|Queen Isabella II of Spain|
Another effort by the Old World to regain influence in the New during this period, not yet discussed on these pages, was the Chincha Islands War fought by the Kingdom of Spain under Queen Isabella II against the South American republics of Peru and Chile from 1864 to 1866. It was not a major event and is generally overlooked in the catalogue of historic events of the Americas and, for once, I will concede that this is not unjustified. The war was not a massive conflict, consisting of a few rather minor naval skirmishes, and while it could have been extremely significant, it was not because of two reasons. It ultimately amounted to nothing because the South American republics showed that while they may have a hard time getting along with each other, they would unite to prevent the reestablishment of Spanish rule or even Spanish influence in their continent and because the defeat of the Confederacy the year after the war started meant that even if the Spanish had been successful, the United States would likely have ultimately forced them out anyway. Finally, it is also true that the Chincha Islands War was from start to finish, at the very most, simply a quite modest first step in the direction of rebuilding the Spanish empire at some distant, unforeseen date.
|Spanish forces on the Chichan Islands, 1864|
Conflict erupted following a mob attack on a couple of Spanish subjects in Peru, followed by Peru refusing the Spanish demand for an apology and reparations. Spain was also insisting that Peru pay debts from the colonial period and for Spanish property seized during the war for independence. Peru refused and on April 14, 1864 a Spanish naval flotilla seized the not very well defended Chincha Islands. This was somewhat important as these islands were a primary source of guano for Peru. If the idea of a war over bird feces sounds ridiculous, keep in mind that this bird crap produced more than half of the Peruvian government’s annual income and then you might also want to go and refresh your memory on what oil actually is. Spanish marines occupied the islands, raised the flag and shouted vivas to Queen Isabella II but holding the islands was simply a means to force Peru to the negotiating table. Spanish ships also began blockading the major Peruvian ports but Spain never had sufficient forces anywhere near Peru for a major operation such as an invasion of the mainland to reestablish Spanish authority by force.
|Vice Admiral Pareja|
Ecuador and Bolivia later joined in declaring war on Spain as well. They would take no active part in the conflict but this meant that all ports on the Pacific would be closed to Spanish ships, making it extremely difficult to maintain operations against Peru and Chile. Argentina and the Empire of Brazil were invited to add their names to the list of allies at war with Spain but they were both occupied with a war against Paraguay and decided against it. The Spanish wanted to engage the Peruvian and Chilean navies in a decisive action at sea that would wipe them out and give Spain uncontested naval control of the Pacific coast, however the Battle of Abtao, fought on February 7, 1866 between two Spanish ships and four allied ships (3 Peruvian & 1 Chilean) was tactically indecisive but a strategic failure as the allied fleet survived. On March 31, 1866 the Spanish fleet bombarded the port of Valparaiso, Chile and destroyed 33 Chilean merchant ships, effectively wiping out the merchant marine of Chile. This was followed up by the Battle of Callao on May 2, 1866 in which the Spanish attacked a heavily defended port. They did some damage, inflicted far heavier losses on the Peruvians than they suffered but did no major, lasting damage to the port and ultimately withdrew. Peru, therefore, claimed to have successfully repelled the Spanish while the Spanish also declared victory, saying that their goal had simply been to punish the Peruvians and that goal had been accomplished.
|The Battle of Callao|
By 1866, of course, the American Civil War had ended and the United States was once again free to assert itself south of the Rio Grande and all European involvement in the Americas began to draw to a close. In the years that followed the war was officially concluded though it would take well into the next decade before the Kingdom of Spain officially recognized Peruvian independence. This has, needless to say, helped fuel speculation and controversy as to how far Spain intended to go with the conflict. Personally, I doubt there is any precise answer. The Chichan Islands War had not been premeditated, so to speak, but I think it safe to assume that Spain would have logically pushed any advantage as far as it could go. They may have meant simply greater Spanish influence in the region or, had things gone considerably differently, I doubt they would have objected to a reestablishment of the Spanish empire in South America.
As it was, as stated at the outset, the Chichan Islands War was a minor affair. Spain did not back up its forces for a major campaign and, as the American Civil War had ended in 1865, the United States would not have allowed such a thing if it had. As with the Mexican adventure by Napoleon, his dreams of a Kingdom of the Andes, the readmission of the Dominican Republic to the Kingdom of Spain and any thoughts of expansion into South America, all was doomed by the Confederate defeat and the victory of the Union forces in America who stated at the start of European involvement in Mexico that it would never recognize or accept the establishment or reestablishment of any monarchy in the Americas. The only way any of this could have happened would have been if the Confederate States of America had succeeded in securing their independence and thus provided a buffer state between the remaining United States and Latin America. When General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in southern Virginia, the impact was felt far away from simply the American southern states.