South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

The Decisive Battle of Avacuho


The decisive battle of South American liberty was that of Ayacucho. The Army of the North found its decisive fields at Boyaca and Carabobo; the Army of the South at Maypo. The united and central army of Upper Peru, commanded by General Sucre, completed at Ayacucho the work of Bolivar in the north and of San Martin in the south. The royalist forces in this battle were led by the viceroy of Peru, La Serna. He was overthrown. With his defeat the Spanish power in South America was brought to an end.

The events leading up to this decisive victory are among the most dramatic and thrilling in history. In 1823 General Bolivar, leaving the presidency of the newly founded Republic of Colombia to Vice-President Santander, at Bogota, embarked at Guayaquil for Peru. His purpose was to complete the work of South American independence. He landed in Callao on September I, 1823, and was received with acclamations. Shortly after, he entered lima amid the joy of the people. He recruited the Peruvian army, and marched from Lima in the second week of November. His principal generals in this campaign were the chivalrous Sucre and the heroic English soldier William Miller.

There were patriots of many lands in this new army of liberation. Some of them had fought at Maypo and Boyaca; some had followed the eagles of France under Napoleon, others the cross of St. George under Wellington. Many had fought under San Martin. General Miller was the chief of staff of the Peruvian army.

There are men who become the souls of great organizations. Such a man was Jose de Antonio Sucre, whom Bolivar called the "soul of the army." He was born at Cumana, Venezuela, February 3, 1795. He was a military student of Caracas. While yet a youth he espoused the patriot cause. He was given a position upon the staff of General Miranda. He joined the invading forces under Marino, and in 1814 those of Bolivar. After the temporary defeat of the patriot cause Sucre took refuge in Trinidad. On Bolivar's landing in Venezuela in 1816 Sucre again joined the patriot forces. In 1818 Bolivar commissioned him to secure arms in the West Indies. Sucre pledged his own fortune for the payment of the arms. He returned with nearly ten thousand stands of arms and twelve cannon. Bolivar made him chief of staff. Sucre put his whole soul into the reorganization of the patriot army. He inspired the troops in the victorious invasion of New Granada in 1819. He led the movement south to Quito. In 1821 he landed at Guayaquil to protect the patriot government that had been established there. He marched upon Quito, and on May 24, 1822, won a great battle at Pichincha. This victory ended the Spanish power in Ecuador. The new republic joined the United States of Colombia. Sucre, steadily rising by merit, was made major-general and intendant of the department of Quito. In 1823 he led a part of the army of Colombia for the liberation of Peru. He refused the chief command of the army, but awaited the arrival of Bolivar in Peru.

Bolivar was made Dictator of Peru. At the beginning of the campaign his force consisted of six thousand Colombians and four thousand Peruvians. The liberating army concentrated at Huaraz, in the ancient land of the Incas. At this place among the high Andes, General Miller, who had done brilliant service on the coast, for the first time met General Bolivar. The day after this meeting General Miller was appointed commandant-general of the Peruvian cavalry, which was composed of intrepid mountaineers. The beautiful valley of Huaraz became the scene of the preparation for the great campaign against the last of the viceroys.

The royalist chiefs had gained advantages since the campaign of San Martin. They hoped in this campaign to overthrow Bolivar, to regain Peru, and to reestablish the South American viceroyalties. The viceroy entered upon the war in Upper Peru confident of victory. He seemed to think that it was the will of destiny that the viceroys of Spain should be successful, and that the banner of Spain should again wave in triumph over the lands of the Incas.

In the Life of General Miller is a description of the review of the patriot army by General Bolivar: "On the 2nd of August Bolivar reviewed his forces, nine thousand strong, on the plain between Rancas and Pasco. The troops were well appointed, and made a really brilliant appearance. An energetic address from the Liberator was read to each corps at the same moment, and produced indescribable enthusiasm. Nothing could exceed the excitement felt upon that occasion. Every circumstance tended to impart a most romantic interest to the scene. Near the same spot, four years before, the royalists had been defeated by General Arenales. The view from the table-land, upon which the troops were reviewed, and which is at an elevation of more than twelve thousand feet above the level of the sea, is perhaps the most magnificent in the world. On the west arose the Andes, which had just been surmounted with so much toil. On the east were enormous ramifications of the Cordilleras, stretching toward Brazil. North and south the view was bounded by mountains whose tops were hidden in the clouds. On that plain, surrounded by such sublime scenery, and on the margin of the most magnificent lake of Reyes, the principal source of the Amazon, the mightiest of rivers, were now assembled men from Caracas, Panama, Quito, Lima, Chili and Buenos Ayres; men who had fought at Maypo in Chili, at San Lorenzo on the banks of the Parana, at Carabobo in Venezuela, and at Pichincha at the foot of the Chimborazo. Amid those devoted Americans were a few foreigners, still firm and faithful to the cause in support of which so many of their countrymen had fallen. Among those few survivors were men who had fought on the banks of the Guadiana and of the Rhine, who had witnessed the conflagration of Moscow and the capitulation of Paris. Such were the men assembled at what might be considered a fresh starting-point in the career of glory. American or European, they were all animated by one sole spirit, that of assuring the political existence of a vast continent. The exhilarating vivas  of the troops filled every breast with ardor and prophetic hope."

The two armies had their first encounter at Junin, a battle of the saber and lance, at which no shot was fired. The patriots had the advantage, and Bolivar, seeing that final victory in the field was assured, retired from the army, and gave himself to the demands of state.

The viceroy took command of the army of some thirteen thousand men in the historic province of Cuzco, the scene of the Incarial capital. General Miller and his mountaineers led the van of the patriots. The two armies met on the hills and plain of Ayacucho. The liberating army was drawn up on the plain, and the royalists on the summit of a ridge.

The night before the battle, on the results of which hung the cause of South America and the destiny of Spain in the lands the viceroys had despoiled, was one of the deepest anxiety. The army of the viceroy was much larger than that of the liberators, and it was confident of success.

The morning of December 9, 1824, dawned bright and clear on the stupendous mountain-peaks of the province of Cuzco. There was a mountain chilliness in the first purple light, but when the sun burst forth over the valley, a genial warmth made nature as lovely as in the days of the great Inca festivals. The patriots beheld in the brightness of the day a favorable omen, like that of Maypo.

The royalist army appeared on the hills. The viceroy was at its head. It descended through the craggy ravines with the step of expectant victory.

General Sucre rode along the line of the patriot army. He felt the full responsibility of the hour. He wheeled and faced the army at a central point, and, raising his voice to a trumpet-tone, he said: "Soldiers, on what we do to-day depends the destiny of South America!" He turned his face to the enemy descending the hills. He pointed to the banners of Spain. "Soldiers, another day of glory is to crown your constancy to the cause of liberty!"

Vivas answered the address. The men felt that the day of destiny had indeed arrived. They waited the shock with hearts that beat high for their own cause and the cause of liberty in the world. The Spanish army had reached the plain. "Cordova, advance!" commanded Sucre.

General Cordova leaped from his horse, and placed himself some fifteen yards in front of his division of heroes. He lifted his hat, and exclaimed: "Adelaide, paso de vencedores!"  ("Forward, with the step of conquerors!")

The men advanced. Their hearts were filled with the valor that knows no defeat. They launched themselves upon the Spanish bayonets as though life was naught. The onset was irresistible.

The army of the viceroy was shattered. The viceroy himself was wounded and was taken prisoner. Nothing could stand before the spirit of the patriots. The royalists rushed to the cover of the hills, falling on every side under the fire of the patriot artillery and the charges of the cavalry. Their cause was lost forever.

The battle lasted but one hour. It is the greatest in its valor and results in South American history. In that single hour fourteen hundred royalists were killed and seven hundred wounded. They left their artillery on the field. At sunset the royalist general sued for terms, and entered the tent of Sucre to sign the articles of capitulation.

At midnight General Miller went to see the fallen viceroy. His biographer thus records the memorable interview:

"About midnight he visited the captive viceroy, General La Serna, who had been placed in one of the best of the miserable habitations of Quinua. When Miller entered he found the viceroy sitting on a bench, and leaning against the mud wall of the hut. A feeble glimmering from the wick of a small earthen lamp threw just enough light around to render visible his features, which were shaded by his white hair, still partially clotted with blood from the wound he had received. His person, tall, and at all times dignified, now appeared most venerable and interesting. The attitude, the situation and the scene were precisely those which an historical painter would have chosen to represent the dignity of fallen greatness. Reflecting on the vicissitudes of fortune, it may be imagined with what feelings Miller advanced toward the man who, but a few hours previously, had exercised a kingly power. The viceroy was the first to speak, and holding out his hand, said: 'You, general, we all know full well. We have always considered you as a personal friend, notwithstanding all the mischief you have done, and the state of alarm in which you have so repeatedly kept us. In spite of my misfortunes, I rejoice to see you.' The viceroy afterward observed that a sentry had been placed, as he supposed by some mistake, in the same room with him, and that in the confusion and hurry of the time his own wound had not even been washed. General Miller immediately ordered the guard outside, and sent for a surgeon. When the wound was dressed, Miller, in tendering his further services, told the viceroy that the only refreshment he had it in his power to offer was a little tea, which he happened to have with him, and which he believed no other person in the army could supply. The viceroy, enfeebled by loss of blood, appeared to revive at the very mention of this beverage. He said: 'It is, indeed, the only thing I could now take. One cup of it would reanimate and keep me from sinking.' When the tea was brought, the venerable viceroy drank it with eagerness, and was perhaps more grateful for this seasonable relief than for any other kindness or favor he had ever received. He expressed his acknowledgments in the warmest terms to Miller, who felt peculiar gratification in having it in his power to pay this small attention to the distinguished prisoner. He had been long before informed that the viceroy had repeatedly declared that, in the event of his (Miller's) being taken prisoner, he should be treated as a brother (como hermano), and furnished with ample means to return to his own country, the only condition meant to be imposed upon him."

The patriot army entered Cuzco in triumph on Christmas day, 1824. The battle crowned the plans of Bolivar for the emancipation of South America. He was now at the height of his power, the hero of the continent, and hailed wherever he went as being more a god than a man. Who that saw him in these fortunate days could have believed that his heart would ever be crushed again?

The greatest honors of his life now awaited him. The provinces of Upper Peru had once formed a part of the viceroyalty of Buenos Ayres. The Argentine Republic now relinquished its claim, and left this land of the valleys, of the mountains and the sky to follow its own will, either to incorporate itself with the republic of Peru, or to remain as a part of the republic of Argentina, or to form a separate government, as it chose. The people elected a deliberative assembly. This met at Chuquisaca in 1825, and decided that Upper Peru, the land of the Incas and high Andes, should become a free and independent nation. What should be its name? The gratitude of the people would find expression in one that would associate the name of the new nation with that of the Liberator. The new republic was called Bolivia. The name was hailed with rejoicing by the sisterhood of republics.

The assembly voted a million dollars to General Bolivar as a reward for his services. Bolivar, like San Martin, did not covet money. He gave a large portion of his own private fortune to the patriot cause. He accepted the gift of the new republic only on the condition that the money should be used for the emancipation of slaves in Bolivia.

The Congress of Lima in 1825 elected General Bolivar perpetual Dictator. He now made a journey through the high provinces of the new republics. He was hailed with salvos of artillery, the vivas  of the people, the ringing of bells and scattering of flowers. He entered Cuzco in triumph. Such a day had probably never been seen since the festivals of the Incas. His reception at Potosi reads like a poem. When two leagues from the city he met the first of a number of triumphal arches that recorded his deeds and his glory. About these arches were gathered Indians in festal dress, with plumes and ornaments, who danced after the manner of their joyous festivals. The dancers and their chiefs wore medals on which was stamped the head of Bolivar. He was met by the leading citizens on horseback, preceded by the alcaldes with gilded staffs. These were followed by the clergy in festal robes. The cerro, or highland, of Potosi is very grand and commanding. As soon as Bolivar came into view of it, the flags of the republics of Peru, Buenos Ayres, Chili and Colombia were, at the same moment, unrolled to the sun. As he entered the town, twenty-one powerful shells were exploded, the report of which was equal to that of "six twenty-four pounders." The bells rang; the windows were draped in silk and festooned with flowers. The balconies were thronged with ladies. The shouts of fifty thousand people rent the air. He came to the government palace. A great arch rose before it. From this two children dressed in white, representing angels, were let down as from the skies, and each pronounced before him poetic orations. In the flower-strewn halls he was crowned with laurels by the ladies of Potosi. A grand Te Deum  followed in the church, to which he was conducted amid salvos of artillery. He was seated under a canopy.

General Sucre was with Bolivar on the day of his triumph at Potosi. A constitution was formed for Bolivia, called the "Code Boliviano." Under it General Sucre was elected President. The Code Boliviano was accepted by Peru, under the influence of Bolivar, and under it Bolivar was elected Presidente vitalicio.

Bolivar departed for Colombia to enter upon a larger scheme for humanity than had yet engaged the powers of his sympathetic heart and mind, the peace and unity Congress of Panama.

The armies of the north and of the south and the central army were now triumphant. What South America needed was that political education that would bring stability to the republics.

Bolivar perceived it. The Congress of Panama would suggest to the sisterhood of republics their way to the highest destiny.