The Bombardment of Greytown, Part Six

George N. Hollins

George N. Hollins

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, behind the scenes

Writing a series titled The Bombardment of Greytown might inspire one to think a description of the event itself in order. Hollins provided just that in his report to the Secretary of the Navy, James Cochran Dobbins, which Horace Greeley kindly reprinted on August 2, 1854.

Hollins begins with the familiar preliminaries: consulting with Joseph Fabens, putting out a proclamation warning the people of Greytown that he will soon open fire on them, informing the commander of a British ship in the harbor of his intentions, and making preparations to help evacuate people to a safe distance. Hollins gave them twenty-four hours notice, as he

hoped the show of determination on the part of the ship would, at this stage of the proceedings, have brought about a satisfactory adjustment of the differences in question, but a total disregard and contempt toward the Government of the United States determined me to execute my threat to the letter.

It does little to mitigate against the wildly disproportionate response of shooting up and burning the whole town to the ground, but at least Hollins didn’t come desperate for a chance to work ruin. He held out hope even after the battery began firing:

At 9 A.M., on the morning of the 13th inst., our batteries were opened on the town, with shot and shells, for three quarters of an hour, followed by an intermission of the same time, when they were opened again for half an hour, followed by a second intermission of three hours, at the expiration of this interval the firing was recommenced and continued for 20 minutes, when the bombardment ceased. The object of those several intervals in the bombardment, was that an opportunity to treat and satisfactorily arrange matters might be furnished the inhabitants of the town. No advantage was taken of the consideration shown them, and at 4 o’ clock, P.M., a command under Lieuts Pickering and Fauntleroy was sent on shore with orders to complete the destruction of the town by fire.

[…]

The town was thus destroyed for the greater part in the short pace of two hours. No lives were lost, although an attack was made by an armed party on the command of Lieutenants Pickering and Fauntleroy, but on the volley being returned the attacking party fled. The shots were returned more for the purpose of frightening than destroying life, and had the desired effect. The execution done by our shot and shells amounted to the almost total destruction of the buildings, but it was thought best to make the punishment of such a character as to inculcate a lesson never to be forgotten by those who have for so long a time set at defiance all warnings, and satisfy the whole world that the United States had the power and determination to enforce that reparation and respect due them as a Government, in whatever quarter the outrages may be committed.

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Hollins’ account hints at the wider implications of the bombardment. Completely aside any injury to the Accessory Transit Company or to Solon Borland, Greytown sat at the far southern end of the United Kingdom’s Mosquito Coast protectorate. The United States saw British involvement there as contrary to the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. That context surely occurred to Marcy back in Washington when he sent instructions, but nothing in his letters to Fabens suggests that either Fabens or Hollins should use the Greytown affair to advance the American interpretation of the treaty.

Intended or not, and to the shock and embarrassment of the government back in Washington, George N. Hollins took it on himself to lay down a marker at Greytown.

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