The War of the Pacific (1879-1883), also called the War of the Saltpeter, pitted the Republic of Chile against the alliance of Peru and Bolivia over rich saltpeter and nitrate deposits. note The deposits were on Peruvian and Bolivian territory, and the Bolivian deposits were mostly mined by a Chilean company. Hilarión Daza, the President of Bolivia, tried to raise the taxes the Chileans paid (in violation of a treaty), and when they wouldn't pay he nationalized the company. Then Chile invaded Bolivia, and Peru (which had a mutual defense treaty with Bolivia) got dragged into the fight.
However, things were actually a bit more complicated. Over the years following the War against Spain (Not to be confused with the War of Independence), Chile had been arming itself, gaining indirect support of the British, the Germans and the French, which were the one who sold the weapons and the ironclads to them, due to the desire of Chile's ruling class to seize control of the lands in the north, thus creating the tension between Chile and Bolivia, since at the time Bolivia controlled the strip of coast north of Chile.
After the situation between the Bolivian and Chilean governments started to go awry, Peru sent a diplomatic mission to try to resolve the problem peacefully, also hoping for time to properly arm itself in case a war started. Unfortunately, the countries supplying the weapons and ships (i.e. France, Germany, Britain) had already chosen a side, and were not willing to sell Peru anything. To make things worse, the diplomatic mission turned out to be a failure, for Chile was determined to go to war.
The Naval phase:
Both Peru and Chile knew that, to first gain control of the land, they needed to secure dominion over the sea. To accomplish this, Miguel Grau was given command of the Peruvian armada, a decision that proved to be a smart move for the Peruvians. Grau, commanding only the monitor Huáscar, was able to stall the Chileans for months, to the point that the leadership of the entire Chilean Navy was overhauled in order to finally hunt down the damned ship, which they finally did in the ''Combate de Angamos'' (Naval Battle of Angamos), using overwhelming numerical advantage note to capture the Huáscar, killing Grau in the process.
The Campaign of Tarapacá:
With the ocean in their power, Chile began to manuever its army against the Peruvian-Bolivian one, which didn't have the proper weapons or equipment to make a good fight against Chile, to the point that they even asked the housewives of Lima to make uniforms out of bed sheets (which is why the Peruvian soldiers were sometimes depicted with white uniforms). As the battles went on, the territories of Tarapacá (Peru) and Antofagasta (Bolivia) were lost. Bolivia suffered an internal conflict, leaving the war and Peru alone against Chile.
The Battle of Arica:
As the situation started to go badly for the forces of the Peruvian southern army, they made their stand on the hill of Arica. Colonel Francisco Bolognesi was given the choice by the Chilean command to surrender, but he knew that should they fail there, the whole southern front would be lost. Meanwhile, two batallions called the Infernalesnote and Leiva were ready for battle, and would have joined his force . . . except that Peruvian President Nicolás de Pierola was more worried about the possibility of a coup than he was about the war and wanted to keep those forces close at hand. So he ordered them to stay put and not join the forces of the south, thus dooming the Bolognesi's army.
One of the most memorable moments of the battle was the sacrifice of Colonel Alfonso Ugarte, who threw himself and his horse off the hill and into the sea to prevent the national flag from falling into the hands of the Chileans, who at the time had the practice of burning the banners of their enemies. The other one, which is rather infamous, was the chilean repaso, which was the act of killing those that survived by bayonet and the rape of the women of Arica.
The Campaign of Lima:
After the battle of Arica, Peru tried to negotiate with Chile for a peace treaty, however, their demands were incredibly harsh towards Peru and negotiations failed. Now, Chile began to move its army north toward the Peruvian capital city of Lima, while a naval force called the Lynch Expedition attacked Peru's the northern coast (Lynch later was called "the last viroy of Peru"). The army finally disembarked on the central coast of Peru and began to move towards the capital. Along the way, they burned and destroyed the resort town of Chorrillos, finally ending in the battle of Miraflores, in which the last of the Militia died, as well as the best of the Peruvian youth (i.e. teenagers and young boy who were recruited to fight against the Chilean invaders) and the army of Chile entered the capital.
The Final phase of the war:
After the occupation of Lima, resistance carried on in the mountains and highlands of Peru, most notably the Warlock of the Andes, General Andres Avelino Cáceres. However, it eventually died out due to differences between the Peruvian generals.
The Treaty of Ancón ended the war between Peru and Chile in 1883. In the treaty, Chile won the province of Tarapaca from Peru. Chile also occupied various other provinces in Southern Peru until the 1920s. In 1884 Chile and Bolivia signed a treaty formalizing the Chilean possession of the province of Antofagasta, turning Bolivia into a land-locked country. Despite the treaty, Bolivia still hasn't actually accepted the outcome, and 140 years later still aspires to someday take back Antofagasta even though this becomes even less likely with every passing year.
Ironically, despite winning the war and being economically sound, Chile fell into a Civil War less than 10 years after the war's end. Even more ironically, the invention of the Haber process thirty years later would render the nitrate deposits that served as the casus belli completely worthless—why mine nitrate when you can literally make it out of thin air (and water or natural gas, but whatever)? However, the greatest irony of all is that Chilean companies were not the ones that benefited from the war, but the British and German ones in payment of their help in the war.
Depictions in fiction
- In The Legacy of the Glorious, the war is won by the Peruvian-Bolivian side: Spanish support for Perú allows them to buy two warships, which are enough to turn the Battle of Punta Angamos (where, in Real Life, Miguel Grau died) into a Peruvian victory, allowing for the liberation of the Bolivian coast and the eventual invasion of Chile.