Sunday, February 12, 2012

February 12, 1817- The Battle of Chacabuco

The Battle of Chacabuco, fought during the Chilean War of Independence, occurred on February 12, 1817. The Army of the Andes of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata led by General Captain José de San Martín defeated the Spanish force led by Rafael Maroto. It was a defeat for the Captain Generalcy of Chile, the Spain-controlled government established after the division of the Viceroyalty of Peru.

San Martín sent his troops down the mountain starting at midnight of the 11th to prepare for an attack at dawn. At dawn his troops were much closer to the Spanish than anticipated, and fought hard and heroically. Soler's troops had to go down a tiny path that proved long and arduous, and took longer than expected. General O’Higgins, supposedly seeing his homeland and being overcome with passion, defied the plan of attack and charged along with his 1,500. What exactly happened in this part of the battle is fiercely debated. O’Higgins claimed that the Spanish stopped their retreat and started advancing towards his troops. He said that if he were to lead his men back up the narrow path and retreat, his men would have been decimated one by one. San Martín saw O’Higgins early advancement and ordered Soler to charge the Spanish flank, which took the pressure off of O’Higgins and allowed his troops to stand their ground.

The firefight then ensued into the afternoon, and the tides turned for the Patriots as Soler captured a key Spanish artillery point. At this point, the Spanish set up a defensive square around the Chacabuco Ranch. O’Higgins charged the center of the Spanish position, and Soler got into place behind the Spanish forces, effectively cutting off any chance of retreat. O’Higgins and his men overwhelmed the Spanish troops and they attempted to retreat but Soler's men cut off their retreat and pushed towards the ranch. Hand to hand combat ensued in and around the ranch until every Spanish soldier was dead or taken captive. 500 Spanish soldiers were killed and 600 taken captive. The Patriot forces only lost twelve men in battle, but an additional 120 lost their lives from wounds suffered during the battle.

One year later, Chile used the anniversary of the battle to declare its independence. The Chilean Declaration of Independence is a document declaring the independence of Chile from the Spanish Empire. It was drafted in January 1818 and approved by Supreme Director Bernardo O'Higgins on February 12, 1818 at Talca, despite being dated in Concepción on January 1, 1818. The ceremony of independence was performed on February 12, 1818, the first anniversary of the Battle of Chacabuco.

The original document, displaying manuscript comments by O'Higgins, was damaged at the Palace of the Real Audiencia of Chile. In 1832, under President José Joaquín Prieto, a new copy was sent to Peru to be signed by O'Higgins, and later by his former ministers, Miguel Zañartu, Hipólito Villegas and José Ignacio Zenteno, who were still living in Chile. This copy was kept at the Palacio de La Moneda until the 1973 Chilean coup d'état, when it was destroyed during the fighting

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