Simon Bolivar: His Life and His Work - Guillermo Sherwell

Bombona and Pichincha—the Birth of Ecuador

Bolivar and San Martin Face to Face


In January, 1822, Bolivar was in Cali, assembling his army to invade Quito by land.

This campaign proved to be the most difficult he had undertaken with respect to natural obstacles. Between Quito and his army, the Andes form a nucleus of mountains called the Nudo de Pasto. All the difficulties with which he had had to contend in the campaigns of Venezuela and Nueva Granada,—such as the flooded plains, the deep ravines between Venezuela and the Colombian valleys, the narrow and rugged passages, the wild beasts,—sink into nothingness as compared with the almost unconquerable obstacles which he was to face on his way to the South. In no other part of the continent do the Andes present such an appalling combination of ravines, torrents, precipitous paths and gigantic peaks. Furthermore, nowhere on the continent was the population so hostile to freedom as were the pastusos  (inhabitants of the Pastos). Men, women and children cordially hated the cause of the Republic, and stopped at no crime to destroy the armies of Bolivar. Despite all this opposition, Bolivar made ready to throw the glories he had earned in Boyaca and Carabobo into the balance, risking everything to obtain the freedom of the peoples of the south, and the union of Quito and Colombia. This campaign presented difficulties greater than Napoleon himself ever found in his path. The Alps do not compare with these American mountains,—which rank with the Himalayas.

On the 8th of March, Bolivar began his advance to the South, being forced to leave a thousand men in the hospitals on the way. Scarcely two thousand men formed the army when it approached the formidable Nudo de Pasto. Sucre, who had been stationed in Guayaquil, moved so as to distract the attention of the Spaniards, thus helping Bolivar, and this was the only favorable circumstance.

Two thousand men were awaiting Bolivar in the city of Pasto, men who knew the country and who had the support of the inhabitants in their war against the independents. The commander of Pasto was a Spanish colonel named D. Basilio Garcia.

The two armies met in a place called Bombona, where all the advantages were on the side of the royalists. Bolivar found himself about to attack an army made almost invulnerable by nature; forests, roads, ravines—all protected it. In such a position, Bolivar merely said these words: "We must conquer and we will conquer!"

On the 7th of April the battle of Bombona occurred. It lasted the entire afternoon and part of the night. The independent army rose to the occasion, and accomplished what it had never before realized. The light of the moon witnessed the retreat of the royalist army, defeated and destroyed, seeking shelter in the city of Pasto; and the name of Bombona was written in history beside those of Boyaca and Carabobo as among the most momentous, the most significant battles fought for the cause of independence. The city of Pasto was unanimous against the Liberator, who now asked Garcia to surrender. Garcia at first refused, but finally accepted capitulation. He was a brave man and a creditable representative of Spanish heroism.

Before the battle, General Pedro Leon Torres misunderstood an order from Bolivar. The latter instructed him to surrender his command to a colonel. Torres took a rifle and answered: "Libertador, if I am not good enough to serve my country as a general, I shall serve her as a grenadier." Bolivar gave him back his command; Torres ordered the advance of his men and threw himself against the enemy, falling fatally wounded.

Bolivar entered Pasto. He was in such grave danger from the hostility of the inhabitants that he had to be escorted by Spanish soldiers, who, in this way, displayed their loyalty to their word and their high sense of honor.

This occurred on the 8th of June, 1822. The battle of Bombona had taken place two months before, and in the interval another great event occurred in favor of the independent army. General Sucre, who had come to help Bolivar in the movement, had taken several cities as he advanced towards Quito. On the 24th of May he fought a decisive battle on the volcanic mountain of Pichincha, by which the independence of Quito was secured. The battle of Pichincha made Sucre the greatest general in the republican army, after Bolivar. He captured 1,200 prisoners, several pieces of field artillery, guns and implements of war, and even made prisoner the Spanish commander, Aymerich. On the 25th of May, Sucre entered the city of Quito, two hundred and eighty years after the Spaniards arrived in that city for the first time.

With Sucre in Quito and Bolivar in Pasto, many bodies of royalist troops surrendered.

In the United States, the question of recognizing the independence of the South American countries finally came before Congress. On March 8, 1822, with James Monroe as President and John Quincy Adams as Secretary of State, the ideas expressed by Henry Clay in 1820 were carried to full fruition. The press had been working in favor of independence, and the message of Monroe in favor of recognition was an interpretation of public opinion at that time. In the report presented to Congress was the following expression:

"To deny to the peoples of Spanish America their right to independence would be in fact to renounce our own independence."

The independence of the South American countries was recognized by a congressional vote of 159 out of 160. It is better to forget the name of the man who opposed it. Spain fought against this measure but still it held. Colombia, Mexico and Buenos Aires entered into the concert of free nations.

Bolivar proceeded to organize the province of Los Pastos, and, with the help of the Bishop of Popayan,—a former foe to the cause of independence, who had wanted to return to Spain when the insurgents took possession of the city, but who was persuaded to remain by the noble words of Bolivar—finally obtained the consolidation of the republic in that section. A few days later Bolivar left Los Pastos for Quito, where he was received in triumph. The authorities of the old kingdom of Quito declared the city's desire to be reunited with the Republic of Colombia,—to become a part of the latter. Upon receiving the minutes of the assembly in which this decision was taken, Bolivar decided that this resolution should be placed before the proper representatives of the people, so that it might be given greater emphasis by their approval.

In the organization of the country, Bolivar formed the department of Ecuador of three old provinces. Sucre, promoted to the rank of major general, was appointed governor of this department. Then Bolivar addressed a letter to San Martin, at that time Protector of Peru, telling him that the war in Colombia had come to an end and that his men were ready to go wherever their brothers would call them, "especially to the country of our neighbors to the South."

There was a serious problem to be solved in the South, and it had to be worked out in Guayaquil. Two great men were going to come face to face. It is necessary study, even briefly, the personality of the other noted man of the South, General San Martin.

D. Josť de San Martin was born on the 25th of February, 1778, of Spanish parents, in the little village of Yapeyu, in the missions established among the Indians in the northeast part of what is now the Argentine Republic. His father was lieutenant governor of the department. Josť was educated in Spain among youths of noble birth. At eleven years of age he entered the army. He fought in Africa, against the French, and in Portugal. In the campaign in Portugal he was a brother-in-arms of don Mariano Montilla, the hero of Cartagena. He rose to the position of lieutenant colonel. In 1811 he met Miranda in London, and then decided to come to Buenos Aires. He arrived there in 1812, and placed himself at the disposal of the revolutionary government, which gave him the grade of lieutenant colonel of cavalry. He immediately showed his talent as an organizer of men; he instructed his officers and disciplined his soldiers.

At the beginning of the Argentine revolution, the idea of independence was vague, and it was San Martin who first suggested that the revolutionists should call themselves "independents," so as to have a cause, a flag and principles by which they might be known. It is necessary to remember that the revolution in this section of America was always of a monarchical tendency, and San Martin was always an ardent supporter of monarchical ideas. The only battle in which he took part in Argentina was one in which he, with 120 men, defeated 250 foes. The independence of the viceroyalty of the River Plata caused very little bloodshed, except in the northern part, which is now the republic of Bolivia. San Martin was sent to fight the Spaniards in this section, but he well knew the futility of attacking by land, because the greatest stronghold of the Spaniards on the entire continent—the vice-royalty of Peru—was on the other side. He then feigned illness, and was sent as governor to the province of Cuyo, at the foot of the Andes, where he worked constantly and efficiently to organize a large army. He succeeded, not with the brilliancy of Bolivar's genius, but through the constancy of his own methodical soul.

San Martin was reserved. It was very difficult to know his thoughts and his feelings. He was successful in battle as well as in his deception of the enemy. In many respects he was the opposite of Bolivar.

In 1817 San Martin had 4,000 soldiers in Mendoza ready to invade Chile, where the insurgent armies had been defeated in Rancagua by a Spanish army sent from Peru. The remnants of the Chilean patriots dispersed, and some of them crossed the Andes and presented themselves to San Martin in the city of Mendoza. He received some and rejected others. Among the former was D. Bernardo O'Higgins, upon whose loyalty San Martin was certain he could depend.

San Martin crossed the Andes, and defeated the Spaniards at Chacabuco. Later, he fought the decisive battle of Maipo, passing then to Santiago, where he was proclaimed director of the state, from which position he immediately resigned, using all his influence to have O'Higgins appointed in his stead, which was done. O'Higgins was an honest man and an excellent administrator. He immediately appointed San Martin general-in-chief of the army, and together they planned the invasion of Peru by sea.

With the help of Admiral Cochrane, San Martin reached the shores of Peru, where he landed. After some delay, due to the desire to enlist public opinion in the cause of independence, he took the city of Lima on July 8, 1821, and was appointed Protector of Peru. He wished to unite Guayaquil and Peru, in which plan he was opposed by Bolivar.

Guayaquil had declared itself independent of Spain in October, 1820. We have seen that Sucre was sent there by Bolivar because that section had not been included in the armistice agreed to with Morillo in Santa Ana. In Guayaquil there were three parties, one on the side of Peru, one on the side of Colombia, and a third which desired the independence of that section. There were several movements in favor of and against these conflicting views, when Bolivar sent messages to Sucre, O'Higgins, San Martin, and other prominent men, in an endeavor to form a combination to bring about an early and successful end to the war for independence. In all the difficulties of Guayaquil, Sucre displayed exceptional prudence and tact, but when he was obliged to leave the city in order to draw to himself the attention of the Spaniards and thus facilitate the movement of Bolivar against Pasto, the intrigues increased, and Bolivar had to intervene, sending a message to the Junta of Guayaquil, asking them to recognize the union of Guayaquil and Colombia. San Martin was on the point of declaring war on Colombia, a fatal step which was prevented by the pressure of other more urgent matters, and perhaps because the victories of Bombona and Pichincha were too recent to encourage any disregard of the conquerors.

As soon as Bolivar arrived in Quito, he decided to go to Guayaquil to take the situation in hand. He arrived on July 11, and was received in triumph, his presence producing a decided effect in favor of the union with Colombia. He published a proclamation inviting expressions of popular opinion as to union, and was waiting for the day on which the representatives of the province were to meet, when General San Martin appeared in the city, surprising everybody, for, although he had sent Bolivar a letter notifying him of his intended visit, Bolivar had not received it. He was most cordially received by the Liberator, who, in a previous communication, had declared his friendship for the Protector of Peru.

San Martin landed on the 26th of July, and that night had a long personal conference with Bolivar, concerning which opinions varied. There were no witnesses of that interview. It is certain that the men discussed the union of Guayaquil, and the conflicting ideas of both leaders. Again the intellectual superiority of Bolivar was evident. One thing, however, is known: forty hours after landing in Guayaquil, the Protector left the city and went to Peru, where he resigned his position and then sailed for Chile, whence he went to the Argentine Republic. Later, he proceeded to Europe, where he died in the middle of the century, a great man, the victim of the ingratitude of his fellow citizens, always modest and reserved, and, in many respects, an unsolved mystery. He harbored no resentment towards Bolivar. When he arrived in Callao after the interview, the papers published the following words over his name:

"The 26th of last July, when I had the satisfaction of embracing the Hero of the South, was one of the happiest days of my life. The Liberator of Colombia is not only helping this state with three of his brave battalions, united to the valiant division of Peru under the command of General Santa Cruz, to put an end to the war in America, but he is also sending a considerable number of arms for the same purpose. Let us all pay the homage of our eternal gratitude to the immortal Bolivar."