Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Over the Andes
By Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881)
 
From Essays

DID the reader ever hear of San Martin’s march over the Andes into Chile? It is a feat worth looking at; comparable, most likely to Hannibal’s march over the Alps, while there was yet no Simplon or Mont-Cenis highway; and it transacted itself in the year 1817. South American armies think little of picking their way through the gullies of the Andes: so the Buenos Ayres people having driven out their own Spaniards, and established the reign of freedom, though in a precarious manner, thought it were now good to drive the Spaniards out of Chile, and establish the reign of freedom there also instead: whereupon San Martin, commander at Mendoza, was appointed to do it. By way of preparation, for he began from afar, San Martin, while an army is getting ready at Mendoza, assembles at the fort of San Carlos by the Aguanda river, some days’ journey to the south, all attainable tribes of the Pehuenche Indians, to a solemn Palaver, so they name it, and civic entertainment, on the esplanade there. The ceremonies and deliberations, as described by General Miller, are somewhat surprising: still more the concluding civic feast; which lasts for three days; which consists of horses’ flesh for the solid part, and horses’ blood with ardent spirits ad libitum for the liquid, consumed with such alacrity, with such results, as one may fancy. However, the women had prudently removed all the arms beforehand; nay, five or six of these poor women, taking it by turns, were always found in a sober state watching over the rest; so that comparatively little mischief was done, and only one or two deaths by quarrel took place.
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  The Pehuenches having drunk their ardent water and horses’ blood in this manner, and sworn eternal friendship to San Martin, went home, and—communicated to his enemies, across the Andes, the road he meant to take. This was what San Martin had foreseen and meant, the knowing man! He hastened his preparations, got his artillery slung on poles, his men equipped with knapsacks and haversacks, his mules in readiness; and, in all stillness, set forth from Mendoza by another road. Few things in late war, according to General Miller, have been more noteworthy than this march. The long straggling line of soldiers, six thousand and odd, with their quadrupeds and baggage, winding through the heart of the Andes, breaking for a brief moment the old abysmal solitudes!—For you fare along, on some narrow roadway, through stony labyrinths; huge rock mountains, having over your head, on this hand; and under your feet, on that, the roar of mountain cataracts, horror of bottomless chasms; the very winds and echoes howling on you in an almost preternatural manner. Towering rock barriers rise sky-high before you, and behind you, and around you, intricate the outgate! The roadway is narrow, footing none of the best. Sharp turns there are, where it will behove you to mind your paces; one false step, and you will need no second; in the gloomy jaws of the abyss you vanish, and the spectral winds howl requiem. Somewhat better are the suspension bridges, made of bamboo and leather, though they swing like see-saws; men are stationed with lassos, to gin you dexterously, and fish you up from the torrent, if you trip there.  2
  Through this kind of country did San Martin march; straight towards San Iago, to fight the Spaniards and deliver Chile. For ammunition waggons he had sorras, sledges, canoe-shaped boxes, made of dried bull’s hide. His cannons were carried on the back of mules, each cannon on two mules judiciously harnessed; on the packsaddle of your foremost mule there rested with firm girths a long strong pole; the other end of which, forked end, we suppose, rested with like girths, on the packsaddle of the hindmost mule; your cannon was slung with leathern straps on this pole, and so travelled, swaying and dangling, yet moderately secure. In the knapsack of each soldier was eight days’ provender, dried beef ground into snuff powder, with a modicum of pepper, and some slight seasoning of biscuit or maize meal; store of onions, of garlic, was not wanting; Paraguay tea could be boiled at eventide, by fire of scrub bushes, or almost of rock lichens or dried mule dung. No farther baggage was permitted; each soldier lay at night wrapped in his poncho, with his knapsack for pillow, under the canopy of heaven; lullabied by hard travail, and sunk soon enough into steady nose melody, into the foolishest rough colt dance of unimaginable Dreams. Had he not left much behind him in the Pampas—mother, mistress, what not; and was like to find somewhat, if he ever got across to Chile living? What an entity, one of those night leaguers of San Martin; all steadily snoring there, in the heart of the Andes, under the eternal stars! Way-worn sentries with difficulty keep themselves awake; tired mules chew barley rations, or doze on three legs; the feeble watch-fire will hardly kindle a cigar; Canopus and the Southern Cross glitter down, and all snores steadily begirt by granite deserts, looked on by the constellations in that manner! San Martin’s improvident soldiers ate out their week’s rations almost in half the time; and for the last three days had to rush on, spurred by hunger, this also the knowing San Martin had foreseen; and knew that they could bear it, these rugged Gauchos of his; nay that they would march all the faster for it. On the eighth day, hungry as wolves, swift and sudden as a torrent from the mountains, they disembogued; straight towards San Iago, to the astonishment of men;—struck the doubly astonished Spaniards into dire misgivings; and then, in pitched fight, after due manœuvres, into total defeat on the plains of Maypo, and again, positively for the last time, on the plains or heights of Chacabuco, and completed the deliverance of Chile, as was thought, for ever and a day.  3
 
 
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