Stories of South America - E. C. Brooks

San Martin

It has already been stated that all of South America except Brazil was under the rule of the viceroy of Peru until the eighteenth century. Everything possible was done to make the different Spanish provinces contribute to the prosperity of Peru and the court at Lima. However, several towns of importance were springing up in the Plata country which looked more and more to trade on the Atlantic, not the Pacific, for their prosperity. The principal one was Buenos Aires, destined to be the greatest city of the continent.

So important was this Plata country becoming that, in 1776, the king of Spain, separating what are now Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina from Peru, created the viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata. This was done chiefly for the purpose of forming a government on the Atlantic to check the growth of the Portuguese in Brazil, which province embraced about half of the continent and was threatening to push southward across the Plata. When the war for independence began, this territory was known as the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata. It was not until 1860 that the young nation adopted the name of the "Argentine Republic."

The government of Spain had waited too long to give needed relief to this part of the continent. Misrule had destroyed the affection of the people for the mother country. Therefore, when the fires of revolution were kindled and the hope of independence stirred in the hearts of the people, Argentina was the second province to revolt from the 'mother' country. This section of South America, like Venezuela, had been greatly stirred by the success of the United States. Moreover, the teachings of General Miranda had strengthened the determination of the people to throw off the Spanish yoke. They saw their opportunity when Napoleon Bonaparte was at war with Europe and held Spain in his power. After Venezuela led the way, Buenos Aires and the Plata country followed within a few weeks. The North and the South moved almost at the same time for independence. Would the patriots of the two sections of the continent unite their forces and break the hated rule of Spain in South America or would they keep apart and fail?

Argentina was without an army. A group of leaders had organized bands of citizens into fighting forces, but there was little unity of purpose. The soldiers were undisciplined and without a recognized leader. This was the state of affairs on March 9, 1812, when Jose de San Martin, a veteran of the European wars, landed at Buenos Aires.

San Martin was born in the upper part of the Rio de la Plata valley, in what is now Paraguay, on February 25, 1778. His father was Captain Juan de San Martin, a Spaniard of rank. His mother, however, was a creole, and the son, not being wholly of Spanish blood, was classed as a creole. It has been stated before that a creole was a descendant of Spanish and foreign parents for instance, the son of a Spanish father and of an English, French, German, or Italian mother would be a creole. The children of such parents did not rank socially with full-blooded Spaniards.

When San Martin was eight years old, he was carried to Spain to be educated, and the lad received the best military training that the country afforded. At an early age he entered the service of Spain and fought in its defense. While serving as an officer in the Spanish army, he learned of the teachings of General Miranda and was converted to his philosophy. He, therefore, joined one of the secret societies pledged to work for the independence of South America.

The young patriot was just thirty-four years old when he arrived in Buenos Aires. When he landed, few people noticed the thin, serious-looking stranger. His appearance dark complexion, with long, dark lashes and heavy eyebrows, large black eyes, small mouth, and long nose was not unlike that of the creoles to whom he was related. His heavy chin and jaw were noticeable; and his rough voice, quick and commanding, always attracted attention. This quiet, modest, sad-faced newcomer was to exert more influence in South America than any man since Pizarro, though in a very different way.

On his return from Spain, in 1812, he was practically unknown in Argentina. But as soon as possible he made the acquaintance of the patriot leaders, who recognized at once that he was bringing a military skill and an experience to the country sorely needed in organizing the revolution and giving it direction. San Martin was not only educated in the best military schools of Europe, but he had seen the strategy of the greatest generals of the world and had a practical training in war such as no other officer in Argentina, or, for that matter, in all South America, had received. The leaders of the revolution knew that he had served at one time under Wellington against Napoleon. Consequently, he was made lieutenant-colonel and was entrusted with the formation of a squadron of cavalry. His first important work was to establish a school to train officers.

"Until now," he declared, "the United Provinces have fought for no one knows what, without a flag, and without any avowed principles to explain the origin and tendency of the insurrection. We must declare ourselves independent if we wish to be known and respected."

Buenos Aires had declared her independence on May 25, 1810. But the entire province did not take the final step until July 9, 1816, which may be given as the date of independence.

The royalist army in Argentina had been temporarily driven back to Tucuman to await reinforcements from Peru. It was there that a council of the patriot chiefs was held. What impressed the leaders most was San Martin's unselfishness. He seemed to have no secret ambition for himself, to be wholly disinterested. One writer says of him, "He worked in silence, showing neither weakness, pride, nor bitterness at seeing his work triumphant and his part in it forgotten."

The story is told of King Arthur, the legendary ruler of England, that when he came into the presence of the Knights of the Round Table and looked them full in the eye, so righteous were his aims and purposes that his likeness shone in the countenances of the knights and they shared his desire to think pure thoughts and do noble deeds. San Martin had a somewhat similar effect on the soldiers and officers who came under the spell of his personality.

The government, recognizing his ability, placed him in command of the Army of the North. So tactfully did he conduct himself that General Belgrano, who had been in command, was not envious of him but swore eternal friendship and even went to school to him to learn military science.

It was very evident to San Martin that the power of Peru must be broken, that the City of the Kings must be captured, if the Argentine country was ever to be free. At the same time he saw that the road to Peru was not the ancient highway that traders had traveled for centuries, but by way of Chile, which must be freed first. Therefore, he asked to be relieved of the command of the Army of the North and to be placed over the obscure province of Mendoza, which bordered on Chile. Everyone wondered at this act, but San Martin kept silent as to his plans.

Mendoza, a prosperous town at the foot of the mountains, was on the highway between Chile and Argentine, and southern Chile was already striving for independence. Here where San Martin met Chileans coming east and Argentinians going west, he set up his headquarters and was able to build a fire under the Spanish leaders that ultimately destroyed their power.

Again the first thing necessary was to train officers. San Martin established another military school at Mendoza. Rigid discipline was enforced, and the people marveled at his control over his men. Besides, his unselfishness and his sense of justice made him so popular in Mendoza that the people elected him governor of the province. It is said, "They saw in San Martin a father whom they loved and a ruler whom they respected."

It was at Mendoza that he organized the Army of the Andes, one of the most efficient forces in history. The government of Argentina in 1815 appointed him general-of-brigade, which position he accepted with the understanding that he would resign as soon as the country was freed from Spain. During this period of training he was joined by refugees from Chile. One of these was Bernardo O'Higgins, a noble patriot and skillful officer, who studied under San Martin and entered the Army of the Andes when it was ready to begin its expedition across the mountains. O'Higgins was San Martin's most valuable subordinate.

At the beginning of 1817, San Martin was ready to launch his expedition into Chile. On January 17, the ladies of Mendoza, who had already given their jewels to be used in buying supplies, presented him with a silken flag decorated with precious stones. A special holiday had been declared, and the streets were crowded with people to see the troops depart. As San Martin accepted the flag, he waved it over his head, exclaiming in a voice that could be heard by the great multitude:

"Soldiers! This is the first independent flag which has been blessed in South America."

A great shout arose from the people, "Viva la Patria!"

"Soldiers! Swear to sustain it and to die in defense of it, as I swear!" San Martin went on.

"We swear!" came the answer from four thousand throats.

The greatest difficulty ahead of San Martin was to carry his army safely over the Andes Mountains. It must scale the snow-capped barrier and descend into the plains below, a very hazardous undertaking. But with the aid of O'Higgins he conducted the expedition so skillfully that he kept the enemy on the other side of the mountains guessing as to what route he would take, carrying safely across four thousand troops and all their equipment without the loss of a man.

It is said that the passage of the Andes by San Martin is one of the most remarkable feats in military history. It probably required greater strategical skill to cross these lofty mountains under the circumstances than to cross the Alps under the conditions confronting Hannibal or Napoleon. Several passes were used; San Martin himself crossed by Patos Pass.

San Martin's troops poured down the mountain side into Chile before the enemy realized that he had achieved what was thought to be impossible. Meeting the Spaniards at Chacabuco, San Martin administered a decisive defeat. The assembly of Chile was so delighted that it elected him governor with supreme power. He declined the office and, summoning another assembly, advised it to elect his lieutenant, General O'Higgins. The advice was accepted, and Chile had for a number of years one of the ablest rulers on the continent.

When Buenos Aires heard of San Martin's victory, the people shouted for joy. The streets were crowded with an applauding multitude; cannon roared at the fort; medals were given the soldiers, and San Martin's daughter was voted a life pension which was devoted to her education. The government then elected San Martin to the highest military grade in the service. But he likewise declined this honor, asking instead that the government send him more men and supplies. Chile showed her gratitude by voting him 10,000 ounces of gold, which he refused for himself but used to build a public-library.

The royalists in Chile were not yet completely overcome. At times it seemed that the fruits of San Martin's victory might be lost. However, on April 5, 1818, another great battle was fought at Maipo. This engagement destroyed the Spanish army and secured the independence of Chile, which had been declared on January 20 of the same year.

After this battle San Martin went to Buenos Aires to consult with the government about the expedition to Peru. This was his final objective, for no province was safe so long as Peru remained under Spanish rule. It seemed to others, however, that the power of Spain was really broken; and the government of Buenos Aires asked San Martin not to request further funds. Immediately he sent in his resignation. It produced so much consternation that the patriot leaders told him to take any amount of money he needed.

San Martin


San Martin was at length ready to proceed against Peru. The most natural route was by sea. But he lacked war vessels as well as transports for his soldiers. In order to secure ships it was necessary to resort to strategy. After the battle of Chacabuco, San Martin kept the Spanish flag flying over Valparaiso, the chief seaport, in order to deceive Spanish vessels that might stop there on their way from Spain to Peru.

The strategy succeeded; several Spanish vessels dropped anchor in the harbor of Valparaiso, only to be called on to surrender by the patriots. In addition to these captured vessels, one ship was bought in America and another in England. San Martin then sought the best commander possible for the expedition. The man selected was a nephew, Admiral Cochrane, who had given aid to General Miranda in his first expedition against the Spanish government in Venezuela. San Martin next issued a proclamation to the patriots of Peru announcing his purpose to lead an expedition against the Spanish government in that province in order to free an oppressed people and give them an opportunity to form a government of their own.

The fleet under Admiral Cochrane, consisting of five vessels, was sent out ahead in January, 1819. It reached Callao, the seaport of Lima, early in February, and there defeated the Spaniards.

Just at this point San Martin was given a great surprise. Spain, at last free from European war, was equipping a large fleet to regain her lost possessions. Buenos Aires was in a panic at the news and sent a hurried call to San Martin to return with his troops to protect the city. But he refused. The order was repeated, and this time San Martin sent in his resignation rather than depart from his plans.

The government, however, refused a second time to accept his resignation. San Martin, therefore, decided to go to Buenos Aires and consult with the government. While he was away, Admiral Cochrane won a great victory over the Spanish fleet. The Englishman thereupon aspired to supreme command. But the Chileans could not forget the services of San Martin, whom they made generalissimo of their forces.

San Martin, who had worked hard for years, was now broken in health. But seeing the condition of his army and realizing that traitors in the pay of the Spanish government were undermining his plans, he started back to join his men. He was so feeble that he was carried on a litter much of the way across the mountains. He felt that no time could be lost, that the Spanish power in Peru must be broken without delay. On July 22, 1820, he was ready to start out. On the eve of his departure from Valparaiso by sea he addressed a proclamation to the people of Chile, concluding in these words:

"Whatever may be my lot in the campaign against Peru, I shall prove that ever since I re-turned to my native land her independence has occupied my every thought, and that I have never had other ambition than to merit the hatred of the ungrateful and the esteem of the virtuous."

At the same time he wrote the government at Buenos Aires that he would turn over the command of the army to the central authority just as soon as his purpose was accomplished. He took every opportunity possible to assure the people that he was seeking no power or position for himself, that his only desire was to break the tyranny of Spain.

On August 20, the expedition sailed from Valparaiso, Admiral Cochrane leading the way. The army landed about one hundred and fifty miles south of Lima, and immediately San Martin issued a proclamation to the people, in which he declared:

"The last viceroy of Peru endeavors to maintain his decrepit authority. I come to put an end to this epoch of sorrow and humiliation."

Lord Cochrane continued along the coast and, sailing into the bay of Callao, completely destroyed the Spanish fleet. The army then marched northward. Everywhere the oppressed people flocked to San Martin's standard and hailed him as their savior.

General San Martin's forces crushed the opposing Spanish army, and on July 6, 1821, entered Lima. San Martin was now at the height of his power. Writing to Governor O'Higgins of Chile, he said:

"Peru is free. I now see before me the end of my public life and watch how I can leave this heavy charge in safe hands, so that I may return into some quiet corner and live as a man should live."

On July 28, 1821, the independence of Peru was solemnly proclaimed with inspiring ceremonies in the great square of Lima. San Martin displayed the flag of Peru as the procession marched by, and the liberated inhabitants showered flowers on him in expression of their gratitude. Then the people urged him to become their ruler; on August 3, 1821, he accepted the offer and was styled "The Protector, of Peru."

Just as the Spanish conquest of South America began in Peru and extended southward through Chile and eastward across Argentina, the van of revolution started on the Atlantic coast and rolled westward into Chile and then northward into Peru. It came like retribution, retracing the path of blood that the conquerors had drawn across the continent and along which their heartless tyranny had left its toll of death and ruin.

The government of Peru gave San Martin $500,000, derived from the sale of Spanish property, but he divided the sum among his twenty generals, keeping none for himself.

The great leader, the Protector of Peru, was now weak and almost exhausted. His body was attacked by a slow disease and he desired to return to private life. He saw that his generals were jealous of his great popularity, even Admiral Cochrane being ambitious to succeed him. Cochrane, however, disappointed in his hopes, resigned and returned to England.

San Martin, although at the head of the Peruvian government, found himself in a precarious position. The royalists in Peru were still strong and only awaited an opportunity to rise against the patriots. The people had welcomed San Martin, but nobody knew better than himself the fickleness of popular favor. The patriot cause in Peru needed strengthening, and there was only one man who could strengthen it. That was Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of the North, who was on the borders of Peru with a large army. San Martin determined to call on him for aid.