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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of Chile

Luis Galdames

translated and edited by Isaac Joslin Cox
Russell & Russell
New York 1964

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 16

 p326  Chapter XV
The War of the Pacific

The Background of the Conflict

As soon as the occupation of Antofagasta was known in Peru, its government, then directed by General Mariano Prado, knew that it was also involved in the conflict. Not finding itself prepared for war, it proposed to gain time by sending an envoy to Chile to propose mediation. Should the Chilean troops retire from Antofagasta, said the envoy, all would be arranged in a peaceful manner. The government of Chile refused to accede to this. Meanwhile Peru mobilized its army rapidly, Bolivia declared war against Chile, and the press of those countries brought clearly to light the existence of the Peru-Bolivia alliance. The representative of Peru when questioned about that treaty replied that he knew nothing of it, but stated that he did not think it existed. On the other hand, the representative of Chile, in Lima, after many conferences with the Peruvian minister of foreign relations, obtained a declaration that the alliance existed.

When notified of this treaty, the Chilean government declared war on Peru and Bolivia in April, 1879, following the example of Bolivia. Peru responded to this declaration with the expulsion of all Chileans from its territory and the confiscation of their goods. Chile did not imitate, even as an act of reprisal, this conduct of its enemies. On the contrary, it was benefited by the procedure, since the greater part of the Chileans thus expelled increased the ranks of their own army eventually and, knowing the region as they did, served later as important aids in the invasion of Peru.

The forces of the belligerents were very unequal. Chile, with a population of two and a half million inhabitants, kept up an army of barely twenty-five hundred men; while Peru, with a population of three million, maintained one of eight thousand; and Bolivia, with two million, one of more than three thousand. The allies, therefore, command a permanent army of eleven thousand, more than four times greater than that of Chile, and a population more than double that of Chile. In respect to a fleet their superiority was also evident. If Bolivia had no vessels, Peru counted on four cruisers, several transports, and sloops. Chile had only two cruisers and some frigates and sloops of little value. It was not strange, according to this showing, that in foreign countries the defeat of Chile  p327 should be regarded as certain. Only those near at hand, who knew the complete disorder that characterized the governments of the allies and the serious purpose of the Chilean government, could cherish hope of success for the latter.

Nevertheless, the War of the Pacific,​1 as this armed conflict was called, was from the first favorable to Chile. In the month and a half elapsing between the date of the occupation of Antofagasta and the last days of March, 1879, Chilean troops conquered almost without resistance the whole Bolivian desert as far as the boundary of Peru. The campaign of Antofagasta was, then, a triumphal march for the Chilean hosts. Bolivia could not take its army across the high chains of the Andes in so short a time for the defense of Antofagasta because the terrain presented insuperable obstacles. It preferred, therefore, to join its troops with those of its ally.

The Naval Campaign

Meanwhile, relations with Peru were broken, and hostilities began on the ocean. The naval campaign was then undertaken with feverish activity. The Chilean admiral, Williams Rebolledo, took his squadron into Peruvian waters. He blockaded Iquique and then went to Callao, leaving in the former port only two old wooden vessels too worn out for use: the Esmeralda and the Covadonga. The Peruvian squadron had departed from Callao southward in different divisions, and the Chilean vessels did not encounter it on the way. So it happened that the two most important cruisers of Peru, the Huáscar and the Independencia, in charge of the commander of the former, Miguel Grau, arrived before the harbor of Iquique and prepared to seize the two vessels blockading the port.

Then took place the memorable naval battle of Iquique on May 21, 1879. At dawn Captain Carlos Condell, commander of the Covadonga, was advised by the official watch of his vessel that two large ships had been sighted toward the north. He at once leaped to the bridge. From his observation it was not difficult to recognize those vessels as the Huáscar and the Independencia. While his crew was being put under arms, he betook himself to the Esmeralda, which lay farther within the bay, in order to give notice to its commander, the chief of the blockade, Captainº Arturo Prat, who immediately decided to resist to the utmost. He communicated this resolution to Condell and ordered him to follow his course. "All right" (está bien), replied Condell serenely. At the same moment, a shell  p328 from the Huáscar fell shrieking into the sea between the two Chilean vessels, spattering their hulls. The firing had begun.

After an hour of active cannonading, during which the Independencia discharged its guns on the Covadonga, and the Huáscar its guns on the Esmeralda, the commanders of the two latter vessels, Grau​2 and Prat, found themselves face to face. As the Esmeralda was near land, a heavy musketry fusillade was also delivered from the port. It was evident that the Chilean vessel was losing the contest. It could hardly move; its shot fell in vain against the hull of its adversary. During a moment of calm Prat assembled his crew and harangued them, saying: "Boys, the contest is unequal. Our colors have never yielded to the enemy. I hope they will not have to do it on this occasion. While I live, that flag will flutter in its place; if I die, my officers will know how to fulfil their duty." The crew uttered a "Viva Chile," and the duel continued with more vigor.

By the third hour of the struggle, the corvette had already been pierced by many projectiles and was leaking, but its fire did not lessen. Commander Grau, knowing that such an unequal battle could not last much longer, stopped firing and with his engines under full steam drove the Huáscar against the Esmeralda, caught it amid­ships, and pierced it with his ram. Prat, who was calmly waiting for that moment, gave one sharp command, "Board!" His men did not hear it; and he, only accompanied by Sergeant Juan de Dios Aldea, jumped to the deck of the enemy vessel. There both fell, riddled with bullets.

The struggle continued, however, directed by Lieutenant Luis Uribe. At the second ramming, another lieutenant, Ignacio Serrano, also jumped on board with a few sailors. All met the same fate as Prat and Aldea. A third blow of the ram finally overturned the Esmeralda and left its masts and hull a mass of splinters. A marine guard, young Ernesto Riquelme, then discharged a last salvo at the water's level and sank into the ocean with the remains of the old ship, its flag, still waving at the masthead, fluttering over the waves.

The midday sun illuminated that sacrifice. But the duel that had occurred in the roadstead of Iquique was not the whole of the fight. A little more to the southward the Independencia had also encountered the Covadonga. The forces of these adversaries were even more disproportionate than those of the first pair. The Covadonga was as much inferior to the Esmeralda as the Independencia was superior to the Huáscar. At the same hour, however, that the more  p329 powerful vessel sank the weaker one at Iquique, the weaker of the Chilean vessels sank the more powerful Peruvian vessel at Punta Gruesa, a short distance from that port.

The Independencia with its formidable guns had pursued the Covadonga southward. The latter, drawing near the coast, kept up the fight while retreating. At the end of more than three hours of conflict, the Independencia had approached its adversary as if to cut it in two with its ram; but the Covadonga, a small ship of light draft, kept in the shallow sea among the reefs of Punta Gruesa. The Covadonga then advanced cannonading the Independencia to the point of yielding. Only immediate aid rendered by the Huáscar prevented the crew of the Independencia from surrendering. On trying to approach, the Independencia struck bottom, crushed in its prow, and keeled over, completely grounded. The Covadonga then escaped, pursued by Grau's powerful vessel; but, as the latter had shortly to abandon his pursuit because he feared to encounter a Chilean squadron, the other vessel proceeded to take refuge and to repair its damages in the port of Antofagasta.

Such was the result of the naval combat of Iquique. Chile lost a poor and already worn-out bark which, however, was sunk in the water with almost all its crew and with its flag still flying. Chile also lost many men; of the two hundred that manned the Esmeralda only sixty were rescued by the Huáscar; but it gained a hero, Prat, whose act became for all Chileans the most glorious emblem of patriotism and whose name. From that day, proudly repeated on every lip in the battle, seemed to guide the armies to victory or to death. Peru, in exchange, lost its most formidable war vessel.

After the dead were buried in the city of Iquique, where Prat was also given honorable burial, the Huáscar betook itself to the south, and bombarded Antofagasta. It then returned to Callao in order to repair damages and, once more ready, returned to the south. On its course it seized, near Antofagasta, the Chilean transport Rimac, which was carrying a whole corps of the army and a large supply of arms and munitions. This deed produced in Santiago and in the principal cities of the country a great expression of protest against the naval leaders. The press and the houses of congress echoed this indignation. The blockade of Iquique was then raised, the squadron repaired to Valparaiso in order to prepare itself for a new campaign, and soon Admiral Williams Rebolledo presented his resignation. The naval captain, Galvarino Riveros, was substituted for him.

Meanwhile the Huáscar and other minor boats of Peru became the  p330 terror of the Chilean coast. For several months, Grau, astute and brave, had been able to frustrate pursuit from the enemy ships, but his success did not last. When the Chilean squadron reëntered the campaign, a plan was formed to hunt down the rapid, formidable Peruvian cruiser. In fact, Captain Juan José Latorre, commander of the Chilean cruiser Cochrane, encountered the Huáscar on its return from an excursion to the south, in front of Mejillones, at Angamos Point on October 8, 1879. Although the latter tried to flee, it did not succeed because the Cochrane was the speedier. At that very place, then, Latorre obliged the formerly terrible Grau to engage in combat. The action was not very long — an hour and a half. With the first discharges, Grau fell, torn to pieces by a shell which burst against the armored tower from which he was directing the vessel. Two officers, who successively occupied his post, fell also, swept by the fire. The Blanco Encalada,º a cruiser which Riveros directed, arrived to reinforce the action of the Cochrane and the great Peruvian vessel surrendered.​3 Shortly after, a Peruvian sloop, the Pilcomayo, also surrendered to its conquerors, and with this success the Chilean squadron remained mistress of the ocean. The remaining Peruvian vessels did not leave their ports. The Huáscar was repaired and incorporated in the Chilean navy.

Two campaigns were then completed, that of Antofagasta and that of the sea, in the course of eight months, February to October, 1879, and both resulted in a complete triumph for Chile. All was not ended, however, and a third campaign was begun immediately.

The Northern Land Campaigns

The most energetic and sustained activity had been displayed in the three belligerent countries, while the maritime war lasted, in order to reorganize and increase their respective armies. Peru received, by way of Panama, arms purchased in the United States, and with them fitted out its army and that of Bolivia. Chile received arms from Europe by way of Magallanes and in a short time placed twelve thousand men in Antofagasta, where the Chilean general quarters had been established. It had not been necessary to resort to foreign credit in order to meet the extraordinary expenses of the war; internal credit had been sufficient. To assist in maintaining this credit, new issues of paper money were put out, administrative expenditures were restricted, the wages of public employees were temporarily reduced, and private donations were called for.

 p331  Meanwhile, the allies, overcoming enormous financial difficulties, had established their general quarters in Iquique; and there, under the immediate inspection of Presidents Prado and Daza — the former stationed in Arica and the latter in Tacna — they had brought together fourteen thousand men. It was thought that Chile would not dare invade Peru through the southern desolate desert region. At the beginning of November, 1879, however, ten thousand Chilean soldiers landed at Pisague after a strenuous fight. They were, for the most part, vigorous miners of the pampas, commanded by General Erasmo Escala. The campaign of Tarapacá was opened. One battle only was all that was necessary to give the invading army control of that province.

Colonel Sotomayor left Pisagueº with six thousand men to take possession of the rich and abundantly watered plain of Dolores, situated toward the southeast. Buendía,​4 the Peruvian general, in his turn, left Iquique with a division twice as large and marched northward to meet the enemy; while the president, General Daza, advanced from Tacna toward the south, in order to enclose the Chilean division between two fires. Before Daza could reach his destination, the army of Buendía was completely routed in Dolores by the troops of Sotomayor on November 19, 1879. On hearing this, Daza returned to Tacna without giving battle. The garrison of Iquique fled, as did the garrisons of other adjacent cities.

In a few days all the territory of Tarapacá was occupied by Chilean forces. But the defeat of the allies had a much greater result. On being informed of it, the populace in Peru and Bolivia were inflamed with anger against their presidents. Prado returned from Arica to Lima and was obliged to resign, afterwards he made a journey to the United States. The resignation of Prado gave rise to a revolution in Peru, headed by the celebrated popular agitator, Colonel Nicolás de Piérola. The revolution was a success and Piérola became dictator. A similar uprising occurred in Bolivia, where Daza was deposed and replaced by General Narciso Campero, a man of prestige and energy. Thus the year 1879 ended with the complete disorganization of the allies and the unconditional surrender of Antofagasta and Tarapacá to Chile.

At the beginning of 1880, Chilean troops began to invade a more northerly district of Peru. Thirteen thousand soldiers landed at Ilo and Pacocha, north of Arica, took possession of Moquegua, and opened the fourth stage of the struggle: the campaign of Tacna  p332 and Arica. This time it was General Manuel Baquedano who directed operations. For the moment he met with no more resistance than was offered by a body of Peruvian troops, fortified on the heights of Los Angeles, slightly north of Moquegua. When this position was taken by assault, he hastened his march to Tacna. But he had to cross long deserts cut by steep mountain ridges and scarcely interrupted by two valleys — those of Locumba and Sama — where plantations of sugarcane and vineyards and fruit trees could furnish some refreshment to his army. In addition to the difficulties of the terrain there was added, for the rest of the way, the suffocating heat of the tropics.

All difficulties were overcome, however, and at the end of a two months' march, during which only one encounter took place with the enemy, the Chilean army came within sight of Tacna. The allied army, in charge of the president of Bolivia, General Campero, had fortified itself on the hills near the city, facing the so‑called "Field of Alliance" on the southwest side. General Baquedano ordered an attack on their position. The battle of Tacna opened with horrible carnage. Nearly five thousand dead and wounded remained on the field. Of that number two thousand were Chileans, but the Chileans were victors, as before. The prisoners were very numerous, and the rest of Campero's troops were scattered when retreating into the interior. The city was occupied on May 26, 1880.

The port of Arica remained to be taken. It was blockaded by Chilean vessels but vigorously defended by fortifications provided with powerful artillery, by the iron-clad Manco Capac which had been converted into a floating battery, and by a numerous and warlike military division in command of one of the bravest and most capable of Peruvian leaders, Colonel Francisco Bolognesi.​5 This division was fortified on the Morro, a massive, flattop mountain over­looking the sea. This mountain was now encircled on its remaining sides by numerous dynamite mines. The assault of this fortress was successfully accomplished, however, twelve days after the occupation of Tacna, by a body of troops directed by Colonel Pedro Lagos. The brave Bolognesi died in action, and all of his subordinates either fell, dead or wounded, or were taken prisoner. The sailors of Manco Capac sank that vessel and surrendered to the blockaders.

Thus ended the campaign of Tacna and Arica, like that of Antofagasta  p333 and Tarapacá, with the complete conquest of the two Peruvian provinces. Meanwhile, the Chilean squadron blockaded the coast of Peru as far as Callao and also bombarded that port. The naval captain, Patricio Lynch, who had served many years in England, was put in charge of a military and naval division, which traversed the coast of northern Peru, imposing war taxes without hindrance and exercising acts of sovereignty. During that time military operations on land ceased, and it was thought that the war would come to an end. England offered the belligerents its friendly mediation to bring about peace. Chile accepted but Peru refused. The United States was more fortunate. The allies accepted the mediation offered them by the latter, with the secret hope of finding its government friendly. Chile also accepted the offer in good faith but without deceiving itself over the result of the conference.

In October, 1880, the North American plenipotentiaries and the representatives of the belligerent countries met in Arica, on board a North American cruiser, and held a conference generally known as the conference of Arica.​6 The Chilean representative, Eulogio Altamirano, laid down there the only conditions to which Chile could agree. Among these conditions was the definite cession of Antofagasta and Tarapacá to the victor. The representatives of the allies openly refused this condition, and the negotiations were ended.

The Lima Campaign and the End of the War

The friendly intervention of the United States was frustrated by the disagreement of Bolivia and Peru to the Chilean propositions. From that instant it was understood that a peace would have to be dictated at Lima. In Chile the press, congress, and the universal public opinion, as shown by meetings in various cities, demanded in no uncertain voice that the army advance against the Peruvian capital. "To Lima!" was the cry. The government was forced to decide on the campaign against Lima. In the last two months of 1880 about twenty-five thousand Chileans, transported by land and by sea under the orders of General Baquedano, established their central headquarters on the banks of the Lurín River, about five leagues south of Lima. They had had to disembark at different ports, among which Pisco and Curayaco were the principal ones. Under a burning sun they had had to cross rugged mountains, desolate sands, and very fertile valleys, in which a multitude  p334 of Chinese who worked as slaves on the sugar and coffee plantations received them as liberators and accompanied them in the capacity of servants. Finally, they were separated from their fatherland by thousands of leagues, without other hope than victory or death.

On the side of Peru, Piérola, the dictator in Lima, worked miracles of patriotism and fortitude and was able to organize thirty thousand men to resist the Chileans. With surprising energy he fortified strategic positions immediately south of the city, especially the hills of Chorrillos and Miraflores. And so, in the first days of 1881, he had everything mined and entrenched there, ready for defense, but all in vain. On January 13 the Chilean troops with irresistible force carried the fortifications of Chorrillos at the point of the bayonet. On January 15 Miraflores also fell in the same way. After these battles, Baquedano received the unconditional surrender of Lima. Meanwhile, the populace sacked the capital as well as Callao, where the last Peruvian cruiser, Atahualpa, was converted into a bonfire and sunk. It was necessary for the Chilean army to make a hurried entrance into these cities in order to prevent the rabble from continuing its pillage.7

The events at Chorrillos and Miraflores marked the end of the war. Piérola, who escaped from Lima, tried unsuccessfully to raise the Indians of the interior in revolt and to organize resistance anew. Another leader, Colonel Avelino Cáceres, succeeded him, and others came later, keeping Peru for two years in a condition of complete anarchy, with guerrilla uprisings everywhere, which different bodies of the Chilean army had to oppose relentlessly. In one of those campaigns of the sierra, a Chilean detachment of seventy-seven men, under the command of Captain Ignacio Carrera Pinto,​8 was surrounded in the town of Concepción by Peruvian forces which numbered eighteen hundred — both Indians and regular troops. After fighting for twenty hours in the vicinity of the town plaza, all the Chileans fell under the banner that they had sworn to definite. This was on July 9 and 10, 1882.

Meanwhile, a time came when it was thought peace was within sight. Shortly after the occupation of Lima, its military commander, the navy captain, Patricio Lynch, favored the election of President  p335 Francisco García Calderón, who established his government in a town near Lima called La Magdalena; but, when a definitive treaty was about to be signed, the latter declared that he would not sign it on the basis of a cession of territory. He thought that the United States would intervene in favor of Peru; and the hope of that intervention induced him to refuse to come to any agreement. Ultimately, the Chilean army of occupation annulled his authority and sent him as a prisoner to Santiago. Not until 1883 could peace be mentioned, through the elevation of General Miguel Iglesias to the head of the government of Peru. He was an eminent man who succeeded in imposing a policy of peace and regeneration upon the anarchical chiefs.

The peace conferences took place in Ancón, a town situated north of Lima, and in October, 1883, the treaty with Peru was signed there. By the Treaty of Ancón, Peru ceded to Chile the perpetual owner­ship of the province of Tarapacá and the sovereignty of the provinces of Tacna and Arica for ten years, at the end of which time a plebiscite of its inhabitants should decide to which of the two countries they should definitely belong. The country with which the provinces should remain was to pay the other country ten million pesos.​9 Furthermore, an arbitration tribunal was created to pass on the claims of Chileans injured by the war, just as Chile had already covenanted with the governments of England, France, Italy, and Germany to recognize the claims of their respective citizens, injured by the same cause.10

Months later, a truce with Bolivia was signed in Valparaiso,​11 by which all the Bolivian territory included between the Andes and the Pacific, or rather, the actual province of Antofagasta, was definitely left under the sovereignty of Chile.

The Author's Notes:

1 See Diego Barros Arana, Histoire de la guerre du Pacifique (Paris, 1881‑1882); Gonzalo Bulnes, Historia de la guerra del Pacífico (3 vols. Valparaiso, 1912‑1919).

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2 For Grau see p479.

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3 See Hancock, History of Chile, pp285‑288. The action was significant in that it was the first important test of ironclad vessels in warfare at sea. See also V. Figueroa, Diccionario histórico, III, 664‑665.

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4 General Juan Buendía is mentioned and a different presentation of the Tarapacá campaign is given in Markham's History of Peru, pp380, 394. See also C. Reginald Enock, Peru (London, 1912), pp83‑85.

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5 Bolognesi (d. 1880) because of his sturdy defense of Arica against great odds, is one of the national heroes of Peru. For a description of the battle, in which he died, see Hancock, op. cit., pp302‑303.

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6 See W. R. Sherman, The Diplomatic and Commercial Relations of the United States and Chile, 1820‑1914 (Boston, 1926), pp126‑127. See also Evans, Chile and its Relations with the United States, pp102‑104.

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7 For a contrary account of the events marking the capture and occupation of Lima, see Markham, History of Peru, pp410‑417.

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8 Ignacio Carrera Pinto (1848‑1882), born in Santiago, was a grandson of José Miguel Carrera (see p460). At the beginning of the War of the Pacific he entered the army as sergeant and was a captain at the time of his heroic death. See Pedro P. Figueroa, Diccionario biográfico, I, 304; V. Figueroa, op. cit., II, 369.

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9 For the text of the Treaty of Ancón, see Dennis, Documentary History, pp220‑224. See also his Tacna and Arica, chap. ix.

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10 The covenant with France is dated November 2, 1882, and is given in British and Foreign State Papers, LXXIV, 128‑132; for other covenants see ibid., pp321‑324, and LXXV, 495, 1102‑1105.

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11 For the text of this truce, see Dennis, Documentary History, pp225‑227.

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