South American Independence

1813 to 1826
South American Nationals — versus — Spanish Goverment

Argentine-Chilian War of Independence      Venezuelan War of Independence     
New Granada War of Independence      Peruvian War of Independence     

South America Independence
In order to make sense of the complicated Wars of Independence in South America, it is first necessary to understand how the Provinces of Spain in the Americans were governed prior to the series of revolutions which overthrew Spanish power in the new world. For most of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Spanish holdings in South America were governed by one of three Vicroyalites. These were Peru (modern day Peru, Equador, Chile), New Granada (modern day Columbia, Venezuela, Panama), and Rio del la Plata (modern day Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia). Although nominally under the control of the Viceroyalties, the territories of Venezuela and Chile were effectively independent Captaincies at the time revolutionary activities commenced, so the Wars of Independence are most easily understood by looking at activity in the following five regions: 1) Venezuela, 2) New Granada (Columbia), 3) Peru, 4) Chile, 5) Argentina. Simon Bolivar, the great hero of South American Independence is strongly associated with the wars of Independence in the first three of these regions, where as Jose San Martin is the hero of the independence movement in Argentina and Chile.

Although it is unquestionably true that Bolivar dreamed and worked towards the vision of of a Unified and Independent South American Republic, it is also true that many of the heroic generals who led the "patriots" to astounding victories against the royalists, were fighting primarily for their own agrandizement, rather than for the ideals of a republic. And even the most ardent of the republicans, who were drawn exclusively from the ruling class of the colonies, never gave serious thought to the idea of a democratic republic. Most of the indigenous population in fact was either indifferent or hostile to the idea of independence, since they had no say in government, and had no reason to favor their American masters over their Spanish ones. It is not surprising therefore, that the short-lived republic of Gran Columbia, founded by Bolivar, began to dissolve almost as soon as it was established, and that all of the original Spanish viceroyalites devolved into independent republics, governed by military leaders.

The necessary conditions for forming a truly democratic republic, which fortunately existed in the British colonies at the time of the American Revolution, were entirely absent from South America. As Bolivar himself lamented, "Public elections performed by the ignorant peasants and by intriguing inhabitants of the city are an obstacle to the practice of federation among us, because the former are so ignorant that they vote like machines, and the latter are so ambitious that they make everything into factions. For these reasons . . . government has fallen into the hands of men, either opposed to the cause, weak or immoral. . . Our divisions, and not the Spanish Army, has brought us back to slavery."

The terms 'patriots' and 'republicans' therefore, as used to describe the American-born fighters who expelled the Spanish from South American are applied somewhat loosely, and describe a variety of individuals ranging from truly idealistic, self-sacrificing, republicans to relatively nefarious, self-serving warlords. Possibly the term 'independents', would have been a more fitting description.

Argentine-Chilian War of Independence

South America
The Wars of Independence of Argentina and Chile are generally considered together because the figure of San Martin is predominant in both of them.

Argentina declared its independence from Spain in 1810, shortly after the king of Spain was deposed by Napoleon, while Spain was involved in a war with France. Although Spain itself was in chaos at this time, and could not send reinforcements to the Americas, there were sufficient royalist forces already in the on the continent to keep the Argentine patriots preoccupied for several years. The Junta that was formed after the "May Revolution" to govern Argentina was kept busy primarily with several campaigns in its northwest regions, now known as Bolivia. This region bordered on Peru, which was a royalist stronghold, and was the site of several important engagements between 1810 and 1813, including the Battle of Huagua (a patriot loss), and the Jujuy expedition.

In 1812, Jose San Martin, who was to be the great hero of South American patriots, returned to Argentina after spending several years fighting in the Peninsular War in Spain. After proving his mettle in several important battles he was made a general, and was involved in the third Peruvian campaign in 1815. The disastrous defeats at Venta y Media and Sipe-Sipe, however, convinced him that Peru could not be successfully invaded from the east, and that the best strategy would be to invade Chile, and then attack Peru from the coastal south. It was this idea that impelled him to cross the Andes in 1817 and lend his support to the cause of Chilean independence.

With the cooperation of Bernardo O'Higgins, and other Chilean Patriots, San Martin defeated the royalists in a series of battles during 1818, and drove the Spanish out of Chile. From there he planned an attack on Bolivia, which was then known as "upper Peru". By this time however, Bolivar had taken control of New Granada and was trying to create a united South American Republic called Gran Columbia, and also had designs on Peru. San Martin met with Bolivar in 1822 and at that point withdrew from the fight in order to avoid civil war among the patriots because his vision of an independent South America differed considerably from Bolivar's. By this time, however, both Chile and Argentina were firmy established as republics independent from Spain.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Huagui (Argentine ) Royalists victory
Fought Fall 1811 between a force of Argentine patriots led by Saavendra, and royalist forces. The victory went to the royalists.
Battle of San Lorenzo (Argentine ) Patriots victory
Fought February 3, 1813 between a royalist force of about 250 men, and a patriot cavalry of about 125 led by San Martin. The royalists lost about 40 men and retreated.
Battle of Sipe-Sipe (Chilean ) Royalists victory
Fought Nov 29, 1815 between a royalist force of 5000 under Pezuela, and an Argentine division of 3000 under Jose Rondeau. The Argentine army was almost destroyed, suffering the loss of 2000 men and all their artillery. As a result, the region of upper Peru, (now Bolivia), was lost to the insurgents, and came under control of the royalist forces of Peru.
Battle of Chacabuco (Chilean ) Patriots victory
Fought February 12, 1817, between the Chilian patriots under San Martin, and the Spanish royalists. The Chilians won a complete victory.
Battle of Maypo (Chilean ) Patriots victory
Fought April 5, 1818, between the Chilian Patriots, 9,000 strong, under San Martin, and 6,000 Spanish Royalists, under General Osorio. The Spaniards were totally defeated with a loss of 1,000 killed and 2,350 prisoners, the Chilians losing over 1,000 killed and wounded. The result of the battle was the establishment of the independence of Chili.
Battle of Concha Rayada (Chilean ) Royalists victory
Fought March 18 1818, between the Spanish Royalists, 5,000 strong, under General Osorio, and the Chilians and Colombians under San Martin. The Spaniards gained a complete victory.
Battle of Callao (Chilean ) Patriots victory
On the night of November 5, 1820, Lord Cochrane, who with three Chilian frigates was blockading the Spaniards in Callao, rowed into the harbour with 240 seamen and marines, and cut out the Spanish frigate Esmeralda from under the 300 guns of the shore batteries. He lost in the enterprise 41 killed and wounded, while the whole of the crew of the Esmeralda, including the Spanish Admiral, was captured or killed.
Battle of Chiloe (Gran Columbia ) Patriots victory
On January 19, 1826, the small group of islands, held for the Spanish crown by a garrison under Quintanella, was surrendered to a force of Chilians, 4,000 strong, with a small squadron of warships under Freyre.

Short Biography
Manuel Belgrano Argentine patriot general in the early years of the Argentine War of Independence.
Cornelio Saavedra President of the first Argentine Junta. Let the patriots to a disastrous defeat at the battle of Huagui.
Jose de San Martin Won independence from Spain for Argentina, then crossed the Andes and helped free Chili.
Bernardo O'Higgins Military commander who together with San Martin freed Chile from Spanish rule. First 'Supreme Director' of Chile.
Lord Cochrane British Admiral who fought with O'Higgins and San Martian for Chilean Independence.

Venezuelan War of Independence

The idea of independence in South America got off to a much more idealistic footing in Venezuela than anywhere else, due largely to the influence of Francisco Miranda, a wealthy Venezuelan native who actually fought in the American Revolutionary War, and was greatly impressed by Washington and other American Patriots. Ten years later he traveled to Europe and was involved in the French Revolution. Both of these experiences formed his ideas for the foundation of a United Republic of South America. His first attempt at leading a revolution in Venezuela was in 1806, but the invasion failed. By 1810, however, the government of Spain was in such disarray that independents gained control of Venezuela, and Miranda was invited back to form a government. A declaration of Independence was promulgated in July 5, 1911 and Miranda was appointed dictator. The republic collapsed however, not so much due to royalist military resistance, as due to a catastrophic earthquake that was interpretted by many people to mean divine punishment for breaking with Spain. Miranda surrendered rather than fight and died in prison, leaving Bolivar, and other patriots without a leader. It was at this time that Simon Bolivar, only 30 at the time, began his rise to power.

After retreating for a time to New Granada, Bolivar raised an army, and returned to Venezuela. He won a series of brilliant victories and entered Caracas in August of 1813. Bolivar had not met serious resistance from the Spaniard royalists led by Monteverde, but a terrible threat to the republic arose in the form of Jose Boves, a Spanish Adventurer who had at one time sided with the independents, but now fought for the royalists. He led a band of llaneros or native horsemen, who fought with abandon, and were the terror of the patriots. Boves's men indulged in atrocites far more brutal than the Spanish soldiers and by 1814 the war had turned vicious, with massacres on both sides. The situation, however, did not became hopeless for the patriots until a large fleet under Pablo Morillo sailed from Spain, equipped by the newly installed King Ferdinand VII of Spain, who was determined to re-establish Spanish control of the colonies. By the end of 1814, after several severe losses, Bolivar and his patriots were driven into exile, and by 1815, all of New Granada, as well as Venezuela, was back in royalist hands.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of San Mateo (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Royalists victory
Fought July 25, 1812 between the Royalists, under Monteverde and the patriots under Miranda. Miranda surrendered, but the conditions of the cease-fire were not honored, Miranda was imprisoned, and many republican sympathizers were slaughtered.
Battle of Betioca (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Patriots victory
Fought 1813, between the Colombian patriots under Simon Bolivar, and the Spanish royalists, Bolivar gaining a complete victory.
Battle of Caracha (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Patriots victory
Fought 1813, between the Colombian Patriots under Bolivar and the Spanish Royalists, Bolivar gaining a complete victory.
Battle of Niquitas (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Patriots victory
Fought 1813, when the Colombian Patriots, under Bolivar, completely defeated the Spanish Royalists.
Battle of Varmas (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Patriots victory
Fought 1813 between the Colombian Patriots, under Bolivar, and the Spanish Royalists. The latter were defeated.
Battle of Barquisimeto (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Patriots victory
Fought Nov 10, 1813, between the Colombian patriots under Simon Bolivar, and the Spanish Royalists, Bolivar gaining a complete victory.
Battle of La Victoria (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Patriots victory
Fought Feb 12, 1813 between an army of llaneros under the Spanish general Boves, and a greatly outnumbered patriot garrison led by Ribas. The patriots drove the army of Boves out of town and forced a retreat, after heavy losses on both sides.
Siege of San Mateo (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Patriots victory
This place was a patriot stronghold whose garrison was led by Bolivar. It was besieged by a force of Royalists 10 times in number, but held out for several months. Although the Spanish eventually withdrew the Patriots were sorely weakened by the siege.
Battle of Carabobo (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Patriots victory
Fought Spring 1814, between the patriots led by Bolivar, Ribas, and Marino, and a much larger army led by the Spanish general Gagigal, the battle resulted in a patriot victory.
Battle of La Puerta (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Royalists victory
Exhausted and nearly starving from the month long siege of San Mateo, Bolivar's army of patriots, approximately 3000 in number, could not stand against an onslaught of Spanish and llaneros led by Boves. Bolivar scarcely escaped from the field.
Battle of Aragua (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Royalists victory
Fought December, 1814, between the Spanish royalists, under Bover, 8,000 strong, and the American patriots, under Ribas. Ribas was totally defeated, and taken prisoner, and in revenge for the death of Bover, who fell in the battle, he was beheaded, and his head publicly exposed in Caracas.
Siege of Cartagena (Venezuela-2nd Rep ) Royalists victory
This important seaport of New Granada was besieged by the royalists under Morillo in August of 1815. The independents surrendered the city on December 6 of the same year.
Battle of Puente (Argentine Civil War ) Royalists victory
Fought February 16, 1816, between the Colombian Patriots, under Lorrices, and the Spanish Royalists, under Morillo. The Royalists gained a complete victory.

Short Biography
Miranda Early leader of South American Independence. Led a failed revolution in Venezuela in 1813. Died in prison.
Simon Bolivar Crossed Andes to attack Spanish outposts in Columbia, then met San Martin in Peru.
Manual Piar Mulatto General who continued to fight for independence after the patriot losses of 1815, and eventually broke with Bolivar.
Juan Monteverde Royalist General who defeated Miranda and opposed Bolivar in his early battles.
Jose Boves Leader of a division of American llaneros who fought for the Royalists, and committed many attrocities.
Pablo Morillo Royalist General whose arrival in New Granada with a large fleet, haralded the end of the Second Republic.

New Granada War of Independence

South American Independence
Bolivar spent over a year in exile, mostly in Haiti, trying to drum up support for another invasion of Venezuela. He returned in late 1816 and spent the following year primarily coordinating guerilla activity. Severe divisions within the republican ranks was apparent from the first, and it took all of Bolivar's skills as a diplomat, as well as a soldier, to hold the republican cause together. During this time he aligned himself with several capable generals including Francisco Santander and Jose Paez, who led a band of llaneros, this time, for the republican side. With these able generals, he was able to make surprise attacks on several Spanish garrisons, and take more territory for the republicans, but unable to make any dramatic progress. Eventually, however, he conceived of a dramatic plan to seriously change the outlook for the republicans.

The Andes Mountains are among the highest in the world and were considered impassable during the winter (June through September in South America). The important Royalist strongholds in New Granada, were therefore very lightly guarded during this time, and Bolivar conceived of the idea of making a surprise attack in mid-winter, and thereby conquering the important Spanish garrisons in New Granada from behind. After gathering an army of patriots, llaneros, and a considerable number of British soldiers, he made a desperate attempt to cross the Andes. Over a thousand men died during the journey, but many survived and they were joined on their descent by republican sympathizers. Within a month, Bolivar's forces won two important victories, at Pantano de Vargas and Puenta de Boyaca. By these victories, the Republican army was able to gain control of Bogata, and much of New Granada.

The war continued in both New Granada and Venezuela for several years after the great victory at Boyaca, but the daring of the republicans who crossed the Alps during the winter gained world-wide renown, and world opinion, if not local opinion, shifted to the rebels. The republic of Gran Columbia, which encompassed all of modern day Venezuela, Panama, Columbia, and Ecuador was established under Bolivar's control. Although he was, in essence, a dictator, he frequently stated that he sought no long term political control, and desired only to retire to "private life." Under Bolivar's leadership, fighting against the Royalists continued for several years, until 1821, when the Spaniards were decisively defeated at the Battle of Carabobo.

Although the king of Spain, Ferdinand VII, was strongly committed to the project of preserving Spain's domination of the colonies, by 1819, political difficulties in Spain prevented him from sending effective reinforcements. The mercenary component of both the royalist and patriot armies was fairly significant, and once the royalists lost their ability to supply and compensate it fighters, they could not maintain an effective front against the republicans.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Pantano de Vargas (Gran Columbia ) Patriots victory
Fought July 24, 1818 between a republica force under Bolivar, which had just crossed the Andes mountains in mid-winter, and about 3,800 Spanish forces. In spite of their near exhaustion, the victory went to the republicans, and the Spanish were prevented from returning to Bogata.
Battle of Boyaca (Gran Columbia ) Patriots victory
Fought August 17, 1819, between the Colombian patriots under Bolivar, and the Spanish Royalists, 2,500 strong, under Colonel Barreiro. Bolivar crossed the Cordilleras, under incredible difficulties, and, eluding Barreiro, took up a position at Boyaca, cutting him off from his base at Bogota. The Spaniards attacked him, and were routed with heavy loss, Barreiro and 1,600 men being captured. The patriots lost 66 only.
Battle of Carabobo (Gran Columbia ) Patriots victory
Fought June 24, 1821, between the Colombian patriots, 8,000 strong, under Bolivar, and the Spanish Royalists, about 4,000 in number, under La Torre. The Royalists were utterly routed, barely 400 reaching Porto Cabello. This battle determined the independence of Colombia.
Battle of Lake Maracaibo (Peru ) Patriots victory
This naval battle was fought on July 24, 1823 between the patriot nave under Admiral Padilla, and a royalist fleet under Laborde.

Short Biography
Simon Bolivar Crossed Andes to attack Spanish outposts in Columbia, then met San Martin in Peru.
Francisco Santandar General of Bolivar who became the President of Columbia
Jose Antonio Paez General of Bolivar who became the President of Venezuela
Barreiro Royalist General who lost was defeated by Bolivar at Boyaca
Pablo Morillo Royalist General whose arrival in New Granada with a large fleet, haralded the end of the Second Republic.

Peruvian War of Independence

South American Independence
By the end of 1820, the tide had turned strongly in favor of the independent republics and against Spain, both in the Northern provences of Gran Columbia, and the southern regions of Chile and Argentina. Peru was still under Spanish control, but in October of 1820, Guayaquil, the most important port city of modern day Equador, announced its independence, and several other joined in. The first clash between the Republican army of Guayaquil and the royalists was at Camino Real, and within a few months, most of Equador except Quito, was in republican hands.

In spite of these early successes however, the Royalist forces of Peru quickly spring into action, and during the following few months inflicted a series of defeats on the rebels. Antonio Sucre, one of Bolivar's chief generals was sent with an army to assist the patriots, but even he could not stand against the Royalist forces led by Gonzales and Aymerich.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Junin (Peru ) Patriots victory
Fought 1824, between the Spanish Royalists, under General Cauterac, and the Colombian Patriots, under Sucre. The Spaniards were completely defeated.
Battle of Ayacucho (Peru ) Patriots victory
Fought December 9, 1824, between the South American patriots, 5,780 strong, under Sucre, and the Spaniards, 9,310 in number, under Laserna. The latter were routed with a loss of 2,100 killed and wounded, and over 3,500 prisoners, including Laserna, in addition to 15 guns. The Patriots lost 979. This engagement, which is also know as the Battle of Candorcanqui, practically decided the question of South American independence.
Battle of Potosi. (Venezuela-1nd Rep ) Patriots victory
Fought April, 1825, between, the Bolivians, under Bolivar, and the Spanish Royalists, under Olaneta. The Spaniards were completely defeated.

Short Biography
Simon Bolivar Crossed Andes to attack Spanish outposts in Columbia, then met San Martin in Peru.
Antonio Jose de Sucre South American patriot. Friend and trusted general of Simon Bolivar. Hero of the Battles of Pinchincha and Junin.
Jose de Canterac Commander of the Spanish forces who lost to the Patriots at the Battles of Junin and Ayacucho.
Pedro de Olaneta Royalist Commander who cooperated with the Patriots, but then turned against them.