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José de San Martín (1778-1850)

In March 2002, Robert (ND '63) and Beverly O'Grady presented the University Libraries a collection of 45 letters of the great South American liberator José de San Martín.

The letters, dated between 1814 and 1821, were written in Argentina, Chile and Peru during San Martín's military campaigns against Spanish royal forces. The earliest deal with preparations of the campaign to liberate Chile; the later, generally longer, letters offer extensive detail of the military campaigns into Peru. Most of these are addressed to the first president of Chile, Bernardo O'Higgins, requesting supplies and reporting on progress during San Martín's famous Peruvian campaign.

Apart from two letters reproduced in Documentos del archivo de San Martín, (Museo Mitre, Buenos Aires, 1910) the remainder are not known to have been published.

Biographical Information

Born in 1778 to the household of a Spanish colonial administrator in the Argentine outpost of Yapeyú, Corrientes, José Francisco de San Martín would reside only seven years in Argentina before returning with his family to Spain. At the age of 11, he joined the Spanish military where he served with distinction during conflicts in North Africa and Spain and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In September 1811, after two decades of service to the Spanish crown, he fled Spain to join the Argentine army, the highest-ranking officer to do so. There is little evidence to explain this conversion from trusted officer to revolutionary agent, although his membership in a Masonic lodge would have brought him in contact with many who envisioned an independent Latin America. Arriving in Buenos Aires in 1812, San Martín offered his services to the young government. His first assignment was to establish an army to defend the city. With Spanish forces threatening Argentina from neighboring Peru in the north, San Martín went to the front to replace General Manuel Belgrano in order to prevent further incursions. On his arrival, he found the troops in shambles. As he solidified the region's defenses against royalist attacks, he conceived of a campaign to chase out the Spanish by crossing the Andes into Chile and then sailing on to Peru – an audacious plan against implausible odds.

To realize this campaign, San Martín sought and received in 1814 the governorship of Cuyo, where he surreptitiously put together an army in the Andean foothills. The Latin American independence movement was facing a crisis at the time. The Spanish had retaken both Venezuela from Simon Bolívar and Chile from Bernardo O'Higgins and the Carreras brothers, leaving only Argentina as an independent republic. Here the letters belonging to the University Libraries pick up the story.

With O'Higgins and the Carreras vying to lead the Chilean government in exile, San Martín threw his support behind O'Higgins. The earliest letter, addressed to Juan José Carrera, requests him to move away from O'Higgins to San Luís. Three other letters to Carrera in 1814 and 1815 demonstrate San Martín's efforts to hinder the Carreras and support O'Higgins. Managing thus to keep the Carreras off the scene, San Martín next invites O'Higgins to join him in the successful 1817 march over the Andes into Chile, where they regain control of Santiago.

Back in power as Supreme Director of Chile, O'Higgins appoints San Martín General in Chief of the Army. San Martín, largely ignoring the Spanish forces still fighting in Chile, begins to prepare his naval expedition to Peru. The majority of the letters date from this period as San Martín reports to his superiors: 21 letters are addressed to O'Higgins and another 16 to Chilean Minister of War José Ignacio Zenteno.

Beginning with a letter dated 13 October 1820, San Martín reports on the Peruvian campaign from Pisco, Peru, noting troop movements and the recruitment of blacks for the infantry. From here, the letters become longer as they include details of military maneuvers, the condition of the troops, and requests for supplies.

The last letter comes from 21 July 1821, just seven days before San Martín's proclamation of Peru's independence. San Martín would continue to direct troop movements against the few remaining Spanish strongholds until his meeting in July 1822 with Simon Bolívar in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Shortly after returning to Lima, he announced his resignation to the surprise of many who expected him to name himself Supreme Director of Peru. Instead, he sailed to Chile that September and returned to his farm in Mendoza, satisfied with having carried out one of history's great military campaigns. His retirement, the death of his wife the following year, and a concern for his daughters' education, however soon led him back to Europe. He would return to the River Plate only once during the next quarter century. San Martín died in France in 1850.

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Description of Archival Collection (MSH/SCH 4011-1 to 4011-49)

The collection contains 43 autograph letters signed by San Martín dating between 19 October 1814 and 27 July 1821. Of these 21 are addressed to Supreme Director of Chile Bernardo O'Higgins and another 16 to Chilean Minister of War José Ignacio Zenteno. Also included is a general letter issued by San Martín announcing a suspension of hostilities and armistice from 4 April 1819.

The collection also contains three letters addressed to San Martín: two from General Brayer and another from Graciano Palacios, all dating from May-June 1817.

For details on each of the letters in the collections, please refer to the partially annotated inventory list.

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Harvey, Robert. Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence, 1810-1830. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2000. (Hesburgh Library, General Collection: F 1412 .H417 2000)

Pasquali, Patricia, ed. San Martín confidencial: correspondencia personal del Libertador con su amigo Tomás Guido (1816-1849). Buenos Aires: Planeta, 2000. (Hesburgh Library, General Collection: F 2235.4 .A4 2000)

Lewis, Daniel K. The History of Argentina. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001. (Hesburgh Library, General Collection: F 2831 .L69 2001)

Zago, Manrique, ed. José de San Martín: libertado de America. Buenos Aires: Instituto Nacional Sanmartiniano, 1995. (Not available at Notre Dame.)

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