The battle of Lircay was a warlike confrontation that pitted the two sides in the civil war that began in Chile in 1829. The battle took place on the banks of the Lircay River, near Talca, on April 17, 1830. The triumph of the Conservatives was the beginning of the so-called Conservative Republic.
The confrontations between the different political sectors of Chilean society were constant after independence. In 1929, General Joaquín Prieto Vial, from the conservative side, carried out a coup with the excuse of ending the instability, which started the civil war.
The first major confrontation took place in Ochagavía, a combat that ended without a clear winner and with the signing of an agreement to end the conflict. However, Ramón Freire did not recognize this agreement and mobilized his troops to confront the conservatives in the battle of Lircay.
Once the war was over, the different factions signed the Cuzcuz treaty, but the conservative provisional government did not accept several of its provisions. President José Tomás Ovalle undertook a campaign of repression against the liberals and approved legislative reforms that were the precursor to the Constitution of 1833.
Causes of the Battle of Lircay
The civil war that began in 1829 faced two political models that sought to impose their vision about how the country should be organized.
On the one hand were the liberals, who proposed a model that would guarantee individual freedoms. Furthermore, part of them were supporters of federalism.
The other sector in dispute were the conservatives. Although there were several factions, all agreed on the need for a strong centralized state capable of imposing order. They were also firm allies of the Catholic Church.
The instability caused by the clash of both sectors lasted for seven years until the civil war broke out.
After a series of constitutional trials and political instability that lasted for seven years, the grudges deepened that culminated in a true civil war.
Confrontation between conservatives and liberals
As noted, the confrontation between conservatives and liberals had been constant since the country’s independence.
In 1829, with Francisco Antonio Pinto in the presidency, the tension intensified when José Joaquín Vicuña, of a pipiola (liberal) tendency, was appointed vice president as a member of the fourth most important party of the chamber.
The appointment caused that the different conservative factions (tobacconists, o’higginistas and hairdressers) united against the government. In Concepción, the Army of the South commanded by José Joaquín Prieto revolted and headed towards Santiago.
The first confrontation between the rebels and the government army took place in Ochagavía, on December 14, 1829. The battle did not have a clear winner and both sides signed a truce that left control of the country in the hands of Ramón Freire.
Failure of the Ochagavía Pact
The Ochagavía Pact failed to calm the situation. In January 1830, in accordance with the provisions of the treaty, the Plenipotentiary Congress appointed a Board in which Diego Portales and José Joaquín Prieto, both conservatives and opposed to Freire, had all power.
Some time later, the Junta dismissed Freire and appointed Francisco Ruiz-Tagle Portales, one of the leaders of the conservative faction of the tobacconists, as president. The vice-presidency was occupied by Ovalle.
Those appointments were rejected by Freire, who rose up against the new government.
Development of the battle
Freire crossed the Maule River with his troops on the night of April 14-15 to occupy the city of Talca. His intention was to wait there for Prieto’s army. On the 16th, Prieto placed his men in the Barza hill, to the east of the town.
The Italian soldier José Rondizzoni then convinced Freire that waiting in Talca was a suicidal tactic and at dawn on the 17th his troops left the town and were located near the Baeza hill. There he deployed his men with the intention of staying on the defensive protected by the swamps, ditches and hills present in the area.
Tight reaction moving his men to the banks of the Lircay River. After surveying the terrain, he decided to mobilize his troops to attack his enemies from one flank. Before, he arranged his cavalry to prevent Freire from retreating to Talca.
The movement of Prieto’s troops deceived Freire, who thought that his enemy was avoiding the confrontation and that he was going to retreat towards Concepción. In fact, Prieto had made a detour and had positioned his guns so that they could catch up with his rivals.
Prieto’s artillery began firing at the line arranged by Freire, at the same time that the infantry and cavalry began to flank it.
Freire’s troops had to retreat towards the Lircay River, a more difficult position to defend. Rondizzoni tried to charge against Prieto’s infantry, but his men were defeated within minutes. The Italian, wounded, was able to escape alive.
At the time, Freire’s army was under attack from all positions and he had no choice but to retreat north. However, his enemies cut the line of retreat.
Attempt of resistance
By that time, Freire’s army had been reduced to a thousand infantry and fifty artillerymen. Despite this, they managed to resist the fire of the rifles and cannons and the charges of the cavalry for two hours.
According to historians, the pipiolo (liberal) army preferred to die before surrendering to Prieto, while his soldiers fought fiercely.
The fighting lasted until four in the afternoon. Freire had fled and Elizalde had been in command of the troops. In a last attempt, his surviving soldiers tried to break through the encirclement, but Elizalde was shot dead. The battle ended with the death of other senior officers, such as Colonel Tupper and Roberto Bell.
Aftermath of the Battle of Lircay
Historians highlight that the battle was fierce. Prieto’s conservatives took advantage of their numerical superiority to control the battlefield. Finally, his victory marked the end of the civil war.
According to reports at the time, the battle ended with 600 dead and more than 1,000 prisoners.
The news about the outcome of the battle soon reached Santiago. There, Vice President José Tomás Ovalle and his Minister Diego Portales approved the following decree:
“From this date on, Captain General Don Ramón Freire, the chiefs, officers and troops who under his orders continue with arms in hand, acting hostilely against the nation, have been discharged from the army.”
The Battle of Lircay marked the end of the civil war and the beginning of the historical period known as the Conservative Republic.
After the triumph of Prieto, the provisional government was strengthened, leaving Ovalle at the head of it from April 1830. From that moment, he developed a policy that sought to form a unitary state under a strong political command and directed from Santiago.
Many liberals had to go into exile. The government purged supporters of the insurrection within the army.
Peace was sealed with the Treaty of Cuz-Cuz, whose drafters tried to find a peaceful solution that would avoid new confrontations. However, the Ovalle government did not accept the agreement.
Ovalle, on the other hand, returned to the Church all the properties that had been expropriated from him and signed a kind of concordat that returned part of the power previously lost.
One of the Conservative government’s priorities was to change the constitution. The president called for this a Constituent Assembly, which prepared a new Magna Carta. This was approved in 1833.
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