5 April 1879

Chile declares war on Bolivia and Peru, starting the War of the Pacific.

War of the Pacific, Spanish Guerra del Pacífico, 1879–83, conflict involving Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, which resulted in Chilean annexation of valuable disputed territory on the Pacific coast. It grew out of a dispute between Chile and Bolivia over control of a part of the Atacama Desert that lies between the 23rd and 26th parallels on the Pacific coast of South America. The territory contained valuable mineral resources, particularly sodium nitrate.

National borders in the region had never been definitively established; the two countries negotiated a treaty that recognized the 24th parallel as their boundary and that gave Chile the right to share the export taxes on the mineral resources of Bolivia’s territory between the 23rd and 24th parallels. But Bolivia subsequently became dissatisfied at having to share its taxes with Chile and feared Chilean seizure of its coastal region where Chilean interests already controlled the mining industry.

Peru’s interest in the conflict stemmed from its traditional rivalry with Chile for hegemony on the Pacific coast. In 1873 Peru agreed secretly with Bolivia to a mutual guarantee of their territories and independence. In 1874 Chilean-Bolivian relations were ameliorated by a revised treaty under which Chile relinquished its share of export taxes on minerals shipped from Bolivia, and Bolivia agreed not to raise taxes on Chilean enterprises in Bolivia for 25 years. Amity was broken in 1878 when Bolivia tried to increase the taxes of the Chilean Antofagasta Nitrate Company over the protests of the Chilean government. When Bolivia threatened to confiscate the company’s property, Chilean armed forces occupied the port city of Antofagasta on Feb. 14, 1879. Bolivia then declared war on Chile and called upon Peru for help. Chile declared war on both Peru and Bolivia April 5, 1879.

Chile easily occupied the Bolivian coastal region and then took the offensive against more powerful Peru. Naval victories at Iquique and Angamos enabled Chile to control the sea approaches to Peru. A Chilean army then invaded Peru. An attempt at mediation by the United States failed in October 1880, and Chilean forces occupied the Peruvian capital of Lima the following January. Peruvian resistance continued for three more years, with U.S. encouragement. Finally, on Oct. 20, 1883, Peru and Chile signed the Treaty of Ancón, by which Tarapacá province was ceded to the latter.

Chile was also to occupy the provinces of Tacna and Arica for 10 years, after which a plebiscite was to be held to determine their nationality. But the two countries failed for decades to agree on what terms the plebiscite was to be conducted. This diplomatic dispute over Tacna and Arica was known as the Question of the Pacific. Finally, in 1929, through the mediation of the United States, an accord was reached by which Chile kept Arica; Peru reacquired Tacna and received $6 million indemnity and other concessions.

During the war Peru suffered the loss of thousands of people and much property, and, at the war’s end, a seven-month civil war ensued; the nation foundered economically for decades thereafter. In 1884 a truce between Bolivia and Chile gave the latter control of the entire Bolivian coast, with its nitrate, copper, and other mineral industries; a treaty in 1904 made this arrangement permanent. In return Chile agreed to build a railroad connecting the Bolivian capital of La Paz with the port of Arica and guaranteed freedom of transit for Bolivian commerce through Chilean ports and territory. But Bolivia continued its attempt to break out of its landlocked situation through the Paraná-Paraguay river system to the Atlantic coast, an effort that led ultimately to the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. See also Chaco War.

5 April 1958

Ripple Rock, an underwater threat to navigation in the Seymour Narrows in Canada is destroyed in a controlled explosions.

Ripple Rock, an underwater mountain within Seymour Narrows near Campbell River BC, was a marine hazard responsible for more than 20 large vessels and at least 100 smaller vessels sinking or being damaged. Before its destruction in 1958, Ripple Rock claimed at least 114 lives.

A Marine Commission’s findings brought a recommendation to remove Ripple Rock as early as 1931, but it was 1942 before this was finally authorized. Despite the extreme hazard the rock created, its removal was bitterly opposed by some, who had envisioned it as a bridge support for a railroad connecting Vancouver Island to the mainland.

The following year, a drilling barge 46 metres long was floated over the rock, held in place by one and half inch steel cables attached to six concrete anhors totaling 1,100 tons.The plan was to drill holes into the top of the rock, fill it with explosives and blast Ripple Rock away bit by bit. The enormous drilling barge quivered and tossed in the violent water, the anchor lines vibrating continually. The attempt failed as anchor lines broke at an average of one every 48 hours.

A second plan was made in 1945 that attempted to hold the drill barge in position by attaching it to two enormous steel overhead lines, each weighing 11 tons. The 3,500 foot cables were stretched across Seymour Narrows 135 feet above high water. Again, water turbulence severely hindered the operation; of the estimated 1,500 drill holes needed only 139 were drilled and 93 blasted, before the contract was terminated.

Eight years later the National Research Council directed a feasibility study on tunnelling to the rock. The idea was to sink a shaft from Maud Island, go under Seymour Narrows, and up into the peaks of Ripple Rock. The underground approach was recommended and Dolmage and Mason Consulting Engineers were retained to plan the project.

5 April 1862

The Battle of Yorktown during the American Civil War begins.

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Union forces under General George McClellan arrive at Yorktown, Virginia, and establish siege lines instead of directly attacking the Confederate defenders.

This was the opening of McClellan’s Peninsular campaign. He sailed his massive Army of the Potomac down Chesapeake Bay and landed on the James Peninsula southeast of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. He reasoned that this would bring him closer to Richmond, and the Confederates would have a difficult time gathering their scattered forces to the peninsula. The first resistance came at Yorktown, the site of George Washington’s decisive victory over Lord Cornwallis to end the American Revolution 91 years earlier.

McClellan was discouraged by what he thought was a substantial force resting inside of strong and well-armed fortifications. The Confederates he saw were actually 11,000 troops under General John B. Magruder. Although vastly outnumbered, Magruder staged an elaborate ruse to fool McClellan. He ordered logs painted black, called “Quaker Guns,” placed in redoubts to give the appearance of numerous artillery pieces. Magruder marched his men back and forth to enhance the illusion. The performance worked, as McClellan was convinced that he could not make a frontal assault.

He opted to lay siege instead. Not until May 4 did Magruder’s troops finally abandon Yorktown, giving the Confederates valuable time to gather their troops near Richmond. The campaign climaxed in late June when McClellan was driven away from the gates of Richmond in the Seven Days’ battles.