Painting of José de San Martín
The Battle of Bailén was one of the most important battles fought by José de San Martín at the Peninsular War
San Martín proclaims the independency of Peru in 1821
General San Martín in Paris, 1848
Statue of José de San Martín in Santiago de Chile, April 2005
José Francisco de San Martín, known simply as Don José de San Martín (c. 1778 Yapeyú, Corrientes, Spanish Empire – 17 August 1850 Boulogne-sur-Mer, France ), was an Argentine general and the prime leader of the southern part of South America's successful struggle for independence from Spain.
José de San Martín was the fifth and last son of Juan de San Martín, an unsuccessful Spanish soldier, and Gregoria Matorras del Ser. He was born in Yapeyú, Corrientes. The exact year of his birth is disputed, as there are no records of his baptism. Later documents formulated during his life (such as passports, military career records, wedding, etc.) gave him varying ages. Most of these documents point to his year of birth as either 1777 or 1778. The family moved to Buenos Aires in 1781, when San Martín was three or four years old.
Juan requested to be transferred to Spain, leaving the Americas in 1785. The family settled in Madrid, but as Juan was unable to earn a promotion, they moved to Málaga. Once in the city, San Martín enrolled in Malaga's school of temporalities, beginning his studies in 1785. It is unlikely that he finished the six-year long elementary education, before he enrolled in the Regiment of Murcia in 1789, when he reached the required age of 11. He began his military career as a cadet in the Murcian Infantry Unit.
After joining the Regiment of Murcia, San Martín participated in several campaigns in Africa, fighting in Oran against the Moors in 1791 among other places. Later, by the end of the First Coalition of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1797, his rank was raised to Sub-Lieutenant for his actions against the French in the Pyrenees. On August of the same year, after several engagements, his regiment surrendered to British naval forces in 1798. Soon afterward, he continued to fight in southern Spain, mainly in Cádiz and Gibraltar with the rank of Second Captain of light infantry. He continued to fight Portugal on the side of Spain in the War of the Oranges in 1801, and was soon after promoted to captain in 1804.
When the Peninsular War started in 1808, San Martín was assigned ayudante (Spanish, adjutant) of the First Regiment Voluntarios de Campo Mayor. After his actions against the French, he became captain in the Regiment of Borbon. On 19 July 1808, Spanish and French forces engaged in the Battle of Bailén, in which Spanish forces prevailed, allowing the Army of Andalucia to attack and seize Madrid. For his actions during this battle, San Martín was decorated with a gold medal, and his rank raised to lieutenant colonel. On 16 May 1811, he participated in the Battle of Albuera under the command of general William Carr Beresford. By this time, the French armies held most of the Iberian Peninsula under their control, with the exception of Cádiz. San Martín resigned from the Spanish army, by controversial reasons, and moved to South America, where he joined the Spanish American wars of independence.
With the help of Lord MacDuff, San Martín obtained a passport to England where he met several criollos, American-born Spaniards like himself, who were part of the Logia Lautaro founded by the Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda. According to Argentine historian Felipe Pigna, San Martín was introduced to the Maitland Plan by members of the lodge founded by Miranda and Lord MacDuff.
In 1812, San Martín set sail for Buenos Aires aboard the British frigate George Canning.
Following his arrival in Buenos Aires on 9 March 1812, his rank of lieutenant colonel was recognized by the Triumvirate and he was thus entrusted with the creation of the Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers (Spanish: Regimiento de Granaderos a Caballo), which would become the best-trained military unit of the revolution!
During 1812, he focused on training troops by following the modern warfare techniques he had acquired during the Peninsular War. With Carlos María de Alvear and José Matias Zapiola, he also established the Lodge of Rational Knights, an offspring in Buenos Aires of the independence lodge in Cádiz. On September of the same year, he married María de los Remedios de Escalada, a young woman from one of the local wealthy families.
In October, when news of the victory of the Army of the North (Spanish: Ejército del Norte) commanded by Manuel Belgrano reached Buenos Aires, the Lautaro Lodge initiated political pressure, backed by San Martín's armed forces and popular demand, to impose its candidates into government, thus forcing the First Triumvirate to an end and initiating the Second Triumvirate with members Juan José Paso, Nicolás Rodríguez Peña, and Antonio Álvarez Jonte (Rodríguez Peña and Álvarez Jonte were members of the lodge). This new government strengthened the position held by the Army, and decided to lay siege to Montevideo, which was controlled by loyalists to the Spanish Crown. On 7 December 1812, San Martín was promoted to Colonel.
Although not technically a battle (in Spanish the battle is referred as Combate de San Lorenzo ("San Lorenzo Combat")), references in English language refer to the event as the "Battle of San Lorenzo".
On 28 January 1813, San Martín with his Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers was sent to protect the Paraná River shore from the Spanish Fleet's ships under command of General José Zavala. On the morning of 3 February, the Spanish forces disembarked and fought against San Martín in the Battle of San Lorenzo.
During the fight, San Martín's horse was shot dead. The horse fell, trapping one of San Martín's legs underneath it. This made him an easy target, but Sergeant Juan Bautista Cabral helped him extricate himself. While he was helping the Colonel, Cabral was attacked himself, and died from his wounds after the battle. After the battle, San Martín was promoted to General. This was San Martín's first military action in South America.
After the victories of Tucuman and Salta, the Army of the North, commanded by Manuel Belgrano, lost much ground after serious defeats at Vilcapugio (1 October) and Ayohuma (14 November 1813). The Triumvirate then decided to send San Martín to the North with a small infantry army and his cavarly regiment.
After joining the defeated Army of the North in Yatasto, he took command of it on January 1814, and Belgrano became second in command. During his command, the Army camped in Tucumán, where he started instructing the troops, created a new military school, and sent Colonel Martín Miguel de Güemes to fight against loyalists coming from Peru to gain time. However, after minor struggles in Salta and Jujuy, news of the victory of Commander Guillermo Brown against the royalists' navy, and the resulting blockade of Montevideo, made the loyalist forces from Peru retreat to regroup.
During his command of the Army of the North, San Martín confirmed one of the reasons behind the Maitland Plan's scheme: royalist forces that came down from Upper Perú (roughly present day Bolivia) were easily defeated by the independentist forces in the valleys of Salta and Jujuy. But because of the geographical advantage, forces attacking Upper Peru were easily defeated by the royalists for the very same reasons.
In Córdoba, San Martín continued preparing his plan of attacking Lima — the Capital city of the Viceroyalty of Peru — through Chile. He realized that it would be impossible to enter the large city without having conquered the land to the south. To this end, he requested to be appointed governor of the Province of Cuyo. Later, Juan Pueyrredón was sent by the provisional government of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, and gave San Martín full support on his Liberatory Campaign (Spanish: Campaña Libertadora).
One month after he took office, royalist forces defeated rebel forces under Bernardo O'Higgins' command (O'Higgins fled to the Andes). San Martín strengthened his espionage network with the so-called Guerra de zapa ("War of Zapa"), a pun on the expression Trabajo de zapa, which means hidden work done slyly towards some particular aim. He kept his troops in Mendoza to train and prepare them.
On this behalf, San Martín sent his Aide-de-camp and amateur cartographer Álvarez Condarco (carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence of the "United Provinces of South America" (today Argentina) to Chile as an excuse) through Los Patos pass (the longest path), and returned through the Uspallata (the shortest one), to perform reconnaissance of several locations, mainly the Chacabuco area. Other measures included a disinformation campaign in Chile by sending fake information on the possible attack routes, and information gathering of the situation in Chile in order to prevent a possible attack from there.
During his governorship of Cuyo, he organized the Army of Cuyo. On 8 November 1814 he created the 11th Infantry Battalion (Spanish: Batallón Número 11 de Infantería) which included the argentinian Corps of Chile (Spanish: Cuerpo de Auxiliares Argentinos o Cuerpo de Chile), which was under command of Lieutenant Colonel Juan Gregorio de las Heras. By October 1815, after contributions of several provinces, the army had 1,600 infantry soldiers, 1,000 men in cavalry, 200 men in artillery and 10 cannons. However many problems arose, such as low supplies of powder, iron, and uniforms. Because existing local industries were not enough to supply the Army, San Martín handled the problem by creating local industries in Cuyo to meet the requirements of it.
On the other hand, despite having the support of the Supreme Director Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, opinions about his campaign were not as favorable on the national level. His efforts were often undermined by the skepticism of some local leaders about the viability of the campaign against the Viceroyalty of Peru through the Andes. However, on 1 August 1816, Pueyrredón renamed the army to Army of the Andes (Spanish: Ejército de los Andes), appointed San Martín as its General in Chief, and gave the Army a national priority level. By the end of this difficult process, San Martin’s army had grown immensely.
In September 1816, San Martín relocated the Army of the Andes to El Plumerillo, in the northern part of Mendoza Province, where he finished the details to start his crossing of the Andes. The army was divided in two main columns and four minor ones, keeping the decided paths in secret.
On 18 January 1817, a main column parted with the artillery to Chile through Uspallata, under command of Brigadier Juan Gregorio de las Heras, reaching Las Cuevas on 1 February 1817. The second main column, led by San Martín, left on 19 January through Los Patos pass, and reached San Andrés de Tártaro on 8 February, where he was later joined by Las Heras, concluding the first part of the crossing. By the time the main columns reunited, both had already had minor skirmishes: the first column had fought royalists in Potrerillos, while the forces led by San Martín had fought the Battles of Achupallas and Las Coimas.
The crossing of the Andes was extremely difficult and took 21 days due to high altitudes and low temperature. It is considered a major feat in military history. For instance, the army at Pass El Espinacito reached a maximum altitude of 4536 meters!
After crossing the Andes and entering Chile, the Spanish royalist forces were taking positions in Mount Cuesta Vieja, preparing themselves for the confrontation against the Army of the Andes.
By 10 February 1817, the Army of the Andes was in the Aconcagua valley, and the Spanish royalist forces had not still taken full positions. San Martín then took the initiative and hastened preparations for his attack. Despite a severe attack of Rheumatoid arthritis, San Martín commanded the battle, and seeing the Spanish forces under numerical inferiority and considering the surprise factor, developed a strategy for the Spanish forces to surrender, avoiding bloodshed. The charge was a stalemate until Soler's division joined the battle turning the odds in favor of the patriot side.
After the battle, the royalist forces had suffered five hundred casualties and six hundred royalist soldiers had been taken prisoner. On the Army of the Andes side, there were twelve killed and around one hundred wounded. The army also gained new artillery and other weapons, besides restoring the Chilean revolution. San Martín sent a message reporting the victory: "The Army of the Andes has attained glory and can report: In twenty-four days we have completed the campaign, passed through the highest mountain range on the globe, defeated the tyrants and given freedom to Chile".
On 14 February 1817, San Martín and O'Higgins triumphally entered Santiago, and on 18 February, in a meeting held in the town open hall, San Martín was appointed Governor of Chile. San Martín immediately resigned, thus O'Higgins was elected Supreme Director of the State of Chile (Spanish: Director Supremo del Estado de Chile). The United Army (Spanish: Ejército Unido) was created with Chilean and Argentine soldiers. The Chilean soldiers were under O'Higgins command, while San Martín was General in Chief of the whole United Army.
Then San Martín, in order to raise funds for a fleet, left for Buenos Aires. After negotiating with Pueyrredón, a delegation was sent to London to provide ships for a new fleet in the Pacific Ocean. Back in Chile in the last days of 1817, San Martín sent a delegation to Lima under the pretext of proposing to the Viceroy Joaquín de la Pezuela of Peru the regularization of the war and exchange of POWs. The real purpose was to gain as much information as possible about the enemy's plans. The delegation brought the news that a Spanish army under General Mariano Osorio was about to set sail in four frigates to southern Chile.
Despite the success in the Battle of Chacabuco, and while leaving Santiago and the northern Chile under patriot control, the royalist forces still had strong presence in southern Chile. The men under Osorio's command joined the royalist forces in the south by sea. The royalists also had allied themselves with Mapuche native Americans.
On 19 March 1818, the royalist forces concentrated and fortified in Talca with around five thousand men under General Osorio, while the independent Osorio was not eager to engage in battle, fortifying in Talca. However, after a suggestion from Colonel José Ordóñez an attack was agreed, under Ordoñez' command. In a bold move, Ordoñez made the kind of attack San Martín had feared: circumventing the city and making a surprise attack at night behind the vanguard where the patriot forces were still taking positions. The surprise attack happened before the patriot army had re-positioned itself, and was a directed at the battalion under O'Higgins command, near San Martín's position. Soon, the vanguard soldiers dispersed, leaving O'Higgins in a bad position; his horse was shot dead and he was wounded in one arm. In an uncharacteristic move, instead of ordering retreat San Martín held the position, which made more patriot soldiers flee under enemy fire, leaving weapons and supplies behind. After the initial disorder, however, he ordered retreat. The rear and reserves had already re-positioned, somewhat withstanding the attack, but had no-one in command (Colonel Hilarión de la Quintana had left to headquarters to receive orders after the re-position and had not yet returned). Las Heras took command, and led the men during the retreat, while trying to recover as much artillery and weapons as possible. San Martín and O'Higgins (who were also retreating at full speed) were being closely chased by royalist forces.
By 21 March 1818, the remaining patriot forces of around three and half thousand men reunited in San Fernando, while news of the defeat reached Santiago. Rumors of deaths of O'Higgins and San Martín were spreading, and an exodus from Santiago to Mendoza started.
The battle (which was the only defeat the campaign had suffered) resulted in around 150 killed, and two hundred men taken prisoner. Several hundred had deserted, the whole artillery of the Argentine side was lost along with considerable amounts of horses, mules and weapons from both the Chilean and Argentine parts of the army. Despite the royalist victory, the action proved pyrrhic for their side: an estimated two hundred soldiers had been killed, three hundred men captured and around six hundred had deserted, a total comprising more than half the two thousand men that had charged into the battle. Because of historical records these numbers cannot be completely confirmed.
After the sorpresa de Cancha Rayada (surprise of Cancha Rayada), the royalist forces concentrated and marched towards Santiago. On 4 April 1818, the United Army took positions in Loma Blanca, near the Maipú plains. The army separated into three divisions: Las Heras commanding the column on the right, Colonel Rudecindo Alvarado commanding the column on the left, and Quintana at the rear. O'Higgins (still wounded) was in charge of the reserves.
The royalist forces under General Osorio's command took defensive positions, despite the convictions of some Colonels (among whom was Ordoñez) that taking the offensive as in Cancha Rayada was the best option. According to Irish Mounted Granadier John Thomond O'Brien, San Martín, seeing Osorio's disposition of the forces, exclaimed "Osorio is clumsier than I thought. Today's triumph is ours. The sun as witness!".
Around 11 am on the morning of 5 April 1818, the patriotic forces charged against the royalist forces with devastating resolution: after the sustained six-hour battle, the royalists were defeated. Osorio attempted to retreat to a property called Lo Espejos (The Mirrors) but failing to reach it, fled to Talcahuano with around twelve hundred men, although virtually rendered useless as they had lost most, if not all, of their weapons.
The royalist forces suffered two thousand dead, three thousand prisoners taken, and the loss of all its artillery. The patriotic forces, in contrast, suffered one thousand casualties. Historian and Colonel José Luis Picciuolo stated in his book Argentina Cavalry in the History of the Army that "this battle was executed as a typical act of annihilation".
As result of the battle, the Spanish control over southern Chile ended, and the independence declared on 12 February 1818 was partially accomplished. Viceroy Pezuela considered southern Chile lost, and Osorio set sail for Peru, leaving Colonel Juan Francisco Sánchez in charge of one thousand men in Talcahuano.
Since the Battle of Chacabuco, San Martín had urged both governments of Santiago and Buenos Aires to build a fleet on the Pacific. Convoys had been sent to the United States and England in order to buy and hire several ships, however, lack of political cohesion in Argentina, a Spanish blockade in Valparaíso, and the Battles of Cancha Rayada and Maipú heavily delayed the project. On the other hand, the mountainous landscape of the region lent itself to a large dependence of the colonial Chilean economy on maritime trade routes and shipping. This meant that there was an abundance of shipyards and a ready supply of sailors.
Right after the Battle of Maipú, San Martín left for Buenos Aires in order to speed up the process (and meet his wife and daughter which he had not seen since the start of the Campaign of the Andes). Once in Buenos Aires, after learning the fact that half a million pesos would not be available for the project from Pueyrredón, San Martín resigned as Commander of the Army under the pretext of being prescribed by his doctor to take rest in Chile's hotsprings. The resignation was not accepted and San Martín was granted a license.
After Supreme Director José Rondeau was defeated in the Battle of Cepeda, San Martín sent his resignation of the Army's command from Santiago to Rancagua, where Colonel Las Heras had settled with the army, arguing that the authority to which he had to report had ceased to exist, and thus his own authority had expired. The officials of the army rejected his resignation on the basis that the army's goal was to hasten the happiness of the country and the authority was given ultimately by the health of the people, something that was immutable and could not expire.
On August 20th 1820, a fleet of eight warships and sixteen transport ships of the Chilean Navy, under the command of Thomas Alexander Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, set sail from Valparaíso to Paracas, southern Peru.
On September 7th, the army landed on Paracas and successfully attacked Pisco. On 11 September 1820, San Martín sent a "manifesto" to the Peruvian people stating "My announcement is not that of a conqueror that tries to create a new enslavement. I cannot help but be an accidental instrument of justice and agent of destiny. The outcome of victory will make Peru's capital see for the first time their sons united, freely choosing their government and emerging into the face of earth among the rank of nations".
While previous campaigns had been militaristic, San Martín avoided confrontation in Peru and emphasized diplomacy; the reason was that Lima, as the center of the Spanish Empire, would be more against the nationalist cause if its forces used violence and/or threatened to break the established monarchical-style order. Also, San Martín's army was smaller than that of the royalist forces in Peru, and he was wary of attacking the Spanish head on. His strategy consisted of waiting for the Peruvian people to begin the uprising by themselves. This resulted in many diplomatic envoys to Lima, urging viceroy Joaquín de la Pezuela to grant the independence of Peru. However, these diplomatic efforts proved fruitless.
After seizing Pisco, the army set sail on 26 October toward the north and landed at Huacho — a better place from a strategic point of view — on 12 November. Huacho was used by San Martín as his main headquarters from thereon. While there, San Martín first heard of the emancipation of Guayaquil under the leadership of Peruvian Gregorio Escobedo. This and other events such as the maritime blockade of Callao by Cochrane and the victories over royalists by Alvarez de Arenales in Guacarillo (6 October) and Pasco (20 December) strengthened the position of the main independentist effort led by San Martín.
On 29 January, Pezuela was deposed by José de la Serna. On 21 February 1821, San Martín promulgated the Provisional Rules (Spanish, Reglamento Provisional) aimed to provide legal guarantees to the Peruvian citizens, and designed the first flag of Peru. Soon afterwards he started preparing to march on Lima.
In March, 1821 the army set sail and landed in Ancón (near Lima), while dispatching general Guillermo Miller to the southern coasts and Álvarez de Arenales toward the eastern hills, furthering Lima's isolation. Diplomatic efforts once again failed, as Viceroy Serna did not agree to declare independence, and San Martín did not accept Serna's proposal of acceptance by the independentists of the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and the sending emissaries to the Cortes Generales.
On 2 July, San Martín met Viceroy Serna. This time San Martín proposed to create a constitutional monarchy with a European monarch to be appointed later. Serna, arguing that he did not have the power to make such a decision, asked for two days to discuss the issue. However, after discussing the issue with the royalist forces' commanders, the proposition was turned down on the basis that they did not have the power to grant independence, even to create a monarchy. On 8 July, Serna and his forces simply abandoned the city, in order to reinforce in the countryside.
San Martín occupied Lima, the capital of Peru, on 12 July 1821. This was a huge loss for the Spanish forces. Independence from Spain for Peru was finally declared on 28 July 1821 and he was voted the "Protector" of the newly independent nation. During the same year, he founded the National Library of Peru, to which he donated his collection of books, and praised the new library as "... one of the most efficient means to spread our intellectual values". After Peru's parliament had been assembled, he resigned his command.
On 26 July 1822, he met with Simón Bolívar at Guayaquil to plan the future of Latin America. Most of the details of this meeting were secret at the time, and this has made the event a matter of much debate among later historians. Some believe that Bolívar's refusal to share command of the combined forces made San Martín withdraw from Peru and resettle as a farmer in Mendoza, Argentina. Another theory claims that San Martín yielded to Bolívar's energy and avoided a confrontation. Many argue that San Martin was a military genius but not as charismatic a leader, or as politically ambitious, as Bolivar.
In 1824, soon after his return to Argentina, his wife Remedios de Escalada de San Martín died. Then he moved to Europe with his daughter Mercedes, first to England, then to Brussels. To keep a neutral position during the 1830 Belgian Revolution he moved to Paris, where he contracted cholera. Cured but weakened, he bought a house and retired at Grand-Bourg, near Évry. His daughter married Mariano Antonio Severo de Balcarce, illegitimate son of Juan Manuel de Rosas, in Paris on 13 December 1832, and they had two daughters. In 1848, when the revolution started in Paris, he decided to move to London, but settled instead at Boulogne-sur-Mer, where he spent the remainder of his days.
He always excluded himself from every possible meddling at the internecine wars of his native country, and refused several offers he had to do so. He even returned to Buenos Aires, but refused to leave the ship when he learned that Juan Lavalle had deposed and executed governor Manuel Dorrego, and returned to Europe. The only occasion in which he offered himself to return to Argentina was at the time of the French blockades of 1838 and 1845. In recognition of the successful defense of Argentine rights in those conflicts, he handed down his sword to Buenos Aires Province Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas through his will. He died on 17 August 1850 in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, France.
In 1880 his remains were taken from Brunoy to Buenos Aires and reinterred in the Buenos Aires Cathedral. The mausoleum also has the remains of Generals Juan Gregorio de las Heras and Tomás Guido, as well as those of the Unknown Soldier of the Independence.