The Crossing of the Andes was one of the most important feats in the Argentine and Chilean wars of independence, in which an Argentine army liberated Chile from Spanish rule, in order to protect their country from possible Spanish incursions.
Starting on 19 January 1817, an army of 5,423 soldiers, led by General Jose de San Martin, crossed the Andes from their camp, El Plumerillo, in the north of today's Mendoza Province, through more than 500 km of mountain ranges up to 4,000 m above mean sea level, in which the temperature could go from 30 °C during the day to −10° C during the night. The crossing took 21 days.
Between 1815 and 1816, Mendoza was practically transformed into a military factory. Its inhabitants participated in the manufacture of gunpowder and ammunition, and learned to make cannons. Expert guides led the army through the mountains. By 1816, General San Martin installed his camp in El Plumerillo, which lay in the northwest of Mendoza Province, 7 km from Mendoza City. San Martin's idea included a complex plan to trick the enemy, spreading rumors that he would cross the Andes by the south, which was the easiest way. The main body of the army crossed the Andes by the difficult passages of Uspallata and Los Patos; they had to travel 500 km through mountain ranges.
Troops and equipment
The Army of the Andes enlisted part of the Army of the North, and a great number of volunteers from Cuyo and former-slaves. They were made up of 5,423 men, who had 22 cannons, 1,129 sabers and 5,000 bayonet guns.
On this occasion, the army used horses and mules. 1,600 battle horses and 10,600 transport mules left the country with the army. Only 800 horses and 3,800 mules returned. It was the first time that the Argentine Army used horseshoes.
The main food of the army was a regional meal called valdiviano. It was prepared with dry meat or charqui, sliced raw onion, and boiling water. The soldiers who carried the food went to rear. They transported 40 tons of charqui, maize cakes, meat, brandy (to counter the nighttime cold), garlic and onion (to deal with the lack of appetite), more than 4,000 cattle for the rest of the campaign, cheese and rum.
On January 19, 1817 the soldiers started the crossing. The Army of the Andes left the camp and started the crossing by the passes of Los Patos and Uspallata. These difficult passages, though, ensured the factor of surprise against the enemy. The crossing lasted 21 days.
The plan was to divide the troops in two columns (main and secondary) and four detachments:
- Main: led by San Martin, Miguel Estanislao Soler and Bernardo O'Higgins; crossed the Andes by the pass of Los Patos.
- Secondary: led by Juan Gregorio de Las Heras, who went through Uspallata.
The main forces reached the other side between 6 and 8 February.
The other detachments were as follows:
- A detachment departed from Mendoza led by Lt.-Col. Cabot, with the goal of invading Coquimbo province, in Chile. After promoting popular uprising in the region, Cabot entered triumphantly on February 15.
- Manuel Belgrano's army helped with a detachment which had to invade the road of Portillo, from San Juan Province, to the north of Mendoza. 130 men, led by Zelada and Davila, had to cross the Andes through Guandacol pass. On February 13, Copaipo fell into their hands.
- With few men, Captain Lemos had to launch a surprise attack on the guards of San Gabriel on February 4, and pretend that the whole army was invading Chile from the north.
- The pass of Planchon was the way taken by Captain General Ramon Freire and his men, who crossed the mountains on February 1.
The Battle of Chacabuco
After the crossing of the Andes, on February 12, the two main bodies of the army, which had travelled through different passages and had met each other in 2 days, attacked and conquered the city of Chacabuco, defeating most of the Spanish forces in Chile.
After the Battle of Chacabuco
Following the liberation of Chile, achieved some months later (see Chilean War of Independence), San Martin's Army Sailed to Peru in order free it and to finally elliminate the possibility of a Spanish attack.
- Cruce de los Andes in the Spanish Wikipedia.
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