Simon Bolivar: His Life and His Work - Guillermo Sherwell

Junin, a Battle of Centaurs

The Continent's Freedom Sealed in Ayacucho


After the victories of Bombona and Pichincha Bolivar again evidenced his disinterestedness and his generosity in praising his officers. He reiterated his desire to resign his power. He expressed in a letter the need he felt for rest, and a belief that a period of repose might restore his former energy, which he felt slipping away from him.

Writing to a friend about Iturbide, he said:

"You must be aware that Iturbide made himself emperor through the grace of Pio, first sergeant. . . . I am very much afraid that the four boards covered with crimson, and which are termed a throne, cause the shedding of more blood and tears and give more cares than rest . . . . Some believe that it is very easy to put upon one's head a crown and have all adore it; But I believe that the period of monarchy is passing, and that thrones will not be up-to-date in public opinion until the corruption of men chokes love of freedom."

Regarding the battle of Pichincha, he said: "Sucre is the Liberator of Ecuador." No better praise could be given his worthy lieutenant.

Once in Quito, he received the alarming news from Peru, which province had been left by San Martin, that several serious defeats had been suffered by the independents. He immediately made ready to free the viceroyalty from Spain, realizing that while Peru remained under Spain the independence of Colombia would be in danger. The viceroy of Peru had 23,000 European soldiers and all the resources necessary to carry on war.

Peru was the last South American country to proclaim its independence. Although there had been some movements of insurrection in 1809 in Alto Peru (now Bolivia), they were soon quelled and the country once more placed under the dominion of Spain. As a result, Peru was in position to send reinforcements to the royalists in Chile and was a constant menace to Colombia. The patriots of Chile, after obtaining their freedom, organized San Martin's expedition to invade Peru. When San Martin entered Lima early in July, 1821, the viceroy (Pezuela) was deposed by an assembly, and Laserna was appointed to take his place. Once in Lima, San Martin entered upon a period of inactivity which resulted in heavy losses to the independents. He was even ready to communicate with the Spaniards in order to arrange for the establishment of a regency in Peru, awaiting the arrival of a European prince to govern the country. He even appeared ready to go to Spain, himself, to beg for a prince.

The viceroy established his residence in Cuzco, the old capital of the Incas, and the Spanish officers obtained several partial victories.

The defeats of the independent forces brought about the dissolution of a junta  which had taken charge of the government. At that time, Bolivar decided to intervene to help Peru gain her independence. He decided to send 3,000 men at once and to follow himself with 3,000 more to undertake this last part of his important work. As we have said, his decision in this matter was based, among other things, on the realization that the freedom of Colombia was in constant danger while the royalists occupied Peru. While making preparations for the campaign, he received news from Santander, the vice-president of Colombia, that the Spanish general, Morales, was advancing from Merida to Cucuta with a powerful army. He decided to send Sucre to Lima to handle the situation there and to go, himself, to Bogota to defend his own country. He would have been unable to go to Lima immediately anyway, for he had not yet obtained permission from the Colombian government to do so. On his way to Bogota he learned that the reports of the movements of Morales were very much exaggerated and that his forces were not so large as at first thought. Meanwhile, the Peruvians were insisting that Bolivar come to assist them, and the Constitutional Congress of Peru even instructed the President to ask the Libertador Presidente to inform his home government that the government of Peru ardently besought him to lend his assistance. Aware of the inefficient organization of the Peruvian forces, Bolivar strongly advised that attacks should not be made at once in order to see whether negotiations could bring about the desired results, or to allow time in which to improve the condition of the army. He argued that no movement should be made until it was certain that independence could be gained only through the success of arms.

While Bolivar was still undecided, a powerful royalist army approached Lima, and the insurgents had to leave the capital and take shelter in the nearby port of Callao. Sucre, to whom the command of the united army had been offered, but who had not accepted this commission, directed the retreat. In Callao he assumed power, organized the insurgents of the city, and undertook other military operations. The royalists remained in Lima for a short while only, and then their opponents reoccupied the city.

Once more Bolivar was obliged to leave Guayaquil, this time to go to Quito to defend the city against the pastusos, who had again rebelled. After punishing them, he sent men to the city of Pasto to finish the work of pacification, and he returned to Guayaquil in January, 1823, where he was met by a commission sent from Peru to insist upon his taking command of the Peruvians. Upon receipt of authorization from the Colombian government, he proceeded to Callao, where he arrived on the first of September, 1823. Congress conferred upon Bolivar the title of Libertador, and placed in his hands supreme military authority over all the forces of the country. In order to insure close cooperation between the civil administration and the military operations, he was vested with political and executive authority. Bolivar accepted these powers with great modesty, and remarked:

"I do for Peru more than my ability permits, because I count upon the efforts of my generous fellows-in-arms. The wisdom of Congress will give me light in the midst of the chaos, difficulties and dangers in which I see myself . . . I left the capital of Colombia, avoiding the responsibilities of civil government. My repugnance to work in governmental affairs is beyond all exaggeration, so I have resigned forever from civil power so far as it is not closely connected with military operations. The Congress. of Peru may count, nevertheless, on all the strength of Colombian arms to give the country unlimited freedom. By protecting national representation I have done for Peru the greatest service a man could do for a nation."

There were elaborate festivities in honor of Bolivar, and his moderation, as well as his other personal qualifications, was recognized and admired. General O'Higgins of Chile was present on that occasion. At one of the banquets, Bolivar proposed a toast voicing the hope that the children of America might never see a throne raised in any of its territories, and that, as Napoleon was exiled in the middle of the ocean, and the new emperor, Iturbide, thrown out of Mexico, all usurpers of the rights of the people might fall, and that not one of them might remain throughout the New World.

Bolivar had many difficulties to overcome in the work of organizing the elements of the country for the final struggle. Peruvians had not been hardened by constant fighting as had Venezuelans and New Granadians, and although they were patriotic and anxious to obtain their freedom, yet they lacked the ardor that only Bolivar knew how to kindle in men's hearts. He decided to hasten the advance of the Colombian reinforcements, knowing that he could trust them to form a strong nucleus around which he could organize the Peruvian campaign. In the midst of his incessant work, he would say:

"We must conquer or die! And we will conquer, for Heaven does not want us in chains."

In January, 1824, Bolivar became very ill with fever. Before he had fully recovered he began to direct the preparations for the campaign, and while con valescing displayed remarkable energy in his work. When he was still very weak, sitting ghost-like in an armchair, his friend don Joaquin Mosquera, who had been his ambassador to the countries of the South, asked him, "And now, what are you going to do?" "To conquer," answered Bolivar."

At times, though, he showed some signs of discouragement. He had already said he felt that his energy was diminishing, and in a letter to General Sucre he wrote:

"I am ready to meet the Spaniards in a battle to end war in America, but nothing more. I feel tired, I am old, and I have nothing to expect."

He had something to expect: the last and final victories, and then the ingratitude of his fellow citizens. Perhaps at that time he was beginning to feel the advances of tuberculosis, the illness which caused his death.

Then an event occurred which almost destroyed all of Bolivar's well-made plans. Some troops sent from the River Plata started a rebellion in Callao, and, before anything could be done to correct the situation, the Spanish flag was hoisted over the fortress and messages had been sent to the viceroy offering to deliver the city. Laserna sent General Rodil, appointing him governor and military commander of the province of Lima, and placing him in full command of the fortress and the treacherous soldiers. This was a severe loss for the republican cause. Congress at once suspended the constitution and the law and appointed Bolivar dictator, for it realized that he was the only man to cope with the situation. The royalist army had 18,000 men, 12,000 to fight Bolivar, who was then in the city of Trujillo, and 6,000 to keep Upper Peru (now Bolivia) and the southern coast, subject to Spain. Bolivar had from 4,000 to 6,000 Colombians and about 4,000 Peruvians, all in poor condition. He gathered all the resources available in Lima, but desertion and treachery had left very little of use. At that time, to be disloyal was a fashionable thing for the insurgents of Lima. However, Bolivar would not despair. In a letter written at that time, he said:

"This year will not come to a close without our having gained Potosi."

His chief hope had been in the army of Colombia; but, while in Trujillo, he learned that the government of Colombia would not send any troops or resources without express authorization from Congress, which meant a long delay. Meanwhile, the Spaniards under command of Canterac were advancing against Trujillo. Bolivar set .to work again with that feverish activity which seemed to enable him to create everything from nothing—men, uniforms, arms, horses, even horseshoes. The smallest detail, near or at a distance, was the object of his care, and he attended to everything with that precision and accuracy which form a great proportion of what we call genius.

The city of Pasco was selected by Bolivar as the meeting place of all the independent forces, and the month of May chosen for the general movement. In June the Andes were crossed, and on August 2nd, the army was assembled on the plain of Sacramento, near Pasco. There he arranged his soldiers for battle and decided to attack on the 6th the royalists, who were near by. Canterac was approaching with an army of 9,000 of which 2,000 were cavalrymen.

On August 6, 1824, at four o'clock in the afternoon, the two armies met on the plain of Junin, near the lake of that name, the source of the Amazonas. This battle was one of cavalry only, and was in appearance and in results one of the most terrible. Throughout the whole combat not one shot was fired. Only the horsemen fought, but the defeated royalist cavalry on retreat, drew the infantry with them. The battle of Junin ranked in importance with those of Boyaca, .Carabobo and Bombona, as well as that of Pichincha, and had a marked effect on the ultimate success of the Peruvian campaign. The morale of the royalists was destroyed. Canterac, in his retreat, was forced to cover 450 miles of very rough country, and lost a large part of his army.

A festivity following this success was the occasion of generous words exchanged between the victor of Bombona and the conqueror of Pichincha. Sucre said:

"Led by the Liberator, we can expect nothing but victory!"

to which Bolivar answered:

"To know that I will conquer, it is enough to know who are around me."

At another time, Bolivar reiterated his feelings in the following way:

"Let the valiant swords of those who surround me pierce my breast a thousand times if at any time I oppress the countries I now lead to freedom! Let the authority of the people be the only existing power on earth! Let the name of tyranny be obliterated from the language of the world and even forgotten!"

Bolivar then left the army in the command of Sucre and departed for the seaboard to continue his work of organization.

The royalists had left Lima as soon as they learned of the defeat of Junin. Rodil was in the fortress at Callao. The viceroy in Cuzco gathered all the soldiers he could, forming an army of 11,000 men, and started out to avenge the defeat of Junin.

On December 9, 1824, the two armies met on the plain of Ayacucho, and at noon began the final battle of the Wars of Independence on the American continent. At first the Spaniards had some success. Then General Cordova of the army of Sucre, jumped from his horse, killed it with his sabre, and exclaimed to soldiers: "I do not want any means of escape. I am merely keeping my sword to conquer. Forward, march of conquerors!" The royalists could not resist Cordova. They put all their reserves into action, but the soldiers of the independent army were determined to triumph, and Cordova, himself, had the glory of taking the viceroy prisoner. It is said that in the afternoon of that day the insurgents were fewer in number than their prisoners. A capitulation was proposed and was accepted, Canterac signing on account of the capture of the viceroy. The generals and officers promised not to fight any more in the War of Independence nor to go to any place occupied by royalists. Callao was included in the capitulation, but Rodil did not accept.

Bolivar possessed the virtue of creating heroes by his side: Anzoategui in Boyaca; Paez in Carabobo; Torres in Bombona; Sucre, commander-in-chief in Pichincha and Ayacucho and Cordova, under Sucre's command, in the last fight for independence.

The War of Independence of Latin America began in Caracas on April 19, 1810, and ended in Ayacucho on December 9, 1824. Writing about this battle, Bolivar said:

"The battle of Ayacucho is the greatest American glory and is the work of General Sucre. Its arrangement was perfect; its execution superhuman. Swift and clever maneuvers destroyed in one hour the victors of fourteen years, and an enemy perfectly organized and ably commanded."

He conferred the highest honors on Sucre, and bestowed the titles of Grand Marshal and General, Liberator of Peru, on him. In a letter to Sucre, he wrote:

"The ninth of December, 1824, when you triumphed over the foe of independence, will be remembered by countless generations, who will always bless the patriot and warrior who made that day famous in the annals of America. So long as Ayacucho is remembered, the name of Sucre will be remembered. It will last forever."

The battle of Ayacucho practically put an end to the War of Independence of America, which began with the battle of Lexington, April 19, 1775.