Jose De San Martin appears on the stamps of Argentine, Peru and Chile. He is a national figure in South America in general and these countries in particular. He was their liberator.
February 25th, 1778, witnessed his arrival in the Jesuit mission town of Yapeyu, on the Uruguay River. His mother was a Creole and his father a Spanish Officer, who destined his son to his own profession. At the age of eight he was sent to Spain to attend the best military school in that country and later served in the Spanish army against the Moors and Napoleon. In that country’s service he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, but resigned this shortly to return to Argentine to aid her in her fight for freedom.
In March, 1812, he landed at Buenos Aires, to find that the ‘revolution’ almost wasn’t, and seemed to be in the last stages of suffocation. San Martin’s first step was to raise and train some good troops in the city of Buenos Aires, who could later serve him in the capacity of officers in the wars that were sure to follow.
At this time only Argentine and New Grenada expressed the desire for independence. The other countries were either willing to swing with the old power or else were awed into silence by the show of (Spanish) power. His first plan (to strike the Spanish troops through Bolivia, a mining and fortified mountainous country) was impossible to carry out, so he asked for, and obtained, the commission of Governor of Cuyo, a province of Argentine adjoining Chile, now held by the Spanish. After the fall of this country many loyal Chileans fled to Cuvo and when San Martin arrived and announced that he came with the intention of raising an army they flocked to him to offer themselves. This was a fine recruiting ground. The men were numerous and brave, and all waiting for a chance to redeem their country.
He now prepared for the invasion of Chile. He spent most of his time in preparing rations, gathering mules for mountain transport, making sledges to cross the mountains that meant disaster to gun and crew of a wheeled cannon carriage. Every mile of the proposed route was mapped and guarded.
When January, 1817, came the passes were free from snow, his time had arrived. He split his command into two divisions and taking command of the larger himself, he sent the other through another pass under command of one of his able generals.
A small party were met in the mountains, but were soon dislodged so San Martin entered Chile practically unopposed. Within a short time he was reorganizing his troops on the broad plains of Aconcagua.
Although he had crossed two of the loftiest passes of the Andes very little, time was required for refitting his command. He was soon on the highroad to Santiago. The battle of Chacabuco (displayed on the Chilean commemoratives) was won by the Argentine general, and not only benefited the vicinity but gave self-confidence and morale to the rest of South America. Up to this time the different countries were considering asking a foreign government’s protectorate, but now with this victory this was forgotten. From this period on, San Martin’s military career really belongs to Chile and Peru and no longer Argentine. He subdued Chile and then went up the coast. In July, 1821, he entered the city of Lima and proclaimed the independence of Peru, resigning September 20th, 1822.
It was in Peru that his military career came to a sudden end. He met Bolivar, the liberator of the North, in conference at Guayaquil with a plan for co-operation which would push the Spanish off the continent into the ocean, but Bolivar could not see his way to co-operate. San Martin saw here failure for the Republicans should he and Bolivar have any kind of a disagreement. He explained his position to no one. Rather than split the cause of independence at the moment when the last Spaniard would be ousted from his stronghold in the Peruvian mountains, he submitted to reproaches of cowardice, in silence. Rather than jeopardize independence he sacrificed all: Money, home honors and even reputation itself. The History of the world records few examples of finer civic virtue.
The rest of his life he spent poverty stricken in Paris. Only once did he try to return to his native land. At Montevideo he heard that Buenos Aires was again in turmoil so he took the next noat for Europe. For many years his struggle against poverty and ill health were pathetic. It was the generosity of a Spaniard, not a countryman that relieved his last days.
It was on August 17th 1850, at the age of seventy-two that he expired at Boulogne-sur-mer, where he had gone to be benefitted by the sea air.
Peru has decreed a monument to his memory and Argentine and Chile have erected statues and all of these countries have placed him on their postage stamps.