Pictured above, William Walker, the "Grey-eyed" Man of Destiny," was born May 8, 1824 in Nashville, Tennessee.
The oldest son of a middle class family, he graduated summa cum laude from the University of Nashville at the age of 14. He studied medicine abroad at the University of Edinburgh and University of Heidelberg before receiving a medical degree/certification from the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 19.
He had a medical practice in Philadelphia before, for little known reason, he soon shuttered his office and moved to New Orleans to study law.
He practiced law for a time, and then quit to become co-owner and editor of the New Orleans Crescent. As a journalist he displayed a gift for his use of precise proses that attack all comers, including the landed gentry of New Orleans.
His combative, easily offended nature soon developed powerful local enemies. This enmity he built up with authority figures around him was to hold true everywhere he went for the rest of his life.
He was only 5’2” tall and slight of build, weighing maybe 120 pounds. He was no slave to fashion and his clothes did not enhance his appearance. Here’s what a Mr. T. Robinson Warren had to say about Walker’s physical appearance and demeanor, ”His hair light and towy, while his almost white eyebrows and lashes concealed a seemingly pupilless, grey, cold eye, the whole expression very heavy. His dress was scarcely less remarkable than his person. His head was surrounded by a huge white fur hat, which, together with a very ill-made short waisted blue coat with strapless pantaloons, made up the ensemble of as unprepossessing-looking as one would meet in a day’s walk.”
In 1849, after the death of the only known love interest in his life, Ellen Martin, he moved to San Francisco, where he continued as a journalist. He fought three duels - was wounded in two - with people who insulted his news coverage and his sensitive sense of personal integrity.
In 1853 Walker left California with an army of 45 bearded, tough men and went south to Mexico and then Nicaragua. The 45 men in time rose to an American brigade – the American Phalanx - of over 1,000 with more than 1,500 local Nicaraguan Indians who stayed faithful to the man they called the “grey-eyed” man. It was a fighting force later described by Charles Henningsen, a European noble man of great military skills who was at one time Walker’s right hand man. He served with great distinction also in the Confederate Army in the civil war.
Henningsen said the men under Walker’s command, “sustained battle against appalling odds (and) such men do not turn up in everyday life. I was on the Confederate side in many of the bloodiest battles of the late (Civil) war, but if at the end of that war I had been allowed to pick 5,000 of the bravest Confederate and Federal soldiers I ever saw, and resurrect and put against them 1,000 of such men (Walker’s) as lie beneath the orange trees of Nicaragua, I feel certain that the thousand would have scattered and utterly routed the 5,000 within an hour.”
In 1856, Walker, at the head of the American Phalanx, won the presidency of Nicaragua in the hearts and minds of the local people - and on the battlefield against enormously superior armies.
But it was Walker’s knack for developing powerful enemies that was ultimately his undoing. Cornelius Vanderbilt, was one of the richest, most vengeful men in the world, who had great ambitions for Nicaragua and central America... that did not include Walker. And Walker almost intentionally pissed-off the "Commodore." Certainly he made no effort to gain Vanderbilt's support, and Walker's long term survival depending on American replacements and supplies.
More than any other man, Vanderbilt was responsible for Walker’s ouster from office as President of Nicaragua in 1857 and the eventually surrender of the American Phalanx to the British navy something thereafter.
Later, on September 12, 1860 in attempt to wage war on Honduras Walker and a small band of his men were captured and executed.
No one much like Walker in his lifetime. He was brilliant, pugnacious, focused and fearless on the battlefield. He was a pisser who lived and flourished on the western North American frontier when it allowed for the emergence of someone with guts and smarts.
He has been compared to Napoleon in France and Robert Clive in England/India.
Though for me, I don’t know. There are parts to what I know about the man, that I cannot understand. What put a burr under his saddle? Someone suggested that when the only love of his life, Ellen Martin died from disease in New Orleans that he became a changed man, and went out to take on the world in blind rage over his loss. But I don’t think so, Ellen Martin, was deaf and dumb… and she and Walker only communicated in sign language, and I’m sorry but that doesn’t establish for me a foundation on which to build undying, once in a life time love. It’s as unique a part of the Walker story as everything else about him, but doesn’t help solve the Walker personality mystery. No indications he was homosexual, but why no natural interest in the ladies? Private warring or filibustering as it was call at the time, takes testosterone, which usually comes with an energetic boy seeks girl side effect. Not with Walker.
I have my experience with driven people who end up in wars. Walker was not like anyone I’ve ever known. He was pious and a doctor by education, but had a dozen men executed by his orders. He was not a good military tactician, but won many battles he lost. Brave beyond belief on the battlefield he is reported to have broken down in tears, and fell into the fetal position, when captured by the British and admonished for making war in undeveloped countries.
But you know what? I am better man now that I know something about William Walker. Can’t tell you how I’m better, maybe just richer in knowledge about the human experience.
There has been much written about William Walker. Google the net. Chose one of dozens of books and articles.
Me, I learned what I know about William Walker from a monograph written by James P. Quigley, a former CIA and Air America employee. It’s titled simply William Walker.
Jim sent me a copy, and asked that I return it to him after I had finished. I wrote back to ask about the back story on why he wrote the book.
Here’s his reply: “As I mentioned in the Preface to my William Walker book I stumbled upon a reference to him in a footnote of a book I was reading on American History. I made a note of Walker’s name and promptly forgot about it. Sometime later, while reviewing my notebook I saw the entry about Walker as “President of Nicaragua” and was curious as to how an American had become President of Nicaragua in the mid-19th century. I did some basic research at the local library and quickly became very interested in this most unusual man. I was looking for a new challenge and decided to find out if I was capable of writing a book and since I had recently found a topic I was interested in, I decided to go full steam ahead on researching and writing a book about an obscure topic of American history – William Walker. The exercise was essentially an intellectual challenge for myself.
The William Walker book was my first serious attempt at writing.
I did the research and wrote the book between 2000 and 2002.
I characterized it as a monograph because (a.)I did not think the book was worthy of being called a full-fledged biography and (b.) I do not deem myself a qualified biographer.
I did not send it to a publisher because I am not interested in having my books published or made available on amazon.com. I write my books and have them printed and hand-bound (some of them bound in leather) and use them as Christmas gifts for various family members. (Both my sons are avid history buffs). A number of my friends and neighbors (e.g. Jerry Connor) have read my books.
Typically I have five or six copies of each of my books printed and bound. In the past 15 years I’ve written a total of five books (see list below) and am currently researching my 6th.
None of my books have ever been read or reviewed by a professional “book reviewer”.
I have never been interviewed (and never will).
As regards other portraits of Walker and photos of other people/places mentioned in my book I can’t specifically recall. There may be something in one of the books I cite in the Bibliography section of my book.
List of books written by James P. Quigley followed by the year they were completed:
William Walker (2002)
German East Africa, 1884-1918 (2006)
Corsican Sailor (2008)
The Cryptanalyst (2010)
Middle River (2014)”
I’ll tell y’all this about Mr. Quigley book.
The CIA has its own writing style, much like IBM or Microsoft or the US Army or the NY Times has its styles and key words and unique points of reference.
In the intelligence business in which Mr. Quigley and I have spent time, there are at least two distinctive writing styles.
One, is the way we write intelligence reports for dissemination out to the US intelligence community. Big on nouns and verbs, it’s facts. One after another. Get too loose-gated in the way it is crafted and someone will say something or jump in with edits to make it more sterile and less colorful.
Now writing ops cables is another style entirely, where you want to express yourself clearly, and if that means using profanity quotes, well that’s OK. Be straight forward, get your main points out early in a way the reader knows what’s being discussed. Sometimes your selling proposals, something defending actions taken, but your cables are you talking, you can show some personal style if you have cache with the readership. To my mind the best author of ops traffic I saw in my 32 years reading agency ops traffic, was Stu Methevan who could make his words dance and sing and always win arguments. Stu could propose the Normandy invasion in a two page cable, and when you’d finish, you’d say, OK, let’s do it like that.
Mr. Quigley writes like Stu Methevan. And maybe the key word there is “like.” It’s agency-like ops writing of the highest quality, that’s clear and persuasive. And in this case very entertaining. And insightful.
William Walker, Jim Quigley book that only has had a 6-book release, is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It was like eating stolen candy.