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Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Antonio José de Sucre

Guillermo Antonio Sherwell

Press of Byron S. Adams
Washington, D. C., 1924

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 4

p31 Chapter III

The Making of a Commander-in‑Chief.
The Battle of Yaguachi, August 19, 1821.

Thayer's Note: For following the geography in the text, the map provided by the author at the end of the book may be useful; it opens in a separate window.

After the treaty for the regularization of the war, Sucre constantly played a leading rôle, though at every turn his modesty led him to attribute his successes to Bolívar, and took him to the Liberator for advice and consultation.

Bolívar had given freedom to Nueva Granada and was preparing to attain the independence of Venezuela. But in his vision of a great independent American republic, the section to the south of Nueva Granada, known as the Presidency or Kingdom of Quito, was to form part of it.

This kingdom, which comprised more or less what is now called the Republic of Ecuador, was established by the last of the Incas, and for nearly two centuries formed a part of the vice-royalty of Lima, the first established in South America. Later this vice-royalty was divided and early in the eighteenth century the vice-royalty of Nueva Granada was created and the kingdom of Quito was apportioned to it. This kingdom comprised the governments of Popayán, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Macas, Quijos, Jaén de Bracamoros and Mainas, several corregimientos and two tenencias.

The movement for the independence of the presidency of Quito began on August 10, 1809. In lieu of  p32 a president, a junta was established to protect the rights of Ferdinand VII, King of Spain. The movement proved unsuccessful. The patriots were defended defeated on August 2, 1810, and most of them were imprisoned. Some sporadic movements followed, but from 1814 until 1820 all the territory was apparently submissive to the Spanish authority.

Meanwhile General San Martín had come to Peru and had won victories over the Spaniards. This awakened the enthusiasm of the people of Guayaquil, and on October 8, 1820, the garrison of the city rebelled and proclaimed the independence of that province. They imprisoned the government officials and military officers who were not in accord with the movement.

Gunboats at anchor in the river joined the patriots the following day. A provisional government of three was elected immediately by the municipal council, and this government ordered the election of representatives to draft a constitution and organize the revolutionary government.

Effort was immediately made to spread the movement throughout the whole province of Guayaquil and throughout the kingdom of Quito. Five hundred men were sent to Quito, and sympathetic movements were started in the cities of Cuenca, Ambato, Riobamba and elsewhere. Within a short time fifteen hundred men were ready to fight.

The Governor and President, don Melchor Aymerich,  p33 was in Pasto at the time. He hastened to Quito, organized troops, and advanced against the revolutionists. The two armies met at a place called Guachi and the independents were utterly defeated. One‑third of their number died and the rest returned to Guayaquil. The royalists then took Cuenca and soon had reëstablished their power in the provinces.

Guayaquil did not give up. Shortly after this defeat six hundred men were ready to renew the struggle. But they had no better fortune than their predecessors at Guachi. They were conquered by the Spaniards. Their commander was taken prisoner and executed on the field of battle.

The people of Guayaquil, enamored of freedom, still refused to surrender. Enthusiasm increased and the women hastened to give their jewels and all their resources to support the cause of independence; they worked day and night in order to prepare hospital supplies, uniforms and flags.

News of what was going on in this section reached Bolívar. He determined that Guayaquil should be kept by all means and that Quito should be rescued from Spanish rule. He sent General José Mires to Guayaquil to compliment the governing junta and the people on their patriotic attitude, and he offered a gift of one thousand guns, a quantity of ammunition, revolvers, sabres and other military supplies. He also recommended that Mires be employed in the organization and command of a division to operate with the  p34 Colombian army toward obtaining the freedom of Cuenca, and announced that he would soon attack from the north. Peace commissioners had just arrived from Spain, and as it was necessary that he meet them, Bolívar could not take personal command of the army at once. Consequently, he placed Sucre in charge.

This was the first time Sucre was on his own responsibility in directing the operations of an army. He was accompanied by two commissioners, one from the independent army and one from the royalists, to explain the armistice to the people of the south. He obtained the suspension of hostilities, gathered the dispersed elements together and started on his double task of reorganizing the military contingents and of persuading all Americans to join the cause of independence. He entered into relations with the royalist commander, with the bishop of Popayán and with many Spanish and American notables. Some prominent guerrilleros were persuaded to join him and a number of Americans serving with the king's troops petitioned for their entry into the independent army.

Aymerich received the commissioners and agreed to observe the armistice. He effected the exchange of prisoners according to the convention, and granted amnesty to political prisoners. But he declined to include Guayaquil in the armistice, on the ground that Guayaquil did not belong to Colombia, but to Peru, and that he had been advised officially that it was under the protection of San Martín. Bolívar was advised  p35 of this situation. Fearing that Guayaquil might be seized by the Spanish or annexed to Peru, as San Martín desired, he decided to take immediate possession of that city. Unable to go there himself, he instructed Sucre to go to Guayaquil and to the other regions south of Quito which were fighting for independence. He was to obtain their formal incorporation with Colombia and to give them the necessary assistance in the way of troops and munitions.

Sucre was instructed to take command of all forces in case the annexation was accepted. In case it was refused, he was to ask for the command of the troops, even if he would have to obey the orders of the province instead of the orders of Colombia. Sucre handed over the army of the south to General Pedro León Torres and left the port of Buenaventura with one thousand men and sufficient ammunition to undertake the defense of Guayaquil.

The governing junta of Guayaquil accepted Bolívar's help and Sucre was put in command of the army with the title of Commander of the Auxiliary Troops of Colombia. He was obliged to start his campaign immediately, for the Spanish army was coming toward Guayaquil in two columns. One had started from Quito under the personal command of Aymerich and was following the road that led through the town of Babahoyo. The other was advancing from Cuenca through a place called Yaguachi, under the command of Colonel González.

 p36  Sucre's position was difficult. In the first place, he was going to fight in a terrain altogether unknown to him, and totally different in character from the lands in which he had fought previously. He had been on the plains of Venezuela, on the banks of the Orinoco and its tributaries, and along the Magdalena. But now he faced the most formidable mountains of the Andes. He had to contend with Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Pichincha and other enormous peaks. Their great altitude, their precipitant canyons, their snow-covered páramos, swept by icy winds, made every movement a perilous one, even when no fighting was done.

In addition, Sucre had to do everything. Opinion in the province of Guayaquil was not unanimously in favor of the independents. It is true that after some hesitation the junta aided Sucre with great enthusiasm, but he had to convince those who were uncertain and inspire those who were cold. He had to get recruits and teach them the rudiments of war and impart to them the instinct of discipline. He had to secure uniforms, food, quarters, ammunition, horses, cattle and even money. Untiringly he attended to everything. He asked General Torres for the reënforcements offered by the government of Colombia; asked Bolívar to send him eight hundred more men; and asked San Martín, whom he thought inactive at the time on account of an armistice, for a body of cavalry.

 p37  By the middle of July he was prepared to begin operations, when a conspiracy broke out in Guayaquil. Six gunboats and other small ships mutinied, seized the Alejandro, a larger vessel, and left the port. Sucre was in the suburbs; he hastened to the city with Colombian troops and embarked in small boats to attack the rebels. He took all of them prisoners and recaptured their vessels except the Alejandro, which was taken to Panama. Some of the mutineers made their escape to the mountains, where most of them died from hunger and hardships. The Colombian soldiers under Sucre had saved Guayaquil for the cause of independence. They were destined to be, under their young commander, the greatest single factor in the whole campaign for the consummation of American independence.

Sucre left Guayaquil on August 7th and proceeded towards Babahoyo. On the 12th he was facing the royalist army coming from Quito. These avoided a conflict, as they hoped to be joined by the army coming from Cuenca. Sucre understood their plan and on the 17th advanced quickly toward Yaguachi, expecting to destroy the column under González, which was smaller than the force under Aymerich. The latter followed Sucre for a while but did not attack. On the 18th Sucre seized some enemy scouts, and on August 19, 1821, the two armies faced each other at Yaguachi.

The encounter was sanguinary. General Mires of  p38 the independent army was wounded and some of the best officers fell on the field of battle. It is said that a little boy of Guayaquil, who had joined the army with the purpose of making himself worthy of becoming a soldier, was wounded and after bandaging the wound himself he continued fighting to the very end. The Spaniards fought with their traditional heroism, but at last were forced to retreat. Sucre pursued during the afternoon and part of the night, capturing six hundred prisoners and a quantity of supplies. Many of the royalists took refuge in the forests, and only about one hundred remained together after this crushing defeat.

The battle of Yaguachi was the first link in the chain of victories won under Sucre's single command. The enthusiasm in Guayaquil was unparalleled. The faith of the patriots was fortified, and it may be said that from that time the resolution of the citizens did not falter. Wealthy men placed their means at Sucre's disposal, and the youth of the city rushed to join his ranks.

Sucre treated the prisoners with great kindness. To Colonel Tamariz, the most prominent of them, he returned his sword and offered a post in his own army at any time he would accept incessant. Tamariz afterwards had opportunities to serve the Republic of Ecuador in distinguished capacities.

When Aymerich learned of the disaster at Yaguachi  p39 he retreated toward Quito so hastily as to give the appearance of a rout. He left behind a large share of his ammunition and equipment, and some hundreds of men. Then he employed all diligence to present the strongest possible front.

Sucre strengthened his forces and tried to make ready to meet Aymerich. About one month passed in these preparations. The royalists established themselves in the valley of Ambato, in a favorable position, for they were on level ground where they could use their cavalry. Sucre did not wish to risk a battle at once, with his army composed mostly of inexperienced men. He knew well that in case of defeat Guayaquil might easily be lost. It was his purpose to make certain strategic movements to distract the attention of the enemy and mark time until the arrival of the reënforcements he had asked from Colombia. He also expected that in time General Torres would oblige the royalists to send men to the north and thus weaken the southern army. Meanwhile, he intended to place himself in a strong position and let the royalists come out of their shelter if they wished to risk a battle.

But the men around him would not wait. Fired with enthusiasm born at Yaguachi, they could not understand the reasons of their cautious general. Even Mires, second in command, argued against inactivity. Fearing to displease his men, Sucre at last decided to attack. On September 12th the contenders were again in action. Sucre's fears were fully justified.  p40 The best blood of Guayaquil was spilled at Ambato. Sucre led charge after charge. He fought like a private, serene and indomitable among his men, but at last the independent army was forced to retreat. However, though the independents lost the battle, the royalists paid dearly for their victory. About a thousand of them were killed or wounded. So great were their losses that they had to retire without harassing the independents. Aymerich himself departed for Quito and left the army under General Tolrá, who had been Governor of Antioquía.

Sucre, slightly injured, led his men toward Babahoyo and from there to Guayaquil. Here he found more than seven hundred men ready to join his army. The commander-in‑chief was thus fully prepared through victory and defeat. The elation of triumph was sobered by a hard reverse. Bolívar had gone through the same schooling. His first victories, which gave him Venezuela, and his first defeats, which sent him into exile, prepared him for Boyacá and Carabobo. So it was with Sucre. Yaguachi gave him a consciousness of his strength and Ambato steeled him against discouragement. From now on he is the great leader, with all his virtues adult and with a maturity that makes him worthy to lead in the last battle of the American wars of independence.

Six weeks were employed by Tolrá in the reorganization of his forces, while Sucre made ready to protect Guayaquil. Although filled with sadness, he expressed  p41 in a letter to Bolívar his determination to make good for his reverse and to protect Guayaquil until the attention of the enemy had been turned to the north by Torres' activities, so that he might attack Cuenca and continue his offensive against the royalists.

While the campaign was being waged in Ecuador, Bolívar won the victory of Carabobo on June 24, 1821. Sucre, in his letter, complimented him on this battle, which assured the independence of Venezuela.

Tolrá, not feeling strong enough to attack Sucre, proposed a suspension of hostilities for ninety days. The latter accepted and in a convention signed in Babahoyo on November 21st he obtained such advantages as to balance the losses of Ambato. By this convention "he saved the honor of Colombian arms and freed the province of Guayaquil from imminent invasion."1 Sucre expected reënforcements at any time. He again appealed to San Martín who sent him eleven hundred men. He called to service all those who could bear arms and worked incessantly to instruct and discipline them.

The Author's Note:

1 O'Leary; Vol. II, p119.

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Page updated: 21 Dec 17