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Narrative of Services in the Liberation of Chili, Peru and Brazil, from Spanish and Portuguese Domination
Chapter IV


OBSTACLES TO EQUIPPING THE SQUADRON--SAILING OF THE LIBERATING EXPEDITION--DEBARCATION AT PISCO--LONG INACTION OF THE ARMY--GENERAL SAN MARTIN REMOVES TO ANCON--CAPTURE OF THE ESMERALDA--EXCHANGE OF PRISONERS--ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE SERVICE BY GENERAL SAN MARTIN--LADY COCHRANE'S VISIT TO MENDOZA.

The difficulties which attended the equipment of the squadron and troops destined for the liberation of Peru were very great, the Government being without credit, whilst its treasury had been completely exhausted by efforts to organise an army--a loan being impossible, and indeed refused. By my influence with the British merchants, I managed to obtain considerable quantities of naval and military stores, and in addition, a contribution to a subscription which was set on foot, in place of a forced loan, upon which the Government hesitated to venture.

The greatest difficulty was, however, with regard to the foreign seamen, who, disgusted with the want of faith towards them, refused to re-enter the service. The Government, upon this, requested me to resort to impressment, which I declined, telling them, moreover, that the captain of the British frigate then in port would not permit his countrymen to be impressed. The alternative proposed was to use my influence with the men, by issuing such a proclamation, dictated by myself, as would render them dependent for their pay and prize-money upon General San Martin, and on the success of the expedition; it being evident that they would not place further confidence in the promises of the Government.

A joint proclamation was therefore issued by Gen. San Martin and myself, my signature being added as a guarantee, whilst his bore the authority of Commander-in-Chief. The following extract will shew the nature of this proclamation:--

"On my entry into Lima, I will punctually pay to all foreign seamen who shall voluntarily enlist into the Chilian service, the whole arrears of their pay, to which, I will also add to each individual, according to his rank, one year's pay over and above his arrears, as a premium or reward for his services, if he continue to fulfil his duty to the day of the surrender of that city, and its occupation by the liberating forces."

(Signed) JOSE DE SAN MARTIN.

"COCHRANE."

This proclamation had the desired effect, and the crews of the ships were immediately completed.

The Chilian force amounted to 4200 men, General San Martin, to the great disappointment of General Freire, being nominated Captain-General--the force under his command was designated the "liberating army" (Exercito Libertador). Whilst the expedition was in process of formation, the Supreme Director had apprised the Peruvian people of its object, and lest they should entertain any jealousy of its presence uninvited, had declared his views in a general proclamation, from which the following is an extract:--

"Peruvians--Do not think we shall pretend to treat you as a conquered people? such a desire could have entered into the heads of none but those who are inimical to our common happiness. We only aspire to see you free and happy; yourselves will frame your own government, choosing that form which is most consistent with your customs, your situation, and your wishes. Consequently, you will constitute a nation as free and independent as ourselves."

This, and subsequent proclamations, will require to be borne in mind, as the result by no means corresponded with the intentions of the Supreme Director, whose honesty of purpose was afterwards set at nought by those in whose estimation Peru was only a field for the furtherance of their own ambition. The Chileno officers, both native and foreign, certainly believed in the sincerity of their leaders, but were subsequently doomed to be miserably disappointed as regarded the chief of them.

On the 21st of August, 1820, the squadron sailed amidst the enthusiastic plaudits of the people, who felt proud that in so short a time the power of Spain had not only been humbled, but that they were enabled to despatch an army to liberate her principal remaining State.

On the 25th, the squadron hove to off Coquimbo, taking on board another battalion of troops. On the 26th we again sailed, when General San Martin made known to me his intention of proceeding with the main body of the army to Truxillo, a place four degrees to leeward of Lima, where the army could have gained no advantage, nor, indeed, have found anything to do, except to remain there safe from any attack by the Spaniards, who could not approach it by land, whilst the squadron could protect it by sea.

By representing to General San Martin that this course would cause great dissatisfaction amongst the Chileno officers and men, who expected to be landed and led at once against Lima, for the immediate conquest of which they were amply sufficient, he consented to give up his plan of proceeding to Truxillo, but firmly refused to disembark his men in the vicinity of Lima; for what reason I could not then divine. My own plan was to land the force at Chilca, the nearest point to Callao, and forthwith to obtain possession of the capital; an object by no means difficult of execution, and certain of success.

Finding all argument unavailing, we sailed for Pisco, where the expedition arrived on the 7th of September, and on the 8th, to my great chagrin, the troops were disembarked, and for fifty days remained in total inaction! with the exception of despatching Colonel Arenales into the interior with a detachment, which, after defeating a body of Spaniards, took up a position to the eastward of Lima.

Even on arriving at Pisco, General San Martin declined to enter the town, though the Spanish forces consisted of less than three hundred men. Landing the troops under Major-General Las Heras, he went down the coast in the schooner Montezuma the inhabitants meanwhile retiring into the interior, taking with them their cattle, slaves, and even the furniture of their houses. This excess of caution excited great discontent in the army and the squadron, as contrasting strangely with the previous capture of the place, in the preceding year, by Lieut.-Colonel Charles and Major Miller, with their handful of men.

On the return of General San Martin, he professed to be greatly chagrined at the departure of the inhabitants, and the consequent loss of supplies. Instead of attributing this to his own tardy movements, he declared his disbelief in the accounts he had received from Peru as to the friendly disposition of the inhabitants, even throwing out doubts as to the success of the expedition in consequence. It was of the first importance to have taken the place immediately, and to have conciliated the inhabitants, as the ships were scantily provisioned, and all but destitute of other necessary supplies. A detailed account, however, of the capture of the place was transmitted to Santiago, where it was duly recorded in the official organ as the first feat of the great expedition.

During these fifty days the squadron was also necessarily kept in inaction, having achieved nothing beyond the capture of a few merchantmen along the coast, and a fruitless chase of two Spanish frigates, the Prueba and Venganza, which I did not follow up, as involving risk to the transports during my absence.

This delay was productive of the worst disasters which could have befallen the expedition. The people were eager to receive us, and not calculating on such tardiness on the part of General Martin--were everywhere declaring in our favour; but being unsupported, were fined, imprisoned, and subjected to corporal punishment by the Viceroy. Rendered cautious by this, they naturally distrusted the force idling away its time at Pisco, manifesting reluctance to bring forward the requisite supplies, upon which they were treated, by order of General San Martin, with military rigour; being thus harassed, the Peruvians began to look upon the Chilenos as oppressors in common with the Spaniards, to the no small danger of losing every desire for national independence.

Nevertheless, on reaching Pisco, Gen. San Martin had promulgated a proclamation from the Supreme Director full of fervent appeals to God and man as regarded the good intentions of the Chilian Government: the following are extracts:--

"Peruvians, here are the engagements under which Chili--before the Supreme Being--and calling all nations to witness as avengers of any violation of the compact, engages to aid you--setting death and toil at defiance. You shall be free and independent. You shall choose your own government and laws, by the spontaneous will of your representatives. No military or civil influence, direct or indirect, shall your brethren use to influence your social dispositions. You shall dismiss the armed force sent to your assistance the moment you judge proper, without regard to our opinion of your danger or security. Never shall any military division occupy the soil of a free people, unless called for by your lawful magistrate. Neither by ourselves, nor by our aid, shall party opinions which may have preceded your liberty be punished. Ready to overthrow any armed force which may resist your rights, we beseech you to forget all grievances antecedent to the day of your glory, so as to reserve the most severe justice to obstinacy and oppression."

Such, were the inducements held out to the Peruvian people, and such was their first experience with regard to their liberators.

Yet even amidst inaction the fruits of demonstration early became manifest, a vessel arriving on the 4th of October, from Guayaquil, with the intelligence that on receiving news of the sailing of the expedition, that province had declared itself independent. Upon the arrival of this welcome news, I again begged of General San Martin to reimbark the troops and move on Lima, and at length succeeded in inducing him to make a move.

Previous to our departure, General San Martin issued the following proclamation, here given to shew how promises solemnly entered into could afterwards be broken.

"Peruvians! I have paid the tribute which, as a public man, I owe to the opinion of others, and have shewn what is my object and mission towards you. I come to fulfil the expectations of all those who wish to belong to the country which gave them birth, and who desire to be governed by their own laws. On the day when Peru shall freely pronounce as to the form of her institutions, be they whatever they may, my functions shall cease, and I shall have the glory of announcing to the Government of Chili, of which I am a subject, that their heroic efforts have at last received the consolation of giving liberty to Peru, and peace to the neighbouring states."

The troops being reimbarked--on the 28th we sailed from Pisco, and on the following day anchored before Callao. After having reconnoitred the fortifications, I again urged on General San Martin an immediate disembarcation of the force, but to this he once more strenuously objected, to the great disappointment of the whole expedition; insisting on going to Ancon, a place at some distance to the northward of Callao. Having no control over the disposition of the troops, I was obliged to submit; and on the 30th, detached the San Martin, Galvarino, and Araucano, to convoy the transports to Ancon, retaining the O'Higgins, Independencia, and Lautaro, as if for the purpose of blockade.

The fact was, that--annoyed in common with the whole expedition--at this irresolution on the part of General San Martin, I determined that the means of Chili, furnished with great difficulty, should not be wholly wasted, without some attempt at accomplishing the objects of the expedition; and accordingly formed a plan of attack with the three ships which I had kept back--though being apprehensive that my design would be opposed by General San Martin, I had not even mentioned to him my intentions.

This design was to cut out the Esmeralda frigate from under the fortifications, and also to get possession of another ship, on board of which we had learned that a million of dollars was embarked for flight, if it became necessary; my opinion being that if such display of power were manifested, the Spaniards would either surrender the capital or abandon it.

The enterprise was hazardous, for since my former visit the enemy's position had been much strengthened, no less than 300 pieces of artillery being mounted on shore, whilst the Esmeralda was crowded with the best sailors and marines that could be procured, these sleeping every night at quarters. She was, moreover, defended by a strong boom with chain moorings, and by armed blockships; the whole being surrounded by twenty-seven gun-boats; so that no ship could possibly get at her.

For three days we occupied ourselves in preparations, still keeping secret the purpose for which they were intended. On the evening of 5th of November, this was communicated to the ships by the following proclamation:--

"Marines and Seamen,"

"This night we are going to give the enemy a mortal blow. Tomorrow you will present yourselves proudly before Callao, and all your comrades will envy your good fortune. One hour of courage and resolution is all that is required of you to triumph. Remember, that you have conquered in Valdivia, and be not afraid of those who have hitherto fled from you."

"The value of all the vessels captured in Callao will be yours, and the same reward in money will be distributed amongst you as has been offered by the Spaniards in Lima to those who should capture any of the Chilian squadron. The moment of glory is approaching, and I hope that the Chilenos will fight as they have been accustomed to do, and that the English will act as they have ever done at home and abroad."

"COCHRANE."

On issuing this proclamation, it was stated that I should lead the attack in person, volunteers being requested to come forward, on which the whole of the marines and seamen on board the three ships offered to accompany me. As this could not be permitted, a hundred and sixty seamen and eighty marines were selected, and after dark were placed in fourteen boats alongside the flag-ship, each man armed with cutlass and pistol, being, for distinction's sake, dressed in white, with a blue band on the left arm. The Spaniards I expected would be off their guard, as, by way of ruse, the other ships had been sent out of the bay under the charge of Captain Foster, as though in pursuit of some vessels in the offing--so that the Spaniards would consider themselves safe from attack for that night.

At ten o'clock all was in readiness, the boats being formed in two divisions, the first commanded by my flag-captain Crosbie, and the second by Captain Guise,--my boat leading. The strictest silence, and the exclusive use of cutlasses were enjoined; so that, as the oars were muffled, and the night dark, the enemy had not the least suspicion of the impending attack.

It was just upon midnight when we neared the small opening left in the boom, our plan being well-nigh frustrated by the vigilance of a guard-boat, upon which my launch had luckily stumbled. The challenge was given, upon which, in an under-tone, I threatened the occupants of the boat with instant death if they made the least alarm. No reply was made to the threat, and in a few minutes our gallant fellows were alongside the frigate in line, boarding at several points simultaneously.

The Spaniards were completely taken by surprise--the whole, with the exception of the sentries, being asleep at their quarters--and great was the havoc made amongst them by the Chileno cutlasses whilst they were recovering themselves. Retreating to the forecastle, they there made a gallant stand, and it was not until the third charge that the position was carried. The fight was for a short time renewed on the quarter-deck, where the Spanish marines fell to a man, the rest of the enemy leaping overboard and into the hold to escape slaughter.

On boarding the ship by the main chains, I was knocked back by the butt end of the sentry's musket, and falling on a thole pin of the boat, it entered my back near the spine, inflicting a severe injury, which caused me many years of subsequent suffering. Immediately regaining my footing, I reascended the side, and when on deck, was shot through the thigh, but binding a handkerchief tightly round the wound, managed, though with great difficulty, to direct the contest to its close.

The whole affair, from beginning to end, occupied only a quarter of an hour, our loss being eleven killed and thirty wounded, whilst that of the Spaniards was a hundred and sixty, many of whom fell under the cutlasses of the Chilenos before they could stand to their arms. Greater bravery I never saw displayed than that of our gallant fellows. Before boarding, the duties of all had been appointed, and a party was told off to take possession of the tops. We had not been on deck a minute, when I hailed the foretop, and was instantly answered by our own men, an equally prompt answer being returned from the frigate's maintop. No British man-of-war's crew could have excelled this minute attention to orders.

The uproar speedily alarmed the garrison, who, hastening to their guns, opened fire on their own frigate, thus paying us the compliment of having taken it; though, even in this case, their own men must still have been on board, so that firing on them was a wanton proceeding, as several Spaniards were killed or wounded by the shot of the fortress, and amongst the wounded was Captain Coig, the commander of the Esmeralda--who, after he was made prisoner, received a severe contusion by a shot from his own party.

The fire from the fortress was, however, neutralised by a successful expedient. There were two foreign ships of war present during the contest--the United States frigate Macedonian, and the British frigate Hyperion; and these, as previously agreed on with the Spanish authorities in case of a night attack--hoisted peculiar lights as signals, to prevent being fired upon. This contingency being provided for by us--as soon as the fortress commenced its fire on the Esmeralda, we also ran up similar lights, so that the garrison became puzzled which vessel to fire at; the intended mischief thus involving the Hyperion and Macedonian, which were several times struck, the Esmeralda being comparatively untouched. Upon this the neutral frigates cut their cables and moved away; whilst Captain Guise, contrary to my orders, cut the Esmeralda cables also, so that there was nothing to be done but to loose her top-sails and follow; the fortress then ceasing its fire.

My orders were not to cut the cables of the, Esmeralda; but after taking her to capture the Maypu, a brig of war previously taken from Chili--and then to attack and cut adrift every ship near, there being plenty of time before us; no doubt existing but that when the Esmeralda was taken, the Spaniards would desert the other ships as fast as their boats would permit them, so that the whole might either have been captured or burned. To this end all my previous plans had been arranged; but on being placed hors de combat by my wounds, Captain Guise, on whom the command of the prize devolved, chose to interpose his own judgment, and content himself with the Esmeralda alone, cutting her cables without my orders; the reason assigned being, that the English had broken into her spirit-room and were getting drunk, whilst the Chilenos were disorganized by plundering. It was a great mistake, for if we could capture the Esmeralda, with her picked and well-appointed crew, there would have been little or no difficulty in cutting the other ships adrift in succession. It would only have been the rout of Valdivia over again, chasing the enemy, without loss, from ship after ship, instead of from fort to fort.

The following extract, from the order issued preparatory to the attack, will clearly shew the plan frustrated by cutting the Esmeralda adrift:--

"On securing the frigate, the Chilian seamen and marines are not to give the Chilian cheer, but to deceive the enemy, and give time for completing the work: they are to cheer 'Viva el Rey.'"

"The two brigs of war are to be fired on by the musketry from the Esmeralda, and are to be taken possession of by Lieutenants Esmonde and Morgell, in the boats they command; which, being done, they are to cut adrift, run out, and anchor in the offing as quickly as possible. The boats of the Independencia are to turn adrift all the outward Spanish merchant ships; and the boats of the O'Higgins and Lautaro, under Lieutenants Bell and Robertson, are to set fire to one or more of the headmost hulks; but these are not to be cut adrift, so as to fall down upon the rest."

(Signed) "COCHRANE."

By the cutting of the Esmeralda's cables, not one of these objects was effected. The captured frigate was ready for sea, with three months' provisions on board, and with stores sufficient for two years. She was, no doubt, if opportunity offered, intended to convoy the treasure-ship, which, by the precipitancy of Captain Guise, we had missed; indeed the Spanish Admiral being on board at the time, with his flag flying, was a pretty clear proof that she was on the point of departure; instead of which, the Admiral, his officers, and 200 seamen were made prisoners, the remainder of the crew, originally 370 in number, being killed, wounded, or drowned.

An incident occurred during the contest which, at this distance of time, I shall not refrain from mentioning. His Britannic Majesty's ship Hyperion was so close to the Esmeralda, as to be a witness of the whole proceeding. A midshipman was standing at the gangway looking on, amongst others, when his truly English nature, unable to restrain itself as our gallant fellows cleared the forecastle of the enemy, gave vent to its expression by clapping his hands in approbation. It was afterwards reported that he was immediately ordered below by his commander, Captain Searle, who threatened to put him under arrest. Such was the feeling of an English commander towards me. I should not have condescended to notice this occurrence but for the bravado shown by the same officer on a previous occasion, by casting loose his guns, with their tompions out, when my flag-ship entered the roads; thereby either intimating that he considered me a pirate, or that he would so treat me, if he had an opportunity.

When approaching the Esmeralda, the British frigate also hailed each boat separately, with the evident intention of alarming the enemy; which would no doubt have been the case, had not the Spaniards been thrown off their guard by the before-mentioned ruse of sending the ships out of the bay.

Far different was the conduct of the commander of the United States frigate Macedonian--whose sentinels did not hail the boats--the officers in an under-tone wishing us success; and still more honourable was the subsequent testimony of that talented officer, Captain Basil Hall, who commanded His Britannic Majesty's ship Conway, then in the Pacific. This testimony, though in some degree a recapitulation of the events already related, but slightly inaccurate as regards the number of men employed, I feel proud to adduce:--

"While the liberating army, under General San Martin, was removing to Ancon, Lord Cochrane, with part of his squadron, anchored in the outer roads of Callao. The inner harbour was guarded by an extensive system of batteries, admirably constructed, and bearing the general name of the 'Castles of Callao.' The merchant ships, as well as the men of war, consisting of the Esmeralda, a large 40-gun frigate, and two sloops of war, were moored under the guns of the castle, within a semicircle of fourteen gun-boats, and a boom made of spars chained together."

"Lord Cochrane, having previously reconnoitred these formidable defences in person, undertook, on the 5th of November, 1820, the desperate enterprise of cutting out the Spanish frigate, although she was known to be fully prepared for an attack. His Lordship proceeded in fourteen boats, containing 240 men--all volunteers from the different ships of the squadron--in two divisions, one under the orders of Captain Crosby, and the other under Captain Guise, both officers commanding the Chileno squadron."

"At midnight, the boats having forced their way across the boom, Lord Cochrane, who was leading, rowed alongside the first gun-boat, and taking the officer by surprise, proposed to him, with a pistol at his head, the alternative of silence or death. No reply being made, the boats pushed on unobserved, and Lord Cochrane, mounting the Esmeralda's side, was the first to give the alarm. The sentinel on the gangway levelled his piece and fired, but was instantly cut down by the coxwain, and his Lordship, though wounded in the thigh, at the same moment stepped on the deck, the frigate being boarded with no less gallantry on the opposite side by Captain Guise, who met Lord Cochrane midway on the quarter-deck, as also Captain Crosby, and the after part of the ship was soon carried, sword in hand. The Spaniards rallied on the forecastle, where they made a desperate resistance, till overpowered by a fresh party of seamen and marines, headed by Lord Cochrane. A gallant stand was again made on the main deck, but before one o'clock the ship was captured, her cables cut, and she was steered triumphantly out of the harbour."

"This loss was a death-blow to the Spanish naval force in that quarter of the world; for, although there were still two Spanish frigates and some smaller vessels in the Pacific, they never afterwards ventured to shew themselves, but left Lord Cochrane undisputed master of the coast."

On the morning of the 6th a horrible massacre was committed on shore. The market-boat of the United States frigate was, as usual, sent for provisions, when the mob took it into their heads that the Esmeralda could not have been cut out without the assistance of the Macedonian, and, falling upon the boat's crew, murdered the whole of them.

The wounded amongst the Esmeralda's crew were sent on shore under a flag of truce, a letter from me to the Viceroy proposing an exchange of prisoners being at the same time transmitted. The proposal was this time civilly acceded to, and the whole were sent on shore; the Chilian prisoners, who had long languished in the dungeons of the fortress, being returned, and ordered to join the army of General San Martin.

On transmitting the intelligence of our success to General San Martin, I received from him the following acknowledgment of the achievement:--

10th November, 1820.

"My Lord,"

"The importance of the service you have rendered to the country by the capture of the frigate Esmeralda, and the brilliant manner in which you conducted the gallant officers and seamen under your orders to accomplish that noble enterprise, on the night of the memorable 5th of November, have augmented the gratitude due to your former services by the Government, as well as that of all interested in the public cause, and in your fame."

"All those who participated in the risks and glory of the deed, also deserve well of their countrymen, and I have the satisfaction to be the medium of transmitting the sentiments of admiration which such transcendent success has excited in the chiefs of the army under my command. Permit me to express them to you, in order that they may be communicated to the meritorious officers, seamen, and marines of the squadron, to whom will be religiously fulfilled the promises you made."

"It is grievous that, connected with the memory of so glorious a deed, regret for those who shed their blood in its achievement should enter; but let us hope that such thoughts will be dissipated, by your adding further deeds of glory to the country, and to your name."

"God preserve you many years."

"JOSE DE SAN MARTIN."

San Martin's expression of religiously fulfilling the "promises I made," is in allusion to the promise, signed by himself, which had been exacted previous to the departure of the squadron from Valparaiso, that the men should have a year's pay given to them. With the preceding letter General San Martin voluntarily sent another promise to the captors, of 50,000 dollars, to be paid on gaining possession of Lima. Neither the one promise nor the other were ever fulfilled, nor did they ever obtain any prize-money.

To the Administration in Chili General San Martin wrote as follows:--

"Head Quarters, Supe, Dec. 1, 1820.

Senor Minister,"

"I have the honour of forwarding to you the despatches of the Right Hon. Lord Cochrane, Vice-Admiral of the squadron, relative to the heroic capture of the frigate Esmeralda, by boarding her under the batteries of Callao."

"It is impossible for me to eulogise in proper language the daring enterprise of the 5th of November, by which Lord Cochrane has decided the superiority of our naval forces--augmented the splendour and power of Chili--and secured the success of this campaign."

"I doubt not that His Excellency the Supreme Director will render the justice due to the worthy chief, his officers, and other individuals who have had a share in that successful action."

"I beg you will honour me by congratulating His Excellency on this important success, and principally on account of the influence it will have on the great object which occupies his attention."

"JOSE DE SAN MARTIN."

"To Don Jose Ignacio Zenteno,

Minister of Marine."

Soon after my departure for Peru, Lady Cochrane undertook a journey across the Cordillera, to Mendoza, the passes being, at that season, often blocked up with snow. Having been entrusted with some despatches of importance, she pushed on rapidly, and on the 12th of October arrived at the celebrated Ponte del Inca, 15,000 feet above the level of the sea. Here the snow had increased to such an extent as to render farther progress impossible, and her ladyship was obliged to remain at a Casucha, or strong house, built above the snow for the safety of travellers; the intense cold arising from the rarity of the atmosphere, and the absence of all comfort--there being no better couch than a dried bullock's hide--producing a degree of suffering which few ladies would be willing to encounter.

Whilst proceeding on her mule up a precipitous path in the vicinity, a Royalist, who had intruded himself on the party, rode up in an opposite direction and disputed the path with her, at a place where the slightest false step would have precipitated her into the abyss below. One of her attendants, a tried and devoted soldier, named Pedro Flores, seeing the movement, and guessing the man's intention, galloped up to him at a critical moment, striking him a violent blow across the face, and thus arresting his murderous design. The ruffian finding himself vigorously attacked, made off, without resenting the blow, and so, no doubt, another premeditated attempt on Lady Cochrane's life was averted.


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