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Spanish-Chilean War - 1865-1866

In the controversy between Spain and Peru, which resulted in the war between Spain and the republics on the west coast of South America from 1864 to 1866, Spain was suspected of a purpose to overthrow the independence of Peru and subvert its government; and this suspicion derived at least apparent support from the declaration of certain representatives of Spain that, as she had never acknowledged the independence of Peru, she might rightly recover her ancient property in the Chincha Islands. In this relation the minister of the United States at Madrid was instructed on May 19, 1864, to make it known to the Spanish Government " that the United States can not yield their assent to the positions thus assumed in the name of Spain, or regard with indifference an attempt to reduce Peru by conquest and reannex its territory to the kingdom of Spain."

On June 3, 1864, the American minister reported that the prime minister had authorized him to assure the United States that Spain had not the slightest intention to reacquire any of her ancient colonies or to encroach upon the independence of Peru.

The year 1861 marked a new departure for Chile. Senor Jose Joaquin Perez succeeded President Montt on September 18, and it was evident from the commencement of his Administration that Chile was about to enjoy a freedom unknown in the past. One of Perez's first acts was to annul the decrees of expatriation against persons who had taken part in former subversive plots, and throughout the country this action was warmly applauded by all classes. Nor were the Chilians disappointed in their expectations, for the expression of public opinion was encouraged and criticism of the Government invited instead of being treated as a crime, as had previously been the case.

The extraordinary powers conceded heretofore to dictatorial presidents were neither asked for nor required by Perez, and the people recognised that the oppression which had weighed so heavily upon them since their independence from Spanish dominion was eliminated. They felt that it was no longer an autocratic President, but the Legislature which ruled Chile. While the Perez Administration proved so satisfactory for the Chilians at home, it was during this term that the country became involved in war with Spain.

The outbreak of hostilities between Spain and Peru in connection with the quarrel concerning the Chincha Islands, caused the President and his advisers to imagine that if Spain was victorious the Spaniards would endeavour to regain control over South America. The controversy between Spain and Peru, known as the "Talambo" question, involved alleged delays, defaults, and denials of justice in the administration of the criminal law by the tribunals of the latter country. At Talambo, one Spaniard was murdered, and several other Basque subjects of Spain were grievously wounded. Following the refusal of Peru to comply with certain demands for redress, as well as to receive and negotiate with a new diplomatic agent of Spain, on whose life attempts were alleged to have been made by Peruvians, Spain despatched a squadron against Peru.

In this squadron the most formidable ship was the ironclad Numancia, a broadside vessel of 7300 tons, plated with 5-inch and 4-inch armor, and mounting thirty-four 68-pounders. She was built at La Seyne and had a speed of only ten knots. With her were the unarmored ships Villa de Madrid (56 guns), Resolucion (23), Blanca (38), Almanza (52), Berenguela (36), Vincedora (3), and Covadonga (3). The armament of these vessels was very feeble, since of the 250 odd guns which they mounted, few were rifles, the greater number being only 8-inch and 6-inch smooth-bores, firing 68lb. and 32lb. shot. Arriving off the Peruvian coast, Admiral Pinzon, the Spanish commander, on the 24th of April, 1863 took quiet possession of the guano deposits on the Chincha Islands belonging to Peru, and waited till the loss of revenue from this source should bring the South American Republic to reason. In 1865, Pinzon was replaced by Admiral Pareja, who resolved to take severer measures.

Any design against the territorial integrity of Peru was afterwards disclaimed, but the seizure of the islands was accompanied with a manifesto in which it was intimated that, as Spain had never acknowledged the independence of Peru, she might rightfully reassert her ancient title to them. Admiral Pinzon declared in a public manifesto that in doing so he "revindicated" the property of Spain, as there was only a state of truce with Peru since the truce of Ayacucho in 1824. At such an extraordinary avowal, the whole of South America rose in alarm, and stood like a single man by the side of their attacked brother. They acted, it is true, in their own behalf at the same time, as they might also be "revindicated" at any moment, especially Chili, the nearest neighbor of the invaded country, and the people who had twice stood by Peru in her fight for liberty, the cause of the two countries being one.

When intelligence of these things reached Chile it produced great excitement, and every effort was made to force the Government into a warlike attitude. On May 4, 1864, Sefior Toeornal, then Chilean minister for foreign affairs, addressed to the Governments of America a circular in which he declared that the manifesto issued by the Spanish representatives in Peru sanctioned principles which placed in doubt the independence of that country and must therefore be reprobated and protested against by Chile, and he expressed confidence that the Spanish Government would not approve it.

Regarding the Spanish attitude as distinctly menacing, the Chilian Government proposed that, in company with Bolivia and Ecuador, common cause should be made with Peru, and in 1865 these four South American republics were united against such power as Spain could send across the seas to attack them. On 27 January 1865, the government of Peru bowed to Admiral Pareja's ultimatum and agreed to pay Spain an "indemnification" of 3 million pesos. The ransomed Chincha Islands were returned to Peruvian control.

The policy of Perez was supported enthusiastically in Chile; but the country was unprepared for war. As Chili was making demonstrations of friendship to Peru and of hostility to Spain, the Spanish admiral steamed south to Valparaiso and blockaded that port with six ships, having left two to keep guard over the Chincha Islands. The Chilians had a most diminutive navy and could only reply by issuing letters of marque against Spain. In September 1865 the Government of Spain declared insufficient the satisfaction accepted as fully satisfactory by her public representative had recalled him in disgrace, and ordered Admiral Jose Manuel Pareja (the secret abettor of the plot) to go with the whole of his fleet to impose upon Chile the shame of humiliating Chile's honor and flag to the guns of his ships. This course was made yet more insolent, as Pareja had been the active agent for obtaining from the Spanish Government the authorization of their attack upon Chili.

Admiral Pareja was instructed, if Chile refused the demands of Spain, to address, in the first place, a circular to all the Spanish-American Republics assuring them that Spain had no designs on their territory or independence. He was then to put the whole Chilean coast under blockade. This blockade was to continue one month, and if Chile had not then accepted the conditions offered by Spain he was authorized to perform any and every other hostile act against the power and prosperity of Chile recognized as legitimate in a state of war, throwing upon the Chilean Government the responsibility. The point ort which Spain specially insisted was the salute to her flag, which she felt had been insulted. If such a salute was given, it would be immediately returned by the Spanish fleet, a new minister would instantly be sent to Santiago, and the Spanish forces would be withdrawn from the Pacific. This ultimatum, signed by the Spanish admiral, was received at Santiago on the 18th of September, during the celebration of the fifty-fifth aniversary of the birth of the Republic. It was immediately rejected.

On November 26th, 1865 Chile scored a great success by the capture of the Spanish gun-boat Covadonga. She was on her way to join Admiral Pareja, with despatches and papers of importance on board, when, off Coquimbo, the Chilian warship, Esmeralda, , commanded by Captain Juan Williams Rebolledo, fell in with her. By hoisting the British flag, the Chilian was able to get close to her enemy, and opened fire upon her. The Esmeralda was the stronger, if slower, ship, having a crew of 123 officers and men, with an armament of eighteen 32-pounder and smooth-bores, whilst the Covadonga carried 121 men with two 68-pounder smooth-bore pivots and one 32-pounder. The Esmeraldas fire was delivered steadily and with admirable precision. Early in the action she dismounted one of her opponent's three guns. In twenty minutes the Spaniards, who had fired only three shots, utterly nonplussed by the rapidity of the Chilian movements and the accuracy of their fire, hauled down their flag. They had lost two killed and fourteen wounded, whilst on the Esmeralda not a man was scratched. The Spaniards did not even take the trouble to throw overboard their signal-book and despatches, which fell into the hands of the Chilians.

This check, following upon the capture of an armed launch by the Chilians on November 17th, weakened Admiral Pareja's reason. Steaming north to Callao, while at sea on his flagship, the Villa de Madrid, he blew out his brains in his cabin. The Spanish Government was irritated by the loss of the Covadonga and the death of Admiral Pareja, who was succeeded by Admiral Pareja was succeeded in command by Sefior Castro Mendez Nunez, captain of the iron-clad Nmnancla, the most formidable of the Spanish ships. Nunez, as Chili would not come to terms, decided to give a lesson.

Captain Nunez assumed charge of the Spanish fleet on his arrival in Chilian waters, and decided that the shortest way to accomplish his mission was to bombard Valparaiso, although that seaport was undefended. On the morning of March 27 Admiral Nunez notified the diplomatic corps, the dean of the consular body at Valparaiso, and the intendente of the city that he would open his batteries on Saturday morning, the 31st of the month, thus allowing four days to noncombatants for removing with their effects, and that he would endeavor to injure only public property, but that if private property should be destroyed he could only place the entire responsibility on Chile.

On March 31, 1866, at 9.30 AM, four Spanish ships fired on the town for three hours, aiming chiefly at the custom-house sheds, because they were filled with valuable merchandise. The ships employed were the Numancia, Villa de Madrid, Resolucion, Blanca, Berenguela and Vincedora. When it was seen that these buildings were in flames and other sections of the city were burning, the order to cease firing was given, but not until damage to the estimated value of $14,000,000 was done. The firing was wretched from the point of view of accuracy. The shot from the ships sometimes dropped alongside, and sometimes flew over the town into the hills, where it killed unarmed and helpless men and women. Not a shot was returned. By half-past twelve the Custom House was on fire, and a part of the town blazing, when the signal to cease firing was given. From 2000 to 3000 shot had been fired to bring about this result, and the Spaniards had not much ammunition to spare. Instead of compelling the Chilians to submit, it only strengthened them in their determination to resist Spain, and without a strong landing force the Spanish fleet was helpless to do more harm. It is difficult to recall this useless and purposeless injury to a defenceless town without indignation, though such operations would seem to be the ideal of some strategists.

After the bombardment, the Spanish squadron left Valparaiso and did not attempt to interfere again with the Chilians. The next exploit of Admiral Nunez was against a fortified town. On April 27th, 1866, he appeared off Callao, the largest and most important port in Peru, where he issued a notice that the port was blockaded, and gave four days' warning of bombardment. Neutrals accordingly left the town in haste, but it was not till May 2nd that the attack was made. Callao, at this time, was strongly fortified. go through the backing. Another shell exploding near the bridge drove seven splinters into Admiral Nunez, but did not inflict very severe wounds. The Spanish loss in killed and wounded is not exactly known. It was supposed at the time to be about 200. The Peruvians suffered rather more heavily, having 300* killed and wounded, but several of these fell victims to a remarkable accident in La Mercede Fort. Here was a turret mounting two 300-pounder Armstrongs, and in the turret was the Peruvian War Minister with several officers, watching the crews of the two guns at work. A shell had been placed in the slings, and was being hoisted to the muzzle of one of the guns, when it slipped from the slings, fell upon the ground, and exploding, set fire to a quantity of powder in the turret. Sefior Galvez, the War Minister, and twenty men, were killed or severely injured. Neither ships nor forts were much the worse for the reciprocal cannonade.

The Spaniards having failed lamentably in their objects, after this withdrew from the Pacific, short of stores and ammunition. Though they had established a base at the Chincha Islands, they had no facilities for repair there, and their ships were foul and in want of docking. The futility of their attempts upon Callao and Valparaiso points the obvious moral that a small squadron cannot reduce states to submission, but can only do damage. The number of ships was not sufficiently large to blockade the coast closely, and there was no landing force.

In 1867 a truce was made between Spain and Chile, and twelve years later, in 1879, a treaty of peace and friendship was signed; but even after a lapse of thirty-five years bitter feelings existed against the Spaniards on account of that bombardment. One result of the war was that the Chilians realised that they required ships and forts to defend themselves in future against foreign aggression, and the foundation of the navy, which rendered such signal service a few years later, was laid by President Perez, when he gave instructions for building the O'Higgins and Chacabuco. Forts were also constructed for the defence of Valparaiso, and attention generally was given to the question of military and naval armaments.

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Page last modified: 25-06-2017 18:27:31 ZULU