Filibuster War

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William Walker's Conquest of Central America
Second Battle of Rivas 1856.jpg
Costa Rican and U.S. troops attacking William Walker at Rivas in 1856.
Date 1855–1857
Location Nicaragua

Allied victory

  • Filibuster defeat
  • Surrender of William Walker
    to American forces

Allied Central American Army

 United States

 United Kingdom (naval support)
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Nicaragua (Government of William Walker).png William Walker
Flag of Nicaragua (Government of William Walker).png Francisco Castellón
Flag of Nicaragua (Government of William Walker).png Charles F. Henningsen
Flag of Nicaragua (Government of William Walker).png Birkett D. Fry
Flag of Nicaragua (Government of William Walker).png Collier C. Hornsby
Flag of Nicaragua (Government of William Walker).png Domingo Goicouría
Flag of Nicaragua (Government of William Walker).png Byron Cole
Civil Flag of El Salvador.png Ramón Belloso
Flag of Costa Rica (1848-1906).svg José Joaquín Mora Porras
Civil Flag of El Salvador.png José María Cañas
Flag of Nicaragua (1839-1858).svg Tomás Martínez Guerrero
Flag of Nicaragua (1839-1858).svg Fernando Chamorro Alfaro
Flag of Nicaragua (1839-1858).svg Máximo Jerez Tellería
Flag of Guatemala (1851-1858).svg José Víctor Zavala
United States Charles Henry Davis
2,518 mercenaries

Unknown total

  • Flag of Costa Rica (1848-1906).svg 2,500 troops
  • Flag of Honduras (1839-1866).svg 4,000 troops
Casualties and losses
1,000 combatants dead (all causes)[1] 4,000-6,000 combatants dead (all causes)
~5,000 wounded[2]

The Filibuster War was a military conflict between filibustering multinational troops stationed in Nicaragua and a coalition of Central American armies.

Initial Stages[edit]

In 1854, a civil war erupted in Nicaragua between the Legitimist party (also called the Conservative party), and the Democratic party (also called the Liberal party). The Democratic party sought military support from William Walker who, to circumvent American neutrality laws, obtained a contract from Democratic president President Castellón to bring as many as three hundred "colonists" to Nicaragua. Walker sailed from San Francisco on May 3, 1855, with approximately 60 men. Upon landing, the force was reinforced by 170 locals and about 100 Americans.

Establishment of Walker[edit]

With Castellón's consent, Walker attacked the Legitimists in the town of Rivas, near the trans-isthmian route. He was driven off, but not without inflicting heavy casualties. On September 4, during the Battle of La Virgen, Walker defeated the Legitimist army. On October 13, he conquered the Legitimist capital of Granada and took effective control of the country. Initially, as commander of the army, Walker ruled Nicaragua through puppet President Patricio Rivas. U.S. President Franklin Pierce recognized Walker's regime as the legitimate government of Nicaragua on May 20, 1856.

Central American Counterattack[edit]

Walker had scared his neighbors with talk of further military conquests in Central America. Juan Rafael Mora, President of Costa Rica, rejected Walker's diplomatic overtures and instead declared war on his regime. Walker sent Colonel Schlessinger to invade Costa Rica in a preemptive action, but his forces were defeated at the Battle of Santa Rosa in March 1856. Vanderbilt financed and trained 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 United States of America. In April 1856, Costa Rican troops and American mercenaries supported by Vanderbilt penetrated into Nicaraguan territory and inflicted a defeat on Walker's men at the Second Battle of Rivas, in which Juan Santamaría, later to be recognized as one of Costa Rica's national heroes by burning the place were the Filibuster were staying. Walker set himself up as President of Nicaragua, after conducting an uncontested election. He was inaugurated on July 12, 1856, and soon launched an Americanization program, declaring English an official language and reorganizing currency and fiscal policy to encourage immigration from the United States of America. Walker's army had though been weakened by an epidemic of cholera and massive defections, it was no match for the Central American coalition.

Walker's Surrender[edit]

On May 1, 1857, Walker surrendered to Commander Charles Henry Davis of the United States Navy and was repatriated. Upon disembarking in New York City, he was greeted as a hero, but he alienated public opinion when he blamed his defeat on the U.S. Navy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Statistics of Wars, Oppressions and Atrocities of the Nineteenth Century" (collection of many sources)
  2. ^ 4,000 to 5,000 dead per (Scroggs, Filibusters and financiers: the story of William Walker and his associates (1916) p.305), 2,100 dead out of 2,500 for Costa Rica alone per (Scheina, Latin America's Wars), 5,800 killed and wounded in battle + 5,000 died of disease per (Clodfelter).

External links[edit]