Battle of San Francisco
|Battle of San Francisco|
|Part of War of the Pacific|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Col. Emilio Sotomayor||Gen. Juan Buendia|
2 artillery batteries
1 artillery battery
2 cavalry squadrons
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of San Francisco, also known asBattle of Dolores, fought on November 19, 1879, was the third battle of the Tarapacá Campaign in the War of the Pacific, after Pisagua and Germania. A Chilean army commanded by Colonel Emilio Sotomayorsuccessfully held off and dispersed the bulk of the Peruvian army led by General Juan Buendía at San Francisco hill, near the town of Dolores. The Allies lost a huge amount of war materiel such as cannons, ammunition and weapons. The catastrophe for the Allies was the result of poor logistics, inefficient leadership and the unexpected desertion of the Bolivian Army under the half-hearted command of President Hilarión Daza, known as the Camarones betrayal.
The lost of Pisagua takes away the only escape route from the Tarapacá department for the Allies, so Buendía marches to Agua Santa, but Dávila doesn’t concur to the rendezvouz point and stays at Pozo Almonte. Meanwhile, two war councils take place on the Allied headquarters in Perú, the first one on November 6 when it's decided that Bolivian President General Daza would take command of the army and lead it to Tana, where he will join with Buendía. The very next day, the Bolivian Chiefs of Staff prepare two gunned trains to transport the army and supplies to Arica. Daza departs at 8 pm to Tacna in a special train from where will march to Tana. From this point to Tana has to march about 150 kilometres across the desert.
On the Chilean side, on November 3 Gen. Erasmo Escala reinforces the position at Hospicio with a division, attending the rumour of Buendía has regrouped and taken position between Dolores and San Roberto. Lt. Col. José Francisco Vergara proposes to make a reconnaissance, and leaves on November 5 following the railroad to Dolores, finding the water machines working soundly, which Vergara informs to headquarters. The next day, the detachment resumes its exploring mission, finding and annihilating an Allied cavalry squadron at Germania.
The commander of the Peruvian Southern Army sees himself in an unfavourable position. If not rejecting the Chileans to the sea, Pisagua’s taking will put him in a trap. The geography of the Tarapacá department engulfs a 5,400 square kilometres area between the Andes, the Pacific Ocean and the high plateaus of the Altiplano, and the only way out of there are the ports of Pisagua and Iquique, and the first one has been taken by the Chileans and the latter is under blockade. Besides, having his army scattered weaken him even more. Division chiefs Cáceres and Bustamante are at Iquique, while Villegas is at Puerto Patillo; Dávila is at Pozo Almonte, and Bolognesi is between Pozo Almonte and Iquique; whilst Villamil, after losing Pisagua, has retreated to Agua Santa. The Aroma Battalion is at Mejillones, and the Vengadores Battalion coming from Agua Santa, arrives Alto Hospicio on the afternoon of November 2, withdrawing to San Roberto, and later returning to Agua Santa. Buendía, departs from Iquique on November 5 leaving Colonel De los Ríos there, with the Lima, Arequipa, Ayacucho battalions; and by November 9 he’s at Pozo Almonte, guarded by Dávila, where Bolognesi reunites with them; and on the 16 reaches Agua Santa, finding Villamil. With his army regrouped, Buendía marches from Agua Santa and arrives to Negreiros on the 17, after 16 hours of march across the Pampa del Tamarugal. From this point, the Allies march to Porvenir and at 3 pm ofNovember 19 encounters the Chilean army at Santa Catalina.
Meanwhile, after marching stubbornly across the desert on daylight, Daza wears down his army beyond any possibility to fight, and after reaching Camarones, retreats to Tacna without meeting with Buendía.
On November 10, under Col. José Domingo Amunátegui, 3,500 men followed by another 2,500 under Col. Martiniano Urriola move over Dolores seizing control of the water installations. Here War Minister Sotomayor concentrates there all the materiel arrived from Pisagua, plus anything that could be found at Dolores, and sends scouts to Tana and Tiviliche fearing Daza's incoming army. The frictions between General Escala and his staff make these two convoys to depart separately, seeing each other without recognizing and reporting that Daza was incoming. This wrong information makes General Villagrán to transfer 4,500 men from Antofagasta to Pisagua. Whilst Amunátegui has advanced to Santa Catalina, following the railroad; finding himself 12 kilometres south of Dolores and at 10 kilometres from the saltpetre office at Porvenir. Warned of Buendía’s presence at 8 am of November 18, Colonel Sotomayor notifies General Escala. With the newly arrived artillery and reinforced by the 3rd Line Regiment – 1,800 men in total – foresees to organize a defensive position starting at dawn at Dolores, where some vanguard elements will spent the night, without lighting any fires to reveal its positions.
Chilean preliminary situation
On November 7, the "Buin" 1st Line and the 4th Line regiments with the Atacama and Coquimbo battalions, plus an artillery battery march from Hospicio to Dolores. The next day follow the same route the 3rd Line Regiment, the Navales and Valparaíso battalions and another artillery battery. These two columns reunite at Dolores on November 10. The Chilean forces, under the command of Colonel Emilio Sotomayor, have a strength of 6,500 men.
Peruvian preliminary situation
On November 5, the Allies march to Pozo Almonte, increasing its numbers with stray soldiers. On the 13th, Buendia leaves Pozo Almonte and moved towards Agua Santa, reaching his destination four days later. During the march, the soldiers are haunted by the lack of food and water. The troops march to Negritos, and then to Dolores. On the night of the 18th, Gen. Buendia decides to advance to Dolores and engage the Chilean troops posted there
Chilean battle plan and disposition
When a scout group of the Cazadores a Caballo Cavalry Regiment encounters the marching Allied forces, Sotomayor decides to fortify the position on the surrounding hills, where the Allies larger numbers represent no advantage whatsoever. Also, the artillery is divided in groups guarded with infantry.
The Chilean defence centres on the twin hills of San Francisco, where the northernmost of them elevates about 300 metres, dominating the extension surrounding Santa Catalina, and to the east the space where runs the railroad from Pisagua to Agua Santa. These hills are accessible only from the south and the east, forming a natural bastion before the water well and the installations of Dolores. Col. Amunátegui sets there with the 4th Line Regiment and the Atacama and Coquimbo battalions, disposing Salvo’s 63 artillerymen and their eight cannons, covering south and west, according to the battle evolution, plus another six piece battery and 2 Gatling machine guns of Sgt. Major Benjamin Montoya pointing east. The Valparaíso and Navales battalions and the “Buin” 1st Line Regiment, under Urriola support a six cannon battery directed by Capt. Roberto Wood and another six mountain cannons led by Capt. Eulogio Villareal. In consequence, the artillery can attack the plain over the west, south or southwest, depending on the needs of the army, with no obstacles thanks to its elevation. The rough mountain zone over the railroad prevents any infantry incursion between San Francisco and La Encañada, so the Chilean camp over the double hill doesn’t fear of being attacked from its rearguard.
The station, the wind generators and the buildings of the mining company of Dolores are in the centre of the defence dispositive, since the Tres Clavos hill, although less elevated than San Francisco hill, covers it with four cannons, while 400 cavalry men under Soto Aguilar are as a reserve at west of La Encañada. The San Bartolo hill is defended by the 3rd Line Regiment, on the Chilean right wing.
Peruvian battle plan and disposition
Buendía’s plan consists on breaking the Chilean defence at Dolores, seizing the water wells and cutting the enemy’s escape route. He would direct the offensive over Dolores with his right wing, while Cáceres and Suárez would onset the southwest face of San Francisco hill with three divisions. On the left wing, the Bolivians under Pedro Villamil would attack the north-western edge of the hill, turning right to join at La Encañada with Buendía, who wants to engulf the Chilean positions to take possession of Dolores. A little later, the Allied command knows that Daza has retreated to Tacna from Camarones.
General Buendía divided his 9,000 troops in three columns. In this plan, Buendía counted on Hilarión Daza's Bolivian troops, but the latter decided to return to Arica after a long and extenuating march.
The three columns were placed under the command of Belisario Suárez, Andrés Cáceres and Buendía himself. Suárez' column was formed by the Villamil, Bolognesi and Velarde divisions. These units were composed of the Cazadores de Cuzco Nº5, Cazadores de la Guardia Nº7, Ayacucho, Guardia de Arequipa, Aroma, Vengadores, Victoria and Colquechaca battalions. Buendía had under his command the Villegas, Bustamante and Davila divisions, formed by the Ayacucho Nº3, Provisional de Lima Nº3, Cerro de Pasco, Puno Nº6, Lima Nº8, Illimani, Olañeta, Paucarpata, Dalance battalions, besides two cavalry squadrons and a six cannon battery.
At 1 pm, the Chilean command has established its positions. The Chilean army counts now with 6,500 men and 34 cannons, thanks to Castro and Velázquez which joined in time and set between San Bartolo and Tres Clavos hills, behind the train station and the railroad in a way that could limit the access to Dolores from the plain. The Atacama and Coquimbo battalions reinforce the position at San Francisco. Buendía, notified of these reinforcements doesn’t want to wait the next day and gives the order to attack immediately. The units get ready to fight but after Suárez claims for delaying the attack, Buendía agrees again and issues a countermand, making his men to return to previous positions. All this movement confuses the Chileans, and when Salvo sees the incoming scout mission sent earlier, fires a warning shot over them. Some units from Cáceres and Suárez divisions rush to aid their companions, believing this is the battle signal; and assault Salvo’s position in disarray. Under Gen. Villegas, the Illimani, Olañeta, Zepita and Ayacucho battalions impelled over the enemy, and Col. Lavadenz with the Dalance Battalion manages to reach the bottom hillside getting out of the artillery range due to the cannons dead angle, where is reinforced by the Lima and Puno battalions. From here, Lavadenz climbs the slope and reaches the artillerymen, which barely contain the assault with their bayonets and the butts of their rifles.
Coming in Salvo’s aid, half of the Atacama Battalion plus a company of the Coquimbo Battalion reject the Allies and kept guarding the cannons, palliating the lack of protection and checked another effort on the hill by a reinforced column.
Meanwhile, Buendía advances over Dolores describing a semicircle to take the emplacement at Tres Clavos, only to be overwhelmed by Castro and Velázquez cross fire, being stopped as his units begin to dissolve. Back on the centre of the battle, the refolding units attack Salvo’s position again with no support at all. When the assault is resumed, the Allied reserve and the artillery fire without abandon its position, shooting their own companions from behind and decimating the troops massed at the bottom of the hill slope and at its bottom. Hence, the entire Allied left wing is forced to fall back without achieving its objective.
Right after this, the Coquimbo and Atacama battalions counterattack emerging from their stronghold, destroying some companies of the Olañeta and Illimani battalions and bayoneting off the Allies from the hill definitively. The three Allied colonels on the second line disband to Porvenir, and the Allied cavalry flees from the battlefield without covering the general retreat. In less than an hour, the Allied army disarticulates and retreats, abandoning the headquarters, the mules and supplies. The Chileans didn’t chase the enemy, waiting for a second massive attack.
The Chileans lost 208 men between dead and wounded. The Allies had 296 casualties, plus over 3.000 missing troops. This defeat was a very rough blow for the Peruvian Army Southern Command. The remaining troops marched to Tarapacá.
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