

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

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 Destiny."

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

During the year of Walker's occupation the number of passengers
crossing Nicaragua was an average of about two thousand a

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

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

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

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 enlisted, at
one time or another, under his banner 10,000 men. While in his
service, of this number, by hostile shots or fever, 5,000 died.

To describe the battles with the allies would be interminable and
wearying. In every particular they are much alike: the long silent
night march, the rush at daybreak, the fight to gain strategic
positions either of the barracks, or of the Cathedral in the Plaza,
the hand-to-hand fighting from behind barricades and adobe walls.
The out-come of these fights sometimes varied, but the final result
was never in doubt, and had no outside influences intervened, in
time each republic in Central America would have come under the
five-pointed star.

In Costa Rica there is a marble statue showing that republic
represented as a young woman with her foot upon the neck of
Walker. Some night a truth-loving American will place a can of
dynamite at the foot of that statue, and walk hurriedly away.
Unaided, neither Costa Rica nor any other Central American
republic could have driven Walker from her soil. His downfall
came through his own people, and through an act of his which
provoked them.

When Walker was elected president he found that the Accessory
Transit Company had not lived up to the terms of its concession
with the Nicaraguan Government. His efforts to hold it to the
terms of its concession led to his overthrow. By its charter the
Transit Company agreed to pay to Nicaragua ten thousand dollars
annually and ten per cent. of the net profits; but the company,
whose history the United States Minister, Squire, characterized as
"an infamous career of deception and fraud," manipulated its
books in such a fashion as to show that there never were any
profits. Doubting this, Walker sent a commission to New York to
investigate. The commission discovered the fraud and demanded
in back payments two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. When
the company refused to pay this, as security for the debt Walker
seized its steamers, wharves, and storehouses, revoked its charter,
and gave a new charter to two of its directors, Morgan and
Garrison, who, in San Francisco, were working against Vanderbilt.
In doing this, while he was legally in the right, he committed a
fatal error. He had made a powerful enemy of Vanderbilt, and he
had shut off his only lines of communication with the United
States. For, enraged at the presumption of the filibuster president,
Vanderbilt withdrew his ocean steamers, thus leaving Walker
without men or ammunition, and as isolated as though upon a
deserted island. He possessed Vanderbilt's boats upon the San Juan
River and Nicaragua Lake, but they were of use to him only

His position was that of a man holding the centre span of a bridge
of which every span on either side of him has been destroyed.

Vanderbilt did not rest at withdrawing his steamers, but by
supporting the Costa Ricans with money and men, carried the war
into Central America. From Washington he fought Walker through
Secretary of State Marcy, who proved a willing tool.

Spencer and Webster, and the other soldiers of fortune employed
by Vanderbilt, closed the route on the Caribbean side, and the
man-of-war _St. Marys_, commanded by Captain Davis, was
ordered to San Juan on the Pacific side. The instructions given to
Captain Davis were to aid the allies in forcing Walker out of
Nicaragua. Walker claims that these orders were given to Marcy
by Vanderbilt and by Marcy to Commodore Mervin, who was
Marcy's personal friend and who issued them to Davis. Davis
claims that he acted only in the interest of humanity to save
Walker in spite of himself. In any event, the result was the same.
Walker, his force cut down by hostile shot and fever and desertion,
took refuge in Rivas, where he was besieged by the allied armies.
There was no bread in the city. The men were living on horse and
mule meat. There was no salt. The hospital was filled with
wounded and those stricken with fever.

Captain Davis, in the name of humanity, demanded Walker's
surrender to the United States. Walker told him he would not
surrender, but that if the time came when he found he must fly, he
would do so in his own little schooner of war, the _Granada_,
which constituted his entire navy, and in her, as a free man, take
his forces where he pleased. Then Davis informed Walker that the
force Walker had sent to recapture the Greytown route had been
defeated by the janizaries of Vanderbilt; that the steamers from
San Francisco, on which Walker now counted to bring him
re-enforcements, had also been taken off the line, and finally that it
was his "unalterable and deliberate intention" to seize the
_Granada_. On this point his orders left him no choice. The
_Granada_ was the last means of transportation still left to Walker.
He had hoped to make a sortie and on board her to escape from the
country. But with his ship taken from him and no longer able to
sustain the siege of the allies, he surrendered to the forces of the
United States. In the agreement drawn up by him and Davis,
Walker provided for the care, by Davis, of the sick and wounded,
for the protection after his departure of the natives who had fought
with him, and for the transportation of himself and officers to the
United States.

On his arrival in New York he received a welcome such as later
was extended to Kossuth, and, in our own day, to Admiral Dewey.
The city was decorated with flags and arches; and banquets, fetes,
and public meetings were everywhere held in his honor. Walker
received these demonstrations modestly, and on every public
occasion announced his determination to return to the country of
which he was the president, and from which by force he had been
driven. At Washington, where he went to present his claims, he
received scant encouragement. His protest against Captain Davis
was referred to Congress, where it was allowed to die.

Within a month Walker organized an expedition with which to
regain his rights in Nicaragua, and as, in his new constitution for
that country, he had annulled the old law abolishing slavery,
among the slave-holders of the South he found enough money and
recruits to enable him to at once leave the United States. With one
hundred and fifty men he sailed from New Orleans and landed at
San del Norte on the Caribbean side. While he formed a camp on
the harbor of San Juan, one of his officers, with fifty men,
proceeded up the river and, capturing the town of Castillo Viejo
and four of the Transit steamers, was in a fair way to obtain
possession of the entire route. At this moment upon the scene
arrived the United States frigate _Wabash_ and Hiram Paulding,
who landed a force of three hundred and fifty blue-jackets with
howitzers, and turned the guns of his frigate upon the camp of the
President of Nicaragua. Captain Engel, who presented the terms of
surrender to Walker, said to him: "General, I am sorry to see you
here. A man like you is worthy to command better men." To which
Walker replied grimly: "If I had a third the number you have
brought against me, I would show you which of us two commands
the better men."

For the third time in his history Walker surrendered to the armed
forces of his own country.

On his arrival in the United States, in fulfilment of his parole to
Paulding, Walker at once presented himself at Washington a
prisoner of war. But President Buchanan, although Paulding had
acted exactly as Davis had done, refused to support him, and in a
message to Congress declared that that officer had committed a
grave error and established an unsafe precedent.

On the strength of this Walker demanded of the United States
Government indemnity for his losses, and that it should furnish
him and his followers transportation even to the very camp from
which its representatives had torn him. This demand, as Walker
foresaw, was not considered seriously, and with a force of about
one hundred men, among whom were many of his veterans, he
again set sail from New Orleans. Owing to the fact that, to prevent
his return, there now were on each side of the Isthmus both
American and British men-of-war, Walker, with the idea of
reaching Nicaragua by land, stopped off at Honduras. In his war
with the allies the Honduranians had been as savage in their
attacks upon his men as even the Costa Ricans, and finding his old
enemies now engaged in a local revolution, on landing, Walker
declared for the weaker side and captured the important seaport of
Trujillo. He no sooner had taken it than the British warship
_Icarus_ anchored in the harbor, and her commanding officer,
Captain Salmon, notified Walker that the British Government held
a mortgage on the revenues of the port, and that to protect the
interests of his Government he intended to take the town. Walker
answered that he had made Trujillo a free port, and that Great
Britain's claims no longer existed.

The British officer replied that if Walker surrendered himself and
his men he would carry them as prisoners to the United States, and
that if he did not, he would bombard the town. At this moment
General Alvarez, with seven hundred Honduranians, from the land
side surrounded Trujillo, and prepared to attack. Against such odds
by sea and land Walker was helpless, and he determined to fly.
That night, with seventy men, he left the town and proceeded
down the coast toward Nicaragua. The _Icarus_, having taken on
board Alvarez, started in pursuit. The President of Nicaragua was
found in a little Indian fishing village, and Salmon sent in his
shore-boats and demanded his surrender. On leaving Trujillo,
Walker had been forced to abandon all his ammunition save thirty
rounds a man, and all of his food supplies excepting two barrels of
bread. On the coast of this continent there is no spot more
unhealthy than Honduras, and when the Englishmen entered the
fishing village they found Walker's seventy men lying in the palm
huts helpless with fever, and with no stomach to fight British
blue-jackets with whom they had no quarrel. Walker inquired of
Salmon if he were asking him to surrender to the British or to the
Honduranian forces, and twice Salmon assured him, "distinctly
and specifically," that he was surrendering to the forces of her
Majesty. With this understanding Walker and his men laid down
their arms and were conveyed to the _Icarus_. But on arriving at
Trujillo, in spite of their protests and demands for trial by a British
tribunal, Salmon turned over his prisoners to the Honduranian
general. What excuse for this is now given by his descendants in
the Salmon family I do not know.

Probably it is a subject they avoid, and, in history, Salmon's
version has never been given, which for him, perhaps, is an
injustice. But the fact remains that he turned over his white
brothers to the mercies of half-Indian, half-negro, savages, who
were not allies of Great Britain, and in whose quarrels she had no
interest. And Salmon did this, knowing there could be but one end.
If he did not know it, his stupidity equalled what now appears to
be heartless indifference. So far as to secure pardon for all except
the leader and one faithful follower, Colonel Rudler of the famous
Phalanx, Salmon did use his authority, and he offered, if Walker
would ask as an American citizen, to intercede for him. But
Walker, with a distinct sense of loyalty to the country he had
conquered, and whose people had honored him with their votes,
refused to accept life from the country of his birth, the country that
had injured and repudiated him.

Even in his extremity, abandoned and alone on a strip of glaring
coral and noisome swamp land, surrounded only by his enemies,
he remained true to his ideal.

At thirty-seven life is very sweet, many things still seem possible,
and before him, could his life be spared, Walker beheld greater
conquests, more power, a new South controlling a Nicaragua
canal, a network of busy railroads, great squadrons of merchant
vessels, himself emperor of Central America. On the gunboat the
gold-braided youth had but to raise his hand, and Walker again
would be a free man. But the gold-braided one would render this
service only on the condition that Walker would appeal to him as
an American; it was not enough that Walker was a human being.
The condition Walker could not grant.

"The President of Nicaragua," he said, "is a citizen of Nicaragua."

They led him out at sunrise to a level piece of sand along the


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