Battle of Huamachuco
Battles involving Chile
Battles involving Peru
1883 in Chile
1883 in Peru
Battles involving Chile Forum
The Battle of Huamachuco was fought on July 10, 1883, and it was the last major battle of the War of the Pacific. The Chilean soldiers led by Colonel Alejandro Gorostiaga decisively defeated the Peruvian army commanded by General Andres Caceres near the town of Huamachuco. This Chilean victory effectively eliminated Caceres' Ejercito de la Sierra, ending any real threat or resistance in the Peruvian Andes. The Peruvian defeat paved the way for the Treaty of Ancon that finally put an end to the war. Also, one of Peru's greatest heroes, Colonel Leoncio Prado, died as a consequence of this battle.
The defeats suffered by the Chilean Army at Marcavalle, Pucara and Concepcion, in addition to the decimation of their troops due to poor sanitation, convinced the Chilean High Command of the need to completely abandon the Central Andes. This retreat was made possible by the Chilean victory at Tarma Tambo on July 15, 1882. By that time, the occupation troops had been reduced to about half their original size. Peruvian General Andres Caceres controlled the Mantaro valley and had even briefly possessed the city of Huancayo. He established his command in Tarma and busied himself reorganizing his army. By January of 1883, Caceres had raised his troops to 3.200 men well-armed and equipped, and commanded central Peru.
Faced with this threat to the peace negotiations, Admiral Patricio Lynch, the Chilean Commander-in-Chief, decided to send a new force against General Caceres. This new army comprised three divisions, under the command of Colonels Garcia, del Canto and Arriagada. The Chilean army was well armed, and had learned the lessons of previous forays into the high Andes. Their plan was to surround and corner the Peruvians to force them into a conventional battle. Soon after they captured the strategic city of Jauja and on May 5 they reunited the forces in the city of Chicla. Faced with this grave threat, the Peruvian army retreated north.
On May 30 the Peruvian army arrived at Cerro de Pasco, with the Chilean divisions under Colonels del Canto and Garcia in close pursuit. Under those circumstances, the Peruvians continued to retreat into the high Andes. By the third week of June the Peruvians were in critical condition. The Chileans had almost cornered them. On June 22 General Caceres ordered a retreat via the Llanganuco pass, located at an altitude of over 6,000 meters. Thanks to this risky maneuver he managed to evade the main Chilean force. After many more hardships, on July 5 the Peruvian army arrived to Tulpo, near Huamachuco. There, general Caceres learned that the Chilean Colonel Alejandro Gorostiaga was occupying that town, isolated from the main body of the Chilean army. Another enemy group was advancing from the rear to reinforce him in the town and to help push the Peruvians towards Cajamarca. Besides, this second group carried an ammunition supply for Gorostiaga.
Caceres decided to try and destroy this reinforcement before it could reach Gorostiaga's division, but Chilean scouts were on the alert and the surprise failed. At that point, the Peruvian general called a war council and the decision was taken to stop retreating and try to destroy the Chilean forces occupying the town.
On July 8, 1883 the Peruvian forces - about 1,440 soldiers, plus a few hundreds of indian guerrillas called montoneras - took positions on Cuyulga hill and on the facing Purrubamba hill, both overlooking the city. The Peruvians were armed with Peabody and Remington rifles, but didn't have much ammunition or bayonets. Originally General Caceres divided his troops, with half on the Cuyulga hill and the rest on the left of it, to try to cut the enemy from behind. Colonel Gorostiaga as soon as he saw the Peruvians on the top of the hills, immediately gathered all his troops and evacuated the city, taking position in the Sazon hill, a perfect defensive position, steep and with a very difficult access facing the Cuyulga, that sported some Inca ruins that were to be used as parapets.
When the Peruvians saw that Gorostiaga had moved out, they moved into the town and took control of it, effectively cutting off the Chilean escape route. Later, on the 8th and all through the 9th there were a few artillery exchanges, but the final Peruvian assault was reserved for the early hours of the 10th. Caceres' plan was to initiate the attack by destroying his enemy's most vulnerable position, southeast of Sazon hill. As the Chileans noticed the Peruvian advance, rapidly moved their vanguard down the hill to try to contain the menace and counter-attacked the right enemy flank on Cuyulga hill. Two companies of the Chilean Zapadores Regiment managed to get down the Sazon heading for the Peruvian positions on Santa Barbara hill.
Caceres responded by sending two companies of his Junin and Jauja regiments. These troops found fierce opposition and got stuck in the area. He also sent forward a few companies of the Cazadores de Concepcion and Marcavalle regiments seeking to surround the Chilean troops, by then in retreat. Col. Gorostiaga tried to stop this evolving movement by sending a company of the Concepcion Battalion, under Lieutenant Luis Dell'Orto, to face the attack of the Peruvian Colonel Astete division. One after another the Chilean companies entered into battle at the same rate the Peruvian regiments did. For a moment both armies were on equal footing, while the Chilean right wing was defended by one company of the Talca Battalion facing the troops of General Manuel Caceres.
Outnumbered, the Chilean forces were forced to retreat to their own lines under heavy Peruvian attack. Little by little the Peruvians started to push the full enemy line back up onto the Sazon summit. The Chilean artillery was silenced and regrouped on the left of the Chilean lines, protected by the cavalry and the Zapadores Regiment, plus troops of the Concepcion and Talca units. The Peruvians almost got to the top of the hill.
After four hours of fighting, Caceres could almost taste victory. Gorostiaga's forces were reduced to defending themselves on their parapets at the very top of the Sazon. It was at that moment that the Peruvians started to run out of ammunition. Facing this fact, Caceres made a fatal mistake: he ordered his artillery to relocate to the valley facing the hill in order to provide the final coup. Gorostiaga saw this tactical error and ordered a cavalry charge by a squadron of the Cazadores a Caballo Cav. Regiment led by Sergeant Major Sofanor Parra. The defenseless artillery was completely annihilated - the Peruvians lost seven cannons in the process - while the servers were dispersed and killed
Meanwhile, the Chileans quickly reorganized themselves and launched a massive bayonet counter-attack against the outnumbering Peruvian lines. The Peruvians soldiers, who lacked of bayonets, and with almost no ammunition by then, could only defend themselves with the butts of their rifles, as the montoneras had spears to do so. The Chilean downhill counter-attack broke the Peruvian lines as the troops collapsed and started to flee from the battlefield. With this last attack the Chileans achieved the victory and a few moments later, their infantry supported by two cannons took the Peruvian basecamp at Cuyulga hill, ending the battle.
The Peruvians lost 800 men - almost one third of their forces - including a great part of the officers. Among the dead were General Pedro Silva, Chief of Staff Colonel Manuel Tafur, and the four divisional chiefs: German Astete, Manuel Caceres, Juan Gasto and Maximo Tafur. Many more died or were executed after the battle, among them one of Peru's greatest heroes, Colonel Leoncio Prado, due to failing to keep his word to stay out of the war. General Caceres, injured, was able to escape and evade capture. The battle effectively ended all further Peruvian resistance and the Treaty of Ancon, putting an end to the war, was signed just three months later, on October 20, 1883.
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Scheina, Robert (2003). ''Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Caudillo. Dulles, VA: Brasseys.
Thurner, Mark (1997). From Two Republics to One Divided''. Durham: Duke University Press.
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