Second Battle of Rivas

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Second Battle of Rivas
Part of William Walker conquest of Central America
Second Battle of Rivas 1856.jpg
Costa Rican troops attacking William Walker at Rivas in 1856.
Date 11 April 1856
Location Rivas on the San Juan River, Nicaragua
Result In May, 1857, William Walker was forced to surrender to the US Navy and leave the country.[1]
Belligerents
Nicaragua Flag of Costa Rica.svg Costa Rica
Commanders and leaders
William Walker José María Cañas
Strength
9,000 volunteers[2]

The Second Battle of Rivas occurred on 11 April 1856 between Costa Rican militia under General Mora and the Nicaraguan forces of William Walker. The lesser known First Battle of Rivas took place on 29 June 1855 between Walker's forces and the forces of the Chamorro government of Nicaragua.

Background[edit]

Ships from New York would enter the San Juan River from the Atlantic and sail across Lake Nicaragua. People and goods would then be transported by stagecoach over a narrow strip of land near the city of Rivas, before reaching the Pacific

At the time, a major trade route between New York City and San Francisco ran through southern Nicaragua. Ships from New York would enter the San Juan River from the Atlantic and sail across Lake Nicaragua. People and goods would then be transported by stagecoach over a narrow strip of land near the city of Rivas, before reaching the Pacific and being shipped to San Francisco. The commercial exploitation of this route had been attained from a previous Nicaraguan administration to Wall Street tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit Company. Garrison and Morgan had wrested control of the company from Vanderbilt and then supported Walker's expedition. Vanderbilt spread rumors that the company was issuing stock illegally in order to depress its value, allowing him to regain controlling interest.

In July 1856, Walker set himself up as president of Nicaragua, after conducting a farcical election. As ruler of Nicaragua, Walker then revoked the Transit Company's charter, claiming that it had violated the agreement, and granted use of the route back to Garrison and Morgan. Outraged, Vanderbilt successfully pressured the U.S. government to withdraw its recognition of Walker's regime. Walker had also scared his neighbors and American and European investors with talk of further military conquests in Central America. Vanderbilt finance and train a military coalition of these states, led by Costa Rica, and worked to prevent men and supplies from reaching Walker. He also provided defectors from Walker's army with payments and free passage back to the U.S.

Realizing that his position was becoming precarious, he sought support from the Southerners in the U.S. by recasting his campaign as a fight to spread the institution of black slavery, which many American Southern businessmen saw as the basis of their agrarian economy. With this in mind, Walker revoked Nicaragua's emancipation edict of 1824.[3] This move did increase Walker's popularity in the South and attracted the attention of Pierre Soulé, an influential New Orleans politician, who campaigned to raise support for Walker's war. Nevertheless, Walker's army, thinned by an epidemic of cholera and massive defections, was no match for the Central American coalition and Vanderbilt's agents.

Costa Rican President Juan Rafael Mora watched with great interest as Walker consolidated his forces and power in Nicaragua. Fearing that Walker would become unbeatable and at the urging and backing of Vanderbilt's business empire Mora declared war, not on Nicaragua, but on Walker and his filibusters, on March 1, 1856. Having been talking about the filibusters for a while, Mora's (or Don Juanito as he was called) made this declaration in a famous speech that begins with the words, "Countrymen, take your weapons, the time that I've been warning you has arrived" [2] (a paraphrase of the opening words of the Marseillaise).

Enraged Walker ordered the invasion of Costa Rica and a filibuster force crossed the border into Guanacaste, while the Costa Rican army moved down from the Central Valley in the same direction. With the army traveled the President but command was in the hands of his brothers Jose Joaquin Mora and his brother in law General Cañas.

Upon hearing that a small contingent of men were encamped near the city of Guanacaste's Hacienda Santa Rosa Mora led three thousand of his men to attack. Walker's men were under the command of Colonel Louis Schlessinger, an inexperienced officer. On March 20, with no sentries posted, Mora’s Costa Ricans surprised and attacked the small group; Schlessinger himself ran away, leaving his troops vulnerable, disorganized, and without leadership.[2]

Walker alarmed by the defeat heard unfounded rumors that Mora's army was going to attack from the North. So he foolishly decided to abandon the key city of the Nicaragua at that time and meet the army from the north.[2] Mora quickly slipped into Rivas with 3,000 men. Walker then, just four days after giving up the city, marched his men back into Rivas to try to take it back. His small force was able to score a number of victories through street to street fighting and were able to create a stalemate at a key building in town, El Mesón de Guerra, the Guerra family home, which was located in the corner of the park, covered the approach to Rivas church; from the towers of the church Walker's snipers enjoyed a wide firing range.

It was this encounter that produced Costa Rica's national war heroes:

Juan Santamaría[edit]

Juan Santamaría, (the only Costa Rican to have a national holiday declared in his honor), gained his martyrdom, and Pancha Carrasco became Costa Rica's first woman soldier. Santamaría, a drummer boy from the town of Alajuela, had volunteered for his country's impromptu militia; his moment of glory came when the commanding officer asked for a volunteer to set fire to El Mesón de Guerra — the filibusters' stronghold. Santamaría, torch in hand, fulfilled his patriotic duty. He approached the hostel and tossed his torch onto the thatched roof. This caused the enemy to flee, even though Santamaria was cut down by sniper fire in the process.

Francisca ("Pancha") Carrasco[edit]

Carrasco who was serving the militia as a cook and impromptu medic, filled her apron pockets with bullets, grabbed a discarded rifle and shamed some of the retreating Costa Ricans forestalling what might have become a rout.[4]

Juan Alfaro Ruiz[edit]

Juan Alfaro Ruiz was responsible for clearing the filibusters from the church. He died of cholera after the battle. One of Alajuela's cantons was named after him.

It also produced a Nicaraguan hero, Enmanuel Mongalo.

Aftermath[edit]

Walker and his surviving soldiers fled to Granada during the night. Several factions inside the Costa Rican Army sought to pursue and kill Walker, thus ending the war. President Mora cancelled the plan, seeing his troops were already battle-worn. Mora wanted to use his resources to bury the dead and take care of the wounded and sick.

Although Costa Rica was victorious in the Battle of Rivas, the country could not enjoy the victory. Bodies from the fighting were dumped in the wells of the city causing a huge outbreak of cholera.[2]

Thinking that the cholera was brought by the hot weather of the Nicaraguan lowlands, the troops wanted to go back home. The Costa Rican troops brought the disease home to Costa Rica with them where it ravaged the entire country, killing one tenth of the population.[2] Mora was blamed for the cholera outbreak, the severe losses inflicted to the army and for the economic damage to the country because of the war debts. A coup was planned for his return to the capital but this was aborted.

The war against Walker will go on, joined now by the armies of other Central American countries under the overall command of General Mora. The Costarricans now focused on cutting the men and weapons flow to the filibusters cutting the transit route.

However once the war was over, Mora was taken out of power in 1859 and executed in 1860 when he tried to come back to power along General Cañas.[2]

The Battle of Rivas put great confidence to the Costa Rican Army in the fight against Walker, who before this battle believed himself undefeatable and unstoppable.

Further reading[edit]

  • pp. 70–89 Jamison, James Carson. With Walker in Nicaragua: Or, Reminiscences of an Officer of the American Phalanx (July 25, 2007 ed.). Kessinger Publishing, LLC. p. 186. ISBN 0-548-26066-4. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ Don Fuchik (2007). "The Saga of William Walker". calnative. Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Lisa Tirmenstein (12:00 am on 5/17/00.). "Costa Rica in 1856: Defeating William Walker While Creating a National Identity.". pub. Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  3. ^ Miss Fanny Juda (February 1919). "California Filibusters: A History of their Expeditions into Hispanic America". Vol. XXI., No. 4; Whole No. 142 : February 1919. Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  4. ^ Boles, Janet K. and Hoeveler, Diane Long. Historical Dictionary of Feminism (Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies and Movements) (May 28, 2004 ed.). The Scarecrow Press, Inc.; 2nd edition. p. 488. ISBN 0-8108-4946-1. 

See also[edit]