Battle Of Tarapacá: Causes, Development And Consequences

The Battle of Tarapacá was one of the armed confrontations that took place during the War of the Pacific that faced Chile and the alliance between Peru and Bolivia. The battle took place on November 27, 1879, in the homonymous locality, today belonging to Chile.

The conflict between the three Latin American countries was caused mainly by disputes over several bordering territories rich in guano and saltpeter, very valuable natural resources at that time. A tax imposed by Bolivia on the Chilean company that extracted saltpeter in Antofagasta was the trigger for the crisis.

Source: Aguirre Jaramillo, 1926 [Public domain], undefined

Peru, for its part, had signed a defensive agreement with Bolivia. After trying to mediate without success, he declared war on Chile responding to the signed treaty. Chile managed to defeat its enemies in the naval campaign of the war.

Dominating the seas, they proceeded to attack by land, setting the conquest of the Tarapacá region as their first objective, fundamental to continue the advance towards Lima. However, the Battle of Tarapacá ended in defeat for the Chilean troops, although this did not change the final outcome of the war.

Article index

  • one

    Background

    • 1.1

      Tax on the extraction of saltpeter

    • 1.2

      Chilean attack

    • 1.3

      Naval confrontation

    • 1.4

      Battle of Dolores

    • 1.5

      March to Tarapacá

  • two

    Causes

    • 2.1

      Chilean occupation of Antofagasta

    • 2.2

      Search for compensation

  • 3

    Developing

    • 3.1

      Start of the Battle of Tarapacá

    • 3.2

      Cáceres division attack

    • 3.3

      The truce of water

    • 3.4

      Peruvian counterattack and withdrawal of the Chilean army

  • 4

    Consequences

    • 4.1

      Continuation of the war

    • 4.2

      Peace Treaties

  • 5

    References

Background

The War of the Pacific, within which the Battle of Tarapacá is framed, faced Chile and the alliance formed by Peru and Bolivia. It began in 1879 and ended with the Chilean victory in 1884.

It was a conflict caused, especially, by the control of territories rich in guano and saltpeter. For this reason, many authors call it “War of the Saltpeter”.

The areas most affected by the conflict were the Atacama desert, the Peruvian mountains and valleys, and the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Tax on the extraction of saltpeter

The tensions between Chile and Peru began from the very independence of both countries. The borders inherited from the colonial era had not been too clear, in addition to the existing interest in areas rich in saltpeter.

This raw material was produced, especially, in Antofagasta, then belonging to Bolivia. However, the company in charge of the extraction was Chilean.

In February 1878, the Bolivian government established a new tax on the Chilean company Compañía de Salitres y Ferrocarril de Antofagasta (CSFA). Since this rate contradicted the boundary treaty that the two countries had signed in 1874, the Chileans requested to submit the matter to neutral arbitration, something that Bolivia rejected.

The Chilean reaction was to threaten to stop respecting the boundary treaty, to which the Bolivians responded by terminating the license to the nitrate extraction company and seizing its assets.

Chilean attack

On February 14, 1879, the Chilean army occupied Antofagasta, a city with a large majority of Chilean population. In a few days, it advanced until it reached parallel 23ºS.

On the other hand, Peru and Bolivia had secretly signed a Defensive Alliance Treaty. Faced with the Chilean attack, the Peruvians sent a negotiator to Santiago to try to stop the offensive, without success.

On March 1, Bolivia declared a state of war. Peru refused to remain neutral and Chile declared war on the two allied countries on April 5, 1879. The following day, the Peruvian government declared the casus foederis, that is, the entry into force of the secret alliance with Bolivia.

Naval confrontation

Chile and Peru began to confront each other in Pacific waters. Both countries had a very powerful naval force, with large frigates and battleships.

The Chilean army blockaded Iquique, a city rich in saltpeter. Its purpose was to cut the supply routes to the Peruvian ships. Similarly, Chile managed to defeat Peru in other maritime confrontations, gaining control of the entire coast. From there, they began the campaign by land.

After taking the port of Pisagua, the Chilean soldiers advanced through the then Bolivian territory. On November 6, the battle of Germania took place, with the victory of the Chilean cavalry over the allies.

Battle of Dolores

The Chilean army, under the command of Colonel Sotomayor, continued its journey towards Tarapacá. The Peruvian and Bolivian forces, for their part, went to meet them.

Sotomayor reached the Dolores pampa, occupying the San Francisco hill. There a new battle took place, on November 19, 1879. The result favored the Chileans, although they lost more than 60 men in the confrontation.

March to Tarapacá

The Peruvian soldiers defeated in Dolores concentrated in Tarapacá, a town in the interior of the desert. In it, they met with the division commanded by Colonel Ríos, who came from Iquique.

The intention was to regain strength and obtain food. Tarapacá had a garrison of 1,500 men, who had to be joined by the 1,000 newcomers.

The Chileans decided to attack before their enemies recovered. The strategy was to do so by taking advantage of the hills that surrounded the town and thus easily break through the defenses.

Causes

The tax on the Chilean company in charge of obtaining the nitrate and the treaty between Peru and Bolivia were the most immediate causes of the war. However, historians point to more complex ones.

Among them is the vagueness of the borders that emerged after independence. Likewise, Chile was going through a moment of stability, while the allies lived through an economic and political crisis.

Finally, from their own creation as states, Chile and Peru had developed a competition for hegemony in the region.

Chilean occupation of Antofagasta

Bolivia annulled the CSFA contract when Chile refused to accept the new nitrate tax. In addition, the La Paz government ordered to seize the assets of the company and sell them to keep the profits.

This provoked the Chilean reaction. On February 14, 1879, 200 soldiers entered Antofagasta without meeting any resistance. The advance of the troops reached the 23rd parallel S, occupying a strip that Chile considered its own.

When Bolivia declared war, the Chileans advanced to the Loa River, on the southern border with Peru.

Search for compensation

The victories in Antofagasta and, later, in the maritime campaign, made Chile decide to pursue more ambitious objectives. Thus, the government decided not to settle for ensuring the sovereignty of the strip between parallels 23 and 25 South, but to obtain new territorial compensation.

Within these compensations, Chile focused on the department of Tarapacá. For this, it was necessary to destroy the defenses located there, as well as to control the maritime transport to isolate the enemy.

Developing

The defeat at Dolores left the Bolivian-Peruvian army very demoralized, in addition to losing a good part of the artillery. The survivors went to Tarapacá, to meet with the troops led by General Juan Buendía.

In the end, almost 4500 soldiers of the alliance were concentrated in Tarapacá, since the Ríos division also arrived from Iquique.

Start of the Battle of Tarapacá

The Chileans arrived in the area with the intention of giving an almost definitive blow to the conquest of the region. However, the calculations they made on the allied forces in Tarapacá fell short enough, so they thought they were going to face fewer men.

The plan they devised relied heavily on the element of surprise. For it to work, it was necessary for the three divisions that were to participate to leave their bases at different times to achieve their objective at the same time.

The first problem was found by the Santa Cruz column. A dense fog caused them to get lost, breaking their established schedule. While trying to accelerate, they were spotted by the Peruvians, losing the surprise factor of the attack.

The Peruvian officers reacted quickly. Thus, they ordered their men to climb to the top of the hills in order to better defend themselves.

Cáceres division attack

The battle started around 10:00 in the morning. At that time, the fog cleared, and the Peruvians ascended Visagra hill, isolating the Chilean division of Santa Cruz from the other two.

After half an hour, the Peruvians, far outnumbered, finished off a third of the Chilean division, also destroying their artillery. Chilean officers began to prepare for the withdrawal.

Meanwhile, another of the Chilean columns, led by Ramírez, advanced along the river until it reached a small hill located at the entrance to Tarapacá. The defenses of the city received the Chilean soldiers with their artillery.

When it seemed that they were going to have to retreat, he received reinforcements from the Chilean Grenadiers, forcing the Peruvians to retreat.

The truce of water

After those first confrontations, fatigue affected both sides. Without negotiating anything, there was a truce while they treated the wounded.

The Peruvians also needed to reorganize, since they had lost many officers and had to mount a new scale of command in a very few hours.

Luckily for them, the Chileans did not know what was happening. Many thought that the battle was over and did not take any steps to organize a defense or any attack strategy.

Peruvian counterattack and withdrawal of the Chilean army

The Chilean command’s error caused his troops to abandon all order, while the Peruvians planned a second attack. As the Chileans did before, they divided their soldiers into three divisions and sent two of them to attack from the heights of the hills.

The Chilean troops, despite their numerical inferiority, managed to resist for an hour. Finally, General Luís Arteaga understood that the battle was lost and gave the order to retreat.

Consequences

The losses in the Chilean army amounted to 516 dead and 179 wounded, more than they had suffered in previous battles. For their part, the Peruvians reported 236 deaths and 261 wounded.

Continuation of the war

The defeat in the battle did not mean that the Chileans failed to occupy the Tarapacá region. The Peruvians, moreover, did not put up much resistance, since they immediately left the place bound for Arica, leaving the Chilean troops free.

In Peru, the news of the conquest of Tarapacá sparked protests by the population. The president had to resign and a subsequent revolution brought Nicolás de Piérola to power.

Something similar happened in Bolivia. There, Colonel Camacho seized the position from General Daza, although later the people elected General Narciso Campero.

Peace Treaties

After occupying Tarapacá, Chile also took over the area of ​​Tacna and Arica. After this, Bolivia abandoned the conflict, leaving only Peru to try to stop the Chileans.

In January 1881, Chilean troops reached the Peruvian capital, Lima. The war would continue for two more years, since there were pockets of Peruvian guerrillas and montoneros who were fighting against the invaders.

Finally, in 1883, both sides signed the Treaty of Ancón. Peru ceded the Department of Tarapacá and Chile temporarily retained the provinces of Arica and Tacna. The latter was returned to Peru in 1929, with Arica remaining in Chile.

References

  1. Celia, Maria. Battle of tarapaca. Obtained from laguia2000.com
  2. Icarito. The Campaign of Tarapacá (1879). Obtained from icarito.cl
  3. From Peru. Battle of tarapaca. Obtained from deperu.com
  4. Farcau, Bruce W. The Ten Cents War: Chile, Peru, and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884. Recovered from books.google.es
  5. Williamson, Mitch. The Battle of Tarapacá, November 1879. Retrieved from andeantragedy.blogspot.com
  6. Revolvy. War of the Pacific. Retrieved from revolvy.com
  7. Batelaan, Simone. The War of the Pacific: A Never Ending Story ?. Retrieved from cocha-banner.org

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