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General San Martin
San Martin, the ideal liberator of South America from the long and tyrannical rule of Spanish viceroys, was one of the most remarkable men of his own or of any age. From a moral point of view he stands in the first rank of the world's heroes. "He was not a man," said a student of South American history, "he was a mission." Cincinnatus, after serving the state, returned to the plough, and Washington to the retirement of Mt. Vernon; but San Martin for the peace of his country went into voluntary exile. His country crowned him dead and made for his dead body a tomb of Peace, surrounded by the marble angels of the arts of human progress, more beautiful in its meaning than any tomb on the Appian Way, and one of the most wonderful memorials on earth.
The Battle of Maipu, of which San Martin was the victor, completed the emancipation of South America, and made the achievements of Bolivar easy in the Northern Andes. Said the hero of Maipu--and what words of man under the circumstances ever equalled the declaration in moral sublimity!--
"The presence of a fortunate general, however disinterested he may be, is dangerous to a newly founded state. I have achieved the independence of Peru: I have ceased to be a public man!" He died at Boulogne, France, in poverty, after nearly thirty years of exiled and fameless life. His career seems like that of some hero of fiction, such as the imagination of a Plato, a Bacon, or a Sir Thomas More might create for an Utopia. He is the one perfectly unselfish man in history, and his fame has grown steadily in Spanish America, since Argentina built a tomb-palace for his remains, and decreed for him one of the most splendid funerals ever known to the Western World.
General Don Joachim de la Pezuela, the last Spanish ruler of Peru, was the forty-fourth viceroy from Pizarro. "The Indians," he said, "love the memory of the Incas--the country is ready to rise." The banner of Argentina was putting to flight the condors of the Andes, and the last viceroy saw in its advance the end of Spain in the New World.
The Argentine hero who had created the army of the Andes for universal liberty was San Martin. He was born on February 25, 1778, at Yapeyu, in Misiones. His father was a South American officer under the last rule of the viceroys. The family removed to Spain in his boyhood, and he became for two years a pupil in the Seminary of Nobles, at Madrid. At the age of twelve he became a cadet, wearing a uniform of blue and white, which he made in manhood the colors of South American emancipation.
He fought in the war against the Moors, and in the campaign against France, in 1793. In 1800 he took part in the so-called "War of the Oranges against Portugal."
In the early part of the nineteenth century there began to be formed in Spain secret societies for the purpose of advancing the cause of liberty and human progress. One of these associations, called Caballeros Racionales, became very influential, and corresponded with the society of the Grand Reunion of America (Gran Reunion Americana) of London. This society was pledged "to recognize no government in America as legitimate unless it was elected by the free will of the people." San Martin joined this society. The London society was established by Miranda, the Spanish patriot, a friend of Bolivar, by whose inspirations San Martin became a disciple of liberty, and whose dreams he fulfilled long after the patriot was dead.
San Martin won honors and a medal in the Spanish resistance to the victorious eagles of Napoleon. In that campaign he fought under a banner of the Sun, having this motto in Latin: "We bear this aloft dispersing the clouds." He made this banner the flag of the army of the Andes.
In 1812, San Martin, as a disciple of the principles of the Spanish apostle of liberty, Miranda, returned to South America, and in March went to Buenos Ayres, and offered his sword to the Argentine patriots for the cause of independence. The country was in revolution against the Spanish rule. San Martin was not only an American, but a Creole; he was unselfish, truthful, the soul of honor, and of all men in the world the one that would seem best fitted to lead the cause of the South American patriots. He was destined to become "the greatest of the Creoles of the New World."
Soon after the arrival of San Martin in Buenos Ayres he married Dona Remedios Esculada, and Mercedes, a daughter of this marriage, shared with him his voluntary exile after the conquest of Peru.
Appointed at once to a high military position under the Argentine Government, he conceived the plan of creating an army of the Andes, of crossing the Cordillera, and of driving the Spaniards from Chile.
Mendoza, with which Buenos Ayres is now connected by railroad, lies on an elevation under the snowy Cordilleras. San Martin made his military camp here. On January 17, 1817, he began his march up the Andes, one of the most perilous achievements of modern warfare. The summit of the Uspallata Pass, over which the army was to climb, is 12,500 feet above the level of the sea, or 4,000 feet higher than the Pass of St. Bernard.
The 17th, on which the army set forth, was a high holiday in Mendoza. The plaza was gay with banners, and the streets with patriotic decorations. The ladies of the city presented an embroidered flag to San Martin. The general, above whose head gleamed the snowy heights of the Andes, ascended a platform in the plaza, and waved this flag over his head, and shouted:
"Soldiers, behold the first flag of independence!"
There arose a great shout of "Viva la Patria!"
"Soldiers, swear to sustain it."
"We swear," answered the army, as one man.
Salvos of musketry and artillery followed. Mitre, in his "Life of San Martin," as presented to us in the condensed translation of Pilling, eloquently says that this flag rose "for the redemption of one-half of South America, passed the Cordilleras, waved in triumph along the Pacific coast, floated over the foundations of two new republics, aided in the liberation of another, and after sixty-four years served as a funeral pall to the body of the hero, who thus delivered it to the care of the immortal Army of the Andes."
The mountains rose above the departing army, piercing the sky in the fading day. Up they climbed, putting to flight the condors. The men suffered greatly from the rarefaction of the air. Even many of the animals of the expedition perished. Out of 9,261 mules, only 4,300 ever reached Chile.
"What spoils my sleep," said San Martin, on surveying the Andes at the outset of the expedition, "is not the strength of the enemy, but how to pass those immense mountains." He might well say that, for before him gleamed peaks 21,000 feet high.
The army, with all its sufferings, triumphantly crossed the lower passes of the Cordilleras, and entered Chile. This march decided the fate of South America.
The army encamped upon the Sierra of Chacubuco, from the summit of which the whole of the magnificent country could be seen. Here rose the flag of liberation. The flower of the Spanish army, inferior in numbers, was near. On February 12th a battle was fought, and the royalists were defeated with a loss of 500 men killed, 600 taken prisoners, and all of their artillery.
The way was now open to Santiago, the capital. The army entered the city amid the acclamations of the people. The Chilian assembly met and offered San Martin the office of governor, with dictatorial power. But San Martin was not fighting for power, or honor, but for the liberties of his countrymen, and he nobly declined the office.
The guns of Buenos Ayres roared, and the city was turned into a festival when the news of the triumph of the army of the Andes reached the coast. The Argentine Government offered to bestow on San Martin its highest honors, but the latter declined them, lest his work should be retarded and his motives of life should be misconstrued. It awarded to his daughter a life pension, which he devoted to her education.
Santiago offered to him 10,000 ounces of gold. He refused the splendid purse which he had so well won, but recommended that the money be used for the cause of popular education in the form of a public library.
Chile and Argentina now formed an alliance in defence of their liberties.
But the royal army was gathering force and unity. On March 31st, it numbered 5,500 men, and was prepared to make a final stand against the army of liberation.
There is a river in Chile which divides the country, named the Maipo, or Maipu. On its banks the royal army encamped on the first days of April, 1818. The patriot army was close at hand, and each army felt that the battle to follow would decide the fate of the movement for the independence of the South American empire.
It is April 5, 1818. The royal army is ready for action, and the patriots occupy the heights of Loma Blanca, overlooking the plains of the Maipu.
"Do not await a charge to-day," ordered San Martin; "but charge always within fifty paces!"
At the beginning of the action he said,
"I take the sun to witness that the day is ours."
Just then the sun, which had been clouded, shone from the heavens.
The royal army was defeated. That night of May 5th covered their flight, and the War of Independence was won.
San Martin began now to plan the liberation of Peru, and to create a navy for the purpose of commanding the ports of the golden mountains and rich plateaus of the incarial realms.
In August, 1820, he had gathered a patriot force of 4,500 men at Valparaiso, and was ready to embark for the conquest by sea. The army was composed of Argentines and Chilians. A former expedition had made the way of victory clear to the patriots. The fleet left Valparaiso August 21, 1820. The army landed in Peru and began operations near Lima.
San Martin began his Chilian campaign by the liberation of the slaves, whom he afterward found trusty soldiers. He began the Peruvian war by issuing a most noble manifesto to his countrymen, in which he said: "Ever since I came back to my native land, the independence of Peru has been present in my mind."
And again he grandly announced his future policy in nearly these words: "From the time that a government is established by the people of Peru, the army of the Andes will obey its orders."
The army of liberation was as successful in Peru as in Chile. The empire of the viceroys crumbled and fell. Amid the roar of cannon, the shouts of the people, and strewing of flowers, the independence of Peru was proclaimed on July 20, 1821, in the great square of Lima. San Martin, as in Chile, was offered the supreme authority under the title of the Protector of Peru. He made use of the office merely for the pacification of the country. He convened the first Congress in Peru, and to the new government he addressed the words, or words like those, that we have quoted at the beginning of this article. He saw that Bolivar was the man to complete the liberation and bring about the unity of South America. The cause was all to him: he was nothing.
To Bolivar he wrote: "My decision is irrevocable. I have convened the first Congress of Peru. The day of its installation I shall leave for Chile, convinced that my presence is the only obstacle that prevents you from coming to Peru."
He sent to Bolivar a parting gift, saying, "Receive this memento from the first of your admirers, and with my desire that you have the glory of finishing the war for the independence of South America."
The history of chivalry has no match for the character of San Martin. Bolivar united patriotism and vanity; San Martin's glory was self-abnegation. At a banquet where the two were present, Bolivar once offered the following toast: "To the two greatest men in South America--San Martin and myself."
San Martin followed with his toast. "To the speedy end of the war; to the establishment of the republics, and to the health of the Liberator of Colombia!"
The two toasts were photographs. Time is lifting the character of San Martin into its true place among glorious men. He was a man who fought for peace. His life fulfilled his own motto: "Thou shalt be what thou oughtest to be, or else thou shalt be nothing."
On critical occasions, his magnanimous soul rose to the sublimity of this motto, and to the end of his life of glory and poverty he was always able to say, "I have been what I ought!"