Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Evarts.
Lima, Peru , February 2, 1881. (Received March 2.)
Sir: I had intended before this time to have sent you a connected and intelligible account of the military operations which culminated in the taking of Lima by the military forces of Chili, and of the correspondence of the diplomatic corps, first with the Government of Chili (through their colleagues in Santiago), and, second, with the general-in-chief of the Chilian forces prior to the battles of the 13th and 15th ultimo, but several causes have prevented me thus far from performing this duty.
- I have been ill most of the time since the battle of Miraflores, on the 15th ultimo, in which I was caught, and from which I made my brilliant advance upon Lima, and have been in the hands of a physician until to-day.
- I have not been able to get from the dean of the diplomatic corps (Mr. Pinto, minister from Salvador) copies of the diplomatic correspondence above referred to. My clerk has just got the originals and is making copies and translations.
- A part of the documents to which I wished to refer (with many other papers relating to the war and the conferences at Arica, which might be necessary to refer to in future correspondence) was sent to the Lackawanna for safe-keeping, until it should be known whether Lima was to be sacked and burned; and this vessel left Callao a week ago for Chimbote, and has not yet returned.
I must, therefore, confine myself to the briefest possible explanation and the most pressing exigencies of the present situation. Lima, through its alcalde (mayor), representing the municipal government, having on the 16th ultimo surrendered at discretion, on the promise of protection to life and property, on condition that their entry should not be opposed and that they should not be fired upon. There was great danger that this last condition would not be complied with and it would not have been but for the Urban Guard, composed entirely of neutrals (who, at the invitation of the Peruvian Government, had for eight or ten days before the first battle protected the city from disorder, but just before the first battle had been discharged by the government, because they had inadvertently stopped one of the ministers of the government in the street [Page 859] at night). On Sunday, the 16th, the Peruvian army, having been beaten the day before at Miraflores, was completely disbanded, and Lima was filled with them, many of them still retaining their arms, all without organization or officers. They were all negroes, Indians, mulattoes, cholos, and mixed bloods of the lowest order (as there had been no white men in the ranks of the Peruvian army, except in the reserve, consisting of white men from Lima and Callao).
These disbanded soldiers, who had been forced into the army against their will, and were now thrown upon the world as outcasts, who had no place to go to, and no means of supplying themselves with food, and were really suffering from hunger, deserved, as I thought, pity and sympathy. But late in the afternoon (of the 16th) we began—I say “we,” for there were at that time in the legation and under my protection some 1,550 women and children—we began to hear firing and cries of rage and of distress along the streets, as if pandemonium itself had suddenly burst up, as with an earthquake shock, along all the streets in the city.
It was soon evident that a concerted and general, though disorderly and riotous, attack was being made upon the poor inoffensive Chinese, their shops and houses, where food was sold in small quantities; but the attack was not confined to these, it extended to almost all the pulperias, or small shops, where food and liquor were sold.
Immediate death by the rifle-shot was the penalty of resistance, and the poor Chinese almost everywhere met the same penalty without resistance. Louder and louder, as the night drew on, and louder and more pervading, horrible, and bewildering as the night progressed, became the mingled cries of vengeance and distress, and louder and ever increasing the roar of rifle-shots along the streets, until their continuous roll resembled that of a regular battle. By 10 o’clock the flames of burning buildings in various parts of the city began to illuminate the skies, and still further to terrify the hearts of the already terrified inhabitants with the prospect of a general conflagration.
Several large buildings were burned to the ground; but, thanks to the mud or clay and reeds which compose most of the buildings of Lima, a fire can spread but slowly, and its spread was checked after several valuable buildings had been burned, among them several large and valuable Chinese stores along the principal streets.
It was a night, or rather a nightmare, of chaos and unutterable horrors, a “triste noche” which defies all analysis or detail of description. But towards the dawn it began to become evident that the demon of chaos and disorder had begun to lose his force; his powers were becoming weak by sheer force of over-exertion; phrenzy had yielded to exhaustion. The Peruvian citizens, however, whose soldiers these rioters had been, were in no position to put them down, and though many of the native citizens of Lima of the better class would have rejoiced to see the reign of terror ended, they seemed utterly paralyzed, as these men were so lately their defenders.
It was now the dawn of day, and the Chilian forces were to enter at 2 o’clock p.m. If these disorderly elements were not subdued before that time there was every reason to fear that some and probably many of them, under the influence of liquor, would fire upon the Chilian forces, and Lima would then be laid in ashes.
But at the terrible moment, when all seemed lost, before the morning sun rose over the Andes a new star of hope made its appearance upon the horizon. Through all the chaotic horrors of the night an element of order, guided by intelligence, had been doing its work, and barbarism and brutality were destined to feel the force of civilization [Page 860] and intelligence, with an intelligent purpose to enforce order. Though comparatively few in number, the Urban Guard through all the horrors of the preceding night, had been organizing, and with the dawn of day quietly but resolutely took the streets “still as the breeze, but dreadful as the storm.” A few of them had pistols, others policemen’s clubs. As they came in contact with the armed rabble, often ten or fifteen to their one, they demanded their arms and their surrender. If any one refused this demand he was at once shot or knocked down and killed. The rabble at once realized that here was a power they could not resist. They threw down their arms and fled to their dens or hiding places. A few of the Urban Guards and great numbers of the rioters were killed. This process was still going on at 2 o’clock, p.m., on the 17th. The Chilian commander, learning this, waited for the entry of his forces for some two hours more, by which time order was restored, and all danger of firing upon his troops was over, when he sent in some 3,000 of his best disciplined men, who quietly entered without noise or demonstration of any kind, and Lima was saved from destruction. All neutrals and many of the Peruvians felt a sense of relief upon the entry of the Chilian forces, and, as to neutrals, I think they dread the departure of the Chilian forces as much as they dreaded their entrance; as in case of their departure the neutrals will be subjected to the prejudices, the passions, and the hatred of the Peruvians of the lower orders.
Since that time much of the rest of the army has marched quietly through Lima and encamped outside. General Saavedra is the chief civil governor of Lima under Chilian power, and seems to be doing all in his power to preserve order. Still many horrible outrages have occurred—rapes and murders—probably in spite of the utmost vigilance of the governor, but which would not have happened from a civilized soldiery. And if Chili chooses to employ savages as soldiers she must be held responsible before the world for all such excesses as would not have been likely to have been committed by a civilized soldiery under proper discipline. In the mean time the Chilian commanders are greatly embarrassed by their victory, as they can find no Peruvian government with which they can treat for peace. Piérola, at last advices, was at Tarma, still bent upon pursuing the war, though he has no army, no arms, and no financial resources, and if he insists upon continuing the war will ruin Peru without benefiting himself. He is now, however, inclined to treat under the mediation of the diplomatic corps. But the Chilian authorities, as long ago as the 14th, before the battle of Miraflores, plainly declared to our corps its determination to admit no mediation; and the diplomatic corps will not probably intervene against the will of Chili.
It is now 3 o’clock p.m., and at 5 or 6 p.m. I am expecting a diplomatic meeting to take into consideration a letter of Piérola. If he is not disposed to treat for peace on reasonable terms, I think a provisional government will be installed here, consisting of the’ municipal authorities and the notables of the vicinity, by whom a treaty of peace will be negotiated, subject to the approval of Congress, which in that event will be convened at the earliest possible moment.
February 4, 1881.—Nothing new has occurred since writing the above.
The neutrals here, who saved the city from destruction by putting down the disbanded Peruvian soldiary, dread the hostility of the Peruvians when the moment comes for the evacuation of Lima by the Chilian forces.
They fear that the foreigners” will then be accused of having aided the Chilians to take possession of Lima, and that the vengeance of the [Page 861] lower classes, at least, will be directed against them for the very action which saved the city from destruction.
In the mean time it is a most ominous fact that the general-in-chief of the Chilian forces is constantly harping upon what he calls the treachery of the Peruvians in opening the battle of Miraflores during the armistice which had been agreed upon, and this for the purpose apparently of justifying extreme measures of retaliation. The effort seems to be, on the part of the Chilians, to fix upon Pirola the preconceived design of violating the armistice, and in this view the Actualidad of the 31st ultimo contains an article setting forth what purports to be a telegram from a Mr. “Velazeo” (some irresponsible person) to the prefect of Callao, stating, on the authority of a report by the Miraflores Railroad that the Peruvians were about to attack, &c., (a copy of which telegram, and the article in the paper, I inclose, with a translation). In reference to this I wish to say, first, that I doubt the authenticity of any such telegram. No Peruvian speaks of that railroad as the Miraflores Railroad but always as the Chosrillos Railroad. Second, if the dispatch be genuine, it only purports to be a report by the railroad, for which the commander of the Peruvian forces was in no way responsible; and was probably the natural inference of the reporter (whoever he was) from the close and increasing proximity of the lines of the respective armies.
The whole diplomatic corps were witnesses to the utter surprise on the part of Piérola and his staff at the opening of the battle, and all saw the confusion, the surprise, &c., “mounting in hot haste” of Piérola and his staff at the sound of the guns. From all that can be learned, thus far, the surprise was equally great on the part of General Baquedano and his staff. But from the best information I can thus far obtain, it would seem (that though Baquedano had reserved the right to complete the movement of his forces already commenced), the Puruvian forces did not understand that he was at liberty to move up into their very faces, or into their lines, as this would be to make the armistice a farce; and I am inclined to believe that the movement of the Chilians upon the Peruvian lines was such as to induce the latter to believe an immediate attack was intended, and that thus provoked some Peruvians, without proper authority, fired the first gun.
But I will not undertake to decide so grave a question without further evidence. One thing is, I think, entirely clear, that the great mass of the Chilian soldiery came here under the belief that they should be gratified by the sacking and plunder of Lima, and that the general-in-chief, who naturally seeks to retain the good will of his soldiery, may feel a little cramped by the terms of surrender which he accorded at the instance of neutrals, and may therefore not be strongly averse to indulging the general understanding and wish of his soldiers upon any pretext which might excuse it, seems to me not wholly improbable, though I shall be slow to credit this until the event shall demonstrate it; and I hope there may be nothing to afford even the pretext for such indulgence.
I have, &c.,