This book, according to the author, attempts to shed some light on a largely forgotten man whose accomplishments deserve more recognition among Argentina’s heroes. Edelmiro Máyer was born in Buenos Aires in 1837 of British and creole parents. Máyer was always a dedicated porteño and a supporter of porteño causes. He was also a soldier of fortune in many campaigns, or, as Lenzi prefers to put it, a “true paladin,” fighting wherever the cause of freedom of nations or of races called him.
Relatively little precise data was uncovered by the author. Máyer was a soldier, but always in subordinate positions. He never led armies or acquired the glory and immortality that went to victorious leaders. Apparently he was a brave and capable officer who helped win many victories. Lenzi compares him to Lafayette, Garibaldi, and Byron.
Conscious of being a porteño, Máyer’s earliest political position was one of opposition to Urquiza and support for those who fought the subordination of Buenos Aires within the Argentine Confederation. This brought him finally under Mitre. He fought in the battles of Cepeda and Pavón, ending the campaign with the rank of captain.
With the establishment of peace at home, Máyer went to the United States to offer his sword to the Union armies of the Civil War. He became a close friend of Robert Todd Lincoln, who possibly helped his career. He apparently taught briefly in a military academy, then undertook a campaign to encourage the incorporation of Negroes into the armies of the Union. Many Americans were skeptical. Máyer answered with a series of articles in Harper’s Magazine describing the role of Negroes in all the major campaigns of Latin American history, from San Martín and Bolívar to Mitre. Apparently winning his ease, he was put in command of a Negro regiment and ultimately moved to others. He served in the battle of Chattanooga, in a campaign in Florida, and in the siege of Petersburg and Richmond. He was once seriously wounded in action.
Máyer was with Sheridan’s army on the Rio Grande after the war, possibly because his knowledge of Spanish was useful. He was mustered out of service in November, 1865, a colonel at the age of 28. He moved at once to Mexico and served Juárez bravely in the armies seeking liberation from French domination. Máyer became a supporter of Porfirio Díaz, joined in his abortive uprising, was sentenced to death, but was mysteriously released. He was too late to implement his plan to aid the Cuban rebels in the Ten Years’ War.
Back in Argentina, Máyer served as a deputy in the National Congress. There he opposed Avellaneda and the federalization of Buenos Aires. He commanded the artillery during preparations for a siege, but when the clash was averted, he was summarily dismissed from the armed forces. Over the next decade he devoted himself to private business, writing books, and translating English works, particularly those of Poe. After 1890 he served as a progressive governor of the Territory of Santa Cruz. He died in 1897, and he was soon forgotten.
Lenzi suggests that Máyer’s life would have made a novel. His book is quite readable but is neither a novel nor a definitive history. Possibly the obscurity of the hero and the lack of records made anything else impossible.