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The Patria Vieja
The first independent government in Chile was established on September 18, 1810, when a
Junta (or governing committee) was established in Santiago. This Junta was unofficially
led by Juan Martínez de Rozas, son-in-law of Urrutia Mendiburu, the shipping magnate of
Concepcíon. As a former official in the Spanish Royal government, Rozas was aware of the
numerous foreign ships, mostly Americans from Baltimore, which traded illegally along the
coast. He lost no time in declaring all Chilean ports open to all ships in the world. But
the Junta made no preparations to protect the sea lanes. This would prove a costly
strategic error. A defense plan set up by the independent government limited defense
activities to reinforcing harbor defenses and to creating mobile cavalry patrols to oppose
enemy landing parties. In so doing, it left open to the invaders the easiest and fastest
way to reach Chile: the sea.
It would have been a simple and cheap matter to offer letters of marque to the American
ships. For philosophical and economical reasons they would have gladly join the Patriots
in their fight against Royal authorities. But the Viceroy of Peru took the initiative. By
signing a simple decree, he took into his service the very same captains whom he had been
earlier chasing as smugglers.
Viceroy Abascal, now master of the sea, blockaded Valparaíso with two Baltimore ships,
the Vulture and the Warren, which destroyed any hopes of
free trade for Chile. He was then able to organize a small squadron of five brigs under
the command of Admiral Antonio Pareja (commander of the Argonauta at
Trafalgar) and sent him to Chile.
Pareja landed at Chiloe Island. He took command of the local militia and loaded them
into his ships. He next moved to Valdivia and embarked the local garrison and militia. The
force was inadequate to undertake large scale operations; but Pareja gambled that the
Patriot forces were not organized. His ships anchored at San Vicente one of many ports
around Concepcíon and that very same evening had landed his troops at the mouth of the
river Lenga. His troops fought there with the militia of Talcahuano commanded by Colonel
Rafael de la Sotta, who was the first Chilean commander to face Royalist troops. Pareja
easily routed the inexperienced recruits and advanced on Concepcíon, where the local
troops abandoned their Chilean officers and joined the King's ranks. Once he occupied the
city, he advanced on Chillan, an agricultural and cattle center on the central valley.
Only when they were facing the enemy on their own soil did the Patriot leaders attempt
to rectify their error. Rozas had been displaced by José M. Carrera and the new chief
executive directed Francisco de la Lastra, a former midshipman in the Spanish Royal Navy,
to organize a naval squadron. In Valparaíso, de la Lastra chartered the frigate Pearl
and the brig Colt and renamed them Perla and Potrillo.
A crew was found among merchantmen in town and on May 2, 1813, the two ships set sail
ready to engage the Warren which was blockading the port. But the crews
had already been subverted and promised a handsome reward if they delivered the ships to
Callao. As soon as they were out of range of Fort San Antonio, the ships headed for the Warren
and sailed on to Lima where they joined the Viceregal Navy.
In the meantime, the Patriot Army had managed to recapture Concepcíon, but the port at
Talcahuano was blockaded by five Royalist ships. Attempts to bring them under the fire
from the fort were hampered by the limited range of the guns in a bay that is both very
deep and very large, so that the ships could easily shift anchorages. Captain Nicolás
García made an attempt to board them approaching them in cannon launches but failed
because the Royalists put to sea leaving behind the prison-ship San José,
from which five officers and 150 men were liberated by the boarding party.
A few days later the frigate Thomas which had been placed at the
service of the Viceroy, entered the port. The captain cautiously anchored across the bay
at Tome. García mustered his men and rowed all night so that at five in the morning his
force of 100 men pulled alongside, boarded, and captured the frigate. Lieutenant Ramon
Freire distinguished himself by jumping overboard and rescuing the bag with confidential
papers that the Spanish commander had tossed overboard. The Thomas proved
to be a valuable prize. She was carrying 35 officers for the Army, including a Brigadier
General and a colonel, 50,000 pesos in silver, 35,000 pesos in merchandise and the
operational orders for Pareja's Army. The frigate was returned to Esteban Manzano a
The Royalists continued to dominate the sea. The frigate BretaZa
appeared at Huasco and demanded a large ransom under threat of killing the whole male
population; but she was one of the ships escaping from Concepcíon and after a few days
continued on her way to Lima. The Potrillo landed men, ammunition, and
money in Arauco , to promote rebellion among the Mapuche Indians, which caused the
Patriots to lose control of the area south of Concepcíon.
While the Chilean Patriots could not take necessary steps to deal with external
threats, the American government ordered the frigate Essex to round Cape
Horn and carry the war against English shipping into Pacific waters. The Pacific cruise of
the Essex turned out to be a great tactical success. She protected the
merchants from Baltimore and the whalers from Boston not only from the English but from
the Viceroy as well. Although her commanding officer, Commodore David Porter, observed
strict neutrality, his presence alone was enough to lift the blockade of Valparaíso. The
port seemed to come alive after centuries of dormancy, especially when the Americans sold
their prizes there. Alarmed by the devastating damage suffered by British shipping in the
Pacific, the British government sent two ships to deal with Porter. These were the
frigates Phoebe and Cherub. They finally caught up with
the Essex as she lay at anchor at Valparaíso under the guns of Fort San
Antonio. Porter decided to escape by leaving port suddenly. But his enemy was alert and
ready and disregarding Chilean neutrality, opened fire, drove the American frigate
aground, and forced Porter to surrender.
The capture of the Essex removed all protection for neutral merchant
ships. The Royalist troops in Chile were augmented with troops from Peru and reinforced
further by the arrival of the ship of the line Asia carrying on board the
Talavera Regiment from Spain. A new general rode at the head of the Royalist Army,
Maríano Osorio. Osorio was able to augment his colonial militia and using the Talavera
Regiment as his central force attacked the Chileans at Rancagua. After a heroic resistance
General Bernardo O'Higgins managed to escape with a few men, but Chile was temporarily
lost on October 2, 1814.
For two years Chile would be again under Spanish domination. On the ground there was
limited guerilla warfare. At sea, the Argentinian privateer Guillermo Brown with a small
squadron of four ships had set out from Buenos Aires to attack the coast of Chile. One of
this ships, the ketch Constitucion, commanded by Father Uribe, a Chilean
priest, was lost with all hands while rounding Cape Horn during a storm. Brown carried
with him a landing party of Chilean Dragoons under the command of Ramon Freire.
Although the military and naval achievements of the Brown expedition were
insignificant, it presented such a threat to the Viceroy that the port of Callao was
closed and the commerce along the whole coast from Chiloe to Panama interrupted. It proved
once more, that a naval force, although small, could circumvent fortified ports such as
the fortresses of Callao. The alarmed Viceroy requested warships from Spain and armed his
own naval force as well as he could. This naval force would have to be conquered by the
Patriots if final victory were to be achieved.
The First Naval Squadron
General José de San Martín, governor of the Argentine province of Cuyo, managed to
create in Mendoza a small army of well-disciplined, fully equipped and trained men.
Through his own experience earned in the Spanish Army in Europe and with the enthusiastic
support of O'Higgins and a Chilean contingent he crossed the Andes and on February 12,
1817, defeated the Royalist Army at Chacabuco. After reaching Santiago and by prior
agreement, O'Higgins then took over the government of Chile.
O'Higgins was not to commit the same errors learned at such great cost by the Chileans
of the Patria Vieja. He knew that without a proper naval force Chile was vulnerable to
landings by enemy forces, such as those led by Pareja, and Osorio which had ended in the
Rancagua disaster. O'Higgins has been quoted as saying after Chacabuco: " This
victory and a hundred more will be insignificant if we do not dominate the sea." This
idea would become the basic doctrine of Chilean military thinking.
His partner, General San Martín, a man with considerable naval experience as a marine
in the Spanish Royal Navy, had developed a plan of liberation which enshrined the golden
dream of the Chilean Patriots: a direct attack on the Viceroyalty of Peru. But for this
plan to succeed, he needed a naval squadron that could dominate the southeastern Pacific
and could carry an army to the coast of Peru. The squadron also had to be strong enough to
keep sea lanes communication during the whole campaign.
O'Higgins's rival and fellow Patriot, José Miguel Carrera, did not give up hope of
returning to Chile as conqueror and he travelled to the United States. After countless
troubles, he managed to send to South America two ships. When he arrived in Buenos Aires
he was arrested by the government and the ships were detained.
O'Higgins set out to create a navy out of nothing. His closest collaborators were José
Ignacio Zenteno, Manuel Blanco Encalada, and Francisco de la Lastra. Their first ship was
an old smuggler, the ship Eagle, which had been captured by the Viceroy
and put into Royal service with the name Aguila. She was in turn,
captured by the Chileans when her captain entered Valparaíso and observed the King's flag
still flying at San Antonio fort. As soon as she dropped anchor, she was boarded and taken
into the service of the Chileans. Raymond Morris, an Irish officer of San Martín's Army
who had served in the British Navy , was appointed captain and was ordered to sail to Juan
Fernández to rescue those Patriots being held prisoners there. Since the experience
gained from the Patria Vieja had not been wasted, O'Higgins ordered 25 infantrymen as a
marine garrison. These men were the first Chilean soldiers of the sea force that would
soon cover itself with glory on the northern coast.
Once this first mission was successfully accomplished, the Aguila
captured a few prizes. Encouraged by this action, several civilians asked for letters of
marque from the government. Two long time residents of Valparaíso, the Englishman James
Mac Kay and a Mr. Budge, purchased an old ketch, riggged it up with a lateen sail and
christened Death or Glory or La Fortuna. Budge and Mac
Kay sailed north, entered Arica, and captured the newly arrived Spanish merchantman Minerva.
Leaving behind the old Fortuna they sailed away in their new vessel,
captured some more prizes, and returned to Valparaíso to riches and glory. This first
success so encouraged others, that in a few months Chilean privateers had roamed the
southern seas and halted Spanish commerce.
But as long as Chile's navy was limited to a brig the Viceroy could still successfully
blockade the main ports. The government attempted to hire foreign ships to do the job. The
Rambler and the María, two merchants, were armed as
best as possible and placed under the command of the Frenchman Jean J. Tortel. Even when
reinforced with the Aguila, Tortel could not engage the enemy.
The control of the sea enabled the Viceroy to send yet one more expedition to Chile
under the command of the trusted Maríano Osorio. Osorio disembarked at Talcahuano in
January, 1818 and managed to march north until his army was decisively defeated by the new
Chilean-Argentinian Army at Maipu, near Santiago.
In the meantime, Chilean and Argentinian agents abroad, with nothing but their personal
assets, tried their best to acquire ships for the new navy. In London Alvarez Condarco
bought the frigate Windham, which arrived in Valparaíso on March 5,
1818. The ship was then purchased by the government, re-christened Lautaro,
and given a crew of Chilean and foreign seamen. A month later it went to sea under the
command of George O'Brien, a former British Navy officer, to train his crew, and only then
to attack Spanish.
O'Brien disregarded his orders and that very afternoon with an untried, undisciplined
crew, he engaged the Spanish frigate Esmeralda, which was blockading the
port. O'Brien attempted to board his enemy and approached her flying an English flag. Only
at the last moment did he change flag and come alongside the Esmeralda;
but he made such poor contact that less than twenty of his men boarded the enemy. O'Brien
was at the head of the boarding party. The Spanish crew was surprised and retreated below
decks. A Chilean sailor climbed the mast and lowered the Spanish flag, a gallant but
futile gesture because the men left aboard the Lautaro thought that the Esmeralda
had struck her colors and abandoned O'Brien and his men to chase an enemy brig that was
nearby. The Spanish captain of the Esmeralda rallied his men; and with
muskets from the poopdeck they raked the deck and killed O'Brien and most of his men. The Lautaro,
under the command of J. Argent Turner, could not maneuver properly and a boat sent to
assist the boarders was heavily damaged by Spanish musket fire. The few survivors jumped
overboard and had to be rescued from the sea.
This first naval combat was not a total loss. Captain William Miller at the head of the
marines had climbed the Lautaro's rigging and brought the main deck of
the Esmeralda under fire, causing numerous casualties which forced the
Spanish ship to abandon the blockade. At least the primary mission had been accomplished.
Furthermore, on her return to port, the Lautaro captured the Spanish
frigate Perla, the same ship that had been captured during the Patria
Vieja. The ransom paid by her passengers was enough to cover the purchase price of the Lautaro.
Privateers under the Chilean and Argentinian flag, sometimes flying both, were
operating along the whole Pacific Coast of the Americas and even in the Caribbean. There
the Chilean consular agent in Jamaica had granted licenses to the French adventurer Louis
Aury, who at one time had fourteen ships under his control.
The regular Chilean navy was growing steadily and soon was able to man the 64-gun ship
of the line Cumberland, bought in England and renamed San Martín.
But in Spain a powerful expedition was being readied to assist the Peruvian Viceroy. The
expedition was made up of eleven transports and the frigate María Isabel.
It carried 2000 soldiers as well as weapons, ammunition, and supplies to reinforce the
Viceroyalty. News of this convoy had reached Chile, but the fullest account came from the
transport Trinidad whose crew mutinied and entered Buenos Aires. The
exact number of ships, the signals, armament information and communications of the
squadron fell into Patriot hands. A Chilean squadron was readied immediately and set sail
on October 10, 1818 under the command of a 25 year old commodore, Manuel Blanco Encalada a
former midshipman in the Spanish Royal Navy.
The first squadron included the San Martín , the Lautaro,
the corvette Chacabuco, and the brig Araucano. Blanco
Encalada detached the Araucano and Chacabuco to
intercept some of the Spanish transports and on October 25th he entered Concepcíon Bay
with only the San Martín and Lautaro. When the captain
of the Spanish frigate María Isabel realized that he was going to be
attacked he let go the anchors and ran his ship aground. Blanco Encalada had foreseen this
possibility and had the frigate boarded by two boatloads of sailors that had already been
selected. At the same time, Miller and his marines landed at Talcahuano, but they had to
be evacuated when infantry reinforcements arrived from Concepcíon. The next day, after
having been exposed for more than 24 hours of fire from the shore, the frigate was freed
for her grounding place. Blanco Encalada ordered his ships to weigh anchor and set sail.
In the following day the transports were captured one by one; of all the ships that left
Cadiz only one transport with a little over 100 soldiers reached Callao.
This victory ranks as the most important naval action in the Wars of Independence. The
Chilean squadron had captured the most powerful expedition ever sent by Spain to reconquer
her territories. Among the great heroes of Hispanic American Independence, a place of
honor must be reserved for the young Blanco Encalada. The María Isabel,
a Russian built, 1200 ton frigate carrying 44 guns, was re-christened O'Higgins
and would now sail under the Chilean flag.(3)
The victory at Talcahuano meant a total change in the naval strategy in the Pacific.
From that moment the Royalist navy was on the defensive and was careful not to come under
the guns of the Chilean Navy.
The Coming of Lord Cochrane
The Chilean agents abroad not only contracted for ships and war supplies but also tried
to recruit foreign seamen and officers. Alvarez Condarco managed to enroll Lord Thomas
Cochrane, later the tenth Earl of Dundonald, as commander in chief of the Chilean fleet.
Cochrane was a Scot of very high reputation as a seaman. He had entered the Royal Navy at
an early age and by the time he was twenty years old he was in command of the brig Speedy.
Under his command the ship made a most successful cruise in the Mediterranean. Later he
commanded a frigate and used his prize money to run for Parliament. There he became a
sharp critic of abuses within the Navy. His own party decided to send him to sea and he
was given the frigate Imperieuse in command of which he participated in
the Battle of Basque Roads. Because of the timidity and indecisiveness of Admiral Lord
Gambier-- whom Cochrane accused of incompetence-- his own brilliant performance achieved
no result. When the Admiral was absolved, Cochrane had to resign from the Navy. He was
later convicted of fraud in the stock market in 1814 and expelled from Parliament. He went
to Chile in 1818 and upon his return, was pardoned in 1832, restored to the Navy list and
gazetted Rear-Admiral of the Fleet. He had been offered a position in the Spanish Navy,
but took Chile's offer instead.
At Cochrane's insistence, Alvarez Condarco committed Chile to buy a 410 ton, 60
horsepower steam warship. The Admiral was so excited about the prospect of a ship that did
not have to depend on the wind for its power that he contributed 15000 pesos out of his
own pocket. The ship was christened the Rising Star. Cochrane's plan to
sail her to Chile was never realized, however, because the ship-- the first steam warship
ever built-- had not been properly designed and the boiler was too small to propel her.
Since the miscalculation could not be easily remedied, Alvarez Condarco asked Cochrane to
leave for Chile without delay, so that he could take immediate command of the squadron.
The steamship would eventually reach Chile too late to participate in the struggle for
When Cochrane arrived in Valparaíso, O'Higgins himself went there to greet him. The
government and the people received him with great enthusiasm; they expected great things
from him and were not be disappointed.
Cochrane threw himself at once into the organization of the navy. He intended bringing
the Chileans to the same levels of effectiveness as the Royal Navy, but he was hindered by
the lack of both money and resources. There was not even enough money to renew the
worn-out rigging, and certainly not enough to pay the crews. Prize money from the
Talcahuano expedition had not been distributed and the sailors had not even received their
regular pay. The officers were equally unhappy. Cochrane had brought with him several
officers whose loyalty to himself had guaranteed their place in positions of command under
him. The officers already commissioned, fearing that they would lose their appointments,
attempted to put pressure on the government. Furthermore, Blanco Encalada, the hero of
Talcahuano, had been replaced by a foreigner who had rendered no previous service to
Chile. Realizing that the political moment demanded great sacrifices, Blanco Encalada
himself saved the situation by announcing the change of commands to the crews. He was to
remain as second in command. Some money was produced to pay the crews; but only the threat
of another expedition from Spain would eventually move the people to raise the necessary
This new Spanish expedition had a heavy escort: two ships of the line, the Alejandro
I and the San Telmo, plus the frigate Prueba.
On January 14, 1818, fearing that the arrival of these reinforcements would make the
Viceroy the master of the sea, Cochrane, although unprepared, sailed with his three best
vessels, the Lautaro, Chacabuco and San Martín. There
was trouble from the beginning. The Lautaro refused to sail; Blanco
Encalada had to board her with a picket of marines and force the crew to set sail. At sea,
the corvette Chacabuco was subjected to mutiny but she managed to rejoin
the squadron after lieutenant Ford A. Morgell bravely fought a sword duel with the leader
of the rebellion and regained control.
These outbreaks were not directed at the new command; rather the crews simply wanted to
join the privateers who automatically received payment for each prize taken. These men had
been forced to man the squadron and resented all attempts to impose discipline on them.
Cochrane counteracted with rigorous procedures. He kept the men in constant training and
rewarded them by issuing uniforms to those who qualified as sailors. In time, his iron
discipline would give Chile a reputation that made its flag respected. When the time came
to face the enemy in landings and boardings which everyone else thought were too risky,
the Chileans forgot their unhappiness over money and their personal rivalries. The epic
events that were to follow were the result of a new spirit infused into the fleet by
Cochrane planned to attack Callao by disguising his ships as American men-of-war. The
fog separated his ships and after six days of waiting all that the Chileans could do was
challenge the batteries. The Admiral realized that he could gain nothing by challenging
shore fortifications, so he decreed the blockade of Callao and took the Island of San
Lorenzo with Miller and his marines.
A further attempt to attack the port with fireships failed completely. The blockade
dragged on and in spite of capturing several prizes the supplies were running out. The
squadron was forced to move up and down the coast on supply gathering excursions. The
first landings convinced Cochrane of the great possibilities offered by such assaults. The
crews were therefore organized into marine companies. The towns of Supe, Huacho,
Patalvica, Huarmey, Huancayo and Payta were attacked. In Payta some English sailors stole
the robes and sacred vessels from the Church. Cochrane had the culprits lashed in the
public plaza, and he gave out of his own pocket a one thousand peso donation to the church
as reparation of the offense.
The squadron failed to meet the transports bringing reinforcements and supplies from
Chile, so Cochrane was forced to return without accomplishing his main objective: the
destruction of the Spanish squadron. The secondary mission had been a great success: he
had inspired the Peruvians Patriots not only by his actions but also by delivering printed
proclamations that their liberation was at hand; he had reconnoitered the port and
defenses at Callao; he had terrorized enemy shipping so that they would not leave their
anchorages. Furthermore, his marine landings had opened an unlimited field of action whose
results had exceeded the most optimistic hopes. In Peru, Cochrane revived the image of the
sea raider which Drake had left. This new "Draco" was nicknamed "el
diablo", the devil, a title that seems fitting when we consider the limited resources
at his command.
Upon his return to Valparaíso, Cochrane again was plagued by the same problems he had
left behind. He needed money to pay the crews and improve his artillery; in spite of
Chile's rich forests, lumber was not available. There were attempts by certain people in
the government--particularly some Argentinians--to undermine Cochrane's prestige. It seems
that his success with the marines was not well received by those around San Martín, since
thy expected to control the land phase of the expedition to Peru. Among them, was
O'Higgins able Minister of Marine, Ignacio Zenteno, the man in charge of raising monies
for the navy and also opposed to the enlargement of the marine brigade. The staff of the
Army and the secret Masonic organization known as the Lautaro Lodge tried to get rid of
the Admiral as a threat to their Peruvian plans. He was allowed however, to recruit people
in the countryside. But even so, he did not lack for crews; in spite of no money to pay
for regular salaries many foreign sailors were encouraged by the coastal raids and the
prospect of prize money to serve in Chile. The American sloop of war Macedonia
was forced to keep her sailors on board while anchored in Chilean ports, because there was
danger of the crews deserting to the privateers.
The number of privateers increased remarkably in 1818. True, they were a problems for
the navy but they disrupted Spanish commerce from Peru to Panama; and not a few attacked
Spanish shipping along the coast of Central America. The sloop Chileno,
owned by a private citizen, captured a frigate off the California coast. The corvette Rosa
de los Andes, the most famous Chilean privateer, battled the Spanish frigate Piedad
to a draw and later raked the decks of the 52-gun frigate Prueba. This
ship, under the command of Captain Illingsworth, took many towns along the coast of
Panama; and he even sent his men into battle in the Caribbean after crossing the isthmus
carrying one of the ships boats on their shoulders. The contribution of the privateers to
the cause of Independence cannot be underestimated: they waged an unceasing war against
Spanish commerce to the point where a fleet of merchant ships had to anchor at Callao. A
true naval blockade of the port could not have immobilized them better. But they also
violated the rights of neutral vessels. They drew to their crews navy deserters. Some
turned into outright pirates, sacking, burning, and sinking their captures, so that
Cochrane was eventually forced to put a limit to their excesses.
Cochrane reorganized his squadron by adding a few brigs and a full battalion of
marines. On September 9, 1819, the second expedition left Valparaíso and headed north.
The ships were carrying Congreve rockets and another infantry battalion had been promised
him at Coquimbo. Reinforcements were not waiting at Coquimbo; but instead a few raw
recruits, many pressed into service, were going to join the squadron. Cochrane was furious
and thought he had been deliberately misled in Santiago; but he kept on course for Peru.
The first attack against Callao failed. The rockets burst in mid-air, their guiding
rods breaking soon after firing. The brigs pulling the rafts with the launchers ran out of
wind and took severe punishment from the forts. Only Major Miller of the marines, in
command of a barge with a mortar, achieved some success. Upon examination, it was
discovered that the rockets were partially filled with dirt and that the rods had been
weakened on purpose. The governor, in an attempt to save money had forced the Spanish
prisoners in his fortress to work on the rockets and they had sabotaged the weapons.
Disappointed by the results, Cochrane decided to attack Pisco, at that time the second
port of the Viceroyalty. It was planned as a night action, but a calm delayed the ships
and the troops landed in broad daylight. They encountered heavy opposition and Lieutenant
Colonel Charles, the newly appointed commandant of the marines, was killed. Miller, who
then took command, was gravely wounded. For some unknown reason the Chileans had become
masters of the bayonet, a fact that none of their enemies would ever later ignore. When
the marines charged, they succeeded in routing more than a thousand Spaniards, and in
capturing both the fort and the town.
Cochrane held Pisco for a few days, but the men embarked at Coquimbo had infected his
crews with typhoid fever and Pisco could not be held. He realized that a return to Chile
with sickly troops, after a second failure attack to Callao, would destroy all hope placed
on him. He decide to tighten the squadron by sending the sick and the wounded back to
Chile and keeping only his best officers and men; then he sailed north.
A Spanish convoy with reinforcements for the Viceroy had been severely hit by storms
around Cape Horn and the ships had been dispersed. The only surviving warship, the frigate
Prueba, had taken refuge in Guayaquil. Cochrane arrived off the mouth of
the River Guayas and entered the estuary with just the O'Higgins, not
wanting to risk the other ships to the treacherous and dangerous navigation of the shallow
waters of the delta. Behind the island of Puna he found the armed merchant ships BegoZa
and Aguila and captured them both. But the Prueba had
been taken up river after unloading her cannons. Cochrane sent some of his ships back to
Valparaíso with the prizes, left his brigs to blockade the mouth of the Guayas, and kept
his flagship. He decided that some great feat had to be accomplished so that the hope of
the people of Chile and his own personal prestige re-established. Needing time both to
think out his plan and to refresh his crews, he ran his ship downwind into the Pacific.
The wounded Miller had not been sent back to Chile: Cochrane had him moved to the
Admiral's cabin where he could consult with him. Cochrane proposed attacking the fortified
port of Valdivia. Miller thought the admiral was mad and told him so. Valdivia was the
base of Spanish guerrilla operations in southern Chile and at that time the strongest
fortified port in the Pacific, bar none. Cochrane would later write in his Memoirs:
"My design was, with the flagship alone, to capture by a coup de main the
numerous forts and garrison of Valdivia, a fortress previously deemed impregnable, and
thus counteract the disappointment which would ensue in Chili from our want of success
before Callao. The enterprise was a desperate one; nevertheless, I was not about to do
anything desperate, having resolved that, unless fully satisfied as to its practicability,
I would not attempt it." (4)
He knew the local garrison would be expecting a Spanish frigate, so it was be easy for
him to deceive the local commander at a distance by flying Spanish colors. When an honor
guard and a pilot came to greet him, they were made prisoner and valuable information was
obtained from them. The pilot, with a pistol at his head, guided the O'Higgins
into the bay and Cochrane even fired a gun saute to the Spanish commander at his
headquarters in Corral Castle. Once he was satisfied he has gained considerable knowledge,
he sailed out from under the Spanish guns. Only then, did the Royalist suspect the
identity of their visitor, but it was too late to do anything about it. Coming out of the
port he captured the brig Potrillo, the very same vessel that had been
betrayed by its crew six years earlier. She was carrying pay for the Valdivia garrison,
important dispatches, and a valuable chart of the Valdivia forts, channels and soundings.
Thus Cochrane learned that Valdivia was defended by eleven batteries, which mounted 110
guns served by 700 men, and which could be reinforced by 800 infantrymen from the town of
Valdivia itself. Cochrane realized that it would be sheer madness to attack with the O'Higgins
alone as he had originally planned. Needing more men, he went north to Concepcíon, where
General Ramon Freire maintained a respectable garrison to contain the guerrilla attacks of
the Royalist Benavides, Pico, and Ferrebu.
In Concepcíon Freire gave him his full cooperation. He placed under Cochrane's command
250 picked men and Major George Beaucheff, a brave officer who had fought under Napoleon.
The brig Intrepido and the schooner Montezuma, which
were anchored at Talcahuano, were made part of the expedition. All this was done without
authorization from Santiago, although both Freire and Cochrane wrote to O'Higgins
informing them of their plans. Cochrane had sent the Potrillo back to
Valparaíso so that the Concepcíon troops were loaded in the three remaining vessels and
set sail for Valdivia.
The night after sailing, the O'Higgins struck a submerged rock and
started sinking. There were not enough boats, the pumps would not work and the soldiers
were on the verge of panic. Cochrane fixed the pumps himself and put the crew and troops
to work bailing. He refused to repair the damage or to return to Talcahuano and insisted
on going to Valdivia. He later transferred the men to the two smaller vessels and left the
O'Higgins with enough men to bail and keep her afloat.
Late in the afternoon of February 3, the two ships entered the narrows and tried
unsuccessfully to use the same disguise as before. soon they came under heavy fire while
defending troops began to concentrate on the small beach at the Aguada del Ingles. Two
launches from Cochrane's ships landed soldiers, sailors, and marines who charged with
fixed bayonets. So successful was this landing that the Chileans were soon at the foot of
the first battery. The enclosure was surrounded and taken by assault despite the superior
number of defenders. The fleeing Royalists ran into the next fort, followed closely by
their pursuers, who managed to enter the fortification with the fugitives and create panic
among the defenders. The attack became a rout as five forts fell before midnight. At that
time the Royalist headquarters at Corral Castle was assaulted and captured. The whole
southern shore of the bay was now in the Patriot's possession.
The next day Cochrane sailed his two ships into the inner bay, exchanging fire with the
northern forts where the men, totally demoralized, believed that their defenses were under
attack by 2000 Chileans. At mid-morning the O'Higgins, low in the water
but without a single soldier on board, entered the bay. Seeing this ship, the Royalists
abandoned their positions and fled upriver to Valdivia. There, panic quickly spread to the
local garrison and the town was abandoned. Beaucheff occupied it with his men and set up
civilian authorities. All the fortifications, the frigate Dolores, and
the rich area around Valdivia were now incorporated into Chile.
Thinking that a surprise attack on Chiloe Island might be successful, Cochrane decided
to capture it too. Having lost the Intrepido on a mud bank and having to
run the O'Higgins ashore to keep her from sinking, Cochrane now had to
rely on the Montezuma and Dolores for transportation.
The Spanish commander of Chiloe's garrison, Antonio Quintanilla, was well prepared for
Cochrane's arrival and had strong cavalry and infantry forces to repel any attack. The
defenses were two well fortified positions. The outer fort, Corona, was easily captured by
the Chileans, but the second, Fort Agui, proved to be well defended. Miller was wounded
again and Cochrane decided to re-embark his troops and retreat.
The capture of Valdivia, besides being the outstanding single feat of the War of
Independence, had brought several advantages to the Patriots. It yielded a large amount of
military stores while depriving the Royalists of their most secure port in the Pacific and
as well as the guerrillas of their only supply route and base of operations. On the
international scene, it created such respect or Chile, that after the news of the victory
reached London, a loan from English bankers was easily secured. Furthermore, the failure
of the attack on Callao was forgotten and Cochrane became a popular hero. San Martín and
Chile could now turn their full attention to the Peruvian campaign.
The Peruvian Expedition
Cochrane firmly believed that with two thousand men and General Freire he could easily
conquer Peru. To take more men, he thought, was to burden the squadron with too many
supply problems; to organize a full scale expedition, as planned by San Martín, would be
to waste time that would give further advantages to the Viceroy. But Cochrane's plan was
too risky for O'Higgins, who was committed to San Martín and the United Army. There were
several meetings of the three leaders and finally the Lautaro Lodge prevailed: San Martín
would lead a full scale operation against Peru. Cochrane was never convinced of the merits
of the plan. Basically, O'Higgins could not risk a failure. He had devoted all his
energies to organize the army and navy in a country devastated by ten years of war. Today
it would seem impossible that a nation in such a poor financial state could manage to do
so, but O'Higgins's administrative abilities sustained the United Army, secured weapons to
arm Peruvian recruits, and kept the fleet at sea.
When everything was ready, O'Higgins went to Valparaíso to direct the final
preparations. It took three days to load the equipment, cannons, horses, and the men
themselves. Finally, on August 20, 1820, O'Higgins and San Martín could see the
realization of their dreams as they watched nine warships and sixteen transports leave the
bay. On board were 4642 soldiers, almost 4000 of them Chileans, 1600 sailors and a cadre
of Argentinian and Chilean officers to take command of the Peruvian recruits who were
expected to join the Army. The United Army which now became the Liberating Army, consisted
of six infantry battalions, two cavalry regiments, and an artillery division with 35 guns.
The supplies would last for four months and additional equipment was carried to supply two
more armies similar to that on board.
Cochrane was in command of the sea forces but the overall command was held by San
Martín. The commodore in charge of transports was Pablo Delano, an American. The fleet
stopped at Coquimbo to load another battalion of Chilean infantry. As soon as they were at
sea, a disagreement arose between Cochrane and San Martín. The General requested to be
taken to Trujillo, in northern Peru, precisely where Pizarro had started the Conquest of
the Incas.The Admiral thought it would be better to land at Quilca and march on Lima as
soon as possible while the squadron attacked Callao. San Martín refused to go along with
this plan but in the end agreed not to go to Trujillo. Instead, the army was landed at
Pisco, where the troops stayed for fifty days with practically nothing to do. General
Arenales was sent to the interior on a reconnaissance mission with orders to march north.
San Martín should have learned in Pisco the true feeling of the Peruvians. They were
indifferent to the cause of Independence at best. Some were against all intrusions and
their presence in the town did nothing to change the situation. Upon his arrival, San
Martín had refused to attack the local garrison, allowing the soldiers to escape into the
interior. Still, most of the inhabitants left, carrying with them as many of their
possessions as they could. The Chilean squadron could not engage in any offensive
activities since it was needed to protect the anchored transports. But the mere presence
of the expedition had achieved some benefit and news soon arrived that Guayaquil had
declared itself independent upon hearing of the arrival of the army.
Cochrane could not accept this inactivity. He wanted to attack, conquer the viceregal
forces, and liberate the Peruvians. San Martín still clung to the idea that it would not
be necessary to fire a shot because the Peruvians were waiting to be liberated.
Furthermore, thinking in terms of the Spanish conquest, he believed that once the Viceroy
was removed and Lima occupied the whole country would side with the Patriots. It must be
conceded that San Martín was ill: his stomach pain was so severe that he had to take
strong drugs and his great personal qualities had deteriorated. He had become stubborn,
was unable to make clear and quick decisions, and had let himself be led by unscrupulous
characters, among whom the main figure was one Bernardo de Monteagudo.
Finally, convinced of the futility of staying at Pisco, San Martín agreed to reembark
the army move on Callao. After arriving off the port, the convoy anchored at Ancon, just
north of Lima. Cochrane took his three best ships O'Higgins, Independencia and
Lautaro, and blockaded Callao. He had made up his mind that in order to
salvage at least part of the objective of the expedition, another spectacular feat-- such
as the one in Valdivia-- was needed. As before, he did not communicate his plan to his
superior officer, in this case San Martín, for fear that he would forbid him to undertake
such a risky attack. He had already realized that San Martín was not the same person as
the victorious general of Chacabuco and Maipo. If San Martín had refused to face the
enemy on land, Cochrane was sure that the rapidly aging leader would not want any
engagements at sea. Since no Spanish warships had ventured out of Callao, Cochrane decided
that it would be necessary to enter the port and attack them there. He chose as his main
objective the flagship of the Spanish Pacific Fleet, the frigate Esmeralda,
which was anchored under the 300 guns of Callao and protected by a floating barrier of
pontoons, old masts and chains to prevent this kind of attack. Besides, 27 cannon launches
patrolled the bay and the Esmeralda was crammed with the best sailors and
soldiers who could be spared from the shore fortifications.
Cochrane set out to drill his crews, first with climbing exercises, then with
techniques of silent rowing and finally, hand to hand fighting. When at last his plan was
finished and his men ready he revealed the object of the exercises in a proclamation
asking for volunteers to deal a mortal blow to the enemy. Since all the men volunteered he
was forced to select 160 sailors and 80 marines.
On the night of November 5, 1821, two silent columns of boats entered Callao Bay. When
they encountered the night patrol launch, Cochrane himself pointed a pistol at the leader
and called on him to surrender. The boats cut through the barriers and approached the Esmeralda
which was boarded simultaneously from both sides. The Spanish offered a stiff resistance
but the Chileans managed to capture the top masts. When Cochrane ordered sail set, the
maneuver was carried out so perfectly that Cochrane would later write: "No British
man-of-war's crew could have excelled this minute attention to orders."
The admiral was wounded twice in the fighting; and his second in command, Captain
Martín Guise, was unable to continue the attack as planned. Cochrane had hoped for a
repetition of the events at Valdivia, capturing ship after ship at Callao, as he had
captured forts there.
Proof that the Peruvians were unwilling to fight for liberation was found the next
morning; when the American frigate Macedonia sent a boat ashore to the
market, a mob, believing them to have been involved in Cochrane's attack, killed several
sailors and kept the boat.
The effects of the capture of the Esmeralda from under the guns of
Callao's fortifications were to erase what fighting spirit the Viceroyal troops had left.
The Numancia battalion went over to San Martín, and the naval power of the Viceroy was
dissipated, by the demoralization of his crews. Even so, San Martín still refused to
Cochrane kept busy by attacking all the points he could reach on the Peruvian coast
from Pisco to Arica. When the Viceroy finally evacuated Lima, San Martín moved in and
proclaimed the Independence of Peru, thinking himself was master of the entire country.
Because the Callao fortifications remained in Royalist hands, Cochrane ordered a night
attack under the command of Captain Thomas Crosbie. On July 24, Crosbie, a veteran of the Esmeralda
attack, easily captured four frigates and several smaller ships ; and then he burned what
could not be sailed or towed out.
San Martín soon declared himself "Protector" of Peru and attempted to keep
the navy under his new flag. Despite their brilliant work, the crews had not been paid.
The Admiral, confronting San Martín, insisted on payment and the discussion between the
two men turned bitter. According to Cochrane, San Martín answered that 'he would never
pay the Chilean squadron unless it was sold to Peru and then the payment would be
considered part of the purchase money.'
Cochrane refused to agree to this arrangement, alleging that the minute that San
Martín had become the head of Peru he no longer deserved any allegiance from a navy,
whose men were sworn to serve Chile. Cochrane left; he would not see San Martín again.
The Admiral went back to his flagship, took over the treasury which had been left for
safekeeping on board the Lautaro, and he paid the crews ,sending a letter
to San Martín in which he explained his action and taking full responsibility for it.
San Martín tried by all means to get back the ships and the money. He attempted to
buy-off the captains, officers and crews and many went over to his side and joined the
newly formed Peruvian navy. Rather than risk an incident and further loss of crews,
Cochrane decided to leave Callao. Some ships were sent back to Chile and the Admiral set
sail with the O'Higgins, Independencia, Esmeralda
now renamed Valdivia, Araucano and two schooners. He
cruised north in search of the frigates Prueba and Venganza,
the only two Spanish ships left in the Pacific.
The squadron sailed all the way to Acapulco without finding a trace of the missing
frigates. While in Mexico he sent an expedition north to the Baja California under command
of Captain Wilkinson, who took with him Independencia and Araucano.
This was a most successful venture, as the Chileans attacked Royalist forces all along the
coast, captured a brig and even proclaimed the Independence of California at San José del
Cabo, on the tip of Baja California, on February 17, 1822. The Araucano,
however, was lost to mutineers, who sailed up the California coast before heading for
Hawaii then Tahiti.
The squadron returned to Peru and found that the two Spanish frigates, after searching
for their enemy in order to surrender, had turned themselves into Peru. The ports of Peru
were closed to the Chilean ships by order of the Protector; and since the task of the navy
was finished-- not a Spanish ship was left in the Pacific-- Cochrane ordered a return to
Chile. The Chilean soldiers who remained in Peru would eventually end up fighting
alongside Bolívar in the final campaign for Peruvian Independence.
Cochrane returned to a Chile in which O'Higgins's situation had seriously deteriorated.
His old friend Freire approached him with a project to overthrow the government, but
Cochrane refused and shortly after left for Brazil.
Cochrane left Chile not only the memory and benefit of a brilliant campaign. The
organization, discipline and spirit de corps of the Chilean Navy were all begun by this
great British admiral. He never forgot Chile; and Chile never forgot him. To his dying day
he received his retirement pension; and he always wore the medal he earned at Valdivia.
With him came great captains such as Crosbie, Wilkinson, Simpson and Illingsworth whose
actions established a tradition of discipline, service, and honor that would last to the
The war in Peru was not finished. Bolívar took over where San Martín left off; and
Guise in command of the Peruvian squadron attempted to maintain the supremacy that the
Chileans had established at sea. But it was not to last.
In Chiloe Governor Quintanilla, who had defended his island against Cochrane and who
was supported by a population loyal to the King, had armed two privateers that were
creating havoc among Patriot and neutral ships, including several American and British
ships. The American Naval squadron in the Pacific did little to recover the ships, but the
British sent a corvette which succeeded in extracting explanations from Quintanilla and
freeing the captured neutrals. The Commodore of the Royalist privateers from Chiloe was a
former bosum in the Chilean Navy, Mateo Maineri, who soon became equivalent of the
Royalist guerrilla of Concepcíon , Benavides. His ship, known as the Quintanilla,
sailed with impunity between Ancud and Callao.
General Freire, now head of the Chilean government, decided that Chiloe must be
conquered and integrated into Chile, in order to eliminating the privateers' refuge. He
established a base of operations at Quiriquina Island in Concepcíon Bay, and arrived at
Talcahuano in the summer of 1824. Freire faced problems much like those that had
confronted Cochrane: lack of ships, crews, money, and lack of enthusiasm for joining an
expedition at a time when the Wars of Independence were thought to be over. He was not
able to sail until the beginning of March just as the summer season with its good weather
was coming to an end. His plan of attack was faulty: he thought that Chiloe could be cut
in two and landed Beaucheff south of Ancud with orders to cut the road between that town
and Castro. But Beaucheff was ambushed and had to retreat and reembark with heavy loses.
In the meantime the weather had turned so bad that a frigate ran aground, and the Lautaro
was saved only at the last moment from sharing the same fate. The squadron was dispersed;
and Freire had no choice but to admit failure and sail north.
Two weeks after the departure of Freire, the Royalist ship Asia and
the brig Aquiles arrived at Ancud. The ships represented a valuable
reinforcement for Quintanilla but they were to remain totally inoperative because of the
poor condition of the crews and the danger of mutiny. The men were badly paid, poorly fed,
improperly dressed for the winter, and convinced that they would be forced to fight on the
But in Peru the Royalist cause suddenly took a turn for the better. The indecision of
San Martín was followed by a government equally inept, weak, supported only by the small
middle class-- the aristocracy was for Royalists and both the lower classes and the
Indians were indifferent to who ruled or who won. The forts of Callao garrisons by
Argentinian soldiers, revolted and raised the flag of the King. All Chilean sacrifices to
liberate Peru were at risk. Royalists could once again count on the two bases at Ancud and
Callao while the Chilean squadron was disarmed and without officers and men. No blockade
of either Ancud or Callao was possible.
The Aquiles and Asia left for Callao after four
months at Chiloe. In spite of a blockade by a Peruvian squadron commanded by Guise, these
ships were able to enter the port and join three brigs anchored there. Maineri and his Quintanilla
continued attacking the coast. The French brig of war Diligent caught up
with Maineri at Quilca but could not attack him right under the Spanish flag. Captain
Billier of the Diligent requested the local authorities to investigate
the alleged capture of neutrals. Maineri realized that his conduct would not be condoned
and that evening he suddenly hoisted sail and headed to sea. But on his way out he made a
fatal error: on passing the Diligent, which was at anchor with sails
furled, he fired a broadside at her. Captain Billiard slipped his anchor and in two hours
he had captured the Quintanilla and arrested Maineri. He was taken to
France to be tried as a pirate.
In the meantime, responding to Bolívar's request, Freire ordered the reorganization of
the Chilean squadron. Blanco Encalada was placed in command and he sailed for Peru with
the O'Higgins, Chacabuco, and two brigs. The squadron arrived after Guise
had barely managed to save his ships from an attack by the Viceregal squadron. The Asia
and Aquiles evaded the blockade and sailed off towards Manila . Blanco
Encalada took command of the combined forces now numbering twelve ships, and established
the blockade of Callao in January, 1825. In spite of Royalist Army defeats at Junin and
Ayacucho, the Spanish commander at Callao, José Rodil, refused to surrender. An attack by
small boats was unsuccessful and the Spanish ships remained at anchor in the inner bay.
Since Callao was entirely isolated, Bolívar thought of embarking his troops on Blanco
Encalada's ships and attacking Chiloe, a direct dependency of the Viceroy at Lima since
Chile declared its Independence. These news alarmed the Chilean government and Freire
realized that he could no longer delay an attack on that island. Blanco Encalada was
ordered to return; men and supplies, were gathered in Valparaíso. Freire made a last
attempt to persuade Quintanilla, sending him an officer under a flag of truce asking him
to capitulate in view of the Patriot's victory at Ayacucho. Quintanilla refused , sending
instead, whatever reinforcements he could to Rodil at Callao.
Freire's final effort to conquer Chiloe was in two phases: the naval forces were under
the command of Blanco Encalada and consisted of five warships; Freire took command of the
army, which was loaded in four transports. The expedition set off at the beginning of
summer and Freire's command included five battalions of infantry, a squadron of cavalry
and an artillery battery with four cannons. With these forces he was convinced that Ancud
could be attacked directly.
Some of the troops were landed before the ships entered the bay in order to bypass Fort
Agui, then the ships engaged the batteries in a frontal attack . Once the ships entered
the inner bay, the rest of the troops were landed and a combined sea and land attack was
carried out. The boats and launches of the ships successfully routed the enemy cannon
launches. On shore, the troops followed up the success of the sailors and the next day
took the town of Ancud. On January 12, 1826, the last Spanish commander capitulated to
Freire and Chile was free at last from Spanish domination.
The fall of Ancud coincided with the fall of Callao. The Asia and Aquiles
had mutinied while anchored at Guam; the Asia turned herself over to the
Mexican government at Acapulco and the new captain of the Aquiles, Pedro
Angulo, after stopping in California , sailed her to Chile.
The end of the War of Independence and the disappearance of the Spanish Navy from the
Pacific Coast of the Americas meant the end of the Chilean squadron. The old ships were
either disarmed or sold. Chilean naval power disappeared as quickly as it had been
created, but in the words of an American historian "the traditions which the Patriot
squadron had established, traditions of courage and resolution in battle, eagerness for
combat, and fortitude in the face of extreme privations, remained to serve Chile well in
times of future danger. The magnificent efforts of the Chilean and foreign seamen gave
Chile the firmest foundation upon which naval strength could be rebuilt at any time."(5)
3 Most of the officers were
British or Americans. In the Lautaro served William Wilkinson, and
Charles Wooster or Worcester, as Commanders; Nathaniel Bell, William James Compton, James
Ramsay, Frederick Bergman, as Lieutenants; William Miller, and John Yung in the marines.
In the Lautaro, served John Kelly, Richard Pearson, Richard Huckinson,
William Winter, William Mathews, John Lawson and John Manning. The commodore's aide was
4 Dundonald, Thomas Cochrane Earl of, Narrative of Services in the
Liberation of Chile, Peru and Brazil from Spanish and Portuguese Domination, 2
Vols. London, 1859. Vol. 1, p. 13
5 Worcester, Donald, Sea
Power and Chilean Independence, Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1962,
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