Don Jose de San Martin - Anna Schoellkopf

Don Jose de San Martin

Don Jose de San Martin was born February 25, 1778, in Yapeyu, Missiones, a province bordering on Paraguay, his father, Colonel Don Juan de San Martin, being of aristocratic family and Administrator of the province. The father was not a brilliant commander nor an unusually intelligent man, but at a time when honesty, justice and benevolence were esteemed in provincial government he appears to have won his people's respect. Early in life he married Dona Gregoria Matorras, a young lady of patrician birth, daughter of the conqueror of the bandit-ridden province of Chaco. In 1788 Colonel San Martin returned to Madrid and the boy Jose was entered at the age of eight in the Seminary of the Nobles. When Jose was twelve he left that school to enter the Regiment of Murcia, a step for which he was unprepared both on account of his age and the insufficiency of his studies. The colors of this regiment were blue and white, the same colors he was later to carry in triumph over half a continent. While still a youth he fought gallantly against the Moors in Africa and against the armies of the French in Aragon under General Ricardos, Spain's most famous tactician of the day. In the French campaign, during a twenty days' prolonged battle after the successful actions at Masden and Truffles, San Martin so distinguished himself that Ricardos made him a lieutenant.

In 1796 Spain, having become by a shuffle of the cards the ally of France, found herself at war with Great Britain. In August, 1798, San Martin was serving as Marine Officer of the French Republic on the frigate "Santa Dorotea" when, after desperate defense, it was captured by the English ship "Lion." The youthful officer, still under twenty, seized this opportunity of forced inactivity to study mathematics and drawing. In 1800 he was back with his old regiment in Portugal fighting the serio-comic "War of the Oranges." A little later something happened that was potently formative towards San Martin's maturer decisions. During the popular uprising against the French at Cadiz, the expression of the native resentment at Napoleon's brother Joseph being forced upon the Spanish as their King, Solano, the Spanish commander who had been appointed Captain-General of Andalusia and Governor of Cadiz by the French, torn in his mind as to which god to serve, finally took sides with the French. This so outraged the national spirit of the people that they demanded an attack on the French squadron lying in the harbor. En masse they rushed the Palace where San Martin, who was acting Officer of the Guards, had hastily withdrawn his men to protect Solano. His forces were not able to hold the door against the raging mob, but the slight delay had given Solano time to escape by the neighboring roofs. Shortly afterwards the Governor was discovered captured and brutally murdered. From this day it may be said San Martin conceived his detached contempt for popular passions and mob governments.

San Martin


In the great campaign of 1808 which accomplished the downfall of Napoleon's Imperial Eagle in Spain San Martin's regiment joined the division commanded by the Marquis of Coupigny. In recognition of bravery in a brilliant cavalry charge he was made captain, then after the Battle of Baylen he received his commission as Lieutenant Colonel, and upon the army's return to Madrid was given a gold medal for distinguished service. In 1810 he was appointed Aide-de-Camp to Coupigny and went through the bloody fight of Albuera (1811) where the French were defeated by an allied army under General Beresford, who five years before had capitulated to Liniers at Buenos Aires. That same year San Martin joined the Sagunto regiment and fought for the last time under a Spanish flag. The banner of this regiment was a sun with the scroll "dissipates clouds and removes obstacles." This symbol was to become that of the as yet unconceived flag of the Deathless Army of the Andes.

This young officer had in campaign and under fire proved himself courageous, resourceful, and a natural leader of men. Tactics and strategy he had learned under the best generals of Europe. He felt within himself the power to command. He had honorably discharged his debt to the mother country and he turned his thoughts towards South America where he had zealously watched the movement for independence. Feeling himself free of obligation to Spain, San Martin now awaited the day when he could return to his own country and give himself to the cause of liberation.

The confidant of San Martin's aspirations was Lord Macduff, afterwards Earl of Fife, a soldier by instinct who had enlisted and fought in Spanish insurrections as a volunteer for sheer love of fighting, and a true descendant of Shakespeare's "Damned be he who first cries 'Hold, enough.'" Macduff had been made a General of Spain for his services, and conceiving for the younger man a friendly sympathy which lasted through their lives, and admiring his gallant ambitions, he procured for San Martin through Sir Charles Stuart, the English diplomatic agent, a passport for London. Also letters of introduction and credit, which latter were never used.

There was founded in the year 1812 in Buenos Aires, with ramifications in Spain and England, a secret society which was destined to exercise a puissantly pervasive influence on South American nationalist movements. It was known as the Lautoro Lodge. Members were pledged to render mutual assistance in the exigencies of civil life and faithfully to uphold its decrees, the primary object of which was the independence of South America; "to recognize no government in South America as legitimate unless it was elected by the free and spontaneous will of the people."

Exaggerated stories have prevailed as to the influence of the Lodge, its actions, its sponsorings, and especially its executions and its crimes; in a word, it has been made the scapegoat for every nefarious by-product of revolution. It was rather, in truth, an engine of rebellion and of war against a common enemy, or of defense against internal sedition.

In London San Martin joined the Lautoro Lodge. It has been said of him, "he was an American by birth, a revolutionist by instinct, and a republican by conviction." Fate decreed that he was to make Miranda's dream a reality when "the Master's" bones lay rotting upon the muddy banks of the Mediterranean off Cadiz. Three other men who were to play brilliant roles in South American history joined the society at this time. They were Alvear, "San Martin's friend and confidant until the jealousy of the former estranged them"; Jose Miguel Carrera, the distinguished but misguided Chilean patriot, who died cursing San Martin; and a Naval Lieutenant, Matias Zapiola, afterwards his ablest officer. Bolivar, next to San Martin the most celebrated South American hero, had recently joined the society before sailing for Venezuela.

Immediately following their initiation, accompanied by various officers ready to offer their swords in the cause of independence, these young enthusiasts sailed on the "George Canning" for the River Plate. San Martin, besides being the poorest of the party, was considered the least important. He appeared to them stern, stiff-mannered, brusque and taciturn. His virtue lay in his reputation as a valorous fighter. They reached Buenos Aires on March 9, 1812. It proved a critical moment in the history of the revolution.