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Thomas Cochrane

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 Independence.

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 monies.

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.

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 attack.

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 present day.

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