This is my second blog post in my series on Talcahuano, the port fortress near the city of Conception in Chile. This time the focus is the Combat of Talcahuano which led to the Patriot capture of Talcahuano on 28 May 1813. As I mentioned in the first post the purpose of the series is to figure out how to make an interesting scenario from an assault on the fortress.
My main, and only, source on this combat is Marco Octavio Benavente Ormeño’s brilliant book “Cronica Militar de la Patria Vieja” (Benavente Ormeño, 2013). I have more or less translated from his book.
15 May 1813
Following the Combat at San Carlos (15 May 1813) Pareja retreated to the Royalist stronghold of Chillán. Brigadier José Miguel Carrera knew what was left of his Patriot army would be unable to extract the Royalists from Chillán so he decided to isolate the royalists by recapturing Concepción and Talcahuano. With that in mind Carrera assigned two forces to monitor the Royalists in Chillán: Colonel Juan de Dios Vial commanded the larger of these in Talca; Colonel Luis Cruz commanded a smaller observation force on the north bank of the river Ñuble.
18 May 1813
The Patriot vanguard left for Concepción on 18 May. Other Patriot forces were sent to recover the various districts of the province: Vega Colonel and Captain Bartholomew Araos to Cauquenes; Francisco Barrios to Quirihue; Prieto (60 hussars) and Molina (40 dragons) to explore the situation near Chillán, and prevent the Royalists interrupting the movement of the vanguard and the Second Division to the south.
Prieto and Molina saw little movement in the fields around Chillán and approached the suburbs. A column of 400 mounted Royalists surprised the Patriots and chased for a long distance, taking two prisoners. This episode confirmed Carrera that Pareja’s army was still able to put up fierce resistance but otherwise made no difference.
19 May 1813
On 19 May, the Patriot vanguard arrived at the Itata River in southern Chile. They spent the night getting the cannon and baggage across the Membrillar ford. 60 grenadiers remained to guard the ford from nearby enemy while the rest of the vanguard pushed ahead.
21 May 1813
On 21 May Prieto’s men (60 husars) occupied Florida.
22 May 1813
The rest of the vanguard caught up to Prieto on 22 May. Also on 22 May the Second Division crossed the Itata River protected by the Grenadiers positioned there earlier.
At some point Luis Carrera sent Juan Esteban Manzano to demand the surrender of Concepción. As the Patriot vanguard began the march to Concepción, Manzano returned and reported that the fortress was captured with some looting. Carrera quickened his pace and sent Colonel O’Higgins with 30 veterans to submit the border fortresses and gather his militia regiment of La Laja.
25 May 1813
On May 25 Carrera entered the city of Concepción. The few royalist forces, already severely depleted by defections and distracted by looting the houses of the Patriots, had left intact military stores when they retreated to Talcahuano. Thanks to this, Carrera could replenish and re-equip his men. A cash reward of $10 for an infantrymen and $16 for armed cavalry provided 300 additions veterans for the vanguard (including 100 deserters from the garrison of Talcahuano).
Colonel Manuel Tejeiros, governor of Talcahuano, knew he could not resist with a garrison of 200 men however he refused to surrender. Tejeiros’s refusal was to buy time and allow the artillery of the port to be removed and for the Royalist authorities and officials to embark on the frigate “Brittany” anchored in the harbour.
Royalist Order of Battle
- Left/Southern Position
- 150 infantry
- 1 cannon
- Right/Northern Position
- 50 infantry
- 2 gunboats
29 May 1813
A Patriot gunnery sergeant, Tadeo Villagran, escaped from prison on a boat and informed Carerra of the meagre defence of the port. As a result Carerra decided to attack the forces at his disposal and, on 29 May, the Patriots attacked the heights in front of Talcahuano.
150 Royalist infantry with a cannon defended a height to the left/south of the road to Talcahuano. Lt. Col. Santiago Muñoz Bezanilla led the Patriot attack with 200 men from his own Infantes de la Patria battalion, 60 Hussars (Prieto), 40 dragoons (Freire), and two cannon (captain Gamero and the lieutenant Vidal).
The Royalist position to the right/north of the road was occupied by about 50 infantrymen who were supported by the fire of two gunboats. 200 Patriot Grenadiers attacked this position. Captain Morla deployed his two guns to counter the fire of the gunboats, sunk one and damaged the other forcing it to retreat towards the harbour.
With the heights and flanks secure, the victorious Infantes de la Patria battalion joined the reserve of 400 Fusiliers and 200 men from the National Guard and the General Guard, to attack the hastily erected trenches at the entrance of the village.
Patriot Order of Battle
- Left/Southern Division (Lt. Col. Santiago Muñoz Bezanilla)
- 60 Hussars (Prieto)
- 40 Dragoons (Freire)
- 200 Infantes de la Patria battalion (Lt. Col. Santiago Muñoz Bezanilla) 1
- 2 cannon (captain Gamero and the lieutenant Vidal)
- Right/Northern Division (Captain Morla)
- 200 Grenadiers
- 2 cannon
- Reserve Division
- 400 Fusiliers
- 200 National Guard and General Guard
(1) “Infantes de la Patria” was the name given to the “pardos” (blacks and mulattos) battalion when the slaves where liberated (it’s a more complicated history, but that’s the final result). Literaly it means “Infantrymen of the homeland”. (Marco Octavio Benavente Ormeño, Private Communication)
Resistance was minimal. The Royalist troops, seeing their officers running to embark, abandoned their posts and also looked for a place in the boats. The men of the Grenadiers, Infantes de la Patria and National Guard ran after the Royalists, hunting them down the path between the houses and even in the sea, where they captured some boats. They captured the prison ship “San Jose” and freed 200 prisoners, including 60 Grenadiers, 30 National Guard and 30 Militiamen who had been captured at Yerba Buena (26 April 1813).
The Royalist frigate “Britain” weighed anchor, and despite unfavourable winds and an attempted attack by Patriot gunboats managed to escape to El Callao.
Carerra appointed Colonel Santiago Muñoz Bezanilla the governor of Talcahuano and gave instructions to repair the port battery.
Benavente Ormeño, M. O. (2013). “Cronica Militar de la Patria Vieja”. Author.