« PreviousContinue »
II.-THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE.
Towards the close of the 19th century the Pitt administration lent a willing ear to a Venezuelan patriot, General Miranda, who proposed that Great Britain should aid South America to expel the Spanish rulers and set up a number of in dependent states. Spain being the ally of France and paying an annual subsidy to Napoleon, it became moreover the object of England to seize the treasure-ships periodically arriving from the River Plate.
Hostilities having broken out in Europe in 1803, an English squadron under an Irish commander, Captain Moore, captured in the following year some Spanish galleons laden with treasure at the mouth of the River Plate. In June, 1806, Major General William Carr Beresford with a British squadron cast anchor about twelve miles from Buenos Ayres, and with a force of only 1635 men took possession of that city of 60,000 inhabitants. The indignation which such a humiliation at first caused among the people was in large measure calmed by the manifesto which the conquering commander issued on the occasion. In the Memoirs of General Belgrano we read: “It grieved me to see my country subjugated in this manner, but I shall always admire the gallantry of the brave and honorable Beresford in jo daring an enterprise." Beresford was, however, unable to hold his ground, for the Spaniards got together an army of 10,000 men, and re-took the city. Beresford was made prisoner, but after five months' detention he and his brother-officers, among whom was another Irishman, Major Faly, managed to escape. Thus ended the expedition of this brave general, who nevertheless had covered himself and his little army with glory, for he held Buenos Ayres as a British colony for 45 days, and had he been properly supported from home the result would in all probability have been vastly different.
General Beresford was one of the most distinguished men of his time. He was the illegitimate son of the Marquis of Waterford, entered the army at 16, and served in every quarter of the globe. After his defeat at Buenos Ayres he captured Madeira, and was made governor of that island. In 1808 he
successfully covered the retreat of Sir John Moore to Corunna, a difficult feat, for which he received a marshal's baton, and was made commander-in-chief in Portugal. In 1811 he defeated Marshal Soult at Albuera, and subsequently took part in the victories of Salamanca and Vittoria. For these services he was made Duke of Elvas, and the British government conferred on him in 1814 the title of Baron Beresford of Albuera and Dungannon. The same year he was sent as minister to Brazil, and on his return was created viscount. He married the widow of Thomas Hope the banker, and settled down on his estates in Kent, where he died in 1854.
The brilliancy of Beresford's achievement in capturing Buenos Ayres with a handful of men had dazzled the minds of English statesmen, who felt that 10,000 British troops were enough to subdue the whole of the vast continent of South America. In May, 1807, an expedition comprising several frigates and transports with 5,000 troops appeared off Montevideo from England. A month later Lieutenant-General Whitelock arrived with orders to assume the chief command, and among his officers were the gallant Irishmen, Major Vandeleur, who commanded a wing of the 88th Regiment, and Lieutenant-Colonel Nugent, of the 38th. Whitelock endeavored, but failed, to retake Buenos Ayres. During the siege a small detachment of Spanish troops under Colonel James Butler, after a terrific conflict, in which they sold their lives dearly, were all killed. Agreeably to Colonel Butler's request his remains were buried on the spot he had so valiantly defended, and his tombstone was visible there until 1818.
It is a remarkable fact that several of the South American countries, Mexico, Peru, and Chile, were governed by viceroys of Irish birth in the critical period preceding the Independence, although Spanish law forbade such office to any but Spaniards born. It was in recognition of gallant services in Spain, in combination with the Duke of Wellington, that General O'Donorhue was made viceroy of Mexico in 1821, but the elevation of the great viceroy of Peru, Ambrose O'Higgins, was due to the splendid talents of administration already displayed by him during twenty years of service in Chile. He was born at Summerhill, Co. Meath, about 1730. An uncle of his was
one of the chaplains at the court of Madrid, and at his expense O'Higgins was educated at a college in Cadiz. He then entered the Spanish engineer corps, and in 1769 was given the command of the commission sent to Chile to strengthen the fortifications of Valdivia. He was made captain-general of Chile in 1788, was subsequently created marquis of Osorno, and in 1796 was nominated viceroy of Peru, a position which he held until his death in 1801.
The great viceroy left only one son, Bernard O'Higgins, who succeeded General Carreras in the supreme command of the patriot army against the Spaniards in 1813. In 1817 O'Higgins took a principal part in the victory of Chacabuco, and was almost immediately appointed supreme director of Chile, with dictatorial powers. During his administration, which lasted six years, he gave every proof of his fitness for the position. But, alas! it was the misfortune of South America to surpass the republics of antiquity in the ingratitude shown towards its greatest benefactors. It is then not surprising to find that the Father of his Country, as O'Higgins is affectionately styled, was deposed by a military revolution, and obliged to take refuge in Peru, from which country he never returned. General Miller and Lord Cochrane, in their Memoirs, give frequent testimony to the honesty and zeal of Bernard O'Higgins. He was always treated as an honored guest in Lima, in which city he died on October 21, 1842. He left a son, Demetrio O'Higgins, a wealthy land-owner, who contributed large sums for the patriot army against Spain.
Among other Irish commanders in Chile and Peru, who, during the War of Independence, fought their way to dignity and rank, was General MacKenna, the hero of Membrillar. He was born in 1771, at Clogher, Co. Tyrone; his mother belonged to the ancient Irish sept of O'Reilly, whose estates were confiscated after the fall of Limerick in 1691.
General Thomond O'Brien, who won his spurs at the battle of Chacabuco, seems to have been born in the south of Ireland about 1790. He joined the army of San Martin, and accompanied that general through the campaigns of Chile and Peru until the overthrow of the Spanish régime and the proclamation of San Martin as protector of Peru. On the day (July
28, 1821) when independence was declared at Lima, the protector took in his hand the standard of Pizarro and said, “This is my portion of the trophies.” Then, taking the state canopy of Pizarro, a kind of umbrella always borne over the viceroys in processions, he presented it to General O'Brien, saying, “This is for the gallant comrade who fought so many years by my side in the cause of South America." The inscription on the canopy, in O'Brien's hand, says that it was brought to Peru on Pizarro's second journey from Spain. Little did the viceroys think that its last owner would be an Irishman.
General O'Connor, one of the most distinguished soldiers of the War of Independence, played an important part in the final victory of Ayachucho. For his gallantry on that day he was promoted to the rank of general by the commander-in-chief, General Bolivar. After the War of Independence he became Minister of War in Bolivia. General O'Connor went to South America as an ensign in the Irish Legion under General Devereux. He claimed direct descent from Roderic O'Conor, last king of Ireland, 1186.
Captain Esmonde also fought in the War of Independence. He was brother to the then baronet, Sir Thomas Esmonde, of Co. Wexford. In later years Captain Esmonde was employed by the Peruvian government to report on some proposed canals at Tarapaca. The vessel in which he embarked was never more heard of.
Colonel Charles Carroll had served in Spain, but joined the Chilian army after independence was gained. He was one of the most popular officers in the army, and met with a sad fate. Being sent with too small a detachment against the savage Indians, their commander, Benavides, cut his forces in pieces and murdered all the officers in a most cruel manner. O'Carroll had his tongue cut out and was then butchered.
Lieutenant Colonel Moran, who commanded the Colombian legion at the battle of Ayachucho, probably came out in the legion of General Devereux.
Colonel (afterwards General) O'Leary was first aide-decamp to General Bolivar, the Liberator, and received his last breath. He was nephew to the famous Father Arthur O'Leary. Bolivar employed him on various missions of great
trust and says "he acquitted himself with great ability.” After the war, General O'Leary was appointed British chargé d'affaires at Bogota, and died in Rome in 1868. General Arthur Sandes, a native of Dublin, was entrusted with an important garrison in Peru on the close of the War of Independence.
Admiral Brown, the distinguished commander and hero of the War of Independence, whose exploits may be rarked, like those of Nelson, "above all Greek, above all Roman fame,” was born at Foxford, Co. Mayo, Ireland, on the 22nd of June, 1777. His father emigrated with his family to Pennsylvania. A ship captain who was about to sail from Philadelphia offered to take the intelligent Irish boy with him, and the offer was promptly accepted. During twenty years he seems to have voyaged to many countries; at one time we find him at Archangel. Brown had been in Buenos Ayres just two years when the patriot government offered him command of a squadron to commence hostilities against the Spanish navy, then mistress of all the coasts and waters of South America. On the memorable Sth of March, 1911, Brown sailed out of the port of Buenos Ayres with three ships to commence a campaign, which was destined to destroy the Spanish navy in this part of the waters of the New World. With him went his fellow-countrymen, Captains Seaver and Kearney. Brown's next exploits were against Spanish shipping in the Pacific, and his entirely successful campaign at sea against Brazil, in which he gained the mastery by his wonderful skill, courage, and perseverance, keeping at bay the great naval power of that country (which consisted at one time of fifty war vessels) with his few, small, ill-supplied, and ill-armed craft. After these great exploits Brown spent some months among the wild scenery of Mayo, so dear to him in boyhood, and, returning to Buenos Ayres, devoted himself to the quiet life of a country gentleman. He died surrounded by his family and friends on May 3, 1857, and the day of his funeral was one of national mourning. His widow erected a monument to his memory in the Recoleta cemetery, and in 1872 the municipality of Buenos Ayres granted a site for a public statue on the Paseo Julio, which so often rang with