South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

The Meeting of the Two Liberators


The five great battles that decided South American independence were Boyaca, Maypo, Carabobo, Pichincha and Ayacucho. Of these Boyaca and Maypo are the most famous. Of these two Maypo is that which has more interested the world. It was a battle won by the power of the human will; it was fought according to the laws of military science and amid the most stupendous mountain scenery; its thunders, like an earthquake, shattered the Spanish power in South America. The scene of the battle, with its mountain towers, was not only one of the most majestic in the world, but the meeting and clash of the two armies were attended by thrilling events. Here liberty and despotism measured their forces, and the old civilization of the foreign kings went down. It was fought on April 5, 1818. The royal army numbered fifty-five hundred men, and was led by Osorio. The army of the patriots was nearly as large. It was filled with the spirit of victory, which it caught from its general, who was as constant to his purpose under reverses as in the hours following victory.

From Santiago there runs a succession of white hills, called Lorna Blanca, overlooking desert lands, and over-looked by the majestic range of mountains out of which rises Aconcagua. On one crest of this Lorna, at a place that commanded the roads to the passes of the Maypo and to Santiago, the patriot army was encamped. In front of it rose another ridge, which was occupied by the royalist army.

The patriot army was placed in three divisions: one, under the command of Las Heras, on the right; the second, under Lavarado, on the left; and in the rear the reserve, commanded by Quintana. The infantry was commanded by Belcarce, while San Martin himself commanded the cavalry.

Below the Lorna ran the Maypo, with its mountain waters and its forests. As the first light of the morning illumined the mountains, San Martin rode to the edge of the Lorna to survey the movements of the royal army. It began to occupy the high ground in front of the patriot army. As San Martin had feared that it might take a position near the road to Valparaiso for the purpose of retreat, he said to his officers: "I take the sun to witness that the day is ours!" As he spoke, there swept over the desert, river and white crests of the Andes the beams of the cloudless sun. As the men beheld it they saw the banner of the Sun. The event seemed prophetic. At ten o'clock the eventful march of the patriot army began. "A half-hour will decide the fate of Chili," said San Martin.

The royalist general Osorio made a movement to the west to protect the road of retreat to Valparaiso, a road that he would soon need. The white crest of the Lorna was filled with his glittering infantry. His cannon were brought into position. There was a brief silence in the hills, and then San Martin gave the order to the infantry to advance.

After the preliminary attacks San Martin ordered an oblique movement so as to fall upon the flank of the Spanish infantry. This was done with the greatest impetuosity, and was supported by the reserves. The royal infantry stood firm. The Chilian cavalry had driven back the royal cavalry, and it now turned to the support of this oblique movement of the left. The onset was overwhelming. Osorio gave orders to retreat, and himself fled to a farm-house, leaving Ordenez in command. The royal army made a stand at the place called the farm-house of Espejo, but its spirit was lost. The patriots closely pursued it, flushed with the certainty of complete victory. The royalists sought refuge in the vineyards from terrible onslaughts.

The thunder of the carnage ceased. Ordenez asked for an interview with Las Heras. He surrendered his sword. Osorio fled toward Valparaiso. The victory was complete. The royalist army lost 1000 men killed, 150 officers and 2000 men prisoners. Its guns, flags and equipments all fell into the hands of the patriots. The army of liberation lost 1000 men in killed and wounded. Osorio reached the coast with fourteen men.

Victory crowned the banner of the Sun. The independence of Chili was won. The words of San Martin, spoken as the sun shone over the white crests of the Andes in the early morning, "I take the sun to witness that the day is ours!" were prophetic.

The couriers rushed down the Andes to Mendoza with the news of the victory. They bore it across the pampas to Buenos Ayres, to fill that city with joy.

Argentina and Chili were free. The triumphal march of liberty must now be toward Peru. For this final achievement of the army of the liberation the way must be made by the sea. Five days after the battle of Maypo, San Martin crossed the mountains to lay before the government of Buenos Ayres a plan for the liberation of Peru. The Dictator of Argentina, Don Juan Martin de Pueyrredon, sustained the plan of San Martin, which was a naval expedition from Valparaiso. San Martin returned to Chili and assembled a new army for the liberation of Peru. A large part of the soldiers for this expedition were citizens of the Argentine Republic. Sixty-two of the officers were Europeans, and Lieutenant Charles Eldridge, Captain Henry Ross and Captain Daniel L. N. Carson were from the United States.

The Spanish viceroy of Peru had an army of about twenty thousand men.

The patriot fleet was commanded by Lord Cochrane, a British admiral, who arrived at Valparaiso in November, 1818. After two ineffectual attempts to reduce Callao, the fleet again sailed for Peru with San Martin's army, August, 1820. Lord Cochrane's first victory was the cutting out of the Esmeralda, under the guns of Callao, on the night of the 5th of November.

The viceroy, La Serna, retired with his forces to Cuzco. San Martin entered Lima. Peru proclaimed her independence on July 28, 1821. San Martin was appointed the Protector of the state.

There are two anecdotes related by General Mitre, the first constitutional President of Argentina, in his "History of San Martin," that reveal the character of that hero.

On the morning march along the Lorna, Marshal Brayer forced himself upon San Martin. "I am suffering from my old wound. I want your permission to retire at once to the baths of Colma." "Marshal, a half-hour will decide the fate of Chili. The enemy is in sight. The baths are thirteen leagues away. Your place is here." "But the old wound is in such a condition that I cannot go on." "Senor," said San Martin, "the lowest drummer in the army has more honor than you." He sent word to Belcarce, the commander of the infantry: "Announce to the army that Marshal Brayer is cashiered for conduct unworthy of an officer!" The order was a moral death.

The other anecdote is this: Of the abundant trophies of victory San Martin kept for himself only one. It was a portfolio which contained the secret letters of the fugitive Osorio. These letters revealed those who were true and those who were false to the patriotic cause. He must open these letters for the sake of the cause. He sat down under the shade of a tree and read the contents of the portfolio. Some of the letters, indeed, disclosed secret disloyalty to Chili. After reading them he dropped them one by one into the fire. He never disclosed their contents. They were not his, except for the purpose of protecting the cause. He was seeking no personal revenge, but only the welfare of mankind.

Captain Basil Hall met San Martin in Lima, and he left in his journal some pen-pictures of the hero of Maypo. Says Captain Hall: "On the 25th of June I had an interview with General San Martin on board a little schooner anchored in Callao roads. . . . There was little at first sight in his appearance to engage attention, but when he rose and began to speak, his great superiority over every other person I had seen in South America was sufficiently apparent. He received us in a very homely style, on the deck of his vessel, dressed in a surtout coat and a large fur cap, seated at a table made of a few loose planks laid along the top of two empty casks.

". . . Several persons came on board privately from Lima to discuss the state of affairs, upon which occasion his views and feelings were distinctly stated. I saw nothing in his conduct afterward to cast a doubt upon the sincerity with which he then spoke. 'The contest in Peru,' he said, 'was not of an ordinary description; not a war of conquest and glory, but entirely of opinion. It was a war of new and liberal principles against prejudice, bigotry and tyranny. People ask why I do not march to Lima at once; so I might, and instantly would, were it suitable to my views, which it is not. I do not want military renown. I have no ambition to be conqueror of Peru. I want solely to liberate the country from oppression. Of what use would Lima be to me if the inhabitants were hostile in political sentiment? How could the cause of independence be advanced by my holding Lima, or even the whole country, in military possession? Far different are my views. I wish to have all thinking men with me, and do not choose to advance a step beyond the march of public opinion. . . . I have been gaining day by day fresh allies in the hearts of the people, the only certain allies in such a war.'"

These anecdotes reveal the motives and character of San Martin.

In 1822 there occurred at Guayaquil one of the most notable events in human history, namely, the meeting of the two liberators, Bolivar and San Martin. The conduct of San Martin at this memorable meeting reveals his true greatness. Modern history has few examples that are comparable to it, and none that surpasses it.

Bolivar was now "arbiter of the destiny of South America." San Martin recognized this fact. He perceived, moreover, that Bolivar could now accomplish the liberation of the whole country better without than with his assistance. Was San Martin, after creating the Army of the Andes and leading the army of emancipation to Peru, willing to subordinate his personal interests to the cause of liberty? Did the hero of the Andes rise to the high demands of an occasion like this?


Bolivar came to Guayaquil with some fifteen hundred men. He entered the city under arches of triumph. On the 25th of July San Martin arrived by sea on the ship Macedonia. He landed and passed through files of soldiers to the house where the Liberator of the north was awaiting him. The two heroes met for the first time. They embraced, and entered the house arm in arm, and were left alone. What occurred no one can tell, but it was an hour of abnegation to San Martin. During it he resolved to leave South America and go into exile for the good of the cause of the liberties of the Andes.

A great ball was given to the two heroes. It was preceded by a banquet. Bolivar loved festive and joyous scenes. San Martin wished to avoid them. He was a serene, philosophical man. Accustomed to great events amid sublime scenery, banquets and balls seemed trivial to him. But he proposed a toast on this occasion. It was: "To the speedy end of the war; to the organization of the different republics; and to the health of the Liberator of Colombia!"

After leaving Guayaquil San Martin expressed this opinion of Bolivar: "He is the most extraordinary character of South America, one of those to whom difficulties only add strength."

On his return to Peru San Martin wrote to Bolivar:

"My decision is irrevocable. I have convened the Congress of Peru; the day after its meeting I shall leave for Chili, believing that my presence is the only obstacle that keeps you from coming to Peru with your army."

The final declaration of the abdication of San Martin is worthy to be written in letters of gold: "The presence of a fortunate general in the country which he has conquered is detrimental to the state. I have achieved the independence of Peru. I cease to be a public man!"

He to whom had been offered ten thousand ounces of gold now took some three thousand dollars, crossed the Andes, and with his daughter Mercedes went to Europe, and lived there in poverty and neglect for nearly thirty years.

When the republics that he had liberated at last recalled his true greatness, they brought his body to Argentina, and crowned the dead hero. The tomb of San Martin forms a part of the cathedral of Buenos Ayres, and is one of the most beautiful in the western world.

San Martin's tomb


Truly says General Mitre: "History records not in her pages an act of self-abnegation executed with more conscientiousness and greater modesty."

"I desire that my heart shall rest in Buenos Ayres," said San Martin. His heart is forever embalmed in the hearts of the people of Buenos Ayres.