No. 528.
Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Evarts.

No. 243.]

Sir: I have the honor to inclose the copy (and translation) of a letter from Aurelio García y García, secretary-general of Piérola, to the dean of the diplomatic corps resident in Lima, dated Canta, January 20, 1881. This is the letter which the Chilian officers and representatives here insist shall be withdrawn before they will consent to treat with Piérola as the Government of Peru.

Now, though the Chilian authorities have not, so far as I know, specified the particular part of this letter to which they object, yet I am inclined to believe it must be that part which charges the Chilians with having treacherously opened the battle in defiance of the armistice which had been agreed upon, as I am inclined to believe that all the other charges contained in the letter are true, and that they could not be successfully denied by the Chilian authorities. It is quite true, I think, from the universal reports which I have heard, that the towns of Chorillos, Barranco, and Miraflores were wantonly and unnecessarily burned after all resistance had ceased, and that Barranco never resisted at all. I think also that it is entirely true that the Chilians murdered upon the field of battle, on the 13th, at least such wounded soldiers as they found upon the field from which the Peruvians had retired. They mayor may not have excepted Peruvian officers, but the general report from Chilian officers, as given to me from officers * * who have conversed with them, is that as a rule they killed on the field all the Peruvian wounded who fell into their hands, with the occasional exception, possibly, of Peruvian officers.

I know that when at Arica, in September, the Chilian governor of the place informed me that in taking Arica they took no wounded Peruvian soldiers there, and from all I could learn from all sources the same was substantially the fact at the battle of Tacna, with very slight exceptions. It may be, and I hope it is, true that after the battle of Miraflores, when the Chilians knew the Peruvians were totally defeated and disbanded, they may have saved some of the Peruvian wounded found upon the field; but all their reports thus far have shown a greater number of Peruvians killed than wounded, which tends strongly to show the truth of the reports that the wounded Peruvians found upon the field were put out of their sufferings in the shortest possible manner. In making these statements I do not profess to speak upon my own knowledge, but upon the best information I can obtain, which I hope, for the honor of humanity, may turn out to be untrue.

What the letter says of the Chilian navy forming a line of battle in front of Miraflores and the advance of the Chilian army on the 15th after the armistice is, from the best information I. can obtain, substantially true. It is at least quite certain that the Chilian army continued [Page 872] after the armistice to extend its left wing around and near the right wing of the Peruvian army, and these, at least, to approach much nearer to the latter; but whether the rest of their line advanced nearer is not so clear, though I think the weight of evidence, judging from all sources of information, is that they did advance in several parts of their line nearer to the Peruvian line.

But the great question is, whether the right to do this was or was not reserved by General Baquedano in granting the armistice. He claims that it was, while Piérola, through his secretary, in the letter in question, appears to ignore any such condition, and assumes that the battle was opened by the Chilians. Upon this point (who fired the first gun and thus opened the battle), while I and the rest of the diplomatic corps, being at Piérola’s headquarters in Miraflores when the battle opened, supposed the attack had been commenced by the Chilians, yet, subsequent information has gone far to satisfy me that the first gun was fired from the side of the Peruvians; probably the unauthorized act of some subordinate officer, provoked by seeing General Baquedano and his staff reconnoitering within a few hundred yards of their front, and probably also seeing the advance of the Chilian army near the right of the Peruvian positions.

But that General Baquedano believed that he had reserved the right to make these movements and this reconnoissance there can be scarcely room for doubt, as he was himself with his staff in the most exposed position when the firing commenced, and lost his horse, and was compelled to hasten to the rear and to bring up the troops who, like himself, had been thrown off their guard by the armistice.

On the other hand, I was, with all the diplomatic corps, an eye-witness to the utter surprise and astonishment, not to say terror, of Piérola and his staff, at the sudden and, to them and to us, unexpected opening of the battle; and I have not the slightest reason to doubt that they were relying in good faith upon the armistice, and believed at the time that it had been violated by the Chilians, and that the battle had been opened by them. Whether he learned the contrary during or after the battle I cannot say. As he was some little distance in the rear and fled when his forces were routed, I am inclined to think he had not learned the fact (that his own forces first opened fire) at the time when this letter of the 20th January was written.

The whole merits, therefore, in my view, turn upon the question what were really the terms of the armistice? This was arranged with General Baquedano, verbally, by the committee of the diplomatic corps (consisting of the dean and the ministers of France and England).

It is greatly to be regretted that in so grave a matter the terms had not been put in writing to avoid misconception and misconstruction. The letter of the secretary-general of Piérola, above referred to, gives what Piérola claims to have been the terms as communicated to him verbally. The Chilian secretary of war writing, or rather telegraphing, to his government on the 16th January, simply says, “A committee of the diplomatic corps, composed of the ministers of England, France, and Salvador, came yesterday to this camp at the request of the Supreme Chief of Peru, and an armistice was arranged between them and the Chilian commander-in-chief, to expire at 12 o’clock of the same night.” Here no conditions are mentioned.

General Baquedano, in reporting the same transaction to his government on the 16th, simply says of the armistice:

After mature deliberation, I promised not to open fire that day, and to wait their reply until 12 o’clock at night; as this kind of armistice involved no other compromise, I continued making my preparations for the combat.

[Page 873]

Now, aside from these official declarations, I learn verbally from Mr. St. John, the British minister, that General Baquedano, in assenting to the armistice, did reserve the right to complete the movement already begun of massing his artillery on his left (the right of the Peruvian line), and he sometimes states it as a right to complete any movement already began; but so far as I can learn, this was the only movement so begun. Now, whether this condition (whatever it was) was fully explained to and understood by Piérola I think there is some room for doubt, though I am far from charging or believing that the French and English ministers or the dean of the corps purposely withheld from Piérola these conditions. Yet, in the haste and excitement incident to their conference with him, I can readily see that there was much room for misapprehension, and that Piérola may not have had the same full apprehension of these conditions that General Baquedano had.

This is all I can, with propriety, say of this affair until further authentic information shall be obtained.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure in No. 243.—Translation.]

Señor Garcia to Señor Pinto.

After the battle of Chorillos of the 13th instant, between the part of the national army defending that line and the invading forces of Chili, his excellency the Supreme Chief of the republic ordered the retreat of the army on the positions of Miraflores, which were also the camp of the Lima reserve.

The morning of the 14th instant a Chilian flag of truce, accompanying Col. Miguel Iglesias, commander-in-chief of the first division of the Peruvian army, and who was made a prisoner during the battle of the previous day, made their appearance towards the right front of our line. Their object was to ask a pass for Colonel Iglesias, who, under word of honor, came on a mission from General Baquedano to the Supreme Chief. This being granted, Colonel Iglesias made known to his excellency the object of his mission, which was to ascertain if, on the part of the Government of Peru, propositions of peace would be heard. The affirmative answer of his excellency led to an open field for any negotiation, he specifying moreover that those propositions could either be made by writing or verbally, by a negotiator duly authorized. With that frank answer Colonel Iglesias went back to the camp of the enemy.

Two hours afterwards a second flag of truce was seen by our advanced guards, and with it the Chilian chief, Señor Guillermo Lira Errazuris, who was introduced into the general staff of his excellency the Supreme Chief. The undersigned, who was ordered to communicate with the Chilian chief referred to, heard his proposition, which was to disoccupy immediately the positions of Miraflores in order to be occupied by the Chilian army; this was demanded as a previous and indispensable condition before commencing the discussion.

Miraflores being the support of our right wing and the dominant point of that second line of defense, such pretension was equivalent to exacting a complete victory without exertion or loss of any kind.

Similar observations and many others pertinent to the occasion, which I omit to state to avoid confusion, were not sufficient to modify in the least the ideas of the Chilian commissioner, whose intentions were evidently directed to his single object, going so far as to reject the proposition of a short armistice, which I stated as a means for discussion, free from the natural excitement of the recent contest which we had just sustained and in face of the new one which we now found imminent. In view of the impossibility of an agreement, we ended this fictitious negotiation for peace.

It was then when the friendly mediation of the honorable diplomatic corps accredited to Peru begun, initiated by a commission chosen from among them and composed of the honorable ministers Spencer St. John and De Vorges, who asked his excellency if Peru would accept their friendly mediation which they proposed, and offering at the same time to go to the camp of the enemy for that purpose.

[Page 874]

Such worthy and benevolent proceeding will always be cause of gratitude from the people and Government of Peru.

The facility of communication, and afterwards that of going to the Chilian camp, which those honorable ministers, in representation of all their colleagues, have had are too well known to your excellency to mention them here.

But it is indispensable to remember, because it is for the prestige of those representatives, for that of the friendly nations to Peru, in which name they acted, and for military honor, which is uniform in all the civilized nations of the world, that negotiations of peace were opened under the friendly intervention of the diplomatic corps. His excellency receiving word through your excellency and the honorable ministers of Great Britain and France, Messrs. Spencer St. John and De Vorges, of the assurance given by the Chilian General Baquedano, and accepted by him in the same form, that no act of hostility would be practiced until 12 o’clock of the night of Saturday, the 15th, the time which said general limited to receive an answer to the propositions of peace, and which declaration, according to the rules of war, constituted a true armistice.

Notwithstanding such solemn agreement, the Chilian navy, composed of 14 ships, formed a line of attack in front of Miraflores from the morning of the 15th, and the army on the other hand advanced in line of battle in front of our line, shortening the distance to some 1,800 meters, placing conveniently its artillery, and taking advantageous positions which they could not have taken without great sacrifice.

Of all these movements, which infringed what had been agreed upon, his excellency the Supreme Chief received constant notice, in the presence of Admiral Sterling, of the British fleet in the Pacific; Admiral Du Petit Thouars, of the French fleet; the commander of the corvette Christoval Colon, chief of the Italian fleet, and another commander of an English vessel, all of whom went there to offer their humane and friendly action; but as all this took place in the rooms inhabited by his excellency the Supreme Chief, in the presence of all the members of the diplomatic corps, it was impossible to the loyalty of the Supreme Chief to admit that, under such exceptional circumstances, an act of perfidy was intended to be realized which could hardly occur even among the half-savage tribes of Africa or Araucania.

While this was happening, his excellency, as also your excellency, the admirals and commanders, who at that moment were in his company, received as first notice the fire which simultaneously broke out at 1.30 p.m.* from the Chilian army and navy upon Miraflores, and on our right wing, beginning thus the battle of Saturday, 15th, which treacherous origin was witnessed, with imminent peril of their lives, by your honorable colleagues, the admirals and commanders already named, as also the naval officers of the United States, France, Great Britain, and Italy, who were added to our general staff.

The soldiers of a nation who, like those of Chili, have, with many of our chiefs and officers prisoners, coolly and cowardly shot-them, assassinating on the battle-field the helpless wounded, and totally burning, after their occupation, the towns of Chorillos, Barranco, and Miraflores, and following the fatal logic of barbarism, were bound to disregard all moral respect and military agreement.

The object of the present letter, which I have been ordered to address to your excellency, is to leave an official record of the authenticity of those facts, craving your excellency to give a copy of it to each of your honorable colleagues, for all of whom this is intended.

I remain, &c.,

  1. The actual time was 2.20 p.m.—I. P. C.