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José Francisco de San Martín (c. 1778 – 17 August 1850), known simply as José de San Martín, was an Argentine general and the prime leader of the southern part of South America's successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire.
CivilopediaEditLived: 1778 - 1850
Groomed from a young age for the life of a soldier, Jose de San Martin would grow to lead the Peruvian and Chilean people to independence from Spain.
Born in Argentina, but raised in Spain, by the age of 11, Jose de San Martin was already a member of the Spanish armed forces. In the Peninsular War between Spain and France in 1808, San Martin began as an aide to the Spanish leadership; by war's end he had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
In the midst of the war, the Spanish king abdicated from power to be replaced by an appointment of the opposing French. The citizens of Argentina, upon hearing of the Spanish government's state of disarray, decided that there would be no better time to declare independence. When news of the Argentine revolution reached him, San Martin elected to support the rebels' cause, leaving Spain for the New World. Upon his arrival, he was immediately recruited by the rebel forces to begin mustering and training an elite regiment. His regiment, known as the Mounted Grenadiers, became some of the finest troops South America had to offer.
Once his troops were ready, the normally reserved drillmaster suggested a daring move - marching an army from Argentina to Chile through the peaks of the Andes. His plan was regarded as madness by many, but San Martin managed to muster more than enough brave souls to join him in the endeavor. Dividing his forces into six columns for easier travel through the difficult terrain, San Martin planned for each column to arrive within two days of one another, a highly unlikely prospect given the extreme terrain and great danger that lay ahead.
But on February 12, nearly all four thousand troops stepped out from the shadows of the Andes onto the plains of Chacabuco, prepared to face the numerically superior Spanish forces. Despite having just traversed some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth, San Martin's "Army of the Andes," soundly defeated the Royalists. They then marched on the Chilean capital of Santiago, taking the city with little fuss. Despite what many thought to be a crushing loss on the field of Tacla roughly a month later, Chile was to remain in the hands of San Martin and his revolutionary followers.
The citizens of Chile attempted to appoint San Martin governor of their colony, but he refused. He had his sights set on the bastion of Spanish power in South America - Lima, Peru. San Martin took his forces north, offering the Spanish forces in Lima the opportunity to surrender and set up a new constitutional government. Their refusal sealed their fate - in 1821, San Martin marched into Lima, taking the city for the rebels. He was soon proclaimed the first President of Peru.
Small pockets of Spanish forces remained scattered throughout the Peruvian countryside and in order to ensure their removal, San Martin requested a conference with Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of the north whose military zone of influence overlapped that of San Martin.
The two met in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador in 1822. What they discussed is unknown, but the result is - on that day San Martin stepped down from his position, leaving the fate of South America in the hands of Bolivar. San Martin had previously displayed a wavering of passion for his cause, but it took the words of Bolivar to force a decision. Upon stepping down, San Martin settled with his wife and children on a farm in Argentina for two years before migrating to Europe, where he spent the remainder of his days moving from country to country in order to escape the numerous revolutions sweeping the continent at the time. He died in France in 1850.