UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


War of the Pacific / Guerra del Pacifico / Chile-Peruvian War (1879-1882)

Throughout the nineteenth century Chile's borders were a matter of contention. The War of the Pacific began on the heels of an international economic recession that focused attention on resources in outlying zones. Under an 1866 treaty, Chile and Bolivia divided the disputed area encompassing the Atacama Desert at 24° south latitude (located just south of the port of Antofagasta) in the understanding that the nationals of both nations could freely exploit mineral deposits in the region. Both nations, however, would share equally all the revenue generated by mining activities in the region. But Bolivia soon repudiated the treaty, and its subsequent levying of taxes on a Chilean company operating in the area led to an arms race between Chile and its northern neighbors of Bolivia and Peru.

The proximate cause of this war was the seizure, by the authorities of Bolivia, of the effects of the Chilean Nitrate Company at Antofagasta, then part of the Bolivian province of Atacama. The first act of hostility was the despatch of 500 soldiers to protect Chilean interests at Antofagasta. This force, under Colonel Sotomayor, landed and marched inland; the only resistance encountered was at Calama on the river Loa, where a handful of newly raised militia was routed (23rd March 1879). About the same time Chilean warships occupied Cobija and Tocapilla, and Sotomayor, after his victory at Calama, marched to the latter port. Bolivia bad declared war on the 1st of March, but Peru not till the 5th of April: this delay gave the Chileans time to occupy every port on the Bolivian coast.

Thus the Chilean admiral was able to proceed at once to the blockade of the southern ports of Peru, and in particular Iquique, where there took place the first naval action of the war. On the 21st of April the Chilean sloop "Esmeralda" and the gunboat " Covadonga " — both small and weak ships — engaged the Peruvian heavy ironclads "Huascar" and "Independencia "; after a hot fight the "Huascar" under Miguel Grau sank the "Esmeralda" under Arturo Prat, who was killed, but Carlos Condcu in the "Covadonga" manoeuvred the "Independencia" aground and shelled her into a complete wreck. The Chileans now gave up the blockade and concentrated all their efforts on the destruction of the "Huascar," while the allies organized a field army in the neighborhood of Tacna and a large Chilean force assembled at Antofagasta.

On the 8th of October 1879 the "Huascar" was brought to action off Angamos by the "Blanco Encalada," and the "Almirante Cochrane." Grau was outmatched as hopelessly and made as brave a fight as Prat at Iquique. Early in the action a shot destroyed the Peruvian's conning tower, killing Grau and his staff, and another entered her turret, killing the flag captain and nearly all the crew of the turret guns. When the "Huascar" finally surrendered she had but one gun left in action, her fourth commander and three-quarters of her crew were killed and wounded, and the steering-gear had been shot away. The Peruvian navy had now ceased to exist.

The Chileans resumed the blockade, and more active operations were soon undertaken. The whole force of the allies was about 20,000 men, scattered along the seaboard of Peru. The Chileans on the other hand had a striking force of 16,000 men in the neighbourhood of Antofagasta, and of this nearly half was embarked for Pisagua on the 26th of October. The expeditionary force landed, in the face of considerable opposition, on the 2nd of November, and captured Pisagua. From Pisagua the Peruvians and Bolivians fell back along the railway to their reinforcements, and when some 10.000 men had been collected they moved forward to attack the Chilean position of San Francisco near Dolores station (19th November).

In the end the Chileans were victorious, but their only material gain was the possession of Iquique and the retreat of the allies, who fell back inland towards Tarapaci. The tardy pursuit of the Chileans ended in the battle of Tarapaci on the 27th. In this the allies were at first surprised, but, rapidly recovering themselves, took the offensive, and after a murderous fight, in which more men were killed than were wounded, the Chileans suffered a complete defeat. For some inexplicable reason the allies made no use of their victory, continued to retreat and left the Chileans in complete possession of the Tarapaci region. With this the campaign of 1879 ended. Chile had taken possession of the Bolivian seaboard and of the Peruvian province of Tarapaca, and bad destroyed the hostile navy.

The objective of the Chileans in the second campaign was the province of Tacna and the field force of the allies at Tacna and Arica. The invasion was again carried out by sea, and 12,000 Chileans were boded at Pacocha (Ylo), far to the N. of Arica. Careful preparations were made for a desert march, and on the 12th of March 1880 the advanced corps started inland for Moquegua, which was occupied on the 20th. Near Moquegua the Peruvians, some 2,000 strong, took tip an unusually strong position in the defile of Cuesta de los Angeles. But the peat numerical superiority of the assailants enabled them to turn the flanks and press the front of the Peruvian position, and sfter a severe struggle the defence collapsed (March 22nd), in April the army began its advance southward from Moquegua to Tacna, while the Chilean warships engaged in a series of minor naval operations in and about the bay of Callao. Arica was also watched, and the blockade was extended north of Lima.

The land campaign culminated in the battle of Tacna (May 26th), in which the Chileans attacked at first in several disconnected bodies, and suffered severely until all their forces came on the field. Then a combined advance carried all before it. The allies engaged under General Narcito Campero, the new president of Bolivia, lost nearly 3000 men, and the Chileans, commanded by Manuel Baquedano, lost 2000 out of 8500 on the field. The defeated army was completely dissolved, and it only remained for the Chileans to march on Arica from the land side. The navy co-operated with its longrange gun's, on the 7th of June a general assault was made, and before nightfall the whole of the defences were in the hands of the Chileans.

Their second campaign had given them entire possession of another strip of Peru (from Pisagua to Ylo), and they had shown themselves greatly superior, both in courage and leadership, to their opponents. While the army prepared for the next campaign, the Chilean navy was active; the blockade became more stringent and several fights took place, in one of which the " Covadonga " was sunk; an expeditionary force about 3000 strong, commanded by Patricio Lynch, a captain in the Chilean navy, carried out successful raids at various places on the coast and inland.

The Chilean army was reorganized during the summer, and prepared for its next operation, this time against Lima itself. General Baqucdano was in command. The leading troops disembarked at Pisco on the 18th of November 1880, and the whole army was ready to move against the defences of Lima six weeks later. These defences consisted of two distinct positions, Chorrillos and Miraflores, the latter being about 4000 yds. outside Lima. The first line of defence was attacked by Baquedano on the 13th of January 1881. Reconnaissances proved that the Peruvian lines could not be turned, and the battle was a pure frontal attack. The defenders had 22,000 men in the lines, the Chileans engaged about 24,000.

The battle of Chorrillos ended in the complete defeat of the Peruvians, less than a quarter of whose army rallied behind the Miraflores defences. The Chileans lost over 3000 men. Two days later took place the battle of Miraflores (January 15th). Here the defences were very strong, and the action began with a daring counter-attack by some Peruvians. Neither party had intended to fight a battle, for negotiations were in progress, but the action quickly became general. Its result was, as before, the complete dissolution of the defending army. Lima, in* capable of defence, was occupied by the invaders on the 17th, and on the 18th Callao surrendered. The resistance of the Peruvians was so far broken that Chile left only a small army of occupation to deal with the remnants of their army. The last engagement took place at Caxacamara in September 1882, when the Peruvians won an unimportant success.

As a result of the war and the Treaty of Ancón, Chile acquired two northern provinces--Tarapacá from Peru and Antofagasta from Bolivia. These territories encompassed most of the Atacama Desert and blocked off Bolivia's outlet to the Pacific Ocean. The war gave Chile control over nitrate exports, which would dominate the national economy until the 1920s, possession of copper deposits that would eclipse nitrate exports by the 1930s, greatpower status along the entire Pacific Coast of South America, and an enduring symbol of patriotic pride in the person of naval hero Arturo Prat Chacón. The War of the Pacific also bestowed on the Chilean armed forces enhanced respect, the prospect of steadily increasing force levels, and a long-term external mission guarding the borders with Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. In 1885 a German military officer, Emil Körner, was contracted to upgrade and professionalize the armed forces along Prussian lines. In subsequent years, better education produced not only a more modern officer corps but also a military leadership capable of questioning civilian management of national development.

Soon controlled by British and then by United States investors, the nitrate fields became a classic monocultural boom and bust. The boom lasted four decades. Export taxes on nitrates often furnished over 50 percent of all state revenues, relieving the upper class of tax burdens. The income of the Chilean treasury nearly quadrupled in the decade after the war. The government used the funds to expand education and transportation. The mining bonanza generated demand for agricultural goods from the center and south and even for locally manufactured items, spawning a new plutocracy. Even more notable was the emergence of a class-conscious, nationalistic, ideological labor movement in the northern mining camps and elsewhere.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 06-12-2012 14:23:25 ZULU