Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Blaine.
Lima, Peru , May 5, 1881. (Received June 2.)
Sir: Referring to my dispatches Nos. 230, 237, and 242, in reference to the question whether the Chilians or Peruvians were most responsible for the breach of the armistice on the 15th of January last, I have now to say that the question has at last been practically solved. The committee of the diplomatic corps, consisting of Mr. Pinto, of Salvador (its dean), and the ministers of England and France, who, with the dean, constituted the committee of the corps, who, on the morning of the 15th January, arranged the armistice with General Baquedano and the Chilian staff, seeing the report of General Baquedano, as made to his own government, have felt it their duty to make an official statement of the real terms of the armistice, which is quite different from the statement of the report of General Baquedano. The general, in his report, stated substantially that he reserved the right of making any movement in the mean time, with the single condition that he was not to open fire upon the Peruvians until 12 o’clock of the night of the 15th. This, if true, would have allowed him to move his lines up to the front of and into the very lines of the Peruvian force; to attack them by his cavalry, so long as they used only the saber, and did not fire, &c.; all which would, of course, render the armistice a farce.
But it will be seen by the joint statement of the three ministers, who arranged the terms (which I here inclose, with a translation), that the right reserved by the Chilian authorities—to make any new movement in the mean time or to complete any movement already commenced—was under the express reservation that such movement should not go beyond the grand (or advanced) guard of their army, which, of course, must mean as that guard was then placed (at about 7 o’clock in the morning). Any other meaning would make nonsense, when the actual circumstances are considered.
Now, it clearly appears, from the report of the chief of the Chilian artillery, when compared with other well-known facts, that their artillery on their left (the Peruvian right) was moved far in advance of the position held by the “grand guard” in the morning, and that this movement took place as early as 11 a.m., and that this commandant of artillery, finding himself so far in advance of the rest of the Chilian army, sent a request to have the infantry advanced to cover his flanks, which was promptly accorded, thus bringing the Chilian line much nearer to the Peruvian line than was contemplated by the armistice; that even General Baquedano, with his staff, reconnoitering when the battle opened, was far in advance of the line held by his “grand guard” in the morning; in short, that this forward movement was such as naturally and reasonably to induce the belief in the Peruvian forces, that the Chilians were deliberately setting the terms of the armistice at defiance, and intended to attack them in defiance of the armistice. In this view the responsibility for the breach of the armistice must rest upon the Chilian commanders, though the first gun was fired by the Peruvians.
I make no further comments upon this transaction than to say, that in a war between these South American governments, experience has demonstated that the same scrupulous good faith in the observance of [Page 906] any armistice, or any other arrangement between belligerents, is hardly to be expected as would be expected with more enlightened nations of Europe and in the United States.
I have, &c.,