Latin American Studies Army of Chile in the 19th Century
by
Joaquín Fernández Abara, Juan Luis Ossa
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0178

Introduction

To define the concept of armed forces in 19th-century Chile is a complex task, as their evolution is embedded in the process of state-building, originally characterized by the underdevelopment of its bureaucratic apparatus. Moreover, there were times in which ideological conceptions and political interests were critical of the presence of standing armies and tried to reduce their level of influence. This article, therefore, uses a minimal definition of the concept, considering the military as organized groups of people who, through the use of weapons, aimed at taking part in international wars, assumed functions of national defense or played an important role in its internal conflicts. Under this category can be found a multiplicity of armed bodies with different degrees of organization, stability, and dependence on the state. Hence, when speaking of armed forces, standing armies are considered to be both the regular army and the navy, and as irregular forces, the National Guard and the militias. Also, boundaries between these armed forces were porous and often tended to blur, as can be inferred from Sater 1986 (War of the Pacific), Fernández Abara 2004 (Chilean Civil Wars), Ossa 2008 (Chile’s Struggle for Independence), and Zauritz Sepúlveda 2009 (International Wars). In so doing, the historiography related to the Chilean armed forces during the period 1810–1900 is discussed, thus covering the process started when Chile became an independent state from Spain and finished with the consolidation of a professional army through the “Prussianization” of its forces and the adoption of compulsory service. There are different historiographical currents that have studied this subject. The 19th-century positivist historiography focused primarily on the narrative of the military operations that took place in armed conflicts, considering the role of senior officials and national political figures. Marxist historiography, especially after the 1973 coup, tried to understand the characteristics of the military and their relationship with the ruling classes and social conflicts that had plagued the country. Also, since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, modern variants of the nationalist-conservative historians have analyzed civil-military relations, seeking to legitimize political actions of the armed forces through the exhibition of historical examples that aimed to demonstrate the assiduity of their public interventions. More recently, the influence of the new social history and the history of private life has been perceptible in the study of the armed forces. They have focused on the role the army played within subordinate sectors. Cultural historians, for their part, have presented studies on nationalism and how this has permeated the history of the armed forces. Their main concern has been to see soldiers and officers as important actors in the formation of citizenship and the construction of national identity. Finally, work by historians linked to the armed forces, who have written a significant number of institutional histories, is also included here.

General Overviews

Most general works on the Chilean armed forces are institutional histories written at the request of military entities. That is the case of Historia del Ejército de Chile (1985), a detailed work whose aim was to reach an audience interested in specific aspects of military history. More recently, works such as Arancibia Clavel 2007 on the army, and Arancibia Clavel, et al. 2005 on the navy, maintain the institutional and general character, but in a shorter length and in an entertaining format accessible to the general public. Since the 1973 military coup and the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which lasted until 1989, historical studies on the armed forces have analyzed civil-military relations and the links between the military and politics. While most of this historiography addressed issues related to the 20th century, a few general works have paid attention to the 19th century. A pioneer work is Nunn 1976, which studied civil-military relations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries from a political and social perspective. From an authoritarian and nationalist perspective (and supportive of the Pinochet regime), works such as Molina Johnson 1989 and Bravo Lira 1996 tried to identify the role of the military as political actors, especially in situations of disorder and absence of civil authority. From a Marxist perspective, on the other hand, see Ramírez Necochea 1984, a posthumous and unfinished work written in exile. Ramírez Necochea studied the presence of militarism in Chile and the levels of autonomy or dependence of the army in regards to the state and the ruling classes. An exception to the dominant trend in general works on the armed forces is Vergara Quiroz 1993, which discusses the history of the army from a social perspective. Finally, the lack of general works related to the history of the National Guard throughout the 19th century is remarkable. The studies referring to that institution have addressed only specific periods, and the longest one, Hernández Ponce 1984, finishes in 1848.

  • Arancibia Clavel, Patricia, ed. El Ejército de los Chilenos (1540–1920). Santiago: Editorial Biblioteca Americana, 2007.

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    Even though Arancibia Clavel provides a general overview of the evolution of the Chilean army from the Conquest to the early 20th century, most of the text is devoted to the 19th century. It does not give a central thesis, but it provides systematized information about its organization and involvements in armed conflicts. This is useful for anyone wishing to get started in the theme.

  • Arancibia Clavel, Patricia, Isabel Jara Hinojosa, and Andrea Novoa Mackenna. La Marina en la historia de Chile. Vol. 1, Siglo XIX. Santiago: Sudamericana, 2005.

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    Arancibia Clavel, Jara Hinojosa, and Novoa Mackenna offer a general overview of the Chilean navy in the 19th century. This book provides interesting information about its institutional organization, its participation in military conflicts, and its contribution to the maintenance of state sovereignty in remote areas of the country.

  • Bravo Lira, Bernardino. “Ejército y estado de derecho en Chile (Siglos XVI al XX).” Estudios Públicos 61 (Summer 1996): 197–268.

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    Bravo Lira addresses the relationship between the rule of law and the armed forces in the history of Chile. According to the author, after independence the military emerged as an alternative to what the he calls disorder and political anarchy. After 1830 the armed forces focused on “external security” and the levels of militarism were successfully restrained. This changed only in the 20th century.

  • Hernández Ponce, Roberto. “La Guardia Nacional en Chile: Apuntes sobre su origen y organización.” Historia 19 (1984): 53–113.

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    Hernández Ponce explores the transformations experienced by the National Guard, arguing that this institution restrained militarism and inculcated notions of civil responsibilities in the population. Taking into account the colonial background of the National Guard, the author traces its history until the regulation of 1848, which reformed its organization.

  • Historia del Ejército de Chile. 7 vols. Santiago: Estado Mayor del Ejército, 1985.

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    This book is a general history that focuses on the military campaigns and the organizational transformations of the army. Between Volumes 2 and 7, this work studies the 19th century, from independence until the Prussianization. Even though this collection is of an institutional character and does not present a thesis, it is very useful for anyone interested in military subjects.

  • Molina Johnson, Carlos. Chile: Los militares y la política. Santiago: Editorial Andrés Bello, 1989.

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    Molina Johnson studies the relationships between the military and politics. The book addresses the role assigned by the state to the military, both individual and corporate, and the political actions of the latter. The author argues that the “Portalian state” took the military out from the political scene and subordinated the army to the executive.

  • Nunn, Frederick. The Military in Chilean History: Essays on Civil-Military Relations, 1810–1973. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976.

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    Nunn studies civil-military relations in Chile in the 19th and 20th centuries, focusing primarily, albeit not exclusively, on the army. The author argues that military caudillism was not a characteristic of the period from 1830 to 1891 as it was in other Latin American countries. Such tendency reversed at the end of the 19th century, when the professionalization of the army allowed military men to enter the political arena.

  • Ramírez Necochea, Hernán. Las fuerzas armadas y la política en Chile (1810–1970): Antecedentes para una historia. Mexico City: Cultura SEP, Casa de Chile en México, 1984.

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    Ramírez Necochea studies the relationship between the army and politics. He claims that in the 19th century the military lacked autonomy and was subordinated to the state. This tendency was reversed at the end of the century thanks to the Prussianization of the army, which grew in autonomy and was able to consolidate its corporative spirit.

  • Vergara Quiroz, Sergio. Historia social el Ejército de Chile. Vol. 1, Ejército, sociedad y familia en los siglos XVIII y XIX; Vol. 2, Los oficiales y sus familias en el siglo XIX. Santiago: Universidad de Chile, Vicerectoria Académica, departamento técnico y de investigación, 1993.

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    Vergara Quiroz analyzes the social composition and family ties of the officers of the army. He claims that the Santiago elites had only an occasional presence in the army. Most of the time the army was led by officers from the south, to whom were added men of modest origins after 1850.

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