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The Battle of Chacabuco

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The Battle of Chacabuco

General San Martin and troops on their way to the Battle of Chacabuco.

Pedro Subercaseaux (1880-1956)

The Battle of Chacabuco:

On February 12, 1817, José de San Martín, Bernardo O'Higgins and their Army of the Andes met royalist forces under General Rafael Maroto at the Battle of Chacabuco outside of Santiago. The battle was a decisive victory for the patriots, who were then able to enter Santiago and resume control of Chile for the first time since 1814.

Chileans in Exile:

Chile had declared independence from Spain in October of 1810, and for years patriots and royalists fought over the nation. After the Disaster of Rancagua in October of 1814, Chilean patriots had been driven from power and had been forced out of the country. In Mendoza, Argentina, they regrouped under the leadership of Bernardo O'Higgins and legendary Argentine General José de San Martín. By January of 1817 the "Army of the Andes" as it came to be known was ready to cross the Andes and liberate Chile.

Crossing the Andes:

The Spanish knew the patriots were coming, but they didn’t know which route they were to take. Due to a clever ruse, the Spanish did not defend the passes used by the Army of the Andes in January of 1817. The rebel army arrived in Chile unopposed, although the arduous crossing cost the lives of many men and pack animals.

The Spanish in Chile:

The Spanish position was weak in Chile. After Spanish and royalist forces re-took the nation in 1814, Spanish officials cracked down hard on the population. Anyone suspected of having patriot sympathies stood to lose his land, money, or even life. The people of Chile, formerly divided in their loyalties, were crying out for deliverance from harsh Spanish rule by the time O’Higgins returned in 1817.

Prelude to Battle:

Realizing that the patriot army had crossed the Andes, the Spanish scrambled to defend Santiago. Casimiro Marcó del Pont, the Spanish governor, sent General Maroto to stop the patriot advance (although in secret, the governor was already packing his things, sending them to Valparaiso and organizing an escape plan). Maroto was only able to muster some 1,500 soldiers, whereas the 4,000-strong Army of the Andes had already recruited some 2,000 more volunteers from the angry Chilean population.

The Battle of Chacabuco Begins:

On February 11 the armies caught sight of one another and began moving into position. Maroto knew he was outnumbered, but his strategy was only to delay San Martín until reinforcements could be brought in. During the night of the 11th, San Martín secretly advanced his forces for a speedy attack at dawn: he did not want Maroto to be able to get away. The plan was to divide the army in two, to be led by General Miguel Estanislao Soler and O’Higgins. Soler would attack on the right and try to get behind the enemy to surround them, while O’Higgins occupied the left flank. The plan was for them to attack at the same time, creating confusion among the Spanish.

The Battle of Chacabuco:

San Martín ordered the attack at dawn. The battle plan began to fall apart almost immediately, as O’Higgins reached the Spanish before Soler. He attacked anyway, and San Martín ordered Soler to hurry up. The Spanish retreated into a defensive position around their headquarters, and Soler was able to get behind them and cut off their escape as planned. By the afternoon O’Higgins was in position to strike hard at the remaining royalist forces. Surrounded and outnumbered, the royalists were routed. At the end of the day, the tally was grim for the royalists: 500 killed and 600 captured to only 12 dead patriots, (although a hundred more died later of their wounds). Spanish General Ildefonso Elorreaga, one of the best Spanish commanders, was killed in the battle, and Vicente San Bruno, the despised officer in charge of rooting out patriot sympathizers, was captured.

Aftermath of the Battle of Chacabuco:

The communication problem between O'Higgins and Soler caused a bit of a flap, but it died down quickly as the battle had been a huge victory in spite of their lack of co-ordination. O'Higgins' bold attack was attributed to his great love for his country (although he said he charged because he did not want his division to be pinned up against a rocky hill where retreat would be difficult).

With the royalist army crushed, Spanish and royalists fled Santiago, where O'Higgins and San Martín were welcomed by a happy populace. Marcó del Ponte, the Spanish governor, was captured trying to flee. He would later be jailed and was killed while trying to escape in 1819. San Bruno, who was loathed by the people of Santiago, was hanged, but not before being beaten within an inch of his life by enraged citizens.

San Martín put O'Higgins in charge of establishing a new Chilean government and began preparations for an invasion of Peru.

But the Spanish weren't through. There were still Spanish and royalist forces in the south, and it wasn't until the Battle of Maipú on April 5, 1818, that the royalists were decisively defeated in Chile.

Sources:

Concha Cruz, Alejandor and Maltés Cortés, Julio. Historia de Chile Santiago: Bibliográfica Internacional, 2008.

Harvey, Robert. Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000.

Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America From the Beginnings to the Present.. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962

Lynch, John. The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826 New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986.

Rock, David. Argentina 1516-1987: From Spanish Colonization to Alfonsín. Berkeley: the University of California Press, 1987

Scheina, Robert L. Latin America's Wars, Volume 1: The Age of the Caudillo 1791-1899 Washington, D.C.: Brassey's Inc., 2003.

 

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