The Weird Adventures of William Walker #4

William Walker, the gray-eyed man of destiny

William Walker, the gray-eyed man of destiny

William Walker’s first Nicaraguan adventure ended like his Mexican adventure did, with surrender to American authorities. But Walker’s ambitions no more died on May 1, 1857 when he surrendered in Nicaragua than they did when he quit his Republic of Sonora in May of 1854. The hero’s welcome New Orleans gave him soon gave way to a fundraising tour of the South, which proved quite happy to open its wallets to the gray-eyed man of destiny. How often could a multinational alliance really defeat him, anyway?

Walker took his new bankroll and invested it in the new expedition his backers intended, sailing from Mobile in November, 1857. With all the public fundraising and celebration of Walker across the South, even if he wished to leave quietly someone would have noticed. In fact, the United States Navy noticed, sailed after him, caught him, and escorted his expedition back to Mobile. Moving one state to the east didn’t spare Walker the fate of Narciso López’s first Cuban expedition.

This did not please the South. James McPherson sums up the reaction in Battle Cry of Freedom:

Southern newspapers erupted in denunciation of this naval “usurpation of power.” Alexander Stephens urged the court-martial of the commodore who had detailed Walker. Two dozen southern senators and congressmen echoed this sentiment in an extraordinary congressional debate. “A heavier blow was never struck at southern rights,” said a Tennessee representative, “than when Commodore Paulding perpetrated upon our people his high-handed outrage.” The government’s action proved that President Buchanan was just like other Yankees in wanting to “crush out the expansion of slavery to the South.”

I dug into the Congressional Globe on the strength of McPherson’s description of the debate and came out with a pile of speeches that I plan to explore in future posts.

Walker’s second trial for violating the Neutrality Act took place in New Orleans, and as with past filibusters the New Orleans jury proved unwilling to convict. Instead it hung 10-2 in May of 1858. He took the same lesson that López and Quitman had from their initial failures and set off on another fundraising trip. Southern pockets proved deep once more. and his appeals “to the mothers of Mississippi to bid their sons buckle on the armor of war, and battle for the institutions, for the honor of the Sunny South” met with eager response. They need only slip past the Navy and they could gain Nicaragua. If it fell so easily to Walker once, why not again?

Walker’s third Nicaragua expedition set out from Mobile in December, 1858. His ship struck a reef and landed on the bottom sixty miles short. Walker caught a ride back to Mobile from a British ship to the usual fanfare and promptly started rounding up another expedition. By this point, Walker looked like a four-time loser. Even after writing a book to promote himself, Walker could only gather ninety-seven men to join with him in Honduras for a new campaign. The Hondurans, who took part in expelling Walker from Nicaragua in the first place, proved unhappy to see him back.

As usual, Walker ran for a foreign authority to surrender himself to. This time he ended up in the hands of the Royal Navy. The captain he hoped would save him instead turned Walker over to the Hondurans. The gray-eyed man of destiny met that destiny in persons of a Honduran firing squad on September 12, 1860.

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