South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

The Chili-Peruvian War


Northern Chili is a long avenue of coast-land between a high chain of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. It originally formed a part of the empire of the Incas.

Fifty-four years elapsed between the battle of Ayacucho and the Chili-Peruvian War. The cause of the latter was a dispute as to the boundary of this narrow strip of arid land between the Andes and the sea. The land is a white, rainless desert, known as the desert of Tarapaca. South of it is the desert of Atacama. At the time of the independence of Peru nothing on earth could have been deemed of less value than these two deserts. It is said that there were Inca villages on Tarapaca, and that to lose one's way in finding them was death, for the winds obliterated every track in the white, blinding sands, and there was no tree or object of any kind to guide the traveler. In the course of time it was discovered that these deserts, so barren and seemingly valueless, abounded in wealth. There were rich silver-mines in Atacama—in fact, among the richest in the world. Tarapaca was found to abound in plant-food more valuable than the fertilizing products of the guano islands. It was a great chemical laboratory of nitrate of soda. The impoverished lands of Europe needed the riches of this forbidding desert. Colonel North, of English fame, saw his great opportunity there.

If this almost boundless wealth had not been brought to light, there probably would have been no Chili-Peruvian war. The boundary would not have been a matter of moment. When the riches of the desert of Tarapaca became known, Chilian enterprise began to find a field there. Chilian laborers immigrated there, and planted industries there on soil claimed by Bolivia, which had been Peru. When the South American republics became independent of Spain, their boundaries followed those of the viceroyalties. On this principle, Peru, or Bolivian Peru, claimed the province of Tarapaca, which had been occupied by immigrating Chilians. The province extended from the southern limit of Peru to the northern limit of Chili. The Peruvian land was that of the province of Tarapaca. Hence Peru and Bolivia both claimed the deserts of Tarapaca and Atacama, the resources of which the enterprising Chilians developed. The territory was Bolivian Atacama, and Peruvian Tarapaca, of Chilian occupation.

Indians with Llamas


In 1870 the rich silver-mines of Caracoles were discovered. The Bolivian government, in consideration of ten thousand dollars, granted a concession to a company to work the nitrate deposits and to open a road to the silver-mines. The company built a railroad and employed largely Chilian labor. Under this arrangement the deserts came under Chilian influence. Bolivia claimed the right to tax such enterprises, which Chili denied.

A defensive treaty was formed between Peru and Bolivia to protect their hereditary boundaries, which Chili had sought to overthrow. Chili regarded this treaty as detrimental to her interests, and a cause of war. She declared war upon Peru on April 5, 1879.

Chili had been preparing for war on the land and the sea. She had a strong navy. The Chilian army was well drilled and equipped. Its artillery was especially effective. It was armed with Krupp and Gatling guns. The Peruvian navy consisted chiefly of four ships.

The war began February 14, 1879, when the Chilians seized the Bolivian port of Antofagasta. They next occupied the station of the rich silver-mines of Caracoles. General Daza, President of Bolivia, declared war on Chili March 1, 1879. General Brado, President of Peru, took command of the Peruvian army. It was a war for the riches of the deserts.

A Peruvian squadron, consisting of two ships, the Huascar, commanded by Captain Grau, the Independencia, by Captain Moore, and some transports, sailed south. At the same time the Chilian admiral Williams made a reconnaissance to the north. A very heroic and dramatic event grew out of this situation, one that has been celebrated in song. It is known as the "affair of the Esmeralda." The blockade of Iquique by the Chilians was sustained by two vessels, the Esmeralda  and the Covadonga. Commander Grau landed the President of Peru at Arica, and then proceeded to Iquique with the Huascar  and Independencia. He sighted the Chilian blockading corvette Esmeralda, commanded by Captain Arthur Pratt (Arturo Pratt), and the gunboat Covadonga, commanded by Captain Condell. Grau at once attacked the Esmeralda. Captain Pratt saw the danger of the small corvette, and attempted to draw the war-ship Huascar  into shoal water. At the critical moment, one of the boilers of the corvette became disabled, reducing the speed of the craft. Pratt put the crew to the guns of his little craft, and commenced action against the man-of-war. It required heroism to do this, but honor demanded it should be done. The little Esmeralda  poured a broadside into the Huascar, and for two hours a cannonade was kept up between the two vessels. Captain Grau now made use of the ram. He struck the Esmeralda  at her port side. The two vessels came in contact. As they did so, Captain Pratt, sword in hand, leaped on board the Huascar, calling to his officers and men, "Follow me!" The two vessels suddenly became disengaged, and only one man was able to follow the captain's command. Pratt rushed along the deck of the Huascar  as though he himself had captured the ship. Captain Grau must have admired his heroism. "Surrender, captain," he cried; "we wish to save the life of a hero!" Pratt began to wage war on the deck, and was killed sword in hand. Captain Grau again used the ram against the Esmeralda, when the men of that ship once more tried to obey the command of their fallen commander by leaping on board of the Huascar. The effort was in vain. The Esmeralda  went down. Out of a crew of two hundred men only fifty were saved.

In the course of the war the Peruvian navy was destroyed, and Admiral Grau died in defending the Huascar.

The war on the land now centered at Tarapaca. The province of Tarapaca contains nitrate of soda sufficient to fertilize the gardens and fields of Europe for centuries to come. The refining-works of this immense industry are called oficinas. In these are employed thousands of men from nearly all lands. The ports of the deserts are full of vessels, and look like towns on the sea.

The invading Chilian army numbered some ten thousand men, and was disembarked at Pisagua, which was bravely defended. A battle was fought at San Francisco, and the Peruvians retreated to the town of Tarapaca. The Chilian general planned to surprise and destroy the Peruvian army there. On the morning of the 27th of November the Peruvian troops were resting under willow-trees in the gorge that opens from the stupendous peaks of the Andes, as high as Mont Blanc. The crest of the ravine, in whose heart a mountain stream was lost, seemed to wall the purple sky. A muleteer galloped up to the encampment and announced: "The enemy is on the height!" A sub-lieutenant, a mere lad, came running into the camp in great excitement, saying: "The enemy is surrounding us!" An officer patted him on the back doubtfully, but looking up beheld columns of men marching high above him, as on the sky-line. The Peruvian commander ordered his troops to march up the sides of the ravine, which were precipitous. The march was like scaling a wall. The Chilians had gathered above them in force, and had planted on the heights their Krupp guns. The Peruvians reached the crest. Their force consisted in part of Inca Indians. They charged. One by one their leaders fell; but the mountaineers captured the Krupp guns, and compelled the invaders to fall back. The best blood of Peru flowed like water. The Chilians were defeated, and retreated. In the battle twelve hundred and twenty men fell.

But though the Peruvians gained the victory at Tarapaca, the advantage of the war was still with the powerful army of the Chilians. The Peruvians retreated to Arica. Nicolas de Pierola became the supreme chief of Peru. General Campero was President of Bolivia. Arica and Callao were blockaded by the Chilians, and the year 1880 brought defeat to Peru and Bolivia. The Chilians had destroyed the Peruvian fleet, and had secured the nitrate province The allied army was intrenched at Tacna, a town on the Pacific side of the Andes, in a fertile plain among the hills. It had a population of about twenty-four thousand. The allied army consisted of fourteen thousand. A bloody battle was fought at Tacna. The allies were defeated. Arica fell before the conquering Chilians. The way was now open td the Chilians for the conquest of Peru.

In October, 1880, the United States offered her services as mediator. The offer was declined. The conquerors now set their faces toward Lima. They landed south of Lima. A battle was fought at Chorrillos, a beautiful town near Lima, and a favorite pleasure-resort. In this battle more than two thousand Chilians were killed and wounded. The Peruvians defended their capital bravely. They made, as it were, a human wall against the invaders. Four thousand lay dead on the field.

There is a beautiful resort near Lima, with which it is now connected by railway, called Miraflores. It is over-looked by the Andes, and it overlooks the sea. The land is full of orchards and flowers. Inca ruins are there. Villas of the nobility make the spot an earthly paradise. San Martin loved the place, as have statesmen, scientists, poets for centuries. An armistice was sought by the foreign ministers, who had taken refuge at Miraflores. The conference was ended by a cannonade.

At Miraflores the Peruvians made their last stand. They were defeated after a great slaughter, losing six thousand in killed and three thousand in wounded. Lima a fell and was sacked, and the Chilians were enabled to dictate their own boundaries of the desert of Tarapaca.