May 21, 1879 - After a heroic fight the Chilean corvette Esmeralda is sunk (right) by the Peruvian ironclad Huáscar at the Battle of Iquique. In early May, the ships of the Chilean Navy were sent north to attack the Peruvian base at Callao. As the fleet moved towards its objective two older, wooden ships, Esmeralda and Covadonga were detailed to blockade the port of Iquique. The ships took up station off the city and closed it to commerce. On the morning of May 21, lookouts on Esmeralda spotted the two Peruvian ironclads approaching from the north. These were Huáscar and the armored frigate Independencia which had slipped out of Callao prior to the arrival of the Chilean fleet.
As the Peruvian ships approached, the shore batteries in Iquique opened fire on the Chileans. Knowing that their ships were outmatched, Captain Arturo Prat of Esmeralda and Captain Carlos Condell of Covadonga attempted to flee south. As the ships got underway, Esmeralda experienced engine problems and fell behind. Captain Miguel Grau aboard Huáscar steered for the ailing Esmeralda and signaled his consort to pursue Covadonga. Possessing an armored bow, Huáscar manuevered to ram Prat's ship. Seeing an opportunity to board and seize Huáscar, Prat rallied his men yelling "Let's board boys!" and jumped across to the Peruvian ship. Unfortunately, Prat's call to board was lost in the noise of Huáscar ramming his ship and only two sailors followed him. The three were promptly cut down by enemy fire. When Huáscar rammed Esmeralda a second time, twelve men jumped across and met the same fate as their captain. A third ramming sealed Esmeralda's fate and 135 Chilean sailors were lost as the ship sank. Only one sailor about Huáscar was killed in the engagement.
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