Cancha Rayada: The darkest night for General San Martín

Perhaps the most admirable virtue of the general San Martin It has been his ability to recover in the face of adversity, in the face of illnesses and the pettiness of men.

“Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan,” Bonaparte had said, but that night of March 19, 1818, very close to the place where the Chilean forces suffered a flagrant defeat just four years before, San Martín assumed the paternity of the defeat and only a few weeks later granted independence to Chile in the fields of Maipú.

After the capture of Marcó del Pont on the Chacabuco slope, General José Ordóñez took command of the Spanish troops and, waiting for reinforcements that would arrive from Spain, entrenched himself in Talca.

San Martín, an egregious hero

The Argentine-Chilean army camped in two parallel lines on the outskirts of that city. Ordóñez saw the compromised position of the Creoles and an attack was assured without delay, despite it being almost night.

Although San Martín had realized the error and ordered a change of position, the royalist forces did not miss the opportunity and, by launching the attack, produced a phenomenal confusion among the patriot troops which ended in the colossal disbandment of the column commanded by San Martín himself and, later, of the forces led by Bernardo O’Higgins, who was wounded in the confrontation.

striped court

“The confusion that occurred in our troops is impossible to describe,” wrote Colonel Manuel Alejandro Pueyrredón, years later in the chronicles of the war of independence. The only one who remained calm was the then Colonel Gregorio Las Heras, who rescued almost half of the army (3,500 men) and in order the battlefield ended without attempting to a counterattackdecision that was praised by his superiors, aware that this it would only have aggravated the chaos among the patriot troops.

To launch the attack, produce a phenomenal confusion among the patriot troops which ended in the colossal disbandment of the column commanded by San Martín himself

News of the disaster spread like wildfire and in a few hours he arrived in Santiago, where many followers of the independence cause decided to flee the city. The retaliation of the royalists a few years before was still fresh in the memory of the Creoles. Among those who took the road to Mendoza was Bernardo de Monteagudo, who was then officiating as general councilor.

General Jose de San Martin, the hero of the homeland who knew how to overcome adversity; He deserves the bronzes.

O’Higgins He was treated by Dr. James Paroissien who suggested, due to the rumors that spread around Santiago, that it was better to cross the mountain range to distance the Spanish repression, to which the Chilean chief replied: “I’ve had enough with one exile.” He was determined to fight to the last consequences…

José de San Martín, the man

The substitute director, Colonel Luis de la Cruz, called a meeting with the civil and military forces of the city to get acquainted with all the details.

The general was present Miguel Brayer, a French officer in the Napoleonic armies who, after the departure of the Emperor, had decided to lend his saber in the Latin American feat. He was preceded by his reputation for bravery and the honor of having served under Napoleon.

The testimony of Brayer (who served as Chief of Staff) it was disconcerting. In his opinion it was impossible to rebuild after the defeat suffered, the army was demoralized and all hope of repairing the blow where almost all the artillery had been lost had been lost. Those present were stunned by this statement from someone so qualified. The only one who dared to contradict him was Tomás Guido, who assured “this Assembly with irrefutable testimonies that I possess that General San Martín… dictates the most precise orders for the reconcentration of the troops”.

San Martin
defeated in striped courton March 19, 1818, he did not let himself be dejected.

Saint Martin in his darkest night

At that time, the most unusual versions were spread about the fate of the Liberator, from when he had been shot on the battlefield until he found himself on his way to Mendoza…The Chilean Manuel Rodríguez, a brave and determined man of the libertarian causehe organized a unit called “Los húsares de la muerte”, ready to initiate a desperate resistance since for Rodríguez –a sympathizer of the Carrera brothers– O’Higgins and San Martín were dead or, worse still, had fled.

Only the letter of the Liberator destined for the Cross, Informing that he was reorganizing the army in San Fernando, he partially restored tranquility to the Chilean capital.

Aware of the chaos in the streets of Santiago, O’Higgins, despite his injuries, hastened his return to the city where he arrived at dawn on the 23rd. It was imperative to put an end to Manuel Rodríguez’s intrigues and resume command.

The history of General José de San Martín that we do not know

Guido went in search of San Martín whom he found dejected by circumstances. “My friends have abandoned me!” he exclaimed. attentive to the versions and criticisms that ran in that very difficult moment. Guido assured him that they were waiting for him in Santiago as a savior.

“The people are overflowing with joy and enthusiasm when they learn of your approach… they await you as their Messiah and you will be received with clapping.” Serenaded the spirit of him, the Liberator replied: “We promise we will recover what was lost.” and he continued on his way to Santiago where an anxious crowd was waiting for him, to whom he addressed words of hope.

“Chileans, one of those events that is not given to man to avoid, made our army suffer a contrast… It is natural that this unexpected blow and the uncertainty made you hesitate”…

And after describing the process of reorganizing the army, General San Martín assures those present: “The country exists and will triumph and I pledge my word of honor to give South America a day of glory shortly.” The people received these words with joy.

“Chileans, one of those events that is not given to man to avoid, made our army suffer a contrast… It is natural that this unexpected blow and the uncertainty made you hesitate”…

This was a prophecy that the general fulfilled sooner than many thought…

The surprise coup had been more psychological than real since Ordóñez had not ventured to pursue the fleeing patriots and missed the opportunity to finish them off.

Birthplace of San Martín in Yapeyú
birth house of Jose de San Martinin Yapeyu, Corrientes.

The dead among the criollos barely added 120, the scattered (which were estimated at 2000 men) were returning to the barracks, but the artillery of the army of the Andes had been lost as well as the park, only the Chilean cannons remained. To obtain information with ammunition obtained, the patriots counted, San Martín summoned Fray Luis Beltrán, who, when asked by the general and knowing the importance of raising spirits, responded by raising his arm “To the roofs, Lord.”

José de San Martín, between romantic bronze and the heart of his homeland

Actually this was a venial lie, because the scarcity was alarming but this was supplied with the tireless activity of this “Vulcano de la Patria” that came to manufacture 50,000 cartridges per day in order to supply the needs of the army.

Not only did the friar work tirelessly, San Martín meticulously planned the next battle considering all its aspects, even that of a defeat… according to Las Heras, in 10 days the general had rested 40 hours and worked 200…

Jose de San Martin 20220816

San Martín after Cancha Rayada

In those days, Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, Supreme Director of the United Provinces, upon learning of the setback, sent the Liberator a letter from Buenos Aires in which he said: “The public man is never more worthy of admiration and respect than when he knows rise above misfortune.”

And this is how he revealed it who would become the Father of the Nation, the person to whom everyone turns their eyes in search of confidence, strength and direction in dark moments.

We all know how the story goes. San Martín punished those who fled in moments of anxiety. General Brayer, shortly before going into action in Maipú, asked the general in chief for permission to retire due to the inconvenience caused by a knee wound.

It was then that San Martín blurted out a phrase in which he unloaded the fury contained by the French’s foolish comments. “Even the last drummer has more honor than you.”

The Liberator urged his troops on the plains of Maipú, urging them to a “honorable death in the field of honor to suffer it in the hands of our executioners” and glory covered him in the plains of Maipú where the fate of America met, on April 5, 1818.
After the darkest night is when the sun shines brightest.

*Argentine historian and ophthalmology doctor

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