It is frequently a misfortune to have very brilliant men in charge of affairs. They expect too much of ordinary men. — Thucydides

Simon Bolivar: His Life and His Work - Guillermo Sherwell




The Heroic Death of Ricaurte


Victory of Carabobo and Defeat of La Puerta



(1814)


Boves had retreated from La Victoria, but after reorganizing his army he was again ready to attack. Bolivar had very few men, for the country was nearly exhausted. With them he waited the dreaded royalist in a place called San Mateo, where he was attacked by an army at least four times as large as his. He had but one advantage, having selected a hilly ground where the cavalry of the enemy could not easily maneuver. The battle began on the 28th of February. It lasted all that day, and at the end of ten and one-half hours of constant fighting, Bolivar was master of the situation, not without having lost some of his best men, among them the valiant Campo-Elias, who died a few days later.

Boves, wounded also, withdrew and waited for reinforcements, which arrived in great numbers from the plains; while Bolivar had to reduce the defenders of San Mateo in order to send some men to protect Caracas, which was being threatened on the southeast by Rosete. Boves attacked again on the 20th of March and was once more repulsed. Being informed that Rosete had been defeated at Ocumare by the independents and that Marino was approaching to the relief of Bolivar, he decided to make a desperate effort to take San Mateo. On the 25th of March he made a third attempt, and that day marks the occurrence of one of the heroic deeds of the ages.

The supplies and the hospital of the insurgents were at a house built on a hill, while the fight developed down below on the farm of San Mateo, owned by Bolivar. Antonio Ricaurte, a native of Santa Fé (Nueva Granada) was in command of the house. Boves decided to take this position and, in the middle of the combat, the independents on the plain discovered that a large column of royalists had stolen towards the ammunition depot from the opposite side of the hill. All felt that the war material was lost. Ricaurte was known as a brave man, but he could do little with the very few men in his command. The young man had the wounded men taken down to the plain; then he ordered his own soldiers to follow, and he remained alone. The enemies continued to advance, and finally entered the house. Suddenly there was heard a terrific explosion, and, when the smoke had cleared, it could be seen that the house had been partially destroyed. Ricaurte had blown up the ammunition, and with it himself and the enemy. Thus Boli var's army was saved. Boves, who had attacked thirty times, retreated immediately, leaving nearly 1,000 men dead on the field of battle. The loss of the patriots had been as big, or bigger, than that of Boves, but success remained with them. Ricaurte took his place among men who, like Leonidas, deemed life of little value as compared with the salvation of their country.

Further to the west, Ceballos, the former governor of Coro, had obliged the patriots to retreat towards Valencia, where they were besieged by him with reinforcements brought by Boves, who, after his defeat at San Mateo, had fought Marino, meeting again with disaster. In spite of the reinforcements, the royalists were forced to retreat when the garrison of Valencia was reduced to less than half of its former size.

Marino and Bolivar met in La Victoria. The former, with an army made up of his men and some given by Bolivar, proceeded to the west to fight against Ceballos, while Bolivar went to Puerto Cabello, intending to take the city by storm. By an imprudent move on his own part, Marino was forced to meet an army superior to his own, and he was defeated. He then withdrew to Valencia, where Bolivar hastened to meet him, once more leaving the city of Puerto Cabello. There he learned that Ceballos had received reinforcements, and went to Caracas to recruit more men from a city which by now was bled white. Nevertheless, he did obtain a few more men, and these he sent to Valencia under Ribas, following shortly in order to take personal command of the army in the battle.

The contending armies met on a plain called Carabobo, the royalists with many more men than there were patriots. Desertions from the forces of the republicans were frequent. This caused Bolivar much concern, as did the news that Boves was advancing from the south with a great body of cavalry. With Marino and Ribas to help him, and with his most trusted officers at the head of the different sections, he advanced against the enemy, commanded at that time by the Spanish field-marshal, D. Juan Manuel Cagigal. This. first battle of Carabobo, fought on the 28th of May, was one of the swiftest and most complete victories of the Liberator. Three hours were enough to destroy the royalist army and to force its commander to flee to the southwest with some of his men. Many officers were killed, great masses of infantrymen surrendered, 4,000 horses were seized, as well as a great quantity of ammunition, provisions, documents and money.

But the battle of Carabobo was not decisive. Boves was coming to avenge Cagigal. The Liberator distributed his officers with such soldiers as he could gather at different points. Marino advanced against Boves. Bolivar and Ribas returned to Caracas, still on the endless quest for more resources with which to fight. When complimented upon his victory at Carabobo, Bolivar remarked:

"Let us not be dazzled by the victories Fate gives us; let us prepare ourselves for greater struggles; let us employ all the resources of our good or bad condition, based on the principle that nothing is accomplished when there is something more to do; and we have much still to do."

He was thinking of Boves, Boves who had a large army, all the resources of the plains, and the support of public opinion, while he had neither men nor resources, nor the invigorating approval of his fellow citizens.

Marino established himself in La Puerta, a place of ill-omen for the patriots, and his position was disadvantageous. When Bolivar arrived to take charge of the army, it was too late to change the place, for Boves was to the front, with three times as many men as there were patriots. It was necessary to fight and it was impossible to conquer. All was lost. A patriot general (Antonio Maria Freites) killed himself in despair; some officers who had been with Bolivar since the beginning of his glorious career died on the field of battle.

Boves killed all the wounded men and prisoners who fell into his hands. He invited a prisoner colonel (Jalon) to dine with him, and at the end of the meal he ordered him to be hanged and his head sent as a present to his friends at Calabozo.

Marino escaped in one direction, and Ribas and Bolivar went to Caracas, not without first taking all possible steps to hinder the advance of Boves towards the city. Bolivar was always full of enthusiasm. At that time his most frequent remark was:

"The art of conquering is learned through defeats."

This battle of La Puerta took place on June 15, 1814. Boves entered the city of La Victoria and then besieged Valencia, which resisted until every means of defense was gone and the defenders were dying of thirst and hunger. Boves proposed capitulation of the besieged and, it being accepted, entered the city on the 10th of July. The treaty provided for the inviolability of the life of all the inhabitants of the city, either military or civilian. Boves had sworn that he would fulfil this convention, but as soon as he had the city in his power he violated his own oath and, with his usual ferocity, put to the sword the governor, the officers, some hundreds of the army, and about ninety of the most prominent inhabitants. His officers forced the young ladies of the families of those who had died to attend a reception in honor of Boves.

Meanwhile, Bolivar was endeavoring to keep enthusiasm alive in Caracas. He even intended to resist the advance of the enemy but, being convinced that the defense of the town would mean a useless sacrifice, he decided to leave it and went east to Barcelona. The inhabitants of Caracas, realizing the monster Boves was, decided to leave their homes, and a painful pilgrimage ensued. The emigration from Caracas is one of the saddest episodes of the War of Independence. Many emigrants met death on their way east, but they preferred it to the tortures that Boves knew very well how to inflict upon the life and honor of the population of the cities he took. He entered the capital on the 16th of July, and the crimes started. Cagigal, who was a real soldier and a man of honor, saw his authority ignored by Boves. In giving an account of this fact to the government of Spain, the only answer he obtained was that Boves' conduct was approved by Madrid with a vote of thanks for his important services and his great valor.

Leaving his lieutenant, Quero, in command of the city, Boves followed Bolivar. Quero was a native American and was so bad that Boves' rule was preferable to his.

With the few men obtained in Caracas, Bolivar organized a small army with which he protected the emigrants.

From Barcelona he intended to send diplomatic representatives to Europe, thus showing his unshaken confidence in the ultimate triumph of his cause.

With no more than 3,000 men, he faced an army of from 8,000 to 10,000 at Aragua, commanded by Morales, and was defeated (August 18, 1814). A battalion composed of the best elements of the youth of Caracas was entirely destroyed. Bolivar retreated to Barcelona, and Morales entered the town of Aragua, where he massacred more than 3,500 men, women and children, for the sole crime of being Americans. Realizing that he could not hold the city of Barcelona, Bolivar went to the city of Cumana with generals Ribas and Manuel Piar, the latter famous for his military skill, his daring, his restlessness and his ultimate sad death, of which we shall speak later. From there Bolivar went with Marino to Carupano, and then sailed for Cartagena, having lost his reputation and having been insulted by his own officers and friends, among them Piar and Ribas, himself.

Before leaving Venezuela, the Liberator issued a proclamation, for he never neglected an opportunity to speak to his fellow-countrymen and to the world in order to build up favorable public opinion, by which he hoped to win a final victory. In that document Bolivar emphasized the fact that the Spaniards themselves had done very little harm in the fields of battle to the cause of independence, and that defeats were due mainly to the native royalists. This assertion was intended to produce a change of mind on the part of the native population.

"It seems that Heaven, to grant us at one time humiliation and pride, has permitted that our conquerors be our own brothers, and that our brothers only may triumph over us. The army of freedom exterminated the enemy's force, but it could not and should not exterminate the men for whose happiness it fought in hundreds of battles. It is not just to destroy the men who do not want to be free, nor can freedom be enjoyed under strength of arms against the opinion of fanatics whose depraved souls make them love chains as though they were social ties. . . . Your brothers and not the Spaniards have torn your bosom, shed your blood, set your homes on fire and condemned you to exile."

Be then affirmed that he was going to Nueva Granada to render an account of his conduct and to have an impartial judgment, and finished by asserting to the Venezuelans that the people of Nueva Granada would again help them, and that he would always be on the side of liberty.

The East was soon subjected, and all Venezuela was once again under the yoke of Spain, mainly through the work of her own children. During these campaigns Piar and Ribas and the brave General Bermudez, of whom we shall speak later, were united for a while, but at last each one took his own way. The Only good thing that occurred at this time was Boves' death in a battle in December, 1814. Morales was still left as Venezuela's curse.

Ribas, after a defeat, was traveling with two officers. He was sick and sad. He lay down to rest under a tree while his servant went to a nearby town to obtain some provisions. The servant betrayed his master, and Ribas was imprisoned. In the town he was humiliated and insulted. Then he was killed. His head was sent to Caracas and placed in an iron cage at the entrance of the city. His wife, who was Bolivar's aunt, locked herself in a room and swore not to go out until freedom was achieved, and she remained true to her vow.

Bolivar and Marino arrived in Cartagena on September 25, 1814. The former was on his way to Tunja to render an account of his Venezuelan campaign, when he learned that some Venezuelan troops commanded by General Urdaneta, who were in the territory of Nueva Granada, were quarreling with the native soldiers. He went directly to the army to try to prevent anarchy and dissensions between the Venezuelans and the natives of Nueva Granada. The news proved to be false. The army of Urdaneta, which had left Venezuela to await in the land of Nueva Granada new instructions from the Liberator, and had obtained the protection of that government, received him with the greatest enthusiasm.

From there Bolivar proceeded to Tunja, where he was very well received by Congress. He requested that his conduct be examined and impartially judged. The President of the Congress answered him with the following magnanimous words:

"General, your country is not vanquished while your sword exists. With this sword you will again rescue her from the power of her oppressors. The Congress of Nueva Granada will give you its protection because it is satisfied with your conduct. You have been an unfortunate general, but you are a great man."

Then the Congress ordered him to liberate Santa Fé (Bogota), a part of Nueva Granada, which had been separated from the Union. Bolivar with his usual activity proceeded to Bogota, reached the outskirts of the city and, promising immunity of properties and honor, offered a capitulation. The commander of the garrison refused to accept and an assault followed, the result of which was the surrender of the city. Bolivar was rewarded with the title of Capitan General  of the Army of the Confederation, and Congress immediately transferred the capital from Tunja to Santa Fé.

Congress asked Bolivar to direct the campaign to protect Nueva Granada against the royalists. So he decided to take Santa Marta, the only place in the country which was still in the hands of the Spaniards; then he planned to fight once more for the liberty of Venezuela. Before adjourning, to meet again in Santa Fé, the Congress at Tunja conferred on Bolivar the official title of Pacificador  (Peacemaker), which is frequently used with reference to him, but not so generally as the title he himself used in preference to any other: Libertador.

On this occasion Bolivar could not count on certain troops of Cartagena because of the hostility of Castillo, the commander, who had had differences with Bolivar, and was jealous of his glory. These dissensions hindered Bolivar's advance towards Santa Marta, and produced delays which resulted in great loss of provisions, and also of men because of an epidemic of smallpox which developed in the army. To avoid further dissension, Bolivar was willing to resign without using force against the Cartagena contingent. He was unwilling to permit the royalists to learn of disagreements in the independent army. He had at last, however, to make ready to take the city and was going to lay siege to it when it was learned that a great Spanish army had arrived in Venezuela. The delay of the independent soldiers before Cartagena permitted some royalist troops to take other cities of Nueva Granada, causing great losses of men and arms on different occasions. Bolivar lost 1,000 men; 100 artillery guns and other armament were also lost, as well as the boats upon which the army counted and which would have been very useful to capture the city of Santa Marta. At last, convinced that there was no remedy for the situation, Bolivar determined to resign, and he called for an assembly of his officers, who accepted his resignation. He embarked for Jamaica, first issuing another warning against the disunion of the patriots.

"No tyrant," he said, "has been destroyed by your arms; they have been stained with the blood of brothers in two struggles which have produced in us an equal sorrow."

The departure of Bolivar was very soon to be deplored by the armies of the independents.

We have mentioned that a Spanish army had arrived in Venezuela, and we must give some details concerning that expedition. Never in the history of the Spanish domination and struggles in America did Spain send such a numerous, well-equipped and powerful army as the one mentioned above. It was commanded by Field-Marshal D. Pablo Morillo.