General Tomás de Iriarte was born in Buenos Aires and trained in the Colegio Militar de Segovia in Spain. Having fought in the war against Napoleon, he returned to America to join the Independence forces. In 1835 Rosas exiled him, and he began to write his memorias. He was in Montevideo when the siege began and the memorias became a diary. The editor, Enrique de Gandía, has titled the section of the diary for 1846, El Sitio de Montevideo: 1846. (It is Volume XI of Iriarte’s memorias; Volume I, La Independencia y la Anarquía, appeared in 1944; and a final volume, La Nueva Troya, is still to be published.) On January 18, 1846, Iriarte noted “. . . nuestro plan es consignar en este diario cuanto circula, y hasta los raciocinios de los especuladores políticos, a fin de que se conozca con la mayor exactitud posible el modo que esta población ofrece desde el principio del bloqueo” (p. 63). The editor, for his part, calls this volume “una mina histórica de valor incalculable” (p. xxi).
Such enthusiasm is uncalled for. By 1846, Iriarte had quarreled with Argentine General José María Paz and resigned as artillery chief of the defense of Montevideo in 1843; he had few friends or contacts. There is little inside information in the diary, and Iriarte did not fulfill his plan of describing “cuanto circula” by going out of his way to secure information on the besieged city. Much of his diary, written to pass the empty hours, consists of conjectures on whether news of developments elsewhere, especially in Corrientes, would prove correct. Nevertheless, particularly for readers already familiar with the siege and willing to dig through these pages, the diary repays reading.
The year opened with rumors that 5,000 English and 6,000 French troops would be landed in February or March. Iriarte was sure that this would finish off Rosas, but the troops never arrived. Instead England and France, through the mission of Thomas S. Hood, began the negotiations with Rosas that would lead to their withdrawal. The great internal event of the year was Fructuoso Rivera’s return from exile and takeover of power. Iriarte had hoped that the Europeans would stay on after victory, “para que a su sombra y bajo su vigorosa protección podamos establecer bases sólidas de una organización social regular y duradera” (p. 114). At that point it seemed that the Europeans would leave and Rosas would stay on indefinitely. Yet there was still hope; new rumors spread that Brazil would come in against Rosas and that Urquiza’s relations with el tirano were breaking.
Iriarte hated “corta cabezas” (Manuel Oribe, the Blanco leader), but he had little use for any of the major figures on his own side, except perhaps Guiseppe Garibaldi. He despised caudillos and was repelled by the politics and politicians of Montevideo. His descriptions of corruption and ineptitude are an antidote to the classic stories about “the glorious defense of Montevideo.” As a professional army officer he was indignant at the slipshod way the defense was handled, even though the siege had been reduced to infrequent skirmishes. He worried about the hostility among Argentines, Origentales, Italians, French volunteers, Basques, and blacks, all defending Montevideo. As a Porteño, he was particularly fearful of a separate peace in Uruguay which, aside from its broader effects, might leave him stranded. His two attempts to get back into service during the year were, in part, attempts to protect his future.
In other times Iriarte could have expected a decorous career in the army or as a diplomat, like the British naval officers stationed in the Plata whom he so admired. Instead, along with many others in those times, he had been obliged to sell everything he owned, had two children die of scarlet fever, and could not support his family. When he sought reentrance into the service, so as to support them, he discovered that even though he carried the rank of general, his services were not particularly wanted. The last entry ends, “cargado de obligaciones como reo, mi situación es horrible; la muerte es preferible a tan larga agonía” (p. 559).