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Valparaiso bombardment

The Bombardment of Valparaiso (31 March 1866) happened during the Chincha Islands War, when a Spanish fleet shelled, burned and destroyed the undefended port of Valparaiso and the Chilean merchant fleet.


After the humiliating defeat at the Battle of Papudo and the indecisive Battle of Abtao, Rear Admiral Casto Mendez Nunez was ordered to take punitive action against South American ports. When the Chilean government ordered that vessels communicating with the Spanish fleet should not be allowed to enter Chilean ports, Mendez Nunez's first target became the most important and undefended Chilean city of Valparaiso.

Attempts at mediation

The American minister to Chile, General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, attempted an arbitration with the Spanish Admiral on March 23rd. To that effect he enlisted the cooperation of the US Naval Commander John Rodgers who was at port commanding a US naval squadron composed of the ironclad monitor Monadnock and the steamers , and , and of the commander of the British Pacific Station, Rear Admiral Joseph Denman, who had under his command two warships: HMS Sutlej and HMS Leander. The British commander later changed his mind and decided to enforce a strict neutrality, refusing the cooperation of his ships.

The mediation failed, as the chief condition of Admiral Mendez Nunez was the proper salute to the Spanish flag, the return by the Chileans of the captured Schooner Covadonga and the immediate payment of a crippling indemnity. The talks broke over the matter of the flag salute. When General Kilpatrick threatened to defend the port with the US squadron and attack the Spanish fleet, Admiral Mendez Nunez famously responded with, "I will be forced to sink [the US ships], because even if I have one ship left I will proceed with the bombardment. Spain, the Queen and I prefer honor without ships than ships without honor." Consequently the Spanish Admiral, notwithstanding the protest of the diplomatic corps, gave notice on March 27th to all neutrals to evacuate the city.


At 7 AM on March 31st, the Spanish fleet took positions in front of their targets. It consisted of the Numancia, Resolucion, Villa de Madrid, Blanca, Vencedora and the Paquete del Maule. The frigate Berenguela remained behind to guard against the possible escape of the merchant fleet. At 8.10 AM, the Numancia discharged two shots as final notice and to give opportunity for the people still in town to take cover. The bombardment itself started at 9 AM and lasted for three hours without fire being returned, as Valparaiso was totally defenseless.

The Spanish bombarded the town unhindered and destroyed the Chilean merchant fleet. All told, thirty-three vessels were burned or sunk. It was the total ruin of the Chilean merchant marine. Twelve years later the total tonnage under the Chilean flag was still less than half of what it had been in 1865. The loss in public and private property was estimated at $1,000,000, and in merchandise at $9,000,000, huge sums at the time.


James McNeill Whistler, who was on board the American ships, painted his famous "Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay" the night before the bombardment. It shows the Chilean merchant fleet at their moorings waiting to be destroyed.

Additional information

See also

Chincha Islands War

Battle of Callao



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