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Andean Tragedy

Fighting the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884

William F. Sater

Publication Year: 2007

The year 1879 marked the beginning of one of the longest, bloodiest conflicts of nineteenth-century Latin America. The War of the Pacific pitted Peru and Bolivia against Chile in a struggle initiated over a festering border dispute. The conflict saw Chile’s and Peru’s armored warships vying for control of sea lanes and included one of the first examples of the use of naval torpedoes. On land, large armies using the most modern weapons—breech-loading rifles, Gatling guns, and steel-barreled artillery—clashed in battles that left thousands of men dead on the battlefields. Eventually, the warring parties revamped their respective military establishments, creating much needed, civilian-supported supply, transportation, and medical units. Chile ultimately prevailed. Bolivia lost its seacoast along with valuable nitrate and copper deposits to Chile, and Peru was forced to cede mineral rich Tarapaca and the province of Arica to the victor.
Employing the primary and secondary sources of the countries involved, William F. Sater offers the definitive analysis of the conflict's naval and military campaigns. Andean Tragedy not only places the war in a crucial international context, but also explains why this devastating conflict resulted in a Chilean victory.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Studies in War, Society, & the Military


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pp. vii


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pp. viii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi

This book, like many scholarly works, is the result of a collaborative effort. My close friends Professors Christon Archer and Jaime Rodriguez mercilessly harassed, hectored, and hounded me in order to present the reader with a study that purports to be a volume of objective scholarship. I think their collective ...

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pp. 1-26

When asked to define "armed conflict," George Ives, an 111-year-old veteran of Britain's struggle with the South African Boers (1899-1902), relied on the same logic that the thief Willy Sutton employed to explain why he robbed banks: "You went to war to kill someone," Ives observed, ...

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1. The Prewar Maneuvers

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pp. 27-43

Fat Tuesday in 1879 fell on 25 February, less than a month before the end of the Bolivian summer. The next morning, La Paz's newly penitent revelers exchanged their carnival masks for the cross of ashes, thus marking the onset of Lent. As these faithful trudged to church they learned some ...

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2. Comparing the Armies

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pp. 44-95

Even the most nationalistic Chilean might have questioned the wisdom of the Moneda's decision to declare war on the Allies. The population of Peru and Bolivia exceeded by 100 percent that of Chile, and the combined Allied armies could field almost three times as many troops as ...

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3. Comparing the Navies

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pp. 96-115

Evaluating the relative strengths of the belligerents' fleets just prior to the outbreak of the War of the Pacific is a vexing task. Chilean and Peruvian historians, for example, traditionally pronounced their nations' ships as barely seaworthy and belittled their crews' professional skills, while ...

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4. Chipana to Iquique

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pp. 116-136

Sloth characterized Chile's navy during the first weeks of the War of the Pacific. Chile's Adm. Juan Williams Rebolledo, overruled his civilian masters and instituted a blockade of the Peruvian port of Iquique in early April. Though it had been virtually eradicated by earthquakes and tidal waves ...

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5. Angamos and Beyond

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pp. 137-169

The destruction of the Independencia cost Peru 40 percent of its fleet's offensive power. All that remained of Peru's once mighty flotilla was the Huáscar, its two ponderously slow monitors, two corvettes, the Unión, and the Pilcomayo, plus a few armed transports. The Chilean navy should have capitalized ...

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6. The Land War Begins

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pp. 170-211

The Pinto government had to delay invading Peru, perhaps the only way to force Mariano Prado to the peace table, until after October 1879, when Galvarino Riveros virtually swept Lima's navy from the sea. Fortunately for Chile, its army had used the months since April to ...

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7. The Tacna and Arica Campaigns

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pp. 212-257

The surrender of Tarapacá Province only briefly appeased Chile's war hawks, who demanded that the army continue northward. Alas, much as it might wish, the high command could not respond immediately: the Tarapacá campaign had pruned the army's ranks, consumed its supplies, ...

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8. Investing Lima

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pp. 258-300

The capture of Tarapacá's salitreras and the destruction of Peru's regular army at Tacna and Arica should have given President Nicolás Piérola pause. By December 1879 Peru had lost the economic resources it needed to fund its war effort. And after the first six months of 1880 Peru no ...

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9. The Dirty War

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pp. 301-346

Contrary to many Chileans' expectations and hopes, Lima's capture did not inspire the Peruvians to sue for peace. It was not, however, for want of politicians. Peru was, after all, awash in caudillos, presidential aspirants, and presidents, none of whom in fact actually governed the entire nation. ...

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10. Conclusion

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pp. 347-360

In 1879 the armies of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru were, to varying degrees, unsophisticated, even primitive, organizations consisting mainly of infantry units supported by smaller contingents of artillery and cavalry. These armed forces contained no medical, quartermaster, signal, supply, or transportation ...


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pp. 361-422


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pp. 423-436


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pp. 437-442

E-ISBN-13: 9780803207592
E-ISBN-10: 080320759X

Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Studies in War, Society, & the Military