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Historical Andes Army flag (Argentina, 1817-1820)

Ejército de los Andes

Last modified: 2011-06-10 by francisco gregoric
Keywords: ejército de los andes | mendoza | san juan | san martín (josé) | andes | wreath | sun: rising | phrygian cap | mascapaicha | arm | hand |
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[Andes Army flag reconstruction]
image by Francisco Gregoric, 18 Mar 2008
See also:

Presentation of the Andes Army

The origins of the Andes Army can be traced back to 1810. That year several self governments, autonomist and independist movements appeared in several cities of the Spanish colonies in Latin America.

However, the Spanish royalist reaction was to suffocate all of these movements. Only the Government of Buenos Aires had successfully remained independent.

The autonomous government of Buenos Aires tried for years to reach Lima, Perú (the most important Spanish area and the royalist center of South America) launching several military campaigns to Alto Perú (Upper Peru that is the present day Bolivia). The idea was to enter Lima from the south. General Manuel Belgrano commanded some of these military campaigns with the so called “Northern Army.”

However this military approach became difficult due to several political, geographical and social conditions in the Alto Perú.

Due to the defeats suffered by the troops of Belgrano in the battles of Vilcapugio and Ayohuma (Ayoma) in the Alto Perú by the end of 1813, the Northern Army command was transferred from General Manuel Belgrano to General José de San Martín. General San Martín decided that there would be necessary another way to reach Perú (different from the path of the Alto Perú strategy). He left the control of the northern border to the then Colonel Martín Miguel de Guemes, the patriot hero of the Province of Salta, and prepared a new plan.

In September 1814, General José de San Martín became Governor of Cuyo (present day Argentine provinces of Mendoza, San Juan and San Luis), and started the organization of a big army, known as The Army of the Andes. His plan was to cross the Andes Mountains and with the help of the friendly Chilean patriot government, using Chile as base, a naval expedition would be sent to Lima to end the Spanish rule there.

However, by the end of 1814, the patriot Junta that had governed Chile since 1810 was under attacked by the Spaniards (The Chilean period of 1810-1814 is nowadays known as the Patria Vieja – Old Motherland). In October 1814 the Chilean patriots were defeated in the Battle of Rancagua, and the remnants of the Chilean army and government sought exile in the Cuyo region. The Spaniards took again control of Chile.

Therefore the plan needed to be changed: The army needed to be bigger, to cross the Andes first, overthrow the Spanish royalists in Chile, and finally organize the expedition to Perú. The people of Cuyo, the Chilean exiles led by Bernardo O´Higgins and volunteers from other provinces joined the army of San Martín.

The plan was to cross the Andes Mountains in six columns: At the center, the main body of the army was divided in two columns. Two auxiliary columns made the crossing south of the main body, and two other auxiliary columns, crossed the Andes north of the main body. The purpose of these auxiliary columns was tactical support and also functioned as diversionary movements from the main two columns. One of these auxiliary columns was the one Commanded by Cabot. (See San Juan Province)

The Army of The Andes was officially and legally created on August 1, 1816.

In early 1817 the patriot army crossed the Andes in what would become a big logistic and organizational success. Once in Chile, after the battles of Chacabuco in 1817 and Maipú in 1818 the independence of Chile was secured.

The Andes Army was officially dissolved in 1820 and its members became part of the Liberating Expedition to Perú.
Francisco Gregoric, 18 Mar 2008

History and description of the flag

By the end of 1816, the organization of the Andes Army was almost complete.

The traditional official story story tells us that General San Martin decided that this new army would need a flag as its symbol. Therefore he asked a group of ladies (including his wife) to prepare the flag. This happened during the Christmas dinner of 1816.

On December 30, 1816, they looked for the fabric, and then the sewing and embroidering of the flag began, sometimes using their own jewelry, pearls, necklaces, gold and diamonds. The group of ladies was formed by Remedios de Escalada de San Martín (the wife of General José de San Martín), Laureana Ferrari de Olazabal, Mercedes Alvarez de Segura, Margarita Corvalán de Anzorena and Dolores Prats de Huisi. The flag was ready at 2:00 AM of January 5, 1817. Later in the morning of the same day, the flag was blessed and General San Martín and his men took an oath of loyalty to the flag.

The source of this story is a letter written by a much older Ms. Laureana Ferrari de Olazabal, 40 years later. This letter was addressed to her husband. The oath ceremony is described in the memories of General Gerónimo Espejo who was present in the event.

The version told in this letter has been accepted as true by several historians and historical associations and entities.

However, there is a different theory originally proposed by historian Prof. Esteban Fontana, and reproduced in the Mendoza newspaper Los Andes by writers Carlos O. Campana and Jorge O. Campana. According to this theory, the flag was sewed and embroidered by a group of nuns in the Monasterio de la Buena Enseñanza (Monastery of the Good Teaching) with help and donations of the group of ladies, including their jewelry. According to this theory the Andes Army flag may have been legally decreed at the begining of August 1816, and the manufacture may have started by September. Therefore the manufacture and embroider of the flag may have lasted a lot longer than as told by the traditional story.

A strong point for the new theory and against the traditional one is that the embroidery of the historical flag is very detailed and complex to have been made in less than a week as the traditional story seems to tell us.

However, more research about this flag should be needed to try to find a final answer for this.
Francisco Gregoric,18 Mar 2008

Why two stripes?

The design has two stripes with an embroidered coat of arms. The traditional story tells us that not enough fabric was found in the shops of Mendoza at that time, and that is why the Andes Army flag had two stripes instead of the Argentine horizontal three stripes sky blue, white and sky blue officially adopted by the Congress of Tucumán on July 20th of 1816.

The actual reason as to why the flag had two stripes and not three is that General San Martín used the flag design already used by the patriot armies since 1812 by General Manuel Belgrano and the Northern Army. That flag was of two horizontal stripes of white over sky blue. Several historians, authors and vexillologists think this design may have been the first Argentine flag raised by Belgrano on February 27, 1812.

This flag design appears in 1815, in a painting of General Manuel Belgrano, made by the French artist Carbonier, when Belgrano visited London on a diplomatic mission.

When the command of the Northern Army was transferred from Belgrano to San Martín, the flag was given to the latter by General Belgrano. In a letter, written later by Belgrano to San Martín, Belgrano writes: "mantain the flag I gave you".

These bicolor flags originally did not have any coat of arms, but since 1813, coats of arms have been added in some of them. The model of the coat of arms was originally the seal of the constitutional assembly seated in Buenos Aires. That seal would become the Argentine coat of arms.

In the flag of the Army of the Andes, the coat of arms has a significant difference: A set of mountains on the lower white half of the shield. These are symbolic of the Andes Mountains that the Army would cross.

The flag crossed the Andes with the army and participated in all the combats in Chile. But when the Andes Army was dissolved and their members became part of the Liberating Expedition to Perú, the flag ceased to be used, and remained in Chile. The expedition to Perú was led by Chilean flag. However this expeditionary Chilean flag had three stars instead of one. As integral part of the Chilean expeditionary force under San Martín, the Argentine regiments used the already familiar sky-blue and white colours.
Francisco Gregoric, 18 Mar 2008

Horizontal or vertical stripes?

During several years it has been believed by respected historians that the flag was a two vertical stripes flag with a horizontal coat of arms, because only a part of the original Flag of The Andes is preserved. The flag has been painted in that way in famous paintings that reproduced historical events as the one of The Embrace of Maipú by Pedro Subercaseaux (painted in 1908). [see image]

However contemporary documents, medals and a 1819 lithography that shows the flag, together with research made since the 1960s, together with the analysis of the clear relation of the Andes Army flag with the flags used by the armies commanded by General Manuel Belgrano in 1812-1814, prompted present day investigators and vexillologists believe that the Andes Army flag was of two horizontal stripes.
Francisco Gregoric, 18 Mar 2008

Coat of arms at the hoist reconstruction

[Andes Army flag with coat of arms at the hoist reconstruction]
image by Francisco Gregoric, 18 Mar 2008

There is a 1819 lithography of the Battle of Maipú where General San Martín appears holding the Andes Army flag. There, clearly the flag has two horizontal stripes. However the coat of arms instead of being centered, appears next to the hoist in a similar way to the Spanish 1785 War Ensign. The lithography is almost contemporary to the battle and of documental importance since it was made under the supervision San Martín Aide de Camps; Mayor Alvarez Condarco, who participated in the battle. Therefore this lithograph has a documental and historical importance to History and Vexillology. [see image]

Nowadays it is really very difficult to know the exact form of the Andes Army flag, because just a part of it is preserved.
Francisco Gregoric, 18 Mar 2008

As conserved currently

(vertical position)

[Original Andes Army flag as conserved currently]
image by Francisco Gregoric, 20 Mar 2008

Standart as is conserved currently, in vertical position.
Jaume Ollé, 15 Jul 2000

The flag did not participate in the Peruvian campaign and it was kept in Chile for years. From this time there is a document that tells that the flag was "stained and useless". In 1823 the Andes Army flag returned to Mendoza. It was preserved in the Church of San Francisco, next to the image of the Virgen del Carmen de Cuyo.

In 1861 there was a big earthquake in Mendoza that almost completely destroyed the city. However the flag survived. Since 1866 the flag has been kept in the provincial Government Palace of Mendoza.

Soon after that, in 1867 there was a revolution in the Province and the flag was sent to Chile. But it went back to Mendoza three years later.

In 1880 when General José de San Martín remains were repatriated from France (he had died there in 1850), the flag was sent to Buenos Aires, where it covered San Martín coffin. It went back to Mendoza in 1888.

The flag traveled again to Buenos Aires in 1904 and to Santa Fe in 1908 when both cities inaugurated Monuments to honor San Martín. In 1910 the flag participated in the in the City of Mendoza parade commemorating the centenary of May 25, 1810 revolution.

Across time, the flag has been damaged and just a part of it is preserved. Vexillologist Gustav Tracchia inspecting the flag noted that due to the position of the some of the elements of the coat of arms, “only the reverse of the flag is preserved. The obverse, with the embroidered and jewels have been lost forever.” However it could be said that the flag is in pretty good condition. That would be a mysterious contradiction with the 1820s document that describes it as "stained and useless".

During the administrations of Governor Videla (1932-1935), the flag was restored because its borders were deteriorated. Then it was encased in a window type of frame and re-located in the Red Room of the old Government Palace building.

During the Government of José Octavio Bordón (1987-1991) the encased framed was opened and the flag was examined and some minor restorations were made.

Since 1992 when the flag design became the provincial flag of Mendoza, the location of the historical flag was changed to the main access vestibule of the Government Palace. This made it easier for visitors to see the flag. The flag is nowadays located inside a glass box in an almost horizontal position. The box is surrounded by a perimeter of chains made of bronze. The place is decorated with white marble and black granite. The entire place is protected against sun light to avoid damages to the flag. The flag is guarded 24 hours a day by four soldiers dressed with replicas of San Martín-era uniforms.
Francisco Gregoric 20 Mar 2008

The correct sizes are 122 × 144 cm, from a photo of the original flag that I took. [see photo]
Fernando Bollana, 17 Jul 2004

Present use of the flag by the Mounted Grenadiers Regiment

[Andes Army flag as used by the Mounted Grenadiers Regiment]
image by Francisco Gregoric, 20 Mar 2008

The Mounted Grenadiers Regiment was originally founded by José de San Martín in 1812. Its first combat was the Battle of San Lorenzo on February, 1813. Then it participated with the Andes Army in all the Chilean campaign and also as part of the Liberating Expedition to Perú. When San Martín left the command of patriot armies to Simón Bolivar in 1822, the Grenadiers continued under the command of Bolivar for the entire Peruvian campaign. They returned to Buenos Aires in 1826, and the regiment was dissolved.

In 1903 the regiment was re-founded during the Presidency of General Julio Argentino Roca. Since 1907 it became the Argentine presidential escort unit. Its mission is to escort and protect the President of the Argentine Republic. The grenadiers use replicas of historical uniforms for ceremonial events. The full name of the unit is Mounted Grenadiers Regiment Number 1, General San Martin, and they are an integral part of the Argentine Army.

Grenadiers also perform a honor guard duty to San Martín tomb in the Cathedral of the City of Buenos Aires. Next to his tomb, there is a replica of the Andes Army flag made in the 1940s. [see photo]

The Mounted Grenadiers Regiment uses the historical design of the Andes Army flag as its own regimental flag, next to the national war flag, the same as other historical regiments of the Argentine Army that use their own historical regimental flag. However, the Grenadiers use the two vertical flag version, with a horizontal coat of arms, maintaining the believe of some years ago that the Andes Army flag was vertical striped.
Francisco Gregoric, 20 Mar 2008

The Andes Army flag is hoisted by the Regimiento de Granaderos a Caballo (Mounted Grenadiers Regiment) No.1 General San Martín in a similar way to the flags of the Spanish "Tercios". The flag bearer of the regiment holds the flag with the staff over his right shoulder, and the flag is displayed covering almost all of his arm. In this way, the coat of arms appears somehow oblique but not laying down.
Gus Tracchia, 15 Jul 2000

The provincial flag of Mendoza is raised in the same way; Two vertical stripes, white at the hoist and blue at the fly with the arms side way with the crest of the sun pointing the hoist.
Francisco Gregoric, 20 Mar 2008

Influence of the flag of the Andes in modern political flags

According to historian Eduardo S. Ronsenkrantz theory [rkz97] , the design of the Peronist (Justicialist) flag (designed in the 1940s) would have been based on the old idea of the Andes Army as a vertical stripes flag.

The design of the flag of the People´s Revolutionary Army, an Argentine leftist guerrilla group of the 1970s, was based on the Andes Army flag.
Francisco Gregoric, 20 Mar 2008

Photos: Paintings of the flag: Other sites: Other sources:
  • [gam07] Adolfo Mario Golman (2007): Enigmas sobre las primeras banderas argentinas: Una propuesta integradora
  • [cvl44] Dardo Corvalán Mendilaharsu (1944): Los Símbolos Patrios - Bandera - Escudo - Himno Nacional
  • [pzz00] Alberto Rubén Perazzo (2000): Nuestras Banderas - Vexilología Argentina
  • [tra93] Gustav Tracchia (1993): The flag of the Andes: Argentina 1817-1820
    Presented in the 13th International Congress of Vexillology, Melbourne 1989 [icv89]
  • [traXX] Gustavo Tracchia (19xx): La Bandera de los Andes
    Published in Estandarte [est] No. 10
  • Information and photo provided by Fernando Bollana
  • Personal communication with Gus Tracchia, Mario Golman and Dr. Miguel Carrillo Bascary

Anything below this line was not added by the editor of this page.