William Walker and the Filibusters
William Walker was mercenary, lawyer and journalist from Nashville Tennessee. His mercenary carrier began in México when he tried to conquer Baja California and Sonora. Both tries lead to a failure. However those failures did nothing to affect his ambitions. And in 1855 was invited by the Democrats of Nicaragua to fight against the government of Fruto Chamorro. By the time Walker arrived to Nicaragua (16th of June 1855) the official Nicaraguan army had been fighting the opposition for more than a year, leaving the army weak and tired. Walker came with less than 60 men however the filibuster carried far superior weaponry.
After several inconclusive battles and receiving more than 300 men on behalf of Fransisco Castellón (opposition leader). Walker began to take control of the opposition movement and it was clear than his real intentions were not to help Castellón but to gain power over Nicaragua but to advance the slavery polices of the American south over Nicaragua and the rest of Central America.
Juan Rafael Mora Porras and the Costa Rican offensive.
Walker began conversation with the neighborhood countries asking for a peaceful relationship. However at the same time Walker kept increasing the number of mercenaries and weaponry action that the rest of the Central American nations didn’t took well. And so it was than the 1st of March 1856 Juan Rafael Mora Porras president of Costa Rica declared war upon William Walker. Costa Rica was the closest nation to Granada (Walker headquarters). The rest of the countries where still at several days of marching just to reach Granada.
Mora began marching towards Nicaragua to confront the Filibusters the Costa Rican army was a well trained and well prepared army with top of the line weaponry. And was also reinforce by hundreds of volunteers. In response to this advance Walker sent a contingent to Guanacaste to meet the Costa Rican army and stop it from advancing to Nicaragua. The 20th of March 1856 the first encounter between the Costa Rican army and the filibusters took place in Santa Rosa Guanacaste. Costa Rica won and the filibusters were force to withdraw.
Battle of Rivas 1856
After the Battle of Santa Rosa the Costa Rican army regroup and follow the Filibusters inside Nicaragua. Walker send Colonel Sanders in charge of the Filibusters whom attacked the Costa Rican army taking it by surprise. Lu tenant Machado of Nicaragua was located near the Meson with 400 men ready to back up Sanders. But Machado was killed by Lu Tenant Jose Maria Rojas of Costa Rica before Machado was able to reinforce Sanders. After his dead Machado’s men withdraw with out aiding Sanders.
The filibusters rapidly took control of the central plaza and the houses around it. Even taking control of the church and open fire from the tower. The Costa Rican army was surprise and had to fight in a territory they didn’t know and haven’t had time to explore. During the first half of the battle balance lean towards the filibusters. The Costa Rican army lost a cannon and almost lost the ammunition supplies. Meanwhile battles between contingents left at the sides were leading in favor of the Costa Ricans. One of those fronts was lead by Pancha Carrasco a Costa Rican woman soldier. At noon the battle field was even. Each party controlled half of the plaza in Rivas.
Most of Walker’s troops where in the War Mesón (a very big guest house) where the Filibusters had the weaponry and supplies. Located in the church and some houses also tried to fall back to the Mesón. The Costa Rican army saw this and surround the Mesón how ever the filibuster had the upper hand. The thick wall of the Mesón made imposible for the bullets to penetrate and the filibusters where fully armed. General Jose María Cañas decided that the best strategy was to burn the Mesón. Causing the filibusters to flee. Because if left there reinforcements would eventually arrived and turn the odds in favor of Walker and his men.
Burning the Mesón was very difficult. Jose María Cañas asked for volunteers. The first one to run with a flaming torch was Lu Tenant Luis Pacheco Bertora. Bertora run facing the fire until he fell victim of tree shots. Upon seeing Bertora in the ground a second man broke the line running and picking the torch. His name was Joaquí Rosales a Nicaraguan man fighting with the Costa Rican army. He did start a fire in the Mesón but the filibusters extinguish it very soon.
Then a young soldier step in preseting himself as a volunteer to burn the Mesón. His name Juan SantaMaría of Alajuela. With a new torch at hand he sprinted towards the Mesón receiving several shots. And throwing the torch to the roof. The fire started to devour the roof and the filibuster couldn’t do anything to extinguish the flames. Until the point they have to choose between fleeing or staying and die. Juan SantaMaria died there victim of several shots. But becoming a hero for the countries of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
The filibusters and Walker where forced to fall back defeated. Walker would continue his rule over Nicaragua for a couple of months. Until been force to go back to Tennesse. He would come back to try to unfold his annexation plans upon Central America but will be defeated and fusillanding in Honduras in 1860.
Every 11 of April the streets of Alajuela are fill with thousands of students that parade the streets in memory of those brave Costa Ricans that fought to keep our nation independent and by extension keeping Central América free.