Cold and austere by temperament, Zenteno was clearly no charmer. Indeed, he was well known forhis lackof
civility. But the written record does not substantiate Cochrane’s accusations that he was treated with malice and obstruction. Rather the reverse. During their four-year association, Zenteno sent Cochrane hundreds oforders, supplemented by scores of personal letters discussing the strategic situation, praising Cochrane’s actions, and trying to anticipate his complaints. Frequently when sending an order he knew would be uncongenial, Zenteno attempted to mollify him by adding a personal note of explanation.
Even allowing for Latin American courtesy, these comunications are amiable and friendly. Indeed, the tone of Zenteno’s letters is so at variance with the depiction given in theNarrative of Services that even Cochrane realised it and tried to explain away the discrepancy. читать полностью…
Henceforth Zenteno was cast in therole of an enemy. Out of delicacy, the ministers comments had been made in private. It was Cochrane and his entourage who made them public. The Cochrane version of the interview was retailed in the books subsequently published by his business associate, John Miers, the travel writer, Maria Graham, and inhis own Narrative of Services. Inthese accounts, the minister isaccused ofbeing abusive, of railing that Cochrane had acted like a madman and that I even now ought to lose my head for daring to attack such a place without instructions and for exposing the patriot forces to such a hazardﾒ.From this point on, Cochrane sees Zenteno as my bitter opponent, obstructing all my plans for the interests of Chileﾒ6 and allthe while secretly plotting against him.
For asailing ship to run aground atnight inpoorly charted waters was not an uncommon event. But
Cochrane’s inner circle soon realised that the incident did not reflect well on their patron. It was necessary therefore to manufacture adefence. The excuse that subsequently appeared in Stevenson’s book, and that has been repeated by biographers ever since,is that Cochrane was exhausted with carrying out the duties of both commander-in-chief and captain, and went to bed giving orders to the officer of the watch, Lieutenant Nicholas Lawson, to call him if the wind rose. Lawson, however, was negligent and retired himself, leaving the deck to an inexperienced midshipman.
He in turn failed to rouse Cochrane as ordered, and could not cope with the crisis when it arose. Thus, Cochrane’s partisans were able toconvince themselves that he was blameless forthe accident. Alas, thiscarefully devised excuse does not hold water. The responsibility for allowing the flagship to become so seriously deficient in officers was Lord Cochrane’s. It was he who decided that O’Higgins did not need a captain while he was on board. It was he who allowed the complement of lieutenants to fall to two by putting the rest aboard prizes. And of those who remained, Cochrane had arrested one – an American called Edward Brown – so that only Lawson had been left to carry out watch keeping duties. He, no doubt, was as exhausted as his Vice Admiral. The grounding of theO’Higgins showed Cochrane’s powers of leadership, his strength of character, his technical skills and his seamanship at their best.
It is a pity that hisconstant need forself-justification did not allow him to leave it at that.
Valdivia was Spain’s last remaining stronghold on the Pacific south ofCallao. Located on theseaboard ofthe mountains and fjords ofsouthern Chile, itwas the first landfall for ships coming round Cape Horn from Europe and was animportant base and amajor depository of supplies, arms and munitions. The town, inasheltered spot surrounded by apple trees and with an ample harbour, was located on the low, heavily wooded banks of a long river running into a flask shaped bay with a narrow fortified entrance 1200 yards wide running from west to east.
Stevenson described itas ‘the Gibraltar of South America’, defended by 2000 men and more than 100 guns.
This was, however, an exaggeration. Unlike Gibraltar, the troops and guns defending Valdivia were not located in a single fortress, but were scattered between five different forts and four smaller gun emplacements perched on the rocky heights that dominated the bay on every side. Thus, an enemy ship entering the harbour would first have to pass the guns of the Fort of Ingles on the right commanding the approaches; then those of San Carlos and Amargos, with Niebla on the opposite side; then, further down on the right, those ofthe Castle of Corral, which formed the centrepiece and dominated the interior of the bay.
The defences of Valdivia appeared formidable, but Cochrane knew their weaknesses. Not only was the garrison scattered, but the guns were positioned so as to resist an attack by sea. Toaman ofCochrane’s tactical gifts, the answer was clear. It was to attack unexpectedly by land at night, and to roll up the forts and batteries one by one before a central defence could be organised. And this isexactly what he did.Late onthe afternoon of February, Cochrane’s flotilla approached to within striking distance of Valdivia. Leaving the damagedO’Higginsout of sight ofthe shore, Cochrane embarked the landing parties onIntrepido andMontezumaand, in a heavy sea, they headed for a cove at the foot of the heights on which
Fort Ingles was built. To gain time the Chilean ships flew the Spanish flag – and even communicated with the shore posing as friendly vessels fresh from Cape Horn. читать полностью…
Valdivia was no exception. Captain Francisco Erezcano of the Intrepido’s marines, who had acted so bravely in the attack on Fort Ingles, sullied his record by killing two unarmed Spanish officers; while Ensign Latapia, leftin charge of the Castle of Corral, thought nothing of shooting prisoners to enforce his authority and would have killed more if Stevenson had not intervened.
The taking of Valdivia was a major victory and a confirmation of Cochrane’s extraordinary daring and military prowess. Its fall not only removed the last potential threat to Chilean independence but put a vast amount of military equipment in the government’s hands. All told, Cochrane had seized 50tons ofgunpowder, 10,000 cannon shot, 170,000 musket balls, huge quantities of small arms, 128 pieces of artillery and a prize ship, theDolores. His men also looted the town, the churches and the Governor’s Palace, seizing tobacco worth $9000 and ornaments and plate tothe value of$10,000; and on his own account, Cochrane took possessionof $20,000 worth of crockery. читать полностью…
Faced with this rebuff, Cochrane called offthe attack, justifiably content with what he had achieved so far. For the rest of the war, Chiloé was to remain as a minor irritant and a base for royalist privateers.
News that Lord Cochrane had left the blockade of Callao and disappeared over the horizon was received with concern in Chile. From the beginning some had feared that the Vice Admiral might ignore his orders and go off on some scheme of his own, and now their fears seemed justified. But, on 16February, letters arrived from General Freire revealing not only that Cochrane was in Valdivia, but that he had achieved a stunning and unexpected victory. The Chilean authorities were relieved and delighted. Next day they published an Extraordinary Edition of theGazeta Ministerial carrying the momentous news, and followed it two days later by another that triumphantly reprinted all of Cochrane’s dispatches.1 A week laterthe government signified its pleasure by ordering that medals be struck for the victorsand by issuing a public letter from Zenteno on 22 February, which began:
If victories over an enemy can be estimated according to the resistance offered and the national advantages gained, then the conquest of Valdivia is,inboth senses, inestimable –encountering as you did the natural and artificialstrengths ofthat impregnable fortress … the memory ofthat glorious day will occupy the first pages of Chilean history and the name of Your Excellency will betransmitted from generation to generation by the gratitude of our descendants.
Potrillosailed straight into Cochrane’s arms without the need for a search and, though she attempted to escape, she was dismasted in a squall and captured. On board Cochrane seized $20,000 insilver and $40,000 worth of stores and munitions. With the prize in company, he then headed for Talcahuana, arriving on 22 January 1820. There he found himself in luck. In the harbour were two Chilean warships, the Intrepido, under the command of Thomas Carter, and the schoonerMontezuma. Cochrane took both under his orders. Likewise, on hearing his plans for the capture of Valdivia, the Governor of Concepción, General Ramon Freire, willingly supplied 250 infantrymen under Major Jorge Beauchef to supplement the flagship’s marines and provide Cochrane with an adequate landing force.
The final adjustments were quickly made. The troops were embarked, andPotrillo, with its cargo of money was sent off to Valparaiso under Henry Cobbett, the First Lieutenant of theO’Higgins. With allnow prepared toCochrane’s satisfaction, the flotilla weighed anchor, and on 29 January, headed into the open sea.
But almost immediately, there was a crisis. On the first night out, the ships became separated, and the progress of the O’Higgins was suddenly interrupted by agrinding shudder asshe went aground on areef offthe remote island of Quiriquina. There was momentary panic as her false keel was torn off, her pumps failed, and she began to take in water from the damage to her underwater timbers. читать полностью…
Turning hisattention toPeru, the carefully expressed paragraphs inhisorders that banned incursions on the
coast were soon forgotten. The following day, hewrote urgently requesting that a special force of troops be put under his command to facilitate amphibious expeditions.
A war ofgentle means and half measures can gain no partisans,
he explained, and even ifnoreinforcements were available, the men healready had could keep the
coast of Peru in constant uproar. O’Higgins’s reply was cool. He reminded Cochrane that no force of fewer than 4000 men would make the slightest impact, and that nothing of military consequence should be risked while the Spanish reinforcements were stillatsea.
But there was good news. Intelligence from Gibraltar had reported that the poor condition of the Alejandro I – one of the worthless ships foisted on Ferdinand VII by the Tsar – had forced her to turn back before she even reached the coast of Brazil, so that the force now only consisted of the San Telmo and the Prueba. читать полностью…
His firsttask was toassess thechances ofa successful attack. There are two alternative versions of how he did
this. Cochrane himself, in his Narrative of Services inthe Liberation of Chile, Peru and Brazil, claims that – sacrificing the element ofsurprise – heboldly entered the bay in O’Higgins flying Spanish colours, learnt what he needed to learn, and sailed out again taking prisoners with him.
William Bennet Stevenson who was there, however, gives the more likely description. читать полностью…
The Capture of Valdivia
It leavesyou free tooperate inits interests according to circumstances.
Cochrane, however, was his own sternest critic. Although in public he was resentful ofany outside criticism and incapable of admitting mistakes, in private he was deeply depressed by anything he sawas a failure. The events of his early life had given him a strong sense of insecurity. The death of his mother when he was no more than a child, and his father’s preoccupations with inventions and money problems, had left him desperate for the approval of his superiors, and fullofforeboding that itmight not be forthcoming.