The Battle of Maipo 1818

Maipo was fought on 5 April 1818, between the Spanish Governmental Army and an Argentinean and Chilean Patriot Army led by San Martin. It is a part of the South American Wars of Liberation. The game at Salute Zero Eight was a demonstration using 20mm figures and the vast majority of them were plastic!


San Martins Finest Hour : The Battle of Maipo 1818

Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe a whole new series of smaller wars were starting in South America. These are, collectively, known as the South American Wars of Liberation, or Freedom, and lasted from 1810 until 1830 and stretched from the southern most tip of the continent up to Mexico. The main protagonists in this were Spain, who controlled most of the continent, and various small armies from the “states” which were initially split into the Viceroyalties of La Plata, New Granada and Brazil. Both armies were commanded by veterans of the Peninsula War and totally inexperienced commanders and the troops from veteran Spanish infantry to conscript militia who were totally untried in combat. The two outstanding names that have come down to us from this period are Simon Bolivar and Jose San Martin, who commanded the Patriot Army at the Battle of Maipo.

San Martin was born in 1778 in Argentina but served in the Spanish Army in the Peninsula and experienced the Battles of Bailen and Albuera in the Regiment Murcia. He returned to Argentina in 1812 and offered his military services to the United Provinces of the South (which later became Argentina) and swiftly rose to command the Army of the North with his first action at San Lorenzo in 1813. In 1815/16 he set about forming the Army of the Andes and in January 1817 started his Campaign to liberate Chile. By the end of February he had liberated Santiago and Bernardo O’Higgins was named Supreme Director of Chile with San Martin commander of the new United Liberation Army, which now had Chilean and Argentinian components.

1817 saw several small battles and seiges, notably Gavilan, Chacabuco and Talcahuano with victories for both Patriot and Royalist armies. In early 1818 San Martin decided to return to the offensive and took the war to the Spanish General Mariano Osorio. There was a night battle, at Cancha Rayada, where half of the Patriot army was scattered, and O’Higgins was wounded, and the rest retreated towards Santiago where in April San Martin fought the Battle of Maipo.

The battle was fought on a fairly flat plain with the Royalist army being allowed to cross the river Maipo unmolested and then take up a position on a triangular plateau with the Patriot Army on a small ridge just outside of the gates of Santiago. The Royalists deployed in three Divisions with General Osorio in overall command with the veteran Burgos Infantry in the central division but to the right of the line. The Patriots, under San Martin, were deployed in three Divisions with there strongest infantry on the left but the Grenaderos a Caballo, San Martins crack cavalry, in the right wing division.

Action started with a light artillery duel and then General Ordonez launched the Burgos Regiment at the patriot line, under General Alvarado, which started to buckle under the pressure from the veteran Spanish unit. On the right the Spanish Don Carlos Regiment advanced but was rebuffed by the Argentinian Infantry, under General Las Heras, and heavy artillery fire. There then followed a charge by a small group of patriot cavalry which silenced the Royalist artillery which was on their initial ridgeline. The battle had, by now, skewed round and the Patriot right was under pressure.

At this point San Martin decided to unleash his crack cavalry and they charged the flank of the Burgos Regiment, who broke after a long fight during which cries of “Long live the King” and “Long live our country” were heard in equal measure. General Quintana, who commanded the charge was described, by San Martin, as “ The Battle of Maipo was won by his courage. The Royalist line was broken and cries of “ Long Live Liberty” were heard along the Patriot line as it advanced in pursuit of the retreating Spaniards. Osorio fled the field and, despite a small last stand around Los Espejo Farm , General Ordonez who was left in command surrendered. 1,500 Royalists were injured and 2,000 were captured with Patriot losses are estimated at 1,000, and

Chilean Independence was secured. San Martin had won the battle and the Campaign and the lower half of South America was now free from Spanish dominance for ever.

So what do these, relatively unknown, wars offer the wargamer? Well as a hardened Napoleonic gamer it offered a chance to put a whole army on the table at 1:20 figure scale as most armies had no more than 5,00 men in them and doing major European battles means segmenting actions into manageable chunks. It offers a vast range of troop types and qualities ranging from hardened peninsula veterans to extremely irregular cavalry called Llaneros who were feared wherever they went. There are participants from every country in South American and even a “British Legion” which means that Uniforms are as varied as anything you’ll find in Europe and with a Unit called the Cacadores de Coquimbo how could you resist this?

Recommended Reading:

Liberators,Robert Harvey – probably the defining work on the period

Eagles of the Andes, Carleton Beals – hard to track down but worth it

Liberators Vol1: The War in the South, John Fletcher – in indispenible guide for wargaming this period, cannot recommend too highly

The Armies of Bolivar and San Martin, Terry Hoooker – Osprey MAA 232

Recommended websites: – John Fletchers excellent site with support for the above book



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