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Antonio José de Sucre was born February 3, 1795, in the city of Cumaná, situated in the eastern part of what is now the United States of Venezuela. His parents were don Vicente de Sucre, a lieutenant in the Spanish army, and doña María Manuela de Alcalá.
Sucre was of a very distinguished family. Genealogists affirm that the family sprang from Juan de Succre, who lived in the fifteenth century and served the House of Burgundy. Andrés de Sucre, his son, held a high position in the household of Philip The Handsome. The de Succres were feudal lords of various localities in Flanders, where they lived for several centuries and through marriage increased their possessions and their titles. At the end of the seventeenth century don Carlos Andrés de Succre was made a knight of the Order of Alcántara. He was the son of don Antonio de Succre, lord of Preux, and doña Adriana d'Ives.
In 1680 Charles II authorized don Carlos to use the title of Marquis. The Marquis de Preux became Lieutenant-General of the royal army and later Governor and Captain-General of the city and province of Cartagena de Indias. He died in Madrid early in the eighteenth century. He married three times, but had children only by his first marriage, with a lady of p10 noble blood. Her maiden name was Pardo, so the children bore the name Sucre y Pardo.
One of these, don Carlos Francisco de Sucre y Pardo, born in Flanders, served in America and became a colonel. In 1709 he was sent as lieutenant of the king to the city of Cartagena de Indias to serve under his father, the Marquis de Preux. In 1715 he was appointed Governor of the city of Santiago de Cuba; in 1729, Governor of Nueva Andalucía. In 1746, after having founded the town of Aragua and having been promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, he started for Madrid. He died that year, either in Madrid or Caracas, where he stopped on his way to Spain. His son Antonio also distinguished himself in the service of the king, as did also his grandson, the father of Antonio José.
On his mother's side, Sucre was descended from Captain Diego Fernando de Serpa, who took part in the conquest of America early in the sixteenth century. This gentleman served in the West Indies, and in 1568 was appointed Governor and Captain-General of Nueva Andalucía by Philip II. Once on the continent he founded the city of Cumaná. He died in America at the hands of the Indians.
Diego Fernando's son was second governor of Cumaná, and among his long line of descendants is counted the mother of Antonio José de Sucre. Many of Sucre's other maternal ancestors distinguished themselves in the colonization of America.
p11 Sucre lost his mother when he was a child. His education was meagre. However, he received special preparation for a military career under a colonel of engineers at Cumaná, from whom he learned mathematics and the principals of fortification. He was only fifteen years of age when the movement for the independence of Venezuela was launched at Caracas in 1810.
Sucre, with other members of his family, joined the revolutionary movement from the very beginning. His father, his uncle and his brothers worked and suffered for the cause of independence. Two of his brothers were shot as prisoners of war, and a third, ill in a hospital, was assassinated there. One of his sisters died from fear during the depredations of Boves. Others of his family likewise sacrificed themselves for the freedom of their country.
At first Sucre fought as a subordinate officer on the staff. He distinguished himself by his knowledge of fortifications and artillery, by his bravery in battle, and especially by his work of organization and preparation. His wisdom, superior to his years, often caused him to act as intermediary in the disagreements of his chiefs.
The revolutionary Junta of Cumaná commissioned him a second lieutenant, and later he was given command of artillery at Barcelona, a city near his native town. In 1812, at the age of seventeen, he was on the staff of the Generalissimo, don Francisco de Miranda, p12 whom he accompanied on the Valencia and Aragua campaigns. When the Generalissimo surrendered at La Victoria and when all turned their backs on him, and even insulted him, Sucre remained loyal. Saddened, but not disheartened, he returned to Cumaná, and from there he emigrated to the English West Indies.
He settled in Trinidad and devoted himself to the study of English, history, and other subjects, in order to complete his education. He also followed the great political movements of Europe with great interest and prepared himself in such a manner that upon his next appearance on the scene he was a very different person, with his knowledge increased and his enthusiasm guided by more mature judgment.
Among other exiles in Trinidad were Santiago Mariño, whom Miranda had made a colonel; Manuel Piar, who later tarnished his invaluable services to his country by a mutiny which Bolívar punished with death; and two brothers named Bermúdez.
The exiles suffered, for at that time England was friendly to Spain in her war against France. The discourtesy of the Governor of Trinidad, Sir Ralph Woodford, was offensive in the extreme. On one occasion he sent Mariño a letter in which he called him an insurgent. Mariño, well aware of his own violent temper, asked Sucre to answer. Sucre addressed the following words to the Governor:
p13 "Whatever may have been your intention in calling me an insurgent, I am far from considering that epithet dishonorable, for I remember that Englishmen also applied it to Washington."
Still, the refugees could stand the situation no longer and all of them, forty-five in number and wholly destitute, determined to go to Venezuela with the purpose of making it free.
One night in the middle of January of 1813, they sailed in a schooner belonging to Piar to a small island called Chacachacare, where Mariño had hidden some arms and munitions after the defeat of 1812. They then proceeded to the mainland, to a farm owned by Mariño near the small town of Güiria. Mariño armed his servants, and with ninety men they attacked and captured the town. This was the starting point of the Eastern campaign of 1813.
During this campaign several major military engagements occurred, in the most important of which Sucre took part, at times as Mariño's first lieutenant, and at times in command of a regiment of engineers which he himself had organized. At Irapa sixty republicans defeated four hundred royalists. The city of Maturín was taken and successfully defended against three counter-attacks, the last one directed by Monteverde with a far superior army. The royalists were harassed, defeated again and again, and finally the irresistible soldiers of liberty took Cumaná, which was defended by eight hundred men and forty cannon p14 under Antoñanzas and Quero. The operations culminated in the storming of Barcelona and the occupation of the island of Margarita. In one year Mariño had freed three provinces (Cumaná, Barcelona and Margarita), destroyed nine thousand of the enemy, organized a well-disciplined army, and filled the surrounding waters with boats in order to drive out the Spanish merchantmen.
In 1814 the independents moved westward, crushed Rosete on their way, and finally defeated the ill‑famed Boves at Bocachica, in one of the big engagements of that year. Among the officers who distinguished themselves in this battle, mention is made of Sucre and of José Francisco Bermúdez.
Bolívar and Mariño met at La Victoria. Sucre was present at the interview between the two leaders, and with them he advanced against Valencia. He was present at the first battle of Carabobo, where Bolívar defeated Cagigal, and at La Puerta, where the combined forces of Bolívar and Mariño were overwhelmed by Boves. In this action his brother Pedro was made prisoner, and Boves had him shot at La Victoria.
Then followed Bolívar's retreat, first to Caracas, then eastward, vainly fighting against the royalists all the way. Sucre was present at the battle of Aragua, and was one of the small rear-guard with which Bermúdez covered the retreat toward Barcelona during a whole afternoon, leaving at last for Maturín.
Bermúdez had to defend Maturín against the p15 Spanish leader Morales, and his army of 6,500 men. The defenders numbered 1,000 cavalry and 250 infantry. After five days of siege Bermúdez led a sortie into the open field, surprised the enemy and defeated them utterly.
Meanwhile Boves had defeated Piar, and Cumaná fell into his hands. The unfortunate city became a slaughter house. Here Sucre's brother was assassinated in a hospital. His step-mother threw herself out of a window in order to escape the soldiers, and his sister, ill with fever, died of fear.
But the year 1814 had still other woes in store for the patriots. On December 5th, Ribas and Bolívar were defeated by Boves, who lost his life in the action. The last independent army was destroyed there, and apparently the last hope of the republic was annihilated. Ribas died a few days later, fighting with epic bravery. Some of the independents escaped from the country and others took refuge in the forests. Sucre and Bermúdez fled to Margarita. This island was the only land in the possession of the independent army at the end of 1814.
After wandering through the West Indies, they reached Cartagena in the middle of 1815, where they were received cordially. Bermúdez was even placed in command when the city was attacked by the Spanish. In this defense various positions were given to men who later acquired fame, such as Soublette, Pedro León Torres, Manuel Piar and Bartolomé Salom. The p16 fortifications were entrusted to Sucre and to an engineer from Cartagena named Lino de Pombo.
The siege lasted 110 days and is an outstanding episode in the history of American independence. Sucre, in command of the artillery, distinguished himself on every occasion. At last the defenders determined to surrender or to escape, but only then because women and children were dying of hunger and the foulest substances were being used for food. Capitulation was refused. On December 5th, 600 persons left Cartagena in fourteen small vessels, under the fire of the enemy. In the first boat, sent to open a way under fire, were Bermúdez, Soublette, Salom, Sucre, Piar and the entire staff. The following day a storm scattered the ships. Some fell into the hands of the enemy and some were taken by privateers. The crews suffered death or were sent to the Spanish prisons. Many families were abandoned on the coast of Panama, where they perished from fever and starvation. The leaders, and Sucre among them, reached Haiti, where Pétion received them kindly. From Haiti, Sucre went to Trinidad early in 1816, so as to be near his relatives and to be in a position to obtain resources. He had lost everything, even most of his clothes, at Cartagena.
At Trinidad, Sucre learned of Bolívar's departure from Haiti for the continent, and decided to join him with small group of companions. They spent the little money they had to hire a small boat, intending to cross at night to the shore of Güiria, where Sucre p17 had once before landed with Mariño. A storm broke and the boat was wrecked. Sucre floated, holding on to a box, and was rescued the following day by fishermen. He then presented himself to Mariño, who was at Güiria, and was appointed commander of a battalion and later made chief of staff. He fought in this capacity in the campaign at the end of 1816 and the beginning of 1817.
At that time, some of Bolívar's followers met in conference and decreed the organization of Venezuela under a federal system, and with a provisional government consisting of Bolívar and four others. Mariño was appointed supreme commander of the army. Sucre, commanding a division, received instructions to cooperate with General Urdaneta in the siege of Cumaná. But when Urdaneta learned that command of the army had been taken from the Liberator, he immediately sent word to Mariño that he was leaving him to join Bolívar, the only head of the country and the supreme leader of the war. Urdaneta was accompanied by Sucre and other officers.
Sucre was then made commander of the Lower Orinoco, and afterwards appointed chief of staff of a division with which General Bermúdez was sent to free the province of Cumaná. He served in this position until January of 1820.
It would be difficult to find a better pair than Sucre and Bermúdez. The latter was full of energy and audacity, always ready to attack the enemy. Indeed, his p18 impetuosity sometimes got the better of his reason. Sucre, no less valiant, was the thinker of the two. He was provident, always attentive to dangers in order to forestall them, and always sought to perfect his plans before proceeding with them. When things went wrong, Sucre would set about to correct the source and repair the damage. He was unexcelled in his ability to prepare for a campaign, to supply all necessary munitions, provisions and medical resources. His soldiers regarded him not only as their general but as their father. This happy combination, Sucre and Bermúdez, produced a regular and methodical warfare, carried on with well organized and well disciplined armies.
Bermúdez received orders to arrest Mariño, who was considered an accomplice in Piar's insubordination. Bermúdez tried to use force, and Mariño made ready to resist. But Sucre intervened and asked Bermúdez to consult with Bolívar regarding a compromise and induced Mariño to withdraw to Margarita and there await the decision of the government. Bolívar accepted the suggestion and Mariño was given new opportunity to serve his country.
Sucre took no part in the proceedings against Piar, which ended in the execution of that valiant general. With good reason, one historian1 laments Sucre's absence on that occasion, and expresses the opinion that had he interceded, the sacrifice of Piar might have been prevented.
p19 Bermúdez attacked Cumaná in April of 1818, but was defeated, and lost all his troops and ammunition. He then went to Angostura, where Bolívar gave him new supplies. He returned, took Güiria, and attacked Carúpano. He took the city, but was persuaded to withdraw by Sucre, who knew that a strong body of royalists were approaching. But the retreat was slow; Bermúdez was surprised and defeated, narrowly escaping with his own life. Back in Angostura, Bolívar again provided him with resources and appointed him general in command of the East. Followed by the ever-faithful Sucre, he established himself in Barcelona, where he resisted the attacks of the royalists, until he was obliged to withdraw.
It would take too long to enumerate all the activities of the Army of the East with Bermúdez, Sucre and Mariño, who was again in the service. At times, relates an historian, they were hungry and almost naked. Hardly a week passed without fighting. Sometimes they were defeated, sometimes they were victorious. This was a long service, during which Sucre remained the same, constant, prudent, solicitous for the welfare of his soldiers, as brave as the bravest and as wise as the wisest. In 1819 the Vice President of the Republic promoted him to the rank of Brigadier General.
At last, in 1820, he was called to the Liberator's headquarters at Apure. He parted from Bermúdez as he would have parted from a brother. He respected his bravery and was well aware of his weaknesses. p20 Bermúdez respected him, loved him, and needed him.
He joined Bolívar in January 1820. From him he received 80,000 pesos with orders to go to the West Indies to buy guns, lead, sabres, uniforms and other war supplies. He was then twenty-five years of age, and a general. He fulfilled this, the most important trust that he had so far received, and returned in April with 4,000 guns and the other supplies which he had been directed to purchase, rejoining Bolívar.
Laureano Villanueva; Vida de don A. J. de Sucre.
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Antonio José de Sucre
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