Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Evarts.
Lima, Peru, February 19, 1881. (Received March 18.)
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 This is the letter which the Chilian officers and representatives here insist shall be withdrawn before they will consent to treat with Piérola as the Government of Peru.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.
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.,
- The actual time was 2.20 p.m.—I. P. C.↩