Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Battle of San Francisco

Battle of San Francisco
Part of War of the Pacific
Date November 19, 1879
Location South America
Result Chilean victory
Chile Peru
Col. Emilio Sotomayor Gen. Juan Buendia
6,500 soldiers:
3 regiments
4 battalions
2 artillery batteries
7,400 soldiers:
17 battalions
1 artillery battery
2 cavalry squadrons
Casualties and losses
60 killed
148 wounded
220 killed
76 wounded
3,200 missing
18 smoothbore

The Battle of San Francisco, also known as Battle of Dolores, fought on November 19, 1879, was the third battle of the Tarapaca Campaign in the War of the Pacific, after Pisagua and Germania. A Chilean army commanded by Colonel Emilio Sotomayor successfully held off and dispersed the bulk of the Peruvian army led by General Juan Buendía at San Francisco hill, near the town of Dolores. The Allies lost a huge amount of war material such as cannons, ammunition and weapons. The catastrophe for the Allies was the result of poor logistics, inefficient leadership and the unexpected desertion of the Bolivian Army under the half-hearted command of President Hilarion Daza, known as the Camarones betrayal.


The Chilean forces had disembarked at the port of Pisagua after launching an amphibious operation on November 2nd, separating and isolating the Allied strongholds of Arica and Iquique; encountering merely mild resistance. On the 6th, Chilean cavalry led by Lt. Col. Jose Francisco Vergara almost annihilated the Peruvian Husares de Junin Cavalry Regiment at Pampa Germania [1] . The Chilean Army had taken extreme care in securing water sources - very rare in the dry Atacama Desert - and in adopting high and easily defendable positions. Meanwhile, the Peruvian army under the command of the old yet incompetent General Juan Buendia marched in an attempt to intercept the Chilean forces. It was Buendia's hope that his Bolivian allies commanded by President Hilarion Daza would link up with his forces in order to numerically overwhelm the fortified Chileans on the San Francisco hill top. However, the route from the Bolivian highlands to San Francisco was long and perilous; furthermore, the Bolivians stubbornly marched in full daylight, thus having to endure the scorching heat of the desert sun. Naturally, when the Bolivians reached the creek of Camarones near San Francisco, they were in no condition to fight a battle. Buendia was forced to face the Chileans on his own.

Preliminary situation

Chilean preliminary situation

On November 7, the "Buin" 1st Line and the 4th Line regiments with the Atacama and Coquimbo battalions, plus an artillery battery marched from Hospicio to Dolores. The next day took the same route the 3rd Line Regiment, the Navales and Valparaíso battalions and another artillery battery. These two columns reunited at Dolores on November 10th. The Chilean forces, under the command of Colonel Emilio Sotomayor, had a strength of 6,500 men [1] .

Peruvian preliminary situation

On November 5th, the Allies marched to Pozo Almonte, increasing its numbers with stray soldiers. On the 13th, Buendia left Pozo Almonte and moved towards Agua Santa, reaching his destination four days later. During the march, the soldiers were haunted by the lack of food and water. The troops marched to Negritos, and thence to Dolores. On the night of the 18th, Gen. Buendia decide to advance to Dolores and engage the Chilean troops posted there [2]

Armies layout

Chilean battle plan and disposition

When a scout group of the Cazadores a Caballo Cavalry Regiment encountered the marching Allied forces, Colonel Sotomayor - after a bitter discussion with Lt. Col. José Fco. Vergara - decided to fortify the position on the top of the San Francisco hill, where the larger number of the Allies represented no advantage whatsoever. Also, the artillery was divided in groups guarded with infantry [3]

The Chilean forces were divided into three groups and deployed as it follows:

On the northern elevation or Dolores hill, were the "Buin" 1st Line Regiment and the Valparaíso and Navales battalions; a six cannon battery directed by Cptn. Roberto Wood and another six mountain cannons led by Cptn. Eulogio Villareal [4] .

On the southern edge of the San Francisco hill was set the 4th Line Regiment with the Atacama and Coquimbo battalions; an eight cannon battery commanded by Sgt. Major Jose Maria de la Cruz Salvo, another six piece battery and 2 Gatling machine guns of Sgt. Major Benjamin Montoya, this last one set on the south-eastern part of this hill [4] .

On the hills San Bartolo and Tres Clavos was deployed the 3rd Line Regiment, along with a detachment of 50 soldiers from different units, besides some riders of the Cazadores a Caballo Cavalry Regiment; and two batteries of four cannons each [4] .

Peruvian battle plan and disposition

General Buendia divided his 7,400 troops in three columns. In this plan, Buendia counted on Hilarion Daza's Bolivian troops, but the latter decided to return to Arica after a long and extenuating march.

The three columns were placed under the command of Belisario Suarez, Andres Caceres and Buendia himself. The Suarez' column was formed by the Villamil, Bolognesi and Velarde divisions. This units were composed by the Cazadores de Cuzco Nº5, Cazadores de la Guardia Nº7, Ayacucho, Guardia de Arequipa, Aroma, Vengadores, Victoria and Colquechaca battalions.

Buendia had under his command the Villegas, Bustamante and Davila divisions, formed by the Ayacucho Nº3, Provisional de Lima Nº3, Cerro de Pasco, Puno Nº6, Lima Nº8, Illimani, Olañeta, Paucarpata, Dalance battalions, besides two cavalry squadrons and a six cannon battery.

Finally, the third column of Caceres was placed on the rear as reserve [5] .

The battle

A few Bolivian soldiers went to the San Francisco dwell looking for water, accidentally firing a gunshot, situation answered with one cannon shot by the Chilean artillery, thinking an imminent attack. These actions began the battle. Despite the Allied officers efforts to contain their men, the Peruvian and Bolivian forces attacked the Chilean positions in disorder.

Bolivian Gen. Carlos Villegas, with two companies of Puno and Ayacucho battalions, alongside with another two companies of the Illimani and Olañeta battalions started to fire at the Chilean positions causing no damage at all because of the long distance separating them and their enemies. Col. Lavadenz himself with the first company of the Dalance Battalion shortened the distance between them and the Chilean batteries of Amunategui's group, getting close to forty paces away from its objective. Gen Villegas then ordered another Dalance Battalion company to enter into the battle, along with the Lima Nº 8 and Puno battalions [5] .

Whilst these actions occurred on the Chilean left flank, Gen. Buendia's column headed to Dolores hill, describing a semicircle trying to take the Chilean position at Tres Clavos. Meanwhile this manoeuvre was being executed, the Chilean batteries of Frias and Carvallo caught Buendia in a heavy cross fire, breaking the Allies formation for a moment. Nevertheless, the Peruvian troops reorganized and continued advancing towards its objective, despite the severe loss of men. When the Allied troops got closer, the Chilean infantry posted here - six companies of the 3rd Line Regiment - stopped the attacking forces and obliged them to retreat out of Chilean batteries range [5] .

Villegas, having a part of his troops engaged in battle with Amunategui, advanced with the rest of his soldiers reinforcing Lavadenz and Espinar, and charged against Salvo's battery, defended only by its 56 cannon servants. Salvo spread his troops defending their positions with their rifles, as his soldiers spiked their cannons in an attempt to keep them from falling into Allied hands, waiting for reinforcements.

Two companies of the Atacama Battalion came in Salvo's aid, forcing the enemy to retreat. The Allies were rebuilt at hill bottom by another company of the Dalance Bn. and charged again. But this time, another Chilean company of the Coquimbo Battalion reached this position and with the remaining troops counterattacked this second effort on the hill slope. One last attack took place, but it was rejected once again with a bayonet charge [3] . This time the Allies withdrew definitively.

The Chilean troops didn't chase the Allies in their retreat, staying in their positions at the top of the hill, thinking the Allies would regroup and attack again the next day.


The Chileans lost 208 men between dead and wounded. The Allies had 296 casualties, plus over 3.000 missing troops. This defeat was a very rough blow for the Peruvian Army Southern Command. The remaining troops marched to Tarapacá.

6. Notes

1. Mellafe, Rafael; Pelayo, Mauricio (2004). La Guerra del Pacífico en imágenes, relatos, testimonios. Centro de Estudios Bicentenario.
2. Basadre, Jorge. "La verdadera epopeya". http://www.unjbg.edu.pe. Retrieved on 2008.
3. Ojeda Frex, Jorge. "Batalla de Dolores". http://www.geocities.com/blautz_9000/articulos/Dolores.htm. Retrieved on 2008.
4. Reyno Gutiérrez, Manuel; Gómez Ehrmann, Sergio; Guerrero Yoacham, Cristián (1985). Historia del Ejército de Chile, tomo V. Estado Mayor General del Ejército de Chile.
5. Machuca, Francisco (1926). Las cuatro campañas de la Guerra del Pacífico, Vol. I. Imprenta Victoria, Valparaíso.

7. References

* Machuca, Francisco (1926). Las cuatro campañas de la Guerra del Pacífico. Imprenta Victoria, Valparaíso.

* Reyno Gutiérrez, M

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