San Martín, José Francisco de (1778–1850)

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San Martín, José Francisco de (1778–1850)

José Francisco de San Martín (b. 25 February 1778; d. 17 August 1850), the liberator of three South American countries who aspired to create the United States of South America. San Martín was born in Yapeyú, in the province of Corrientes, Argentina. His Spanish parents took him to Spain in 1784, where he studied at the Seminary of Nobles in Madrid. In 1789 he joined the Murcia Regiment as a cadet, and later participated in military campaigns in Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, and France. His first combat experience was at Oran (25 June 1791), where he fought the Moors. In 1793 he served under General Ricardos, the tactician who had led his troops across the Pyrenees to attack the French enemies of Louis XVI. At Bailén he fought under General Castaños and later was an aide to the Marquess of Coupigny.

In 1811, San Martín retired from the army without a pension, and although authorized to go to Lima, he sailed instead for London. Before leaving Spain, however, San Martín was initiated into the Caballeros Racionales No. 3, which sought the independence of South America. He later joined a similarly inspired secret organization, the Great American Assembly of Francisco de Miranda in London, where he met the Venezuelan Andrés Bello and the Argentines Manuel Moreno and Tomás Guido. Bello was the teacher of General Simón Bolívar, and Moreno and Guido were the brother and secretary, respectively, of Mariano Moreno, a prominent leader of the independence movement in Buenos Aires. In January 1812, San Martín sailed for Buenos Aires aboard the British frigate George Canning, with fellow passengers Carlos de Alvear and his young wife, José Zapiola, and Francisco Chilavert.

In Buenos Aires, Alvear introduced San Martín to the most influential members of porteño society. The ruling triumvirate recognized his Spanish military grade of lieutenant colonel and asked him to organize the Regimiento de Granaderos a Caballo (Mounted Grenadier Regiment). Alvear was second in command. Its personnel eventually consisted of veteran officers of the revolutionary war, young men drawn from the leading families of the city of Buenos Aires, and the provinces of La Rioja, Córdoba, Banda Oriental del Uruguay, and the Guaraní of Corrientes. San Martín taught them military tactics and the use of different weapons. The grenadiers became a model for other regiments.

On 12 September 1812, with Alvear and his wife, María del Carmen Quintanilla, as witnesses, San Martín married fifteen-year-old María de los Remedios de Escalada de la Quintana, daughter of a wealthy Spanish merchant. On 8 October, he and his regiment participated in the military movement that replaced the existing triumvirate with another. This revolution bolstered the independence movement. Four months later he commanded the troops that repulsed superior Spanish numbers seeking to land at San Lorenzo.

In December 1813, San Martín replaced Manuel Belgrano as commander of the Expeditionary Force to liberate Upper Peru at Posta de Yatasto. In March 1814 he proposed that the best way to win independence was to take Lima by way of Chile, not Bolivia, believing that a small, well trained army invading Chile from Mendoza would prevail in ending Spanish rule on the continent. At his request Supreme Director Gervasio Antonio de Posadas appointed him intendant governor of the province of Cuyo (14 August 1814), with an annual salary of 300 pesos and instructions to prepare the defenses of Mendoza against any possible Spanish invasion. San Martín established himself at Plumerillo, outside Mendoza, and took steps to provide smallpox vaccinations for all the inhabitants of Cuyo, to help Chilean émigrés arriving after Rancagua, and to persuade those not in militia units to join one or be called traitors to the fatherland. Among the Chilean émigrés were Bernardo O'Higgins and the Carrera brothers. In February 1815 he declined promotion to major colonel in the Armies of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, saying that he expected to withdraw from military service once independence was won, and the order relieving him of his command was revoked at the request of the local cabildo.

In 1816, San Martín informed the Supreme Director that he needed an army of 4,000 to invade Chile, and with the aid of the Cuyo deputies, and especially of Tomás Godoy Cruz, he obtained from the Tucumán Congress a declaration of the independence of the United Provinces of South America. On 21 July 1816 he and the new Supreme Director Juan Martín de Pueyrredón met in Córdoba, completing arrangements for the liberation of Chile. Pueyrredón agreed to send him more men, armaments, and supplies, and he appointed San Martín commanding general of the Army of the Andes. The army then took an oath to defend the independence of the United Provinces of South America. San Martín now trained his troops and the local militia in basic military tactics and maneuvers, personally instructed the officers in military subjects, and invited neutral foreigners to join him. One of his students was José María Paz, later a prominent leader in Argentine civil wars. The local people freed their slaves on the condition that they enlist in the army. They supplied San Martín with provisions and transported military goods without charge. The labor guilds took up voluntary contributions, and women offered their jewels. San Martín levied forced loans on the royalists and extracted extraordinary contributions from wealthy natives. The Army of the Andes made its own armaments, ammunition, guns, gunpowder, saddles, bayonets, cannons, and cannonballs. The provincial women sewed military uniforms without charge.

San Martín was named captain-general so that he could have both military and political authority, but he delegated the political functions to Colonel Toribio Luzuriaga, who was ably assisted by the lieutenant governors of San Juan and San Luis. The commander of the general staff was Brigadier General Miguel Estanislao Soler, and the battalion commanders were Juan Gregorio de Las Heras, Rudecindo Alvarado, Pedro Conde, and Ambrosio Crámer. The five squadrons of the Granaderos a Caballo were under Mariano Necochea, and among its officers were Juan Lavalle, Federico de Brandzen, Manuel Medina y Escalada, and Domingo Arcos. The Patriotic Legion of the South was formed primarily by Chilean émigrés who supported O'Higgins. Another Chilean émigré, José Ignacio Zenteno, was the military secretary.

San Martín inaugurated the so-called guerra de zapa by placing spies in the enemy camps, spreading false rumors, sending secret emissaries to collect information throughout Chile, and encouraging uprisings. Field Marshal Francisco Marcó del Pont, in charge of the Chilean government, reacted by increasing political repression and stationing his forces at possible invasion points along the Andes. Replying to his request for military and political guidance, Supreme Director Pueyrredón sent San Martín his instructions on 24 December 1816, setting forth in fifty-nine articles how he was to conduct the war, deal with political parties and governments, and pay all expenses of the expeditionary force. The sole purpose of the campaign, he emphasized, was to secure American independence and the glory of the United Provinces. San Martín was to avoid favoring any of the political groups dividing Chile, to seek to improve the condition of the people, and to negotiate a perpetual alliance between the two nations.

Once the Army of the Andes was fully organized and trained, San Martín named the Virgin of Carmen del Cuyo as its patron and gave it a flag that his wife and other patriots embroidered. He also provided it with a printing press, which was to spread revolutionary ideas and publish battle bulletins. At San Martín's suggestion Brigadier O'Higgins was to become the temporary governor of Chile once Santiago was free.

The Army of the Andes that moved out of Mendoza on 18-19 January 1817 consisted of 4,000 soldiers, over 1,000 militiamen to transport munitions and a twenty-day supply of provisions, muleteers, and laborers to repair the roads. The Andean passes had been surveyed in advance by the engineer Álvarez Condarco. The bulk of the army, under San Martín, used Los Patos pass to cross the Andes to the valley of Putaendo, in the province of Aconcagua. An army division under General Soler formed the vanguard; O'Higgins commanded the reserve division. A column of 800 men under Las Heras used the Uspallata Pass to Chile. It had the ammunition train, the dismounted artillery, and the arsenal, with workers armed with long poles and ropes so that they could suspend the cannons on litters. Once across the peak of the Andes, they defeated the royalists at Guardia Vieja and took Santa Rosa de los Andes. A northern column under Commandant Cabot, crossing the Andes in fourteen days, defeated the royalists at Salala, and took the province of Coquimbo, while a detachment from La Rioja took Copiapó. A southern column under the Chilean Captain Freyre used the Planchón pass to cross the Andes, defeated the royalists at Vega del Campeo, and entered Talca. All the soldiers were mounted on mules, and moved slowly according to the availability of pasture, water, and wood.

The entire army reached San Felipe, from which it dominated the valley of Aconcagua, and its forward units made contact with the royalists at Chacabuco. The Spanish army of 2,500 under Brigadier Rafael Maroto occupied advantageous positions on the hill of Chacabuco, which blocked the road to Santiago. When his army was assembled, San Martín attacked in two corps: the one on the left, under O'Higgins, was to distract the enemy until the corps on the right, under Soler, could attack the enemy from the rear. O'Higgins advanced without waiting for Soler to complete his maneuver, but reinforced by cavalry troops under Zapiola and Necochea, he was able to destroy the royalist squadrons. The retreating Spaniards were routed by Soler. The patriots captured all the enemy artillery, its ammunition train, and 600 prisoners. The battle of Chacabuco (12 February) marked the beginning of the patriot offensive.

On 14 February, the patriot army entered Santiago. An assembly convoked by San Martín elected him governor of Chile, a position he declined, and it then named O'Higgins. Marcó del Pont and other Spanish leaders were captured and sent to San Luis. On 10 March, the Santiago cabildo presented San Martín with 10,000 gold pesos, which he donated for the establishment of the national library. An overjoyed directorate in Buenos Aires rewarded him the title of brigadier general of the Armies of the Fatherland (26 February 1817), which he did not accept. San Martín went to Buenos Aires with his aide, John T. O'Brien, to settle military problems and to obtain the resources needed to organize the expedition to Peru. He entered the city disguised, hoping to avoid a public demonstration, but he was detected, and the cabildo honored him on 9 April 1817. San Martín discussed the forthcoming campaign to liberate Peru with Pueyrredón, and then left for Santiago.

On 20 June, O'Higgins appointed San Martín as commanding general of the Chilean army, and on 12 February 1818, he and San Martín proclaimed the independence of Chile. Meanwhile, the Spanish forces under Colonel José Ordóñez, which had not been involved in any battle, gathered in the plaza of Talcahuano. Las Heras and O'Higgins unsuccessfully attacked the town fortifications. General Mariano Osorio then arrived with 3,000 men, stationing them in the town of Talca. San Martín went to help O'Higgins, and while he was repositioning the troops, he was attacked on 19 March at Cancha Rayada by Ordóñez, and was forced to retreat. Las Heras alone kept his division intact. The patriots regrouped and, 5,000 strong, attacked and defeated the royalists under Osorio at Maipú (5 April). San Martín was compelled to use his reserves in the battle. Osorio and his escort abandoned the battlefield, leaving Ordóñez to negotiate surrender. One thousand Spaniards were killed and 3,000 taken prisoners. Victory established the independence of Chile, and provided for Argentina's security by giving it a base of operations on the Pacific. Argentina and Chile concluded an alliance to liberate Peru, while San Martín asked Great Britain to persuade Spain to grant independence to South America.

With the Spaniards now on the defensive, San Martín left for Buenos Aires to obtain the support needed for invading Peru. On 4 May, Congress congratulated O'Higgins, awarded a prize to San Martín and the army, and authorized a loan of 500,000 pesos to finance the expedition to Peru and the formation of a naval unit. It also ordered the erection of a statue to commemorate Chacabuco and Maipú and recognized the officers and soldiers of the Army of the Andes as "heroic defenders of the nation." San Martín asked Congress to prevent Pueyrredón from promoting him, saying that the army alone deserved praise for the victories. On 14 May, Congress appointed him Brigadier of the Armies of the Fatherland. Three days later Congress celebrated in extraordinary session the victories of Chacabuco and Maipú. After Congress authorized a personal coat of arms for him on 20 October, San Martín left for Santiago de Chile. The Buenos Aires government later informed him that it was unable to fulfill its promise of aid.

At the end of 1818, Commandant Manuel Blanco Encalada, an Argentine serving Chile, doubled the size of the Chilean navy by capturing first a Spanish frigate in the Bay of Talcahuano and then five Spanish transports with 700 men bound for the city with abundant military supplies. He relinquished command of the fleet to Lord Thomas Alexander Cochrane, who had signed a contract in London with the agents of O'Higgins and San Martín. In January 1819, Cochrane attacked the Spanish fleet in Callao, but he was unable to destroy it. Early in 1820, San Martín refused the request of Director José Rondeau to concentrate his troops in Buenos Aires in order to fight the caudillos. However, he did send a division to Mendoza and San Juan, but he soon withdrew half of it for his campaign to liberate Peru. San Martín went to Mendoza to recover his health, returning to Chile in a litter in January, still expecting to unite Argentina, Chile, and Peru as one nation. On 20 August 1820 the liberating expedition of 2,300 Argentines and 2,100 Chileans sailed from Valparaiso. Most of the officers were Argentines. The fleet consisted of eight warships and sixteen troop transports with a crew of 1,600 men under Cochrane. The cargo of the transports consisted of rifles, swords, cannons, ammunition, artillery shells, grenades, gunpowder, and horses with their feed. San Martín commanded the expedition as captain-general, and he informed the cabildo of Buenos Aires of his departure for Peru.

The royal armies San Martín faced consisted of 23,000 men in Upper and Lower Peru. San Martín disembarked in the port of Paracas and established his headquarters at Pisco. His aim was to avoid battle and to provoke rebellions among the people and desertions in the Spanish troops by spreading revolutionary propaganda. Desertions among Spanish commanders and officers did increase, and an entire battalion surrendered. He moved to Ancón, then to Huaura, and finally to Huamanga, from which he could dominate the valley of Huancayo. He negotiated an armistice of short duration with Viceroy Pezuela at Miraflores (26 September). He assured the success of the expedition when he defeated Brigadier Alejandro O'Reilly at Cerro de Pasco (6 December 1820), and captured both O'Reilly and Mayor Andrés de Santa Cruz. On 2 June 1821, San Martín met Viceroy Pezuela at Punchauca and asked him to recognize Peru as a sovereign nation, to approve a junta which would write a temporary constitution, and to join him in naming a commission that would ask Ferdinand VII to select a son to become king of Peru after accepting a constitution. The vacillating viceroy agreed only to another armistice. On 19 July, San Martín entered Lima and called a council of notables, which voted for independence. Peruvian independence was declared on 28 July.

San Martín assumed political and military command of the new nation as "protector of a free Peru." He thus prevented Simón Bolívar from seizing Peru. Then, through his secretary, Dr. Bernardo Monteagudo, he abolished the personal service of the Indians (the tributes, the mitas, and encomiendas); declared the freedom of the newborn children of slaves; established a free press and the sanctity of the home; and ended torture in judicial proceedings. He fought gambling and maintained security and order in town. On 21 November, Lima awarded 500,000 pesos to the officers and commissioned officers of the liberating army. The reward was distributed by lot among the twenty officers named by San Martín. The officers who were ignored probably participated in the conspiracy that led to the downfall of San Martín.

With the bulk of the royalist army, Canterac was in the valley of Jauja, controlling the sierra and suppressing Indian revolts supporting the revolution. Bolívar sent General Antonio José de Sucre with a division to liberate Quito Province. This inadequate force sought reinforcements from San Martín, who sent Santa Cruz with 1,000 men. The war ended when the Argentine granaderos under Lavalle destroyed the Spanish cavalry at Riobamba and Sucre and the Argentine Manuel de Olazábal defeated the royalists at Pichincha (24 May 1822). By that time the port of Guayaquil had declared its independence, and Peru wanted to annex it. On 13 July, Bolívar placed the port under the protection of Colombia.

San Martín landed at Guayaquil on 25 July, and held three interviews with Bolívar. What transpired at these meetings is still disputed, but the two men evidently discussed the form of government the new nations should have and the military operations required to end the war. San Martín favored a constitutional monarchy for South America, Bolívar a republic. Both men sought the formation of something like the United States of America, a goal which would be reached by first uniting the former viceroyalties, now republics, in a South American Confederation and then fusing them in a federation, the United States of South America. With too meager a force to end the war alone, San Martín asked for help and reminded Bolívar of the aid he had given to Sucre. Bolívar declined to place a substantial Colombian force under his command, and refused San Martín's offer to serve under him. San Martín returned to Lima, and at the meeting of the Constituent Congress on 20 September 1822 he resigned as Protector. He then sailed for Chile, where he was no longer popular, and crossed the Andes to his small farm in Mendoza. In late 1823 he learned that his ailing wife had died on 3 August.

San Martín enjoyed the support of the federalists and the provincial governors, especially that of Governor Estanislao López of Santa Fe, but Bernardino Rivadavia was his enemy. He left for Buenos Aires in November to see Rivadavia, who already had negotiated a preliminary peace treaty with Spain (4 July 1823). On 7 February he sailed with his daughter Mercedes for Le Havre and from there to Southampton, England, finally settling in Brussels. In 1828 San Martín briefly returned to Buenos Aires, but he never landed and instead stayed for two months in Montevideo. He declined an invitation from Juan Lavalle to assume command of the government and army of Buenos Aires. He returned to Brussels. In 1834 the wealthy Spaniard Alejandro Aguado helped San Martín purchase a house in Grand Bourges. In 1838, when France was blockading Buenos Aires, San Martín offered his services to Juan Manuel de Rosas, who declined. Attacks against him appeared in the Buenos Aires press, but Domingo F. Sarmiento and later Bartolomé Mitre rose to his defense. He was restored to his former rank of captain-general, and Chile awarded him a lifelong pension in 1842.

San Martín died in Boulogne-sur-Mer. He bequeathed his sword to Rosas. At the suggestion of Sarmiento a statue in his honor was erected in Buenos Aires in 1862. In 1880 his remains were moved from the cemetery in Brunoy to the cathedral in Buenos Aires.

See alsoBolívar, Simón; Caballeros Racionales, Sociedad de; Wars of Independence, South America.


Bartolomé Mitre, Historia de San Martín y de la emancipación sudamericana, 3 vols. (1887–1888).

Museo Mitre, Documentos del Archivo de San Martín, 12 vols. (1910–1911).

José Pacífico Otero, Historia del Libertador don José de San Martín, 4 vols. (1932).

Jacinto R. Yaben, Biografías argentinas y sudamericanas, vol. 5 (1940), pp. 507-528.

Ricardo Rojas, San Martín, Knight of the Andes, translated by Herschel Brickell and Carlos Videla (1945).

José Luis Busaniche, San Martín vivo (1950), J. C. J. Metford, San Martín the Liberator (1950).

Instituto Nacional Sanmartiniano, Documentos para la historia del libertador general San Martín, 12 vols. (1953–).

Ricardo Piccirilli, San Martín y la polítca de los pueblos (1957).

José Luis Romero, A History of Argentine Political Thought, translated by Thomas F. McGann (1963).

Harold F. Peterson, Argentina and the United States, 1810–1960 (1964).

Enrique De Gandía, San Martín: Su pensamiento político (1964).

Cristián García-Godoy, ed., The San Martín Papers, translated by Barbara Huntley and Pilar Liria (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Chumbita, Hugo. Hijos del país: San Martín, Yrigoyen, Perón. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 2004.

Guzmán, Carlos Alberto. San Martín ante la historia. Buenos Aires: Academia Argentina de la Historia, 2000.

Kohan, Martín. Narrar a San Martín. Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo Editora, 2005.

Nascimbene, Mario C. San Martín en el olimpo nacional: Nacimiento y apogeo de los mitos argentinos. Buenos Aires: Editorial Biblos, 2002.

Pasquali, Patricia. San Martín: La fuerza de la misión y la soledad de la gloria: Biografía. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1999.

Ramos Pérez, Demetrio. San Martín: El libertador del Sur. Madrid: Anaya, 1988.

Uzal, Francisco Hipólito. San Martín contraataca. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Theoría, 2002.

                                     Joseph T. Criscenti

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San Martín, José Francisco de (1778–1850)

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