South America: Chapter XVII


(by William Henry Koebel)

The War of Independence II


It was at Mendoza that the famous Argentine General, San Martin, recruited the army destined for the campaign of Chile.
In 1817 everything was prepared, and with an army of 4,000 men San Martin set out on one of the most extraordinary military marches that history has known.

Indeed, his passage of the Andes is considered as unique by numerous military experts.

The advance of San Martin was not altogether unexpected by the Royalist forces, whose spies kept the Spanish commander informed of this latest move on the part of the patriot army. General San Martin, becoming aware of this, repaid these spies in their own coin.


Taking them, as it seemed, into his confidence, he informed them of the route he was about to take, and when the time came chose another and a parallel pass.
Hastening down the tremendous rocky walls of the western side of the Andes, San Martin engaged the Spanish forces and won an important victory at Chacabuco.

The Royalists, under General Osorio, rallied and made a last desperate stand; but their forces were decisively and finally defeated on April 5, 1818, at Maipu, and this action resulted in the definite liberation of Chile.

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San Martin was now the hero of Chile, and was begged to accept the protectorship of the new Republic. His deeds on land were rivalled by those of Admiral Cochrane on sea.

The gallant Irish sailor was at the time busily occupied in sweeping the Pacific Ocean clear of the Spanish vessels, and in performing those extraordinary feats of valour for which his memory is famed.

Unfortunately, misunderstandings between the pair eventually resulted in open enmity between Cochrane and San Martin.
This became accentuated when the campaign was undertaken in Peru, when San Martin, not content with his victories in Chile, led his armies for the liberation of the north into Peru itself, and into the head-quarters of the remaining Spanish power.


It was in Peru, then, that the dispute between Cochrane and San Martin broke out in a public fashion.
Its origin in this instance was a difference of opinion concerning the measures to be taken for the capturing of Callao Castle.

The impetuous Irishman was for storming the place at once.
The prudent San Martin, on the other hand, was desirous of bringing about the surrender without bloodshed.
The latter had his way, but was subjected to some criticism, since a number of Royalist soldiers who escaped were enabled to carry on the campaign in the interior.


The second and more violent dispute broke out on San Martin's refusal to pay the fleet out of the funds in Lima.
On this Lord Cochrane took forcible possession of a large sum of money at the Port of Ancon, thus widening still further the already grave breach between the two.

Once or twice, indeed, it was a mere chance which prevented an outbreak of active hostilities between the sea and land forces.
Fortunately for all concerned, matters were not destined to reach such a pass.

This, however, is somewhat in advance of the period with which we are dealing, and it will be necessary to return for a short while to Peru in its colonial state.


In Peru, during the last few years of the Spanish régime, the Royalist authorities, bending to the urgent necessity of a concession to public opinion which might enable them to retain their power for a little longer, published some periodical papers, which, although of course strongly biased in their intelligence in favour of the Royalist cause, nevertheless gave a more or less accurate account of many of the events which had passed into hard and fast history.

Thus the inhabitants of Lima were enabled to learn of the establishment of the Republics in Colombia, Buenos Aires, and Chile.

In 1812, moreover, the Inquisition had been abolished. Of this, Lima had been the head-quarters in South America from the day of its first institution.
Here a similar stern and merciless procedure to that in other parts of the world was carried on.


Indeed, the capital of the senior Viceroy was in every way the most reactionary spot in South America.
In 1812, when it became known that the Cortes of Spain had abolished the Inquisition, a number of Peruvians entered the premises of the Holy office in order to inspect them.

According to one who took part in it, the visit was unexpectedly exciting, for, on ransacking the documents, many of those present found their own names marked down as those of future victims.

The sight of the torture-room inspired very different feelings in the breasts of the Limanians, and the sight of the iniquitous instruments enraged them to the point of destroying much within the building.

Many trophies and relics were carried away as momentoes of the occasion.
The following morning, however, the Archbishop proceeded in state to the cathedral, and declared all those excommunicated who had taken, and were retaining, any object belonging to the Inquisition.
By this means a certain proportion of the objects were recovered.


Nevertheless, during its latter days - doubtless from a presentiment of the nearness of its end - the methods of the Inquisition had become comparatively softened.

Thus, when at the beginning of the nineteenth century an old fortune-teller, accused of witchcraft, was made to stand penitent in the chapel of the tribunal, and one of the secretaries read out a list of the wretch's misdeeds, the result was very unusual for anything connected with so justly dreaded an organization.

For the old fortune-teller, doubtless tickled by a recital of his feats, burst into loud laughter, in which he was joined by the majority of the spectators.
It is said that the Viceroy Castelfuerte, when summoned before the Inquisition, obeyed the mandate; but he brought with him his bodyguard, and stationed two pieces of artillery outside the building of the tribunal.

After this he entered, and, placing his watch on the table, told the Inquisitor that, unless they finished their business with him in an hour, the place would be battered to pieces.
In the face of this information the interview terminated almost immediately.


It has been frequently brought against the inhabitants of Lima that, while in almost every other part of the Continent the Americans had already freed themselves, or were fighting with that object, they had remained in a more or less passive state.

Yet this condition of affairs was practically inevitable when it is considered that Lima was the great stronghold of Spain, filled to overflowing with Spanish officials and military officers.

It is certain enough that, had Lima been captured in the first place by the insurgents, the Royalist resistance in all the other colonies would inevitably have collapsed immediately; but it did not in the least follow that because Buenos Aires, Santiago, and other towns had become the seats of Republican Governments, that the movement should influence the mainspring of Spanish authority at Lima.


The Spaniards of Lima were reputed, for that reason, the haughtiest of any in the Continent, and their manner towards the Criollos continued as overbearing as ever during the first stages of the revolution.

It is said that when the reinforcements came from Spain - as, for instance, when in 1813 the regiment of Talavera arrived - the behaviour of these Spaniards became more arrogant than ever.
This attitude proved in the end to be possessed of a disconcertingly slender foundation.

As a matter of fact, the troops which arrived from Spain during this period were for the most part composed of very indifferent material, both officers and men bearing the worst of characters, since every efficient soldier was urgently required in the Mother Country at that time.


Numbers of the Spanish troops themselves at this stage gave many signs of insubordination, more especially when, as occasionally occurred, their pay was delayed; and on two occasions a widespread mutiny was only staved off by the intervention of the Viceroy.

Nevertheless, the exultation of the Spanish civilians reached its most fevered height in April, 1818, when the news of Spanish victories over the Chileans were succeeding each other at short intervals.

According to contemporaneous historians, the Spaniards formed themselves into groups in the streets, and mocked and insulted every Criollo who had to pass them by.
So arrogant was their conduct that no Criollo who valued his self-respect dared to enter a coffee-house in which a group of these Spaniards was assembled.

The total news of the defeat of the Spanish General Osorio at Maipú came as a thunderbolt, and the shocked and humbled Spanish had to make the most of an altogether unexpected and painful situation.


W.B. Stevenson has an interesting account of the contrast which obtained at this period between the state of affairs in Lima and in Santiago:

"The contrast between the society which I had just quitted in the capital of Peru and that which I here found in the capital of Chile was of the most striking kind.

The former, oppressed by proud mandatories, imperious chiefs, and insolent soldiers, had been long labouring under all the distressing effects of espionage - greatest enemy to the charm of every society - the overbearing haughty Spaniards, either with taunts or sneers, harrowing the very souls of the Americans, who suspected their very oldest friends and often their nearest relations.

In this way they were forced to drain the cup of bitterness to the last dregs, without daring by participation or condolence to render it less unpalatable, except, indeed, they could find an Englishman, and to him they would unbosom their inmost thoughts, believing that every Briton feels as much interest in forwarding the liberty of his neighbour as he does in preserving his own.

In Lima the tertulias, or chit-chat parties, and even the gaiety of the public promenade, had almost disappeared, and cuando se acabara esto? - 'When will this end?' - was constantly ejaculated.

"In Santiago every scene was reversed. Mirth and gaiety presided at paseos, confidence and frankness at the daily tertulias.
Englishmen here had evinced their love of universal liberty, and were highly esteemed.

Friendship and conviviality seemed to reign triumphant, and the security of the country, being the fruit of the labour of its children, was considered by each separate individual as appertaining to himself; his sentiments on its past efforts, present change and future prosperity, were delivered with uncontrolled freedom; while the supreme magistrate, the military chief, the soldier and the peasant, hailed each other as countrymen, and only acknowledged a master in their duty or the law."


As has already been explained, it was inevitable that the struggle which was taking place in Peru, the Viceroyalty, where was now centred all the remaining Spanish power of the Continent, should have been more prolonged than that in Chile, and far more so than had proved the contest in the provinces of the River Plate.

So far as Lima was concerned, the result was not so long in doubt.
Finding his hold on the capital no longer tenable in the face of the advance from the south of the victorious army, the Viceroy evacuated the town on July 26, 1821, and the patriot forces, entering the city, proclaimed from that place the freedom of Peru.

General Bolivar, in the meanwhile, having now cleared the northern countries of the Spanish troops, was marching down into Peru, and thus the stream of liberators from the south came into contact with those of the north.

An historical interview was held at Guayaquil on July 26, 1822, between the two greatest men of the Continent of that time, San Martin and Bolivar.
The details of this interview have never been made public, but what occurred may be surmised more or less accurately from the knowledge of the characters of the two men.


In one sense Bolivar's horizon was wider than that of San Martin.
For practical purposes, indeed, there is no doubt that this horizon of the northern liberator had extended itself to a somewhat dangerous and impracticable degree.

His dream was a federated South America - a single nation, in fact, which, save for the great Portuguese possession of Brazil, should extend from Panamá to Cape Horn.

Bolivar's enthusiasm on this point refused to be curbed at any cost - at all events, at this period.
It must be admitted that he did not take into full consideration the differences which climatic influences and the varying degrees of racial intermarriage had worked in the populations of the several provinces.

Thus the ethics of the northern and equatorial countries had become widely different from those in the southern and temperate zones.
Nevertheless, such was Bolivar's faith in the destiny of South America as a whole that he would have flung the entire mass together, and left it to work out its complicated will.


San Martin, as the representative of what might be termed, in one sense, the European States of the River Plate and Chile, was keenly alive to the defects of this plan.

It is certain that the two theories were discussed in the course of the momentous interview between San Martin and Bolivar, and it is equally certain that San Martin realized that, holding such divergent views from those of his colleague as he did, friction between the leaders would in the circumstances become inevitable.

He determined, therefore, on a piece of self-sacrifice which has few rivals in history.
At the moment when he had achieved his triumph, and when the inhabitants of three powerful new countries were waiting to salute him with a thunder of acclamation, he laid down his office, unbuckled his sword, travelled quietly to Chile, and from there he crossed the Andes to Mendoza in a very different fashion to the one in which he had come on the occasion when he had commanded the army of liberation.


From Mendoza he crossed the plains of Buenos Aires, and from there he took ship to Europe.

It is generally supposed that he never again returned to his native country.
This, however, was not the case, since he once again sailed back from France with the idea of watching the progress of the land he loved so dearly.

Perceiving, to his sorrow, that the country was temporarily lost in complete anarchy, he sailed to France again without having descended from the deck of the ship which had borne him out.

The remaining embers of the war had now become localized, and it was obvious that Spain was at her last gasp.
Bolivar came down with his armies from Quito to Peru to complete the task of the destruction of the Spanish garrisons.


In 1824 the Battle of Junin was fought, which resulted in a striking victory for the South Americans.
The patriot forces on this occasion made a particularly gallant fight, and the brilliant cavalry charge made by Suarez is said to have been largely responsible for the victory.

Bolivar then gave over the command of the army to General Sucre, who on December 9, 1824, fought the Battle of Ayacucho, completely defeating the Royalist forces.


This proved to be the final action of the war; the last shred of Spanish authority had been torn from the Continent, the last of the Spanish garrisons were now ploughing their sombre course back to Europe, and it was left to Spanish America to shape its own destiny.



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