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José de San Martín

The hero of Argentine Independence was born in Yapeyú in 1778. He went to Spain as a young man where he joined the military. A promising young officer, he served during Spain’s war against the French in 1808. In spite of his ties to the Spanish military, his sympathies were with his native land in their drive for independence and he returned to Argentina in 1812 to offer his services to the young rebel movement. He was awarded the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, the same rank he had held in the Spanish army.

His South American military career began inauspiciously: in his very first engagement, the Battle of San Lorenzo, his horse was killed, and San Martín was trapped. Fortunately for history, he was saved by an alert sergeant who was himself killed while he helped San Martín get away. He was promoted to General after the battle.

San Martín and his men were sent north to reinforce the Army of Manuel Belgrano. Illnesses forced him to take a break from the campaign in 1814, but he returned and continued to skirmish with royalist forces from Bolivia and Peru. His years fighting on this front taught him two things: first, that no independent republic would be safe while the Spanish maintained a strong force in Peru, and second that he would never conquer Peru through Bolivia: the terrain was simply too rough.

San Martín, by now in charge of the northern army, changed his strategy. He bided his time, strengthening his army, and crossed the Andes, attacking royalist forces in Chile. He was reunited with an old friend from his days in Spain, Bernardo O’Higgins, who had been fighting Spanish forces to a stalemate for years. Together, they were able to easily liberate Chile and make plans for an assault on Peru.

The combined Chilean and Argentine forces captured Lima in 1821, leaving only two Spanish armies in South America: one outside of Quito and the other in southern Peru. Simón Bolívar and Antonio José de Sucre defeated the army in Quito, leaving only one royalist army on the continent.

San Martín and Bolívar had a famous meeting in Guayaquil in July of 1822 to discuss working together, but the two men disliked one another and could not agree on much of anything. San Martín agreed to withdraw and Sucre defeated the remaining Spanish force at Ayacucho in December, 1824.

San Martín returned to Argentina where his young wife had died of tuberculosis, leaving their daughter fatherless. Weary of the life he had led, San Martín retired to a quiet life in France, where he died in 1850. In 1880, his remains were moved to Buenos Aires, where they currently reside in the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Argentina: Wine Country Tours, El Calafate Restaurants, Maps, Juan Peron, The Economy of Argentina: History, El Calafate Hotels, Services, Safety, The Economy of Argentina: Introduction and Argentina Phones.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
30 Jan 2008

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