These three volumes form part of a series of reprints on the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) in which Chile took up arms to protect the investments of its citizens in the nitrate deposits then under Bolivian and Peruvian jurisdiction. The daring deeds of the men of ’79 are recounted in these books by contemporaries and convey something of the atmosphere of the times: the intense patriotism of boys who pleaded to be allowed to enlist; the primitive means of transport and supply; the long marches across the desert with inadequate food and water. The contrast with today’s advanced technology and diminished Martíal spirit is striking.
El Combate homérico refers of course to the naval battles off Iquique on May 21, 1879 which gave Chile one of her greatest heroes, Arturo Prat. The author was a journalist who was not an eyewitness of the events described. The story was first published only a year after the battle and is more notable for perfervid patriotism than scholarly objectivity. However, the book also contains a few documents bearing on the battle, including the official reports of the commanders of the four vessels involved and an eyewitness account which appeared in the Iquique press the following day.
Alberto del Solar’s Diario de Campaña, first published in 1886 and only slightly revised, he says, in 1910, is based on a diary in which he recorded his impressions and experiences during his military service beginning at age 20. He does not pretend to analyse the strategy of the campaign or the tactics of the battles; his role was to keep his men in line and moving forward: the battle of Tacna cost his unit one-third of its effectives.
Although he had Peruvian cousins, Arturo Benavides Santos was as patriotic a Chilean as any. As he was only 15, he had to go on strike at school to persuade his father to wangle an enlistment for him. He became the pet of his company—a sort of mascot—and many of his fondest recollections were of the special favors and kindnesses shown him by officers and soldiers alike. His account is warmer and more personal than del Solar’s, although it was not written until 1925, 40 years after the events described. Unlike del Solar, who resigned his commission shortly after the capture of Lima, Benavides went through the subsequent compaigns in the mountains, culminating with the capture of Arequipa and Puno in 1883. Then, to his great regret, the seasoned veteran of six years of war, aged 21, had to go back to school!
These books add nothing to our knowledge of events but do provide interesting local color.