The liberation of Peru must be accomplished by way of the sea. The thousand miles of intervening desert were impassable for an army. To O'Higgins belongs the credit of creating a navy which defied Spain. His nondescript fleet consisted of two old East Indian men, a British corvette, several Spanish warships whose crews had mutinied, together with a number of brigs. This curious fleet was officered by Englishmen for the most part, but manned by Chileans. As O'Higgins rode up the hill, returning to Santiago from a visit to his navy, he paused and, looking down at the fluttering sails and the towering masts of the three re-christened Spanish warships, exclaimed:
"It was three ships that gave the Western World to Spain; please God, these three will take it from her." That this squadron was able to wrest from Spain the control of the Pacific, and serve as convoy to San Martin's army, was due to the genius of Thomas, Lord Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, frequently regarded as the greatest naval commander since Nelson. He arrived at Valparaiso November 28, 1818. Born of noble Scotch family, as a member of Parliament he had led the Radical Opposition, and was both hated and feared by the party in power. Entangled in a doubtful Stock Exchange transaction, he was condemned to pay a heavy fine, was sent to the pillory, and expelled from the House of Commons. The people paid his fine by subscription, Government remitted his pillory sentence, and he was reelected by his constituents. Disgusted with political life, he sought adventure. Condarco, San Martin's agent in London, and Alvarez Jonte, the agent of Chile, made him an offer to fight for the cause of independence in South America, and he at once accepted. He became a brilliant force in the fight and he is honored today as one of South America's liberators.
As soon as Cochrane arrived at Valparaiso he was given charge of the fleet—the Chilean Vice-Admiral, Escalada, recognizing his superiority—and begged him to take the supreme command. Cochrane wished to attack the Spaniards at once. But the Spanish admiral, hearing of his arrival, withdrew cannily into the fortified harbor of Callao and refused the encounter. Cochrane, thirsting for the fray, paced the deck of his flag-ship by the hour. One day he suddenly addressed his officers: "What would they say if with this one ship I took Valdavia?" As no one offered an answer, he continued: "They would say I am a lunatic! Lunatic or not, that is what I am going to do."
Valdavia was the most strongly fortified of all the Pacific ports. Nine fortresses, with batteries of 128 guns, stood on either side of the bay, which was naturally fortified by steep cliffs, so that Valdavia was reckoned practically impregnable. The garrison normally numbered 800 troops, but at the time Cochrane made his reckless attack the militia happened to have been withdrawn. On the 18th of January, 1820, the "O'Higgins," Cochrane's flag-ship and so named for his famous fellow-liberator, sailed into Valdavia's harbor, flying the Spanish flag. This ruse worked to perfection. The Spanish commander of the garrison, believing her to be the Spanish Prueba, immediately sent off a guard of honor when Cochrane signaled for a pilot. The guard were promptly made prisoners, and being threatened with the customary torture of the period, divulged the agreeable news that the garrison were expecting a Royalist warship, the "Portillo," with moneys for the Spanish troops. Two days later Cochrane captured the "Portillo" with her 20,000 pesos, but realizing that it would be folly to attempt Valdavia without the rest of his fleet, he returned to Talcahuano for reinforcements. There he found two of his best ships, the Intrepido and the "Montezuma" and the Commander of the fort assigned him 250 men. They started again for Valdavia, but leaving the harbor the "O'Higgins" struck a rock and began to leak. Cochrane could not brook delay and lay by only long enough for a little hasty patching up. He always declared that "Victory is the justification of the folly of a reckless venture." Certainly he was justified this time, for his audacity and courage, backed by a native genius for sea-fighting and naval tactics, were rewarded by a glorious and incomparably important victory. Valdavia was taken. The "Intrepido" was sunk, the "O'Higgins" leaked so badly that she had to be run aground, but Cochrane was able to return to Valparaiso in triumph, and Spain had lost her last base of operations in the South.
Chile now possessed all the Spanish territory except the Island of Chiloe and the dominion of the Pacific was assured. It was just at this moment of triumph and success that the first great crisis in San Martin's career occurred. He was called upon to make a great decision; and he decided that the whole cause of independence was a duty greater than technical loyalty to his native country. For at this moment when everything conspired to the consummation of his campaign in Peru the Buenos Aires Government summoned him home! The Governmental heads were terrified by a report that Spain had assembled an overwhelming fleet at Cadiz, and was prepared to put a final end to the South American rebellion. Just when Cochrane's splendid victory opened the way to Peru, he was ordered to sacrifice the fruits of this coup for reasons which he bitterly suspected were grounded in petty jealousy rather than in actual fear of Spain's avenging Armada. He was to be proved right in his suspicions, for, whatever the size of Spain's preparations, her fleet never set sail. There was a mutiny before the ships left Cadiz and the project came to naught. San Martin had begged for time before he made his decision. He was torn between loyalty and his desire to go on with his campaign to free Peru. The situation so troubled him that it aggravated the condition of exhaustion and nerves his labors and responsibilities had induced, and he was a very sick man. As soon as the news came that Spain had been obliged to relinquish her hopes of a great final, annihilating expedition, San Martin asked the Buenos Aires ministers if he might proceed with his Peruvian campaign. It then became clear that it was political intrigue, for the permission was refused and San Martin was again ordered to return. Accordingly, regretting the enforced contumacy, he declined to obey; in act, if not in word, severing his allegiance to the Argentine Government. He was deeply affected; he knew the stings of ingratitude; but his whole heart was in the great cause he had come home to serve. He was giving his life to free South America from Spain. He had saved Argentina, Chile was free; the way was now open to Peru. He felt he was right and renounced his commission, never again was he in the service of the Argentine Government. It was as a Brigadier-General of Chile that he made the campaign of Peru. Some historians have been cruelly censorious of what they have stigmatized as "San Martin's great act of disobedience." None of them can question the sincerity and simplicity of the motives which compelled him to place himself in this contumacious attitude towards his native land.
The die was cast. San Martin went on! His strategical plan was practically one of two half-circles: Cochrane with the fleet was to blockade the coast in a long half-circle, while he was to stretch out the army in another half-circle around Lima. And it was to be a waiting policy. It was stratagem as well as strategy. He had discussed his reasons with his officers, and his course of action, or perhaps inaction, was predicated GA an intuitive knowledge of the Peruvian psychology. He knew that he had not sufficient forces to wage an aggressive campaign. The Spanish Generalissimo had a well-equipped and seasoned army of over 20,000 men; in Lima alone there were 9,000 troops. Peru was the stronghold of the Royalists and they held the people with a firm hand. It was San Martin's intention to put off a decisive encounter as long as possible. His policy was to be one of propaganda. He and his army were to enter Peru and to spread themselves out in widely separated camps at a safe distance from Lima and the Royalist camps. Then the inhabitants of the country districts were to be taught the moral force of San Martin's watchword: "We are here not to conquer but to liberate." He had perfect faith that, given time, the minds of the people would respond to this idealistic proclamation and that he would have a moral reinforcement of public sentiment which, in the end, would count vastly more than number of troops. And he knew that all the time, in secret underground channels, the subtle Lautoro Lodge was at work. His last speech to the army when they were embarking was: "Remember always that you are going to liberate a people, not to conquer them. Remember that the Peruvians are our brothers." He emphasized that the severest penalties would be inflicted for any acts of plunder or maltreatment in the districts in which they were to encamp. For a time it was to be a policy of patient propaganda and a waiting game.
He felt he could win the populace to his side, and profit by their cooperation when the time came to fight. Also he hoped eventually that a combined plan of action with Bolivar, now master of New Grenade, could be arranged.
On the 20th of August the expedition was begun. Cochrane's squadron of eighteen ships and sixteen transports carried the army which consisted, of four thousand troops. Of these, one thousand eight hundred belonged to the Army of Chile and the remainder to the Army of the Andes. After a peaceful voyage of eighteen days a landing was made at Pisco and the troops disembarked. This point, at the foot of the Cordillera, was 160 miles south of Lima. Las Heras with his division went first and occupied the town without resistance. By the 13th of September the entire army had advanced and established a camp at Chinca, from which place reconnoitring parties were sent forward to spy the land and to disalarm the country. On the 17th another camp was stationed at Huara, where, with an almost unfordable river in front of him, a sandy desert on its further side, his outmost flank touching Huaco, and the Sierra at his back, San Martin was in a position to hold the enemy at bay. Definitely he had cut off all communication between the capital and the Northern provinces, and was able, at will, to join forces with Arenales, who was at the other end of the semicircle.
Pezuela, the Viceroy, was preparing to read to the people, in accordance with royal instructions, the new Decree in which Spain proclaimed a grant to Peru of the new liberal Constitution when he heard that San Martin had landed at Pisco. More disquieting still he learned that the fleet, with the now famous Cochrane in command, had drawn a semicircle along the coast, with ships guarding the garrisons San Martin had established at strategical points. Pezuela took counsel with himself, and sent emissaries under a flag of truce to make proposals of peace to San Martin. Pezuela's conditions were an armistice while Chile and the United Provinces should send representatives to Spain to arrange a definite peace under the terms of the new liberal Constitution. San Martin was de-lighted with the proposal, so far as it tacitly acknowledged Chile and the United Provinces as belligerent powers, even if it did not recognize their independence. He, therefore, acceded to the sending of representatives and commissioned Guido and Carcia del Rio to treat with Count Villar de Fuente and Captain Capaz, who were appointed as envoys by the Viceroy. The four convened at Miraflores and arranged an armistice. But the Chileans declined to accept the Spanish Constitution, and rejected the proposal to send deputies to the Court of Madrid. The conference was fruitless, for which Pezuela blamed San Martin. The armistice ended October 5th.
San Martin now was ready for the next step. He sent Arenales from Chinca to the Highlands in the North, and to mark the movement he advanced his camp and maneuvered his troops on the road to Lima. And here again one finds him manifesting his shrewd knowledge of popular temperament and his sense of the dramatic moment. Acting on his conviction that nothing so thrillingly inspires patriotism as one's own flag, he designed and decreed a national flag and escutcheon for the Republic of Peru. The flag was white and scarlet, the escutcheon a sun rising over mountains with a tranquil sea at the foot. These emblems were valiantly born by his troops as they marched. Of course, there were encounters of a more or less desperate nature between the Chilean and Royalist detachments throughout these months, and a steady guerrilla warfare was kept up. But there was never a great battle. San Martin's methods of propaganda were having more and more results and proving the acumen of his plan. Frequently when opposing detachments met the Royalist troops laid down their arms and declared themselves Patriots. Disaffection to the Spanish captains and defiance of the local village authorities by the natives was rapidly increasing. Cochrane, in the meantime, had been successful with the fleet. He had blockaded Callao, cutting off Lima's supplies by the water as San Martin had cut them off from the rear. Besides he had a fine fight after his own heart, capturing the best of the Spanish ships, the "Esmeralda," cutting her out from under the very guns of the great fortress of Callao and sailing her out under her own canvas. These disasters on water were having their effects on the Peruvians, they were fast losing all confidence and respect for the Government. The 'Viceroy began to regard his own position as one of peril.
Events were speedily culminating. A Peruvian general, the Marquis of Torre-Tagle, was the Governor of Truillo. He had long been secretly an ardent Patriot. On December 24th he convened a Cabildo at Trujillo, and declaring the hopelessness of further resistance, advocated submission. The local Royalists, headed by the Bishop, stoutly opposed the proposition. The Governor answered by throwing them into prison, and on that day, under the new flag of the Republic, the people swore to maintain the Independence of Peru. In memory of this act Trujillo bears to this day the honored name of "Departamento de la Libertad." Torre-Tagle then invited the nearby city of Piura to join the movement. This city was garrisoned by a strong Royalist battalion, but such was the determination and fervor of the people that the soldiery disbanded. Spontaneously all the North of Peru from Chancay to Guayaquil flamed up with Patriot fire and declared itself for Independence.
In three months San Martin had achieved a success greater than any victory of arms could have given him! The time had come to strike. He inaugurated the first attempt at a self-determined government in Peru by establishing a sort of "Provisional Regulation" administration by dividing the Province into four Departments, each under a President who, in turn, delegated his power to a District Governor. A provisional Court of Appeal was established also at Trujillo. On July 6th, San Martin, acting with the first men of the country, proclaimed the Independence of Peru!
Peru was declared independent, but it was not yet the will of all the people. The Royalists were not ready to give up the sinecures and privileges of their royal appointments, nor was the Royalist Army disbanded. San Martin was for a brief hour the idol of the people. Then they forgot. The Peruvians did not know how to organize a government nor to make laws nor enforce them. San Martin was always a good deal of a martinet, and it is not improbable that he laid a heavy hand on them in his desire to establish the same firm discipline in the new Republic that he enforced in his armies. Not only did he find the people unmanageable and irresponsible at the very time they ought to have been most serious and self-controlled under their newly acclaimed autonomy, but he also had trouble with his own soldiers who, after so many years of fighting and danger, now found themselves enjoying a respite which they interpreted, unhappily, as a synonym for unhampered license and wanton self-indulgence. San Martin was obliged to assume the duties less of a wise father than a sort of superior policeman. Problems of governing had never interested him. He was willing to give his life to win a country's freedom, but he then wished to leave the governing to the freed. Even the forms of government did not interest him; being himself a dictator in his armies, he conceived some form of rigid dictatorship the best way to govern a people, and to his death he believed that a limited monarchy was the best thing for the peoples of South America uneducated as they were to a republican form of government. He proclaimed republics but he believed in rulers. So during this first period, which is known as the "Protectorate," he was confronted with unwieldy problems.
Chief among these were the inevitable Royalist uprisings. One of the most important was that led by Canterac from the Highlands in an attempt to succor the starving fortress and town of Callao. The march was made over arid mountains so cut up by high and sheer descents that horses and infantry alike lost their footing and fell below.
At other times they were obliged to cross trackless desert in which the men, dying of thirst, threw themselves prostrated on the sands. Instant promotion was promised to the first man who should find water, but not a soldier stirred. Canterac himself found water just in time to save them. The attempt was unsuccessful, less because of the manner in which San Martin met the situation, because his own troops were disorganized and practically mutinied, than because the Royalists had no morale and were not loyal even to themselves. However, San Martin was always a just man and a confirmed idealist, and he set faithfully, during those trying first six months, to work to lay the foundations of an administrative organization and to draft a constitution which should give the new state political and economic rights. He inducted many liberal reforms. He manumitted all slaves who would join the army. Corporal punishment was forbidden in the schools; a national library was founded; the press was given free speech, etc. He did not like the job but he did his best. It was only for a short time, for he was destined to experience the ingratitude of republics, the contemptible smallness of spirit which can reside in even so very great a man as Bolivar; and San Martin was to die in exile, forgotten and almost unknown.