Battle of Tarapacá
|Battle of Tarapacá|
|Part of the War of the Pacific|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Colonel Luis Arteaga||General Juan Buendía|
|2,300 infantry cavalry and artillery|
10 field guns
|Casualties and losses|
10 field guns captured
The Battle of Tarapacá occurred onNovember 27, 1879 during the Tarapacá Campaign of the War of the Pacific. A Chilean column of 2,300 soldiers led by General Luis Arteaga recklessly attacked an outnumbering Peruvian contingent of 4,500 troops at Tarapacá commanded by Gen Juan Buendía, resulting in a harsh defeat. The Chilean 2nd Line Regiment was the most damaged unit, losing almost half of its force, along with its commander Col. Eleuterio Ramírez and his second in command, Lt. Col. Bartolomé Vivar. Also, the unit lost its banner, which was recovered six months later after the battle ofTacna. Despite the victory, the Allies could not contest for the domination of the Tarapacá department, abandoning it to Chilean control.
Following a significant defeat at Dolores dwell inflicted by an outnumbered Chilean contingent; which cost the Allies all their artillery, the remnants of the Peruvian army were scattered all across the desert, demoralized and almost leaderless. Suárez’s soldiers marched to Tarapacá, the former administrative Peruvian capital of the department, to join Buendía. Buendía’s army gathers at Tarapacá once reunited by Suárez, after marching across the inclement dessert. When Buendía arrived to Tarapacá, dispatched emissaries to gather more fugitives, so, a few days later, his troops grew up to 2,000 men, and on the 26, Rios’ division arrived from Iquique with supplies, apart from the food and water already existing at Tarapacá. In the end, 4,500 soldiers were stationed at Tarapacá.
Meanwhile all of this events occurred, and acknowledging that a column of exhausted Peruvians under Buendía had stopped near the town of Tarapacá to rest and regain strength, Lt. Col. José Francisco Vergara asked Gen. Arteaga to dispatch a reconnaissance force to find out enemy's condition and to inspect the route.
Hence, Arteaga dispatched under Vergara’s command a party of 270 men of the Zapadores Regiment, 2 artillery pieces, 115 riders of the Cazadores a Caballo Cavalry Regiment on November 24. Vergara’s column took the road to Dibujo, camping at about 20 kilometres from Tarapacá. Later, Arteaga was informed that the Peruvian numbers were greater than expected, so he sent another column made up of the 2nd Line and Artillería de Marina regiments, the Chacabuco Battalion, 30 more Cazadores a Caballo riders and another artillery battery. Next day, Chilean sentries of the vanguard division captured an Argentinean muleteer, who reports only 1,500 men at the town, and Vergara asks Arteaga for instructions creating great anxiety among Chilean High Command and troops. However, the latter soundly underestimated the battle capabilities of the Allies, and did not prepare properly, carrying an insufficient amount of food, water and ammunition, with serious consequences later on.
Vergara, as the same as Arteaga did, gave no importance to supply his troops properly, even more, instead of waiting for the reinforcements to arrive advances over Tarapacá. Both divisions reunited on the noon of the 26 at Isluga, after Vergara made a reconnaissance of the Peruvian troops. When he did so, saw the arrival of Rios’ division, which were in poor condition, giving him the wrong idea of the Allies were demoralized and weary, besides believing there were only 2,500 soldiers.
After both divisions gathered, Arteaga assumed the command. His forces added up 2,281 men, only half of Buendía’s final contingent. His soldiers were like he thought the Allies were, extremely exhausted and thirsty. Only that day, the Chileans marched for nine hours, totalizing 30 hours of marches across burning sands with no food or water, leading to diminishing the soldiers fighting capabilities leaving them no condition of presenting battle at all. But since were at 70 kilometres from the nearest font of supplies at Dolores, Arteaga realized that their only salvation was to attack.
The Tarapaca oasis was 70 kilometres from San Francisco. This commercial town was founded by the Spanish in 16th century over one of the Inca roads that link up the mountains with the sea. A little creek formed by the Andes snow melting, runs through the town allowing small plantations downstream. The Peruvian administration buildings are next to rock walls, with the market and the church at the very centre, that for an army it’s really a dead end due to its geography.
Chilean battle plan
The attack was poorly planned, since despite being heavily outnumbered Arteaga divided his force into three columns anyway as it follows, weakening even more any chance of victory: Col. Ricardo Santa Cruz with his Zapadores Regiment, one company of the 2nd Line Regiment, and the Krupp canons was to advance over Quillahuasa to cut off Buendía's escape route. Col. Eleuterio Ramírez with 7 companies of his 2nd Line Regiment, one Cazadores a Caballo company and some artillery was ordered to enter Tarapacá from Huariciña, pushing the Peruvians from the south. Finally, Gen. Arteaga with the rest of his forces would directly attack on the centre of the Chilean lines, over Tarapacá.
Allied battle plan
Buendía was well aware of the Chilean presence, notified by Caceres and Bolognesi that one column was advancing over the plateau, and another one was moving towards Tarapacá’s den. Buendía ordered his vanguard to return from Pachica, 12 kilometres north of this position, and concentrates his division on the town, setting skirmishers in every building to fire from a safe position. Also disposed his infantry in a manner that formed a cross fire field. Castañon’s artillery men were set on Visagra hill, to defend the den entrance, supported by the Arequipa Battalion.
At 03:30 Santa Cruz departed from Isluga while a dense fog covered the surroundings, and an hour later Ramírez and Arteaga began their movement. Disoriented by the mist, Santa Cruz marched almost three hours in circles, losing precious time. When the sunrise showed that he was at Ramírez’ rearguard, resolved to move over his objective, meanwhile the latter marched to his own. Closing to his destination, Santa Cruz sent his grenadiers to take Quillahuasa, but they were sighted by the Peruvians advanced posts which sounded the alarm. Strangely, Santa Cruz refused to use his artillery, losing the chance to overwhelm his enemy. Suárez, realizing his army could be vanquished by the Chilean artillery shooting at the from a higher ground, rapidly evacuated the town, putting his soldiers over the surrounding hills. Immediately Cáceres climbed the northern hill as Bolognesi did the same on the southern end of Tarapacá.
At 10:00, the fog vanished and Cáceres division could easily climb Visagra hill and attack Santa Cruz’ column from his rearguard, isolating him from Ramírez and Arteaga. Cáceres division was formed by the Zepita and 2 de Mayo regiments, and later strengthened by the Ayacucho and Provisional Nº 1 of Lima battalions of Colonel Bedoya. His 1,500 men outnumbered the 400 men strength force of Santa Cruz. Thus, after 30 minutes almost one third of the Chilean column was out of combat, and lost its artillery, but managed to maintain cohesion and inflict several casualties as well. On the brink of annihilation, Arteaga came in Santa Cruz help, charging an astonished Caceres and forcing him to stop his attack. Facing a defeat, the Chilean officers prepared the retreat, deploying the infantry guarding the remains of the artillery. But before even moving, the grenadiers sent by Santa Cruz to Quillahuasa returned and charged the Allies again, followed by the infantry.
Meanwhile, Ramirez’ column was spotted by Bolognesi’s division, who deployed over the hills on the east, whilst Buendía garrisoned himself in the town. Ramirez’ progressed without inconvenience passing through Huaraciña and San Lorenzo along the river, but when reaching a small mount at Tarapacá’s entrance, was received by a dense fire. Incredibly, despite capturing Buendía’s intention to outflank him, maintained his order and resumed his march as planned. The Chileans came back for their surprise and charged into the town only to be shot at point blank range from every house and building, suffering heavy damage. When Ramírez orders the retreat, simultaneously the grenadiers charge forced Caceres to refold at Visagra. More than 50% of his 2nd Line Regiment was disabled, counting only with two companies disposed on the den high borders. After being reinforced by these troops, the Peruvians withdrew to Tarapacá and the battle stopped for a while.
Believing the battle was over, the Chilean officers let their extenuated and thirsty men to abandon all order and moved over the river. Almost without any ammunition, were waiting for the night fall to return to Dibujo. But the Peruvian High command was planning a second attack, dividing its army into three columns, as equal as the Chileans did, but with the big difference that their greater numbers allowed to divide the forces without weakening them.
Dávila’s men appeared suddenly over Huariciña; Herrera’s and Bolognesi’s divisions attacked the troops at the river, the eastern and western heights, surprising the Chileans again. After the first impact, the Chileans gathered up and made a run from the heights trying to evacuate the town. The second in command officer of the Artillería de Marina Regiment formed 50 shooters along with two cannons and held the attack for an hour, until Arteaga realized the battle was lost and ordered the retreat. This was carried out with no order whatsoever, with soldiers moving to Dibujo and others to Isluga. The lack of cavalry prevented the Peruvians to inflict more severe casualties, saving the rest of Arteaga’s division. The battle was over and the Allied victory was total.
Aftermath and consequences
The Chilean army lost at Tarapacá 691 men between dead and wounded, representing 23.6% of the contingent presented to battle. Also, Col. Eleuterio Ramírez and Bartolomé Vivar, first and second commanders of the 2nd Line Regiment were killed in action, and the unit lost its banner. The defeat and poor planning cost Arteaga’s command, and strengthened War Minister Sotomayor’s prestige, since this was the only action so far planned without him, resulted in a disaster. On the Allies side, this victory had no effect on the course of actions, leaving Tarapacá and marching to Arica, losing almost half of their troops. Despite the defeat, Chile secured the Tarapacá province.
- ^ Pelayo, Mauricio; Mellafe, Rafael (2004). La Guerra del Pacífico en imágenes, relatos testimonios. Centro de Estudios Bicentenario.
- ^ George v Rauch... page 136
- ^ La Guerra del Pacífico en imágenes, relatos, testimonios, p. 245
- ^ Historia del Ejército de Chile, p. 278
- ^ a b Historia del Ejército de Chile, p. 279
- ^ Historia del Ejército de Chile, p. 281
- ^ Historia del Ejército de Chile, p. 283
- ^ Historia del Ejército de Chile, p. 288
- ^ Cluny, p. 293
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- Pelayo, Mauricio; Mellafe, Rafael (2004). La Guerra del Pacífico en imágenes, relatos testimonios. Centro de Estudios Bicentenario. ISBN 978-956-8147-33-4.
- Gómez Ehrman, Sergio; Reyno Gutiérrez, Manuel (1985). Historia del Ejército de Chile, Vol V. Estado Mayor General del Ejército de Chile.
- Robles Diez, Enrique (2009). La Guerra del Pacífico, partes oficiales. Editorial Estudios Americanos. ISBN 978-956-8842-03-1.
- Cluny, Claude Michel (2008). Atacama, ensayo sobre la guerra del Pacífico. Fondo de Cultura Económica. ISBN 978-968-16-7982-8.