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THE HANNIBAL OF THE ANDES AND THE FREEDOM OF CHILI.
At the end of 1816 the cause of liberty in Chili was at its lowest ebb. After four years of struggle the patriots had met with a crushing defeat in 1814, and had been scattered to the four winds. Since then the viceroy of Spain had ruled the land with an iron hand, many of the leading citizens being banished to the desolate island of Juan Fernandez, the imaginary scene of Robinson Crusoe's career, while many others were severely punished and all the people were oppressed.
In this depressed state of Chilian affairs a hero came across the mountains to strike a new blow for liberty. Don José de San Martin had fought valiantly for the independence of Buenos Ayres at the battle of San Lorenzo. Now the Argentine patriots sent him to the aid of their fellow-patriots in Chili and Peru. Such was the state of the conflict in the latter part of 1816, when San Martin, collecting the scattered bands of Chilian troops and adding them to men of his own command, got together a formidable array five thousand strong. The "Liberating Army of the Andes”' these were called.
An able organizer was San Martin, and he put his men through a thorough course of discipline. Those he most depended on were the cavalry, a
force made up of the Gauchos, or cattlemen of the Pampas, whose life was passed in the saddle, and who were genuine centaurs of the plains.
San Martin had the Andes to cross with his army, and this was a task like that which Hannibal and Bonaparte had accomplished in the Alps. He set out himself at the head of his cavalry on the 17th of January, 1817, the infantry and artillery advancing by a different route. The men of the army carried their own food, consisting of dried meat and parched corn, and depots of food were established at intervals along the route, the difficulty of transporting provision-trains being thus avoided. The field-pieces were slung between mules or dragged on sledges made of tough hide, and were hoisted or lowered by derricks, when steep places were reached. Some two thousand cattle were driven along to add to their food supply.
Thus equipped, San Martin's army set out on its difficult passage of the snow-topped Andes. He had previously sent over guerilla bands whose active movements thoroughly deceived the royalist generals as to his intended place of crossing. Onward went the cavalry, spurred to extraordinary exertion by the fact that provisions began to run short. The passes to be traversed, thirteen thousand feet high and white with perpetual snow, formed a frightful route for the horsemen of the plains, yet they pushed on over the rugged mountains, with their yawning precipices, so rapidly as to cover three hundred miles in thirteen days. The
infantry advanced with equal fortitude and energy, and early in February the combined forces descended the mountains and struck the royalist army at the foot with such energy that it was soon fleeing in a total rout. So utterly defeated and demoralized were the royalists that Santiago, the capital, was abandoned and was entered by San Martin at the head of his wild gauchos and host of refugees on the 15th of February. His funds at this time consisted of the two doubloons remaining in his pocket, while he had no military chest, no surgeons nor medicines for his wounded, and a very small supply of the indispensable requisites of an army.
About all he had to depend on was the patriotism of his men and their enthusiasm over their brilliant crossing of the Andes and their easy victory over their foes.
For the time being Chili was free. The royalists had vanished and the patriots were in full possession. Thirty or more years before, a bold Irishman, bearing the name of O'Higgins, had come to Chili, where he quickly rose in position until he was given the title of Don Ambrosio, and attained successively the ranks of field-marshal of the royal army, baron, marquis, and finally viceroy of Peru. His son, Don Bernardo, was a man of his own type, able in peace and brilliant in war, and he was now made supreme dictator of Chili, an office which San Martin had refused. The banished patriots were brought home from their desert island, the royalists severely punished, and a new army was organized to dislodge
the fragment of the Spanish army which still held out in the south.
On the 15th of February, 1818, the anniversary of the decisive victory of the “Liberating Army of the Andes,” O'Higgins declared the absolute independence of Chili. A vote of the people was taken in a peculiar manner.
Two blank books were opened for signatures in every city, the first for independence, the second for those who preferred the rule of Spain. For fifteen days these remained, and then it was found that the first books were filled with names, while the second had not a single name. This vote O'Higgins declared settled the question of Chilian freedom.
The Spaniards did not think so, for Abascal, the energetic viceroy of Peru, was taking vigorous steps to win Chili back for the crown. Three months before he had received a reinforcement of three thousand five hundred veterans from Spain, and these he sent to southern Chili to join the forces still in arms. United, they formed an army of about six thousand, under General Osorio, the able commander who had subdued Chili in 1814. It was evident that the newly declared independence of Chili was to be severely tried.
In fact, on the first meeting of the armies it seemed overthrown. On the 19th of March San Martin's army, while in camp near Talca, was unexpectedly and violently attacked by the royalist troops, the onslaught being so sudden and furious, and the storm of cannon and musket shot so rapid
and heavy, that the patriot troops were stricken with panic, their divisions firing at each other as well as at the enemy. Within fifteen minutes the whole army was in full flight. The leaders bravely sought to stop the demoralized troops, but in vain, O'Higgins, though severely wounded, throwing hiinself before them without effect. Nothing could check them, and the defeat became in large measure a total rout.
When news of this disaster reached Santiago utter consternation prevailed. Patriots hastily gathered their valuables for flight; carriages of those seeking to leave the country thronged the streets; women wrung their hands in wild despair; the funds of the treasury were got ready to load on mules; the whole city was in a state of terrible anxiety.
Several days passed before it was known what had become of San Martin. Then news arrived that he was at San Fernando at the head of the right wing, three thousand strong. These had escaped the panic on account of two divisions of Osorio's army mistaking each other for the enemy and firing into their own ranks. In the confusion that ensued the right wing was led unbroken from the field. Also a dashing young cavalry officer named Rodriguez had done good work in checking the flight of the fugitives, and in a brief time had organized a regiment which he named the "Hussars of Death.”
Six days after the defeat General O'Higgins made his appearance in Santiago. He was badly