Juan Santamaría Day To Be Celebrated Sunday
On Sunday April 11 Costa Rica celebrates the
154th anniversary of the Batalla de Rivas
(Battle at Rivas) and Juan Santamaría, the
only Costa Rican to have a national holiday
declared in his honour.
Alejandrina Mata, viceministra de Educación,
announced on Tuesday that the celebration
will take place on Sunday, when public and
high school students, as well teachers, are
required to assist and not today (April 9)
or Monday April 12 as had been previously
Students and teachers will have Monday off,
as all schools will be closed to make up for
the holiday on Sunday.
Battle of Rivas occurred on 11 April 1856
between Costa Rican militia under General
Mora and the Nicaraguan forces of William
At the time, a major trade route between New
York City and San Francisco ran through
southern Nicaragua. Ships from New York
would enter the San Juan River from the
Atlantic and sail across Lake Nicaragua.
People and goods would then be transported
by stagecoach over a narrow strip of land
near the city of Rivas, before reaching the
Pacific and being shipped to San Francisco.
The commercial exploitation of this route
had been attained from a previous Nicaraguan
administration to Wall Street tycoon
Cornelius Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit
Company. Garrison and Morgan had wrested
control of the company from Vanderbilt and
then supported Walker's expedition.
Vanderbilt spread rumors that the company
was issuing stock illegally in order to
depress its value, allowing him to regain
In July 1856, Walker set himself up as
president of Nicaragua, after conducting a
Juan Santamaría statue, Alajuela, Costa Rica
As ruler of Nicaragua, Walker then revoked
the Transit Company's charter, claiming that
it had violated the agreement, and granted
use of the route back to Garrison and
Outraged, Vanderbilt successfully pressured
the U.S. government to withdraw its
recognition of Walker's regime. Walker had
also scared his neighbors and American and
European investors with talk of further
military conquests in Central America.
Vanderbilt finance and train 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 U.S.
Costa Rican President Juan Rafael Mora
watched with great interest as Walker
consolidated his forces and power in
Fearing that Walker would become unbeatable
and at the urging and backing of
Vanderbilt's business empire Mora declared
war, not on Nicaragua, but on Walker and his
filibusters, on March 1, 1856.
Having been talking about the filibusters
for a while, Mora's (or Don Juanito as he
was called) made this declaration in a
famous speech that begins with the words, "Countrymen,take
your weapons, the time that I've been
warning you has arrived"
Enraged Walker ordered the invasion of Costa
Rica and a filibuster force crossed the
border into Guanacaste, while the Costa
Rican army moved down from the Central
Valley in the same direction. With the army
traveled the President but command was in
the hands of his brothers Jose Joaquin Mora
and his brother in law General Cañas.
Upon hearing that a small contingent of men
were encamped near the city of Guanacaste's
Hacienda Santa Rosa Mora led three thousand
of his men to attack.
Walker's men were under the command of
Colonel Louis Schlessinger, an inexperienced
officer. On March 20, with no sentries
posted, Mora’s Costa Ricans surprised and
attacked the small group; Schlessinger
himself ran away, leaving his troops
vulnerable, disorganized, and without
Juan Santamaría, a drummer boy from the town
of Alajuela, had volunteered for his
country's impromptu militia; his moment of
glory came when the commanding officer asked
for a volunteer to set fire to El Mesón de
Guerra — the filibusters' stronghold.
Santamaría, torch in hand, fulfilled his
patriotic duty. He approached the hostel and
tossed his torch onto the thatched roof.
This caused the enemy to flee, even though
Santamaria was cut down by sniper fire in
That is where Santamaría gained his
Walker and his surviving soldiers fled to
Granada during the night. Several factions
inside the Costa Rican Army sought to pursue
and kill Walker, thus ending the war.
President Mora cancelled the plan, seeing
his troops were already battle-worn. Mora
wanted to use his resources to bury the dead
and take care of the wounded and sick.
Although Costa Rica was victorious in the
Battle of Rivas, the country could not enjoy
the victory. Bodies from the fighting were
dumped in the wells of the city causing a
huge outbreak of cholera.
Thinking that the cholera was brought by the
hot weather of the Nicaraguan lowlands, the
troops wanted to go back home. The Costa
Rican troops brought the disease home to
Costa Rica with them where it ravaged the
entire country, killing one tenth of the
Mora was blamed for the cholera outbreak,
the severe losses inflicted to the army and
for the economic damage to the country
because of the war debts. A coup was planned
for his return to the capital but this was
The war against Walker will go on, joined
now by the armies of other Central American
countries under the overall command of
General Mora. The Costa Ricans now focused
on cutting the men and weapons flow to the
filibusters cutting the transit route.
However once the war was over, Mora was
taken out of power in 1859 and executed in
1860 when he tried to come back to power
along General Cañas.
The Battle of Rivas put great confidence to
the Costa Rican Army in the fight against
Walker, who before this battle believed
himself undefeatable and unstoppable.