Battle of Huamachuco
|War of the Pacific|
|Alejandro Gorostiaga||Andres Caceres|
|Casualties and losses|
|65 dead||1.000 dead or captured|
The Battle of Huamachuco (July 10th, 1883) was the last major battle of the War of the Pacific. The Chilean soldiers led by Col. Alejandro Gorostiaga defeated decisively an army commanded by Gen. Andrés Cáceres, who lost the 75% of his forces. Thus, this Chilean decisive victory effectively eliminated the Cáceres' Ejército de la Sierra, ending with any real force of resistance in the Peruvian Andes. The Peruvian defeat paved the way for the treaty of Ancon that finally put an end to the war. Also, one of Peru's greatest heroes, Colonel Leoncio Prado, died as a consequence of this battle.
The defeats suffered by the Chilean army in Marcavalle, Pucará and La Concepcion, in addition to the decimation of troops by poor sanitation, convinced the Chilean High Command of the need to completely abandon the Central Andes. This retreat was made possible by the Chilean victory at Tarma Tambo on July 15th, 1882. By that time, the occupation troops had been reduced to about half their original size. Peruvian General Andres Caceres controlled the Mantaro valley and had even possessed the city of Huancayo. He established his command in Tarma and busied himself reorganizing his army. By January of 1883, Cáceres had raised his troops to 3.200 men well-armed and equipped, and commanded central Peru.
Faced with this threat to the peace negotiations, Admiral Patricio Lynch, the Chilean Commander-in-Chief, decided to send a new force against General Caceres. This new army comprised 3 divisions, under the command of Colonels García, del Canto and Arriagada. The Chilean army was well armed, and had learned the lessons of previous forays into the high Andes. Their plan was to surround and corner the Peruvians to force them into a conventional battle. Soon, they captured the strategic city of Jauja and on May 5th, they united in the city of Chicla. Faced with this grave threat, the Peruvian army retreated north.
On May 30th the Peruvian army arrived in Cerro de Pasco, with the Chilean divisions under Colonels del Canto and García in close pursuit. Under those circumstances, the Peruvians continued to retreat into the high Andes. By the third week of June the Peruvians were in critical condition. The Chileans had almost cornered them. On June 22nd General Caceres ordered retreat via the Llanganuco pass, located at an altitude of over 6.000 meters. Thanks to this risky maneuver, he evaded the main Chilean force. After many more hardships, on July 5 the Peruvian army arrived in Tulpo, near Ayacucho. There, general Caceres learned that the Chilean Colonel Alejandro Gorostiaga was occupying the town of Huamachuco, isolated from the main body of the Chilean army. Another enemy group was advancing from the rear to reinforce him in the town and to help push the Peruvians towards Cajamarca.
Caceres decided to try and destroy this reinforcement before it could reach the Gorostiaga division, but Chilean scouts were on the alert and the surprise was foiled. At that point, the Peruvian general called a war council and the decision was taken to stop retreating and try to destroy the Chilean forces in the town.
Position of the forces
On July 8th, 1883 the Peruvian forces, about 1.440 men in all, took positions on Cuyulga hill and also on the facing Purrubamba hill, overlooking the city. The Peruvians were armed with Peabody and Remington rifles, but didn't have much ammunition or bayonets. Originally, General Caceres divided his troops, with half on the Cuyulga hill and the rest on the left of it, to try to cut the enemy from behind. Colonel Gorostiaga as soon as he saw the Peruvians on the top of the hills, immediately gathered all his troops and evacuated the city, taking position in the Sazón hill, a perfect defensive position, steep and with a very difficult access, facing the Cuyulga, that sported some Inca ruins that were to be used as parapets.
The Peruvians took control of the town of Huamachuco. On July 8th and July 9th there were a few artillery exchanges but the final assault was reserved for the early hours of July 10th. Their plan was to attack the most vulnerable Chilean position southeast of the Sazón hill. The Chileans, noticing the Peruvian advance, moved down the hill to try to contain the attack. The first Chilean attack was against the right enemy flank on the Cuyulga. Two companies of the Chilean Zapadores Battalion got down the Sazón heading for the Santa Bárbara's Peruvian positions. Cáceres sent two companies of his Junín and Jauja battalions which opposed fierce opposition, and the troops got stuck in the area. Also sent companies of the Cazadores de Concepción and Marcavalle battalions seeking to envolve the Chilean troops in retreat. Gorostiaga sent a company of the Concepcion Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Luis Dell'Orto to stop this envolving movement facing the attack of the Peruvian's colonel Astete division.
One after another the Chilean companies entered into battle at the same rate the Peruvian battalions did. At that moment, both armies were on an equal footing. The Chilean's right wing was defended by one company of the Talca Battalion facing the troops of Manuel Cáceres. The Chileans were forced to retreat back to their own lines, under the Peruvian attack. Little by little, the Peruvians started to push the full Chilean line back up onto the Sazón hill. The Chilean artillery was silenced and regrouped at the left of the Chilean lines, protected by the cavalry and the Zapadores Battalion, plus troops of the Concepción and Talca units. The Peruvians almost got to the top of the hill. Four hours into the combat, Cáceres could almost taste victory. Gorostiaga's forces were reduced to defending themselves on the very top of the hill. In those moments, the Peruvians started to run out of ammunition. It was at that point that General Cáceres made a fatal mistake: he ordered the Peruvian artillery to relocate in the valley facing the hill to try to provide the final coup. Gorostiaga saw this tactical error and ordered a cavalry charge - a squadron of the Cazadores a Caballo Regiment led by Sergeant Major Sofanor Parra - to the defenseless artillery, which was completely neutralized, losing seven cannons in the process and the servers were dispersed and killed
Chilean counter-attack and the ending
Meanwhile, the Chileans quickly reorganized themselves and launched a massive bayonet counter-attack against the Peruvian lines. The Peruvians, who didn't have this weapon and had almost run out of ammunition by then, could only defend themselves with the butts of their rifles. The Chilean counter-attack downhill broke the Peruvian lines as the troops collapsed and started to disband. The battle at this point was decided and a few moments later, the Chilean infantry supported by two cannons took the Peruvian campament at the Cuyulga hill, ending the battle.
The Peruvians lost 800 men, almost two thirds of their forces, including a great part of their officers. Among them were General Pedro Silva, Chief of Staff Colonel Manuel Tafur, the four divisional chiefs: Germán Astete, Manuel Cáceres, Juan Gastó and Máximo Tafur. Many more died or were executed after the battle, among them one of Peru's greatest heroes, Colonel Leoncio Prado. General Cáceres, injured, was able to escape and evade capture. The battle effectively ended all further Peruvian resistance and the Treaty of Ancón, putting an end to the war, was signed 3 months later, on October 20th 1883.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Official report of Alejandro Gorostiaga. Commandant of the Chilean forces at Huamachuco
- ↑ Official report of Alejandro Cruz, Commandant of the Talca Battalion
- ↑ Official report of G. Fontecilla, Commander of the Nº 2 Artillery Brigade
- ↑ Official report of Alberto Novoa Gormaz, Commandant of the Cazadores a Caballo Cavalry Regt.
- (1883). "A Great Chilian Victory." New York Times August 14.
- Markham, C. R. (1892). A History of Peru. Chicago: Sergel.
- Scheina, Robert (2003). Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Caudillo. Dulles, VA: Brasseys.
- Thurner, Mark (1997). From Two Republics to One Divided. Durham: Duke University Press.