Introduction    Causes of the War     Bolivia Declares War    Guano    Battle of Topáter

 the Chilean Navy    The War at Sea    Huáscar's Exploits    The Land War

 The Battle of Arica    The march on Lima    Death of Juan Fanning    Occupation of Peru

Long-term consequences of the war    Timeline of the War of the Pacific





South America before and after The War of the Pacific

The War of the Pacific ( Spanish: Guerra del Pacífico ), sometimes called the Saltpeter War  had its origin in the discovery of rich deposits of nitrates and guano ( The droppings of seabirds, bats, and seals is an effective fertilizer and gunpowder ingredient due to its high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen )




 In the sparely populated Atacama costal desert region of Bolivia,

the Atacama desert is 100 times more arid than California's Death Valley. Bolivia lacked the resources and population to exploit the area and contracted out Chilean companies to carry out development projects.


The lure of guano had already led to one war when Spain had tried and failed to seize the guano rich Chincha Islands in the Chincha Islands War between Spain and Peru and Chile from 1864 - 1866 .


THE nitrate region extends along the narrow desert coast of the Pacific for three hundred and fifty miles. Peru owned the northern one hundred and fifty, and prior to 1866 Bolivia claimed the rest. After the discovery of the precious mineral the industrious and Chileans crowded up the coast, while the Bolivians were shut in behind their high Andes. Chile insisted that her true boundary lay as far north as the 23d degree, and took vigorous measures to safeguard the interests of the Chilean nitrate companies. In 1866 Bolivia reluctantly made a treaty by which the 24th degree was agreed upon as the formal boundary, although the Chilean miners were allowed to continue their operations in the productive regions north of that line and their taxes were not to be in- creased without their government's consent. This treaty gave rise to constant disputes, and as the nitrate, silver, and copper business of the neutral zone became more profitable, the Bolivian government pressed harder for a larger revenue.

The Peruvian government had planned to secure a control of the output by the state purchase and operation of nitrate properties, and such a trust would prove ineffective unless the Bolivian government had a free hand with the Chilean companies. In 1872 Peru and Bolivia made a secret treaty of alliance. Its provisions soon became public, and Chile not unreasonably believed it to be aimed especially at her miners' operating on Bolivian soil. She promptly began purchasing iron-clads. It was a favourite saying of old Marshal Castilla that when Chile bought a battle-ship Peru should buy two, but the Lima government was too poor to follow the good advice, and the fatal year of 1879 -found her naval force inferior to that of her rival.

Andean Tragedy

The War of the Pacific pitted Peru and Bolivia against Chile in a struggle initiated over a festering border dispute. The conflict saw  Chile’s and Peru’s armored warships vying for control of sea lanes and included one of the first examples of the use of naval torpedoes. On land, large armies using the most modern weapons—breech-loading rifles, Gatling guns, and steel-barreled artillery—clashed in battles that left thousands of men dead on the battlefields.

What had proven true in the time of Pizarro, San Martin, and Santa Cruz, was still true — the successful invasion or defence of Peru depended on the control of the Pacific. Whichever power should obtain a naval preponderance would surely get the nitrate territory — a rainless, cropless region where an army must be sustained by supplies brought by sea — and then could attack the other at its capital.

In 1879, Bolivia government proposed a tax on the minerals, Chile occupied the area, prompting Bolivia and Peru to declare war on Chile .The war was fought between Chile and the joint forces of Bolivia and Peru, from 1879 to 1883. Some claim that as Peru exhausted its guano deposits after it's guano ' gold rush ' of 1840- 1879 ( From 1840–1880, Peru exported an estimated 12.7 million tons of guano from its islands with a sale value in the range of £150 million ) it tried to form a new nation in the Atacam region which failed and joined the war on Peru with Bolivia in hopes of gaining Peru's rich sodium nitrate in the Atacama Desert ) .Chile gained substantial mineral-rich territory in the conflict, annexing both the Peruvian province of Tarapacá and the Bolivian province of Litoral, leaving Bolivia as a landlocked country.

Chile had two new iron-clads, the Cochrane and the Blanco, besides two good cruisers and several gun- boats. The two Peruvian iron-clads, the Huascar and the Independencia, were older, though their speed was superior.


 Causes of the War



Hilarión Daza                            Aníbal Pinto


In 1878, the Bolivian government of President Hilarión Daza decreed a backdated 1874 tax increase on Chilean companies, over protests by the Chilean government of President Aníbal Pinto that the border treaty did not allow such increase. When the Antofagasta Nitrate & Railway Company refused to pay, the Bolivian government threatened to confiscate its property.


Chile responded by sending a warship to the area in December 1878. Bolivia announced the seizure and auction of the company for February 14, 1879. Chile in turn threatened that such action would render the border treaty null and void. On the day of the auction, 2000 Chilean soldiers arrived, disembarked and claimed the port city of Antofagasta without a fight.


Chilean army


Bolivia Declares War 




Now facing a territorial issue, Bolivia declared war a week later, and invoked its secret alliance with Peru: the Defensive Treaty of 1873. The Peruvian government was determined to honor its alliance with Bolivia to contain what they perceived as Chile's expansionist ambitions in the region, but was concerned that Allied forces were not in shape to face the Chilean Army; a peaceful resolution was preferred. Peru attempted to mediate by sending a top diplomat to negotiate with the Chilean government. Chile requested neutrality and Peru declined, citing the now public treaty with Bolivia. Chile responded by breaking diplomatic contact and formally declaring war on both Allies on April 5, 1879. Peru thus found itself drawn into the war in spite of not being a party to the original dispute.


Argentina was invited to join the Alliance since it had a territorial dispute with Chile regarding the region of Patagonia, and was also wary of Chilean position. Its entry in the war seemed possible and would have provided an advantage to the Allies. Argentina, however, decided to pursue a peaceful settlement to its own separate dispute and resulted in Chile renouncing her ambition over a million square miles of Patagonian territory claimed by Argentina.

Since most of the workers on that part of Bolivia were Chilean, they felt the tax was unfair and demanded the Chilean government to intervene. This eventually led to diplomatic crisis and war which revealed Peru's secret alliance with Bolivia.


Guano and Saltpeper 


The dry climate of the area had permitted the accumulation and preservation of huge quantities of high-quality nitrate deposits — guano and saltpeter — over thousands of years. The discovery during the 1840s of their use as fertilizer and as a key ingredient in explosives made the area strategically valuable; Bolivia, Chile and Peru had suddenly found themselves sitting on the largest reserves of a resource that the world needed for economic and military expansion. Not long after this discovery, world powers were directly or indirectly vying for control of the area's resources. The USA had passed legislation in 1856 enabling its citizens to take possession of unoccupied islands containing guano. Spain had seized Peruvian territory, but was repulsed by Peru and Chile fighting as allies during the Chincha Islands War. Heavy British capital investment drove development through the area, although Peru later nationalized guano exploitation during the 1870s.


In any case, an unresolved border issue would come to the forefront in the next few decades.



The restored British built Monitor Huáscar built for the Peruvian

navy, captured by Chile, at Talcahuano, Chile today


The War Begins


The Chileans opened the war on the ocean by blockading the Peruvian ports in the extreme south, but Miguel Grau, the able sea- man and intrepid fighter who commanded the Peruvian fleet, at once attacked the Chilean cruisers which were lying off Iquique. The Huascar rammed and sank the Esmeralda, but while his other iron- clad was pursuing the Covadonga, she ran upon the rocks and was lost. This was in reality a deathblow to Peru, but the gallant Grau devotedly determined to see what his single ship, rapidly manoeuvred, could do to make unsafe the embarkation of a Chilean army. For four months he terrorised the coast from Antofagasta to Valparaiso.

Bolivia, after several short-lived governments, stood unprepared to face the Chilean Army by itself. From the beginning of the war it became clear that, in a difficult desert war, control of the sea would provide the deciding factor. Bolivia had no navy and Peru faced an economic collapse that left its navy and army without proper training or budget. Most of its warships were old and unable to face battle, leaving only the ironclads Huáscar and Independencia ready. In contrast, Chile – although in the middle of its own economic crisis – was better prepared, counting on its modern navy supplemented by a well-trained and equipped army.


Battle of Topáter 


The Battle of Topáter, on 23 March 1879 was the first of the war. On their way to occupy Calama, 554 Chilean troops and cavalry were opposed by 135 Bolivian soldiers and civilian residents led by Dr. Ladislao Cabrera, dug in at two destroyed bridges; calls to surrender were rejected before and during the battle. Outnumbered and low on ammunition, most of the Bolivian force withdrew, except for a small group of civilians led by Colonel Eduardo Abaroa, that fought to the end.


Further ground battles would not take place until the war at sea was resolved.



The Chilean battleship Almirante Cochrane


The Chilean Navy 


Under the direction of Rear Admiral Juan Williams, the Chilean Navy and its powerful battleships — Almirante Cochrane and Blanco Encalada — started to operate on the Bolivian and Peruvian coast. The port of Iquique was blockaded, while Huanillos, Mollendo, Pica and Pisagua were bombarded and port facilities burned. Rear Admiral Williams hoped that, by disrupting commerce and especially saltpeter exports or weapons imports, the Allies' war effort would be weakened and the Peruvian Navy would be forced into a decisive showdown.



The Blanco Encalada , sunk in 1891


The smaller, but effective, Peruvian Navy did not oblige. Under the command of Admiral Miguel Grau aboard Huáscar, Peru staged a series of blockade runs and harassment raids deep into Chilean waters. The plan was to disrupt Chilean operations, draw the enemy fleet back to the South while avoiding at all costs a fight against superior forces; as a consequence the Chilean invasion would be delayed, the Allies would be free to supply and reinforce their troops along the coast, and weapons would still flow into Peru from the North.


 The War at Sea


The Naval Battle of Chipana, the first of the war at sea, took place off Huanillos on 12 April 1879, as Peruvian corvettes Unión and Pilcomayo found Chilean corvette Magallanes on its way to Iquique. After a two-hour running artillery duel, Unión suffered engine problems; the pursuit was called off and Magallanes escaped with minor damage.


The Esmeralda versus the Huascar


In the Naval Battle of Iquique of 21 May 1879, Peruvian ships Huáscar and Independencia lifted the blockade of Iquique by Esmeralda and Covadonga, two of Chile's oldest wooden vessels. Huáscar sank Esmeralda, while Covadonga forced the larger Independencia to run aground at Punta Gruesa (some historians consider this a different engagement and call it the Battle of Punta Gruesa)



 Peruvian historical drama about the Naval Battle of Iquique

Having gained control of the sea, the Chilean Army started the invasion of Peru. Bolivia, unable to recover the Litoral province, joined the Peruvian defence of Tarapacá and Tacna. However many Bolivians would abandon their allies in the heat of the battle, demoralizing both armies.

 The Chilean Navy lost a wooden corvette and elevated Captain Arturo Prat of Esmeralda as a martyr to their cause: he died leading a handful of sailors boarding the ironclad after it had rammed his ship. The Peruvian Navy lost a powerful ironclad frigate and saw Admiral Miguel Grau's renown grow among friend and foe as a result of his actions: he rescued the survivors of Esmeralda after the battle and wrote condolences to the widow of Captain Prat. Significantly, Huáscar remained the only Peruvian vessel capable of holding off the invasion.


The Huascar



 video of the Huáscar

The Huáscar's Exploits 




For six months, the Huáscar roamed the seas and effectively cut off the Chilean supply lines. In an impressive display of naval mastery, Captain Grau was able to hold off the entire Chilean Navy, recover captured Peruvian vessels and severely damage many ports used by the Chilean Navy. These actions are known as the "Correrías del Huáscar" (Huáscar's Exploits) and as a result Grau was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral. A brief listing of these actions include:


Captain Grau of the Huascar

  • Damaged ports of Cobija, Tocopilla, Platillos and Mejillones, Huanillos, Punta de Lobo, Chanaral, Huasco, Caldera, Coquimbo & Tatal
  • Sank 16 Chilean vessels
  • Damaged Chilean vessels Blanco Encalada, Abtao, Magallanes, and Matías Cousiño
  • Captured Chilean vessels Emilia, Adelaida Rojas, E. Saucy Jack, Adriana Lucía, Rimac, and Coquimbo
  • Recovered Peruvian vessels Clorinda and Caquetá
  • Destroyed artillery batteries of Antofagasta
  • Destroyed Antofagasta-Valparaiso communications cable

The whole Chilean fleet, consequently, concentrated only on one objective: To hunt and destroy the Huascar .It took the Chilean Navy a full day of sailing with six ships in order to corner the Húascar. Soon the Huascar, armed with four guns and one Gattling, would engage in one of the most fierce and unequal naval encounters against two powerful Chilean battleships protected by double armor and provided with an artillery of 42 guns, six machine-guns and eight torpedo-tubes.After the Huascar was trapped nearly two hours of bloody combat ensued with their Chilean battleships Blanco Encalada, Covadonga and Cochrane to cause her to founder with 76 artillery hits in the Naval Battle of Angamos on 8 October 1879. The dead included Admiral Grau.

With the capture of Huáscar, the naval campaign was over. With the exception of local skirmishes, Chile would control the sea for the duration of the war.

The Chileans were now in absolute control of the sea, and could land an army when and where they pleased.The Bolivian sea-coast, inhabited almost exclusively by Chilean miners, and inaccessible over- land from Bolivia proper, had fallen into Chile's hands at the opening of the war, but Grau's success in immobilising the Chilean navy had been taken advantage of by the Peruvians to ship nine thousand troops to their own nitrate province, where they could conveniently attack the Chileans who occupied the Bolivian territory to their south, or defend their own most valuable piece of property. But although this army was in Peruvian territory the naval victory of the Chileans isolated it almost completely.


On 2 November 1879, naval bombardment and amphibious assaults were carried out at the small port of Pisagua and the Junín Cove –some 500 km North of Antofagasta. At Pisagua, several landing waves totaling 2,100 troops attacked beach defenses held by 1,160 Allies and took the town; the landing at Junín was smaller and almost unsuccessful. By the end of the day, General Erasmo Escala and a Chilean army of 10,000 were ashore and moving inland, isolating the province of Tarapacá from the rest of Peru and cutting off General Juan Buendía's 1st Southern Army from reinforcements.


 The Land War


Marching south towards the city of Iquique with 6,000 troops, the Chilean Army held off a sudden 7,400-strong Allied counterattack at the Battle of San Francisco on 19 November, with high casualties to both sides. The Bolivian force with a weak leadership withdrew during the battle, forcing the Peruvian Army to retreat to the city of Tarapacá. Four days later, the Chilean Army captured Iquique with little resistance.


Escala sent a detachment of 3,600 soldiers, cavalry and artillery to wipe out the rest of the Peruvian Army, estimated at fewer than 2,000 poorly trained and demoralized men. The Battle of Tarapacá, on 27 November, took place as the Chilean attack found the Peruvian force in better morale and at almost double the number expected. Led by Colonel Andrés Cáceres, the Peruvian Army routed the Chilean expedition, which left behind significant quantities of supplies and ammunition. The Peruvian victory at Tarapacá would have little impact on the war. General Buendía's army, down to 4,000, retreated further north to Arica by 18 December.



Narciso Campero


A new Chilean expedition left Pisagua and on 24 February 1880 disembarked nearly 12,000 soldiers at Pacocha Bay. Commanded by General Manuel Baquedano, this force isolated the provinces of Tacna and Arica destroying any practical hope for reinforcements from Peru. On the outskirts of Tacna combatants from the three contending countries met on what would later be known as The Battle of El Alto de la Alianza. Commanding the allied army was Narciso Campero the Bolivian president himself. In the subsequent carnage Chilean artillery proved superior. As a result Chile wiped out most of Peru's professional army, after the battle Bolivia withdrew completely from the war.




The Battle of Arica 


On 7 June, some 4,000 Chilean forces backed by the Navy successfully attacked a Peruvian garrison in Arica, which was under the command of Colonel Francisco Bolognesi. Chilean forces, directed by Colonel Pedro Lagos, had to run up the Morro de Arica (a steep and tall seaside hill) facing 2,000 Peruvian troops commanded by Colonel Bolognesi.



Francisco Bolognesi Cervantes a Peruvian military hero


The assault became known as the Battle of Arica, which turned out to be one of the most tragic and at the same time the most emblematic event of the war: Chile suffered 479 mortal casualties, while almost 900 Peruvians lost their lives, including Colonel Bolognesi himself.He commanded the Peruvian forces surrounded in Arica by Chilean troops following the Chilean victory at Tacna. He organized and led a spirited defense of the port city by about 1,600 men against over 5,300 Chilean troops with extensive naval support.

When Chilean messengers demanded surrender of Arica because of their 3 to 1 numerical superiority, he replied, "Tengo deberes sagrados que cumplir y los cumpliré hasta quemar el último cartucho" ("I have sacred duties to fulfill, and I will fulfill them until I fire the last round"). The expression "hasta quemar el último cartucho" ("Until the last round is fired") has passed into the Spanish language.

On June 7, 1880, a Chilean assault took Arica at a cost of 474 troops. Almost 1,000 of the Peruvian defenders, including Colonel Bolognesi, were killed in defense of the town or in subsequent actions against the Peruvian prisoners.

Bolognesi's sons Enrique and Augusto also fought in the War of the Pacific, and died later, during the Battle of San Juan and the Battle of Miraflores in Lima. This battle was especially bloody since most Chileans died because of landmines and with bullets running low most of the Peruvians deaths were in the hands of Corvo-wielding berserked Chileans. The multiple cuts on the corpses made many speculate about execution of prisoners, but most authors say that the Captains were actually holding back the enraged Chileans to prevent the deaths of routed soldiers.



aftermath of the battle at Arica


Other high ranking Peruvian officers who also perished were Colonel Alfonso Ugarte, and Colonel Mariano Bustamante, his Chief of Detail. These three Peruvian officers belonged to the group that, on the eve of the battle, had gallantly rejected an offer to surrender the garrison to the Chilean army, and prompted Colonel Bolognesi to vow to the Chilean emissary that he was to defend the garrison to the last shot.


Since the Morro de Arica was the last bulwark of defence for the allied troops standing in the city, its occupation by Chile has been of utmost historical relevance for both countries.


 The march on Lima


In October 1880, the United States unsuccessfully mediated in the conflict aboard USS Lackawanna at Arica Bay, attempting to end the war with diplomacy. Representatives from Chile, Peru, and Bolivia met to discuss the territorial disputes, yet both Peru and Bolivia rejected the loss of their territories to Chile and abandoned the conference. Chile demanded the formal cession of the nitrate territory and an indemnity.

The Peruvians refused such hard terms, hoping against hope for foreign intervention. This passive obstinacy enraged the Chilean government, and after a delay of several months it was determined to capture the capital and dictate terms at Lima. Late in December, 1880, a splendidly equipped army of twenty-six thousand men landed a short distance south of Lima and marched on the city. Only a few fragments of the Peruvian regular army had survived the defeats in the south, but the population rallied en masse to resist the invaders. At Chorrillos, a few miles south of Lima, the militia waited behind a hastily constructed line of defence. The assault of the Chilean regulars was irresistible; four thousand Peruvians perished, and as many more were taken prisoners. The survivors fell back on a second line of defence, only six miles from Lima, and were there defeated in a second battle in which two thousand were killed and wounded. The Chilean losses in the two fights reached five thou- sand. On the following day the mayor of Lima formally surrendered the city, and on the 17th of January the Chilean army took possession. The helpless citizens were required to make up a contribution of a million dollars a month; the customs duties were confiscated, and the Chileans violated all the rules of civilised warfare by wantonly destroying the great and valuable public library — the best in South America.


Pierola escaped to Guamanga, but succeeded in rallying no forces. He gave it up and went to Europe. It became necessary to organise a government which could treat for peace. The citizens of Lima, with the consent of Chile, made Garcia Calderon provisional president, but when the discussion of terms began the Chileans repeated their demand for the unconditional cession of the nitrate territory, and Calderon did not dare assent. The enemy sent him prisoner to Santiago, while Iglesias in the northern departments, Caceres in the centre, and Carrillo in the south each kept out) an independent resistance with a few miltia. The Chileans made no serious attempt to conquer the interior, contenting themselves with pocketing the Peruvian customs revenues. This situation lasted two years and a half, until Iglesias came to the concision that peace could only be obtained by complete submission.



Half American Juan Fanning


The Death of Juan Fanning 


Regular Peruvian army and poorly armed citizens set up to defend Lima. However, Peruvian forces were defeated in the battles of San Juan and Miraflores ( During the battle, Peruvian naval officer Captain Juan Fanning , Fanning, the son of American businessman John Fanning and Peruvian lady Micaela Garcia, became a national hero for leading a spectacular infantry charge of marines that nearly outflanked the enemy. Fanning's brigade caused some Chilean casualties until running out of ammunition, then continued to fight with knife and bayonet until Fanning was mortally wounded. 400 of Fanning's 524 men were killed during the charge) , and the city of Lima fell in January 1881 to the forces of General Baquedano. The southern suburbs of Lima, including the upscale beach area of Chorrillos, were looted. Every civilian was forced to surrender their valuables or suffer a bitter end. This desperate order was issued to raise money to pay the wages of the soldiers and prevent an uprising (The wages were late because most of the Chilean politicians had lost interest in a war fought so far from home).


 Occupation of Peru


Chilean army marching on Lima, Peru 1881


With little effective Peruvian central government remaining, Chile pursued an ambitious campaign throughout Peru, especially on the coast and the central Sierra, penetrating as far north as Cajamarca. Even in these circumstances, Chile was not able to completely subjugate Peru. As war booty, Chile confiscated the contents of the Peruvian National Library from Lima and transported thousands of books (including many centuries-old original Spanish, Peruvian and Colonial volumes) to Santiago de Chile, along with much capital stock. These books were partially returned (4000 of 30 000) to Peru in November of 2007


Peruvian resistance continued for three more years, with apparent U.S. encouragement. The leader of the resistance was General Andrés Cáceres (nicknamed the Warlock of the Andes), who would later be elected president of Peru. Under his intelligent lead, Peruvian militia forces inflicted painful defeats upon the Chilean army in the battles of Pucara, Marcavalle and Concepcion. However, after a substantial defeat Battle of Huamachuco, there was little further resistance. Finally, on 20 October 1883, Peru and Chile signed the Treaty of Ancón, by which Tarapacá province was ceded to the victor. On its part, Bolivia was forced to cede Antofagasta .


Long-term consequences of the war 


The War of the Pacific left traumatic scars on Bolivian and Peruvian society. For Bolivians, the loss of the territory which they refer to as the litoral (Spanish for "littoral," the coast) remains a deeply emotional issue and a practical one, as was particularly evident during the internal natural gas riots of 2004. Popular belief attributes much of the country's problems to its landlocked condition; conversely, recovering the seacoast is seen as the solution to most of these. However, the real issue is the fear of being too dependent on Chile or Peru (Both nations are not trusted by Bolivians). In 1932, this was a contributing factor to the Chaco War with Paraguay, over territory controlling access to the Atlantic Ocean through the Paraguay River. In recent decades, all Bolivian Presidents have made it their policy to pressure Chile for sovereign access to the sea. Diplomatic relations with Chile have been severed since 17 March 1978, in spite of considerable commercial ties. Currently, the leading Bolivian newspaper "El Diario" still features at least a weekly editorial on the subject.


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