National War

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National War

National War (1856–1857), the Central American response to William Walker's filibustering expedition to Nicaragua (1855–1857). Walker's invasion and subsequent takeover of Nicaragua in alliance with Nicaraguan liberals stimulated a strong reaction from conservatives in all of the Central American states. Some liberals who opposed the foreign intervention in Central America joined them. By February 1856 the governments of the four other states had agreed to send troops. Costa Rica led the way with a declaration of war on 1 March of that year, and Costa Rican President J. Rafael Mora headed the coalition that carried on the "National Campaign" against Walker. He received especially strong support from Rafael Carrera in Guatemala, the state that sent the most troops to the campaign.

Carrera declined command of the Central American army, leaving that to Mora. The Guatemalan expeditionary force was first commanded by Mariano Paredes, who died in the campaign, and then by José Víctor Zavala. Honduran troops, led by Santos Guardiola, were among the first to enter the war against Walker; Salvadoran troops were led by Ramón Belloso and Gerardo Barrios Espinosa. These troops supported the Nicaraguan legitimistas (Conservatives) who had been fighting the democráticos (Liberals). Great Britain and several South American countries gave material aid to the anti-Walker coalition.

The Costa Ricans turned the tide against Walker, who had initially enjoyed great success. On 20 March 1856 they repelled a Walker force under Louis Schlessinger at the Santa Rosa hacienda, in Guanacaste, and then pushed into Nicaragua in early April, occupying the transit route from San Juan del Sur to Virgin Bay. They won a major victory at Rivas on 11 April but failed to follow it up with a pursuit of Walker that might have brought a quick end to the war.

Troops from the other states were now arriving, however, besieging Walker from the north and west, forcing him to fight on two fronts. Both sides suffered heavy losses, but the Central Americans soon outnumbered Walker's American phalanx by a large margin. By November 1856 this large, united Central American army forced Walker to evacuate Granada. The heavy fighting in and around Granada resulted in the virtual destruction of that old city, and Walker ordered it burned after abandoning it.

New North American recruits for the Walker forces prevented the Central Americans from bringing an earlier end to the conflict, but in December the Costa Ricans gained control of the Río San Juan when they seized Fort Castillo Viejo. At Rivas, surrounded and battered by the Central American forces and decimated by a serious cholera epidemic, Walker finally surrendered his remaining 463 men on 1 May 1857 to a U.S. naval detachment under Commander Charles Davis.

The unity engendered by the National War spawned efforts to create a conservative-oriented Central American union, but in the face of resistance from special interests in each state, they failed. In Nicaragua, they resulted in conservative domination for more than three decades.

See alsoFilibusteringxml .


There is a large volume of publication on the Walker episode: among the best accounts is William O. Scroggs, Filibusters and Financiers: The Story of William Walker and His Associates (1916). A more useful account is Albert Z. Carr, The World and William Walker (1963). Frederic Rosengarten, Jr., Freebooters Must Die! (1976), is especially useful for its many photos, maps, and drawings. James T. Wall, Manifest Destiny Denied: America's First Intervention in Nicaragua (1981), offers additional information and insight. Central American views are provided by Rafael Obregón, La campaña del tránsito, 1856–1857 (1956).

Marco Antonio Soto Valenzuela, Guerra nacional de Centroamérica (1957).

J. Ricardo Dueñas Van Severen, La invasión filibustera de Nicaragua y la guerra nacional, 2d ed. (1962), among many others, including a collection of documents edited by Angelita García Peña, Documentos para la historia de la Guerra Nacional contra los filibusteros en Nicaragua (1958). E. Bradford Burns, Patriarch and Folk: The Emergence of Nicaragua, 1798–1858 (1991), provides a new perspective on the period. Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., Rafael Carrera and the Emergence of the Republic of Guatemala, 1821–1871 (1992), provides detail on Guatemalan participation in the war.

Additional Bibliography

Montúfar, Lorenzo, and Raúl Aguilar Piedra. Walker en Centroamérica. Alajuela, Costa Rica: Museo Histórico Cultural Juan Santamaría, 2000.

                            Ralph Lee Woodward Jr.

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National War