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War of the Confederation

The War of the Confederation (also known in Peru as the Chilean-Confederation war) (1836 - 1839), was a conflict between the Peru-Bolivian Confederation on one side and Chile, Argentina, on the other, fought mostly in the actual territory of Peru and which ended with a Confederate defeat and the dissolution of the Confederacy.


The creation in 1836 of the Peru-Bolivian Confederation by Marshal Andres de Santa Cruz caused great alarm in the neighbouring countries. The potential power of this confederation aroused the opposition of Argentina and, above all, Chile, due not only to its great territorial expanse but also to the perceived threat that such a rich state signified for the area. Diego Portales y Palazuelos, arguably the most important Chilean statesman of the XIX century, who at the time was the power behind president Jose Joaquin Prieto Vial, was very concerned that the new Confederacy would break the regional balance of power and even be a threat to Chilean independence, and so became immediately its enemy.

But that was just one of the reasons behind the war. On a deeper level, both countries were in a heated competition for the control of the commercial routes on the Pacific; and for the Chileans specially, whose relations with independent Peru had already been strained by economic problems centering on the rivalry between their ports of Callao and Valparaiso. For the North-Peruvians also, the Confederacy was viewed as a most serious threat to their economic interests.

Tariff War

The direct conflict between the two countries started with a simple tariff disagreement. In January of 1835 General Felipe Salaverry, then president of Peru, signed a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation with Chile. When President Salaverry was replaced by General Luis Orbegoso in Peru, the treaty was declared null and void on February 14, 1836. In the meanwhile, the Confederacy was already taking form. In order to force Chile to renegotiate, Peru raised its tariff on Chilean wheat from 12 cents to 3 pesos - an increase of over 250%. Chile responded by raising the tariffs on Peruvian sugar by the same amount. The hostilities started to grow until the Mexican minister (ambassador) to Chile offered to mediate in the conflict. Open conflict was averted for the time being.

Freire Expedition

After the victory of the conservative party, former Chilean president General Ramon Freire y Serrano was exiled to Lima. He managed to obtain a small subsidy from the Confederate government to equip a frigate and try to wrestle power from the Prieto administration. The adventure was a quick failure. The sloop Orbegoso was captured by the frigate Monteagudo on July 28, 1836 and became part of the Chilean fleet. In the meantime, Freire who had managed to capture the city of Ancud was defeated and captured himself, being sent this time to the prison-island of Juan Fernandez.

Raid on Callao

The Freire Expedition had a secondary result. Portales decided to take the offensive and staged a surprise raid to prevent further interference by the Confederate government in Chilean internal affairs. He gave command of the small Chilean fleet to the Spanish sailor Victorino Garrido and ordered him to raid the Confederate fleet that was stationed in the port of Callao. Garrido, who arrived with the Aquiles on a good will visit, staged a silent attack on the night of August 21, 1836, managing to capture 3 confederate ships: the Santa Cruz, Arequipeno and Peruviana.

Chilean declaration of war

Instead of immediately going to war, Marshal Andres de Santa Cruz tried to negotiate with Chile. The Chilean Congress sent Mariano Egana as plenipotentiary to negotiate a treaty based on several points: the payments of the outstanding international debts owed by Peru to Chile, the limitation of the outstanding armies, commercial agreements, indemnization to Chile for the Freire Expedition and the dissolution of the Confederation. Santa Cruz agreed to everything but the dissolution. Chile responded by declaring war on December 28, 1836.

International situation

The international situation was not favorable to the Chilean interests. Marshal Santa Cruz and the Confederation had been diplomatically recognized by the principal world powers with interests in the region , while the possible Chilean allies (Argentina and Ecuador) had decided to remain neutral in the conflict.

Argentine declaration of war

Nonetheless, the involvement of Marshal Santa Cruz in Argentina's internal affairs by his continued support to the opponents of caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas, moved this country to also declare war on May 9, 1837, in support of the northern province of Tucuman, who was being threatened by Santa Cruz's forces. Rosas had gotten involved because he wanted control over Bolivia, which formerly had been part of the Viceroyalty de la Plata.

Even though Chile and Argentina were acting against the same perceived threat, both countries went to war independently, due to the intense dislike between Portales and Rosas, and both countries continued to act separatedly throughout the whole course of the conflict. In 1837 Santa Cruz's forces defeated an Argentine army sent to topple him. To aggravate further the Chilean position, Chilean public opinion was totally opposed to a war they did not understand.

Assassination of Portales

The Chilean government, in order to bolster its sagging standing with public opinion, immediately imposed martial law and asked for (and obtained) extraordinary legislative powers from Congress. Early in 1837 a Court Martial Law was approved and given jurisdiction over all citizens for the duration of the war. The opposition to the Prieto administration immediately accused Portales of tyranny, and started a heated press campaign against him personally and the unpopular war in general.

Political and public opposition to war immediately affected the army, fresh still from the purges of the civil war of 1830. On October 4, 1837, Coronel Jose Antonio Vidaurre, commander of the "Maipo" regiment, captured and imprisoned Portales while he was reviewing troops at the army barracks in Quillota. Vidaurre immediately proceeded to attack Valparaiso on the mistaken belief that public opinion opposed to the war would support him and topple the government. Rear Admiral Manuel Blanco Encalada, in charge of the defense, defeated him right outside the port at the Battle of Baron. Captain Santiago Florin, who was in charge of Portales, had him shot when he heard of the news, on October 6, 1837. Most of the conspirators were subsequently captured and executed.

This murder, which was perceived as having been orchestrated by Marshal Santa Cruz, turned the tide of Chilean public opinion. The government derogated Martial law and the country rallied behind the government. The war became a holy cause, and Portales its martyr.

First Campaign

Confederate Naval Campaign

The first stage of the war was fought at sea. Both sides tried to take control of it from the very beginning. The Confederal fleet was composed of the Socabaya, Confederacion and Congreso and it put out to sea on November of 1837. They first attacked the Juan Fernandez garrison, which they captured, liberating the prisoners there. Then they attacked the ports of Talcahuano, San Antonio, Huasco and Caldera.

Chilean Expedition

In the meantime, the Chilean government was preparing an expedition to put a quick end to the conflict. On September of 1837 it sent a fleet carrying a Chilean expeditionary force of approximately 2,800 troops under the command of Admiral Manuel Blanco Encalada and British commander Robert Simpson. The Chilean army landed at Islay in southern Peru in October, 1837, occupying the city of Arequipa after a long and arduous march, during which the Chileans were decimated by disease. But the invading army failed to find the local support that had been led to believe would encounter against the Confederate government. While Admiral Blanco Encalada was immersed in never-ending negotiations with the local leaders, Marshal Santa Cruz quietly surrounded the city with his army and effectively blockaded the invading army inside.

Treaty of Paucarpata

Surrounded and out-manouvred, and following an encounter at Paucarpata with an army under the command of Santa Cruz, Admiral Blanco Encalada was forced to sign a peace treaty. The Treaty of Paucarpata was signed on November 17, 1837, and agreed to the devolution of all captured ships by Chile, the restoration of commercial relations between both nations, the withdrawal of all Chilean troops from Confederate territories and the payment by the Confederacy of the former Peruvian foreign debts with Chile. The Chilean troops were reembarked.

When Admiral Blanco Encalada returned rather ignominiously to Valparaiso with the fleet and the army in December, 1837, the scandal was gigantic. The Chilean government and the Chilean public opinion repudiated the treaty in indignation. Admiral Blanco Encalada as was thrown into jail and tried for high treason, together with his advisor Antonio Jose de Irisarri, who had refused to even return to Chile. Both were eventually acquitted, though Irisarri wisely never returned.

Naval Battle of Islay

After the treaty of Paucarpata had been repudiated, the Chilean government again dispatched its fleet, composed of 5 battleships under the command of Robert Simpson, to disrupt Peruvian commerce. On January 12, 1838 they met a Confederate squadron near the Peruvian port of Islay, on what is known as the Naval Battle of Islay. The Confederate squadron was conformed by the Socabaya, Junin and Fundador under the command of commander Juan Jose Panizo. Simpson attacked but Panizo managed to head him off for several hours until able to escape under the cover of darkness. Both sides claimed victory, but the result was mostly a stalemate that didn't affect the course of the war.

Second Campaign - Chilean Army

By mid-1838 Chile had obtained naval superiority and dispatched General Manuel Bulnes Prieto heading a Chilean army.

Battle of Portada de Guias

Although their advance was delayed by harassment from small groups of Confederate forces, the Chileans were finally able to lay siege to Lima. The first encounter between the two armies was the Battle of Portada de Guias which took place right outside the city of Lima on August 21, 1838. The Chilean army, under the command of General Bulnes, defeated the Confederate garrison loyal to General Orbegoso. The Chilean force occupied Lima at the end of October, 1838 but abandoned it on November 3 on hearing of the approach of a large Bolivian army under General Santa Cruz. The Chileans withdrew by land and sea toward Huacho. In the meantime, the principal citizens had met and called an open congress that proclaimed General Gamarra as Provisional President of Peru.

Naval Battle of Casma

On January 12, 1839 both fleets met in a naval battle at Casma, where the French corsairs fighting on the Confederate side were defeated by Admiral Simpson's Chilean fleet. On that day the Chilean fleet, which was protecting the transports used to movilize the invading Chilean army, were attacked in the port of Casma by the Confederate fleet, composed of the Esmond, Mexicana, Arequipeno and Peru, under the command of French sailor Juan Blanchet. The battle lasted for several hours until the final repulse of the Confederate fleet. During the battle Blanchet was killed and the Confederate ship Arequipeno was sunk, but not before the Chilean fleet had been badly battered. Nonetheless, the resounding defeat of the Confederate fleet at Casma by the smaller Chilean squadron left Chile in absolute control of the southeastern Pacific.

Battle of Buin

However, Santa Cruz failed to exploit the Chilean retreat fully, despite successes in several small skirmishes culminating in the first direct encounter between the bulk of both armies at the Battle of Buin on January 6, 1839. This time Santa Cruz advanced on its enemies and a brief combat happened by the margins of the Santa River. The result was a a major Chilean reverse, which considerably strengthened the position and the morale of the Confederate side.

Battle of Yungay

Marshal Santa Cruz occupied the town of Yungay with the intention to cut the provisions and to strangle the Chilean Expedition. After the favorable Battle of Buin, Santa Cruz was trying to finish with the Chilean Expedition in order to stabilize the internal situation in the country and to avoid any more uprisings against him. Here is where the boldness of General Bulnes could be observed, when instead of retiring and looking for a more suitable position, turned around against Santa Cruz ready to attack.

The Confederate army was completely (and surprisingly) defeated. The Battle of Yungay took place on January 20, 1839. In this battle, the Confederate troops, under the command of Marshal Santa Cruz, waited the Bulnes offensive well defended on the Pan de Azucar hill, near the town of Yungay. The battle started very early on the morning and finished late in the evening. The Confederate troops had over 2,400 casualties (mostly dead) and more than 1,600 soldiers were made prisoners. The Chilean army had about 1,300 dead and 400 injured. After the battle, General Manuel Bulnes was proclaimed as Grand Marshal of Ancash by General Gamarra.


General Bulnes again assumed the initiative. After the crushing defeat on the Confederate Army at Yungay on January 20, the Chileans commenced a second push southward, occupying Lima for the second time in April. Santa Cruz had already fled to Ecuador, and both the war and the short-lived Peru-Bolivian Confederation now came to an end.

On August 25, 1839 General Agustin Gamarra after assuming as president of Peru, officially declared the dissolution of the Confederation and of the North and South-Peruvian Republics, and the merging of these states back into one to be called again Peru.

The Confederate defeat led to the exile of Santa Cruz, first to Guayaquil, in Ecuador, then to Chile and finally to Europe, where he died. The Chilean troops also left, after having achieved the goal of dissolving the Confederation and affirmed General Gamarra as President of Peru.

Nonetheless, General Gamarra decided to pursue the war against Bolivia on his own. He was not against the idea of merging Peru and Bolivia into one political unity, but against the idea of this union being led by Bolivia. He invaded this country, but the Peruvian army was decisively defeated at the Battle of Ingavi on November 20, 1841, where General Gamarra himself was killed. The Bolivian army under General Jose Ballivian then mounted a counter-offensive managing to capture the Peruvian port of Arica. Later, both sides signed a peace in 1842, putting a final end to the war.

See also

Peru-Bolivian Confederation

History of Bolivia

History of Chile

History of Peru

Chincha Islands War

War of the Pacific

Battle of Yungay

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