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Chapter 4

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 6

p54 Chapter V

Sucre in Lima and Callao.
Chaotic Conditions in Peru.

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.

With the independence of the kingdom of Quito, the republic of Colombia was completed, and in 1823 the first Congress met in the city of Bogotá. By that time the Republic of Chile and the old vice-royalty of Buenos Aires were also free. Only the vice-royalty of Peru remained in the power of the Spanish who, with a well organized army of about twenty-five thousand men, were in a position to invade the liberated regions at any time. The independent countries could not remain indifferent to this state of affairs, and so they undertook to accomplish the freedom of Peru.

General San Martín, who had obtained the independence of the southernmost portion of the continent, landed at Pisco, about 180 miles south of Lima with an army of over four thousand Chileans and Argentinians and with sufficient supplies to equip another army of fifteen thousand men. In ten months he had made himself master of the coast of the vice-royalty. His boats, commanded by the British Admiral Cochrane, destroyed the Spanish fleet. San Martín took Lima, established his government, raised troops, and in 1822 was able to send Sucre the reënforcements that he had asked for the campaign against  p55 Aymerich. He also took Callao and forced the Spanish army to retreat to the plateaux and the sections bordering what is now the Argentine Republic.

When the time seemed most favorable for the independents to advance to the interior and attack the Spanish, the spirit of San Martín underwent a strange change that has puzzled all students of his life. Perhaps he was tired or had lost faith in his fellow men or in the destiny of the new nations. The fact is that he remained in Lima apparently neglecting the operations which should have been conducted against the royalists in Upper Peru (now Bolivia).

Many of the men about San Martín evidenced displeasure at the conduct of the illustrious leader who, in addition to a reserved nature, was a cold and strict disciplinarian and did not possess that personal attraction which evokes enthusiasm and preserves loyalty.

The Spaniards, having recuperated, prepared for new activities. Cochrane, who was by no means patient and long suffering, left the Protector (for that was San Martín's title in Peru), and withdrew to Chile.

Then San Martín decided to visit Bolívar in order to confer with him. Bolívar had incorporated Guayaquil with the Republic of Colombia, and it was said that the action had displeased the Protector, who wished that section for Peru. The interview took place at Guayaquil, and for a time its import was a  p56 secret, but later it was revealed by witnesses that the two great leaders discussed political systems and plans of campaign. San Martín was a partisan of monarchy, and Bolívar defended the republican form of government. Debating upon the best way of conducting the affairs of Peru, Bolívar opposed San Martín's opinion, and advocated the carrying of the war into the interior in order to decide once for all time the fate of America and to free the republics from all future dangers.

These two points, the form of government and the plan of campaign, seem to have been the only topics of discussion at this conference between the Protector of Peru and the President of Colombia, but no one knows what was going on in the mind of San Martín. When he reached Lima he convoked the Congress and thirty days later resigned his position and left for Buenos Aires. From there he went later to Europe, where he remained until his death.

Upon his resignation, the Peruvian Congress established a governing junta of three men, one of whom was General La Mar. This body proved incompetent. A Colombian division in the service of Peru withdrew in disgust, and the junta refused four thousand additional men offered by Bolívar, who was, moreover, anxious to go and take a personal part in the campaign.

The disasters of the Government began in January, 1823. The Peruvian General Alvarado was defeated,  p57 leaving three thousand men and all his arms and equipment on the field of battle. The population of Lima, indignant at the errors of the Government, started riots which alarmed the troops. These in turn forced the junta to dissolve and obliged the Congress to elect as President of the Republic one Don José de la Riva Agüero, a man of great activity and intelligence, with no little personal ambition.

The new President immediately sent a plenipotentiary to Guayaquil to apologize to Bolívar for the conduct of the preceding Government and to ask for his personal assistance and that of his army, as previously offered. Bolívar promised soldiers and ships, and forty-eight hours later three thousand men sailed for Callao. Some days later three thousand more were sent, and the whole expedition was placed under the command of Sucre, who was also appointed Minister Plenipotentiary of Colombia to the Government of Peru, to deal with that Government in all matters relating to the Colombian auxiliary army. Bolívar himself could not go, because as President of Colombia he needed the authorization of the Colombian Congress. But he trusted Sucre implicitly. On many occasions the young General had proved the maturity of his judgment, his loyalty and ability. By this time he had fulfilled Bolívar's prediction that he would become more nearly his equal than any other man in the independent army.

Lima received Sucre with honors as the most satisfactory  p58 substitute for Bolívar. In 1823 we find him there, as one year before he had been at Guayaquil. Having obtained the freedom of the kingdom of Quito, it was his mission to obtain the freedom of Peru and give the death blow to the Spanish domination of the new world.

He faced a difficult situation. The royalists were situated from the Argentine border to the river Desaguadero and the valley of Jauja, fourteen thousand strong. They were in possession of the plateaux and the richest sections of the vice-royalty. The independents held its northern part and the coast with an army of some eight thousand men, composed of Peruvians, Chileans and Argentineans. They also had warships which, after the withdrawal of Cochrane, were put under the command of Rear Admiral Martin George Guise, a former English naval officer.

Santa Cruz commanded the army of Peru. The contingent operating in the north was under La Fuente. These two armies and the navy supported Riva Agüero, but the troops at Lima and General La Mar were partisans of the Marquis de Torre Tagle, who aspired to the Presidency. All these opposing elements had shown little enthusiasm toward bringing Bolívar to their assistance, for they hoped to overpower their own rivals and control the country, and were certain that once Bolívar was in the field this would be impossible. Only the general population was in favor of having him direct the Peruvian war.  p59 At last the people imposed its will and an appeal was made to the Liberator who, as we have seen, sent Sucre in his stead.

Sucre had to play a double rôle, as soldier and as diplomat. Previously he had always followed President Bolívar's instructions. He was often called upon to make decisions in favor of one or the other of the opposing factions. But he always tried to act on the side of law, recognizing the supreme authority of the Congress.

In a letter of May 7, 1823, he sent Bolívar an analysis of the existing conditions more or less as follows:

The political parties were hopelessly hostile to each other. He refused the command of the army, as he understood that this command would be only in name and not in fact. He had found General Santa Cruz' expedition making ready to sail for the south of Peru. He did not conceal his misgivings as to the success of this expedition. He discovered the influence of an all powerful organization — the Compañía de Comercio — which was financing the Government and speculating upon the needs of the country, even in the arrangement of this undertaking. He stated his readiness to follow Santa Cruz forty days later with the Colombian division and the Chilean and Argentine reënforcements. The operations of Sucre's army were to be directed with due regard to the fate of Santa Cruz in the South. In a conference  p60 with the President he had been advised that San Martín wished to return to public life. Sucre opposed his return, considering him hostile to Colombia. But when he was asked what rôle he himself intended to play in the domestic affairs of Peru he emphatically declared that Peru would have to tend to its own internal problems and that he and the Colombian auxiliaries were there only to fight the Spaniards. He presented an analysis of the troops which could be placed at the disposal of a strong leader, showing that the strong leader could be none other than Bolívar himself.

This important letter was written in three parts, the second part on the 9th and the third part on the 10th of May. On the 9th Sucre was able to tell the Liberator all about the discussion regarding an appeal to Bolívar to come to Peru and take command of military operations. All agreed that Bolívar should be called, but the President and the Congress each wanted to call him, in order to have his support. The executive power was in the hands of a party man. He could never triumph because he could not obtain the union of Peru.

"Anyone taking the executive power will lack sufficient respect and strength, and will be merely the head of his party. Divisions, jealousies and discord will continue and the morale of the army cannot be kept up while the Executive must have special regard for his supporters. On the other  p61 hand, you will owe to no one but yourself your post at the head of military affairs, by the well expressed opinion of the four divisions of the United Army. . . . From this you will see that opinion is united as to the advisability of your coming, and although I believe the Government will call on you because of its necessity and not because of its pleasure, it is convinced that the necessity is absolute. In short, the greatest asset of the army of independence in Peru would be the name and presence of Bolívar."

In a letter of May 15th, he tells Bolívar of the decision of the Congress to have the Executive call him. Sucre had insisted that this call be made by the Executive, but through the decision of the Congress so that it would be an expression of the general will.

By that time, General Santa Cruz' expedition was ready to start. Sucre did not have a very favorable opinion of the morale of the division. Only three thousand were veterans and Sucre was afraid that the Spanish General Valdez1 could defeat Santa Cruz with only two thousand men.

On one occasion, the Peruvian army having left the capital, the Congress was afraid of mutiny in the city. Sucre at once placed his Colombian division at the disposal of the Congress, assuring it that the Colombians would serve as if they were Peruvians. The  p62 Government of Peru expressed its gratitude at this voluntary offer and Sucre gained greater confidence in the eyes of the wary Peruvians.

This offer, which Sucre made to the Congress, has been misunderstood by some as an effort on Sucre's part to produce a rupture between the Congress and General Riva Agüero. But such was not the case. In a communication sent to Bolívar on May 24th he expressed his decision to support Riva Agüero, the legitimate President, against the Marquis de Torre Tagle. The following words fully justify Sucre:

"No matter in what way Riva Agüero was made President; no matter what his conduct toward the auxiliary divisions may be; no matter what may be his good or bad faith to us; the truth is that he has reëstablished public opinion during his administration, has upheld the country and used all means to oppose the enemy. He works in harmony with us; and, in particular, the people are not against him and do not wish to change Presidents daily."

The Spanish General Canterac was advancing against Lima. A military assembly was called and the Congress, the President, and the Assembly decided to offer General Sucre the supreme command of the troops. Sucre declined the honor, saying that only the Liberator had sufficient prestige to submit the heads of the various bodies to his will and establish unity of action. Only he could suppress discord in the  p63 army, the Government and the people, and bring the Compañía de Comercio to terms, for this organization, having become very rich from its business of furnishing supplies to the army, was trying to impose its will on the Government. Sucre stated emphatically that he had come to Peru to obey and not to command. There was an underlying motive in his decision. He did not want the Colombian auxiliaries, paid and supported by Colombia, to take part in the domestic controversies of Peru.

On the 29th of May, in view of the impending danger, and of the insistence of the government, Sucre accepted provisional command, until Bolívar should arrive. He had about five thousand men at Lima, while the Spaniards had, as it was calculated, the same number at least, but probably seven thousand. In case the enemies proved stronger Sucre proposed to abandon Lima, and as the defense of Callao would only require two thousand men he could then send three thousand to assist Santa Cruz.

On the 30th he was formally appointed General in command of the United Army. On the 31st he communicated his appointment and acceptance in a letter to Bolívar. He explained his carefully laid plans of action and sent a copy of his answer to the Peruvian Minister of War accepting the appointment. This latter document is typical of the man. It is matter of fact, with not a word wasted. It ends with a sentence as simple as was his whole character, but as  p64 generous as any similar declaration presented by history. The document is as follows:

"I have already expressed to you my gratitude for the honor conferred on me by His Excellency, the President of Peru, in appointing me General in command of the United Army. . . . I shall take command, obliged by the present circumstances. . . . But in order to decide to take upon myself the responsibility of this position, His Excellency will order that I be informed as follows:

1. Which divisions form the United Army;

2. Where are these located;

3. Who are the generals in command, as well as the force under each;

4. What is the organization of the United Army;

5. What provisions, materials and transportation facilities has the United Army;

6. What is the plan of operation hitherto followed by the Government, and the measures taken under such a plan;

7. What does the Government want done in case the enemy invades the coast in full strength or with the greater part of its strength — whether to follow at all events the plan of campaign already established, linking the interests of the Army to those of Peru, or defending only the capital;

8. What provinces are represented in the Assembly, and whether the fortresses and deposits of supplies in these provinces as well as the artillery garrisons and supplies are under jurisdiction of the commanding General.

p65 You will understand, Mr. Minister, that with the lack of knowledge of these details it is difficult to assume such a heavy responsibility, as it involves the destiny of Peru.

As for the salary assigned to the position given me, His Excellency will permit me to say that since the Government of Colombia furnishes me with what I need, it is useless to charge the Treasury of Peru with this amount, which can be profitably used elsewhere."

The Government gave him the information he asked for and expressed its confidence in the young General.

Sucre, acting in perfect accord with Bolívar, received very minute instructions from him, which he followed, with due regard for the varying circumstances of the campaign. Whatever position the Peruvian Government had given him, he was primarily the commander of the Colombian auxiliaries sent by Bolívar, President of Colombia, to help Peru obtain independence. It was Bolívar who had recommended that Sucre be prepared to join Santa Cruz in case this movement would prove useful and opportune. Bolívar advised that no action be attempted against the Spaniards without an army of at least ten or eleven thousand men, under the single direction of a commander in chief who should be Sucre. All the Liberator's recommendations centered in one supreme order: that no battle should be fought without the greatest probability of victory.

 p66  Sucre followed the fundamental ideas of Bolívar, but used his own judgment in all details of operation, for, as he wrote to Bolívar's secretary:

"In America, when at war, nothing is worse than to determine beforehand or from a distance the plan to be followed by an army. It is hardly possible to do more than state the object and give powers to the commander to attain it."

Meanwhile he received information from abroad that Portugal was convoking a general confederation of European and American free peoples to oppose the Holy Alliance. Spain, torn by revolutions, and advised by England, was inclined to recognize the independence of her American colonies. The King requested his commanders in Peru, Colombia and Buenos Aires to obtain a suspension of hostilities. Under such conditions it would have been unwise for Sucre to go to battle unless his success was assured, for it was better to wait for developments in Europe than to influence the course of European events in an unfavorable way by the loss of battles in Peru.

Consequently Sucre, duly authorized by the Government of Peru and in agreement with the Chilean representative, proposed to the Viceroy José de La Serna a transaction intended to put an end to the evils of war, in view of the inability of Spain to recover her American possessions. In case no agreement could be  p67 reached, he proposed the continuance of the war with the least possible harm to humanity. He explained the situation in Europe and the conflicts between absolutism and liberalism in Spain. La Serna himself had proclaimed liberal principles and Sucre mentioned this circumstance in an effort to persuade him that the end of the war would be favorable to Spanish liberalism. He acknowledged the checks suffered by the Peruvian army, but also announced an improvement in the independent situation, especially if, as he expected, Bolívar came to command the army against the royalists. He mentioned the coöperation of Chile and La Plata and added:

"Permit me to state that when I describe our position, it is not my intention to make it believed that it gives us absolute advantages. We know well the chances of battle and war. We know that the Spanish character is constant. But Your Excellency also knows that revolution never goes backwards and that its progress changes the aspect of our struggle. Since the situation in Spain has changed, we should also change our weapons into means of conciliation and should all unite as soldiers of freedom. Let us talk for a moment as friends; let us explain ourselves; and if no other way is left except war, let us go ahead, but with the least possible injury to our fellow men."

La Serna did not answer, and Sucre decided to resume fighting. His plan was to engage Canterac's attention so as to permit Santa Cruz to carry out the  p68 Government's plan of operations in the South. Then he, or some good General such as Valdez, would join Santa Cruz with some three thousand men, while the remainder of the army would protect Callao and the cavalry would attack Canterac and prevent his advance to the south. He immediately made all preparations to develop this campaign. He gathered provisions, hospital supplies and everything necessary for the army at Callao. He asked the Liberator for boats; provisions and horses were requested from Chile.

Canterac approached Lima with a superior army. The time arrived for the abandonment of the city. Sucre gave protection to those who wished to go to Callao, for the inhabitants were very much afraid of being left at the mercy of the Spaniards. This operation gave him a strong shelter in Callao and permitted him to strengthen the discipline of his men.

He wrote a letter to Canterac asking him to regard Lima as a neutral city and to treat the population with due respect. From a military standpoint, the possession of Lima did not give much advantage. The independent army was safe and posted in a fortified city. The royalists, in spite of their superior numbers, were in a position to do scarcely more than rest, secure new provisions, and make ready to leave again. Nevertheless, the loss of the City of the Kings was very painful to Sucre, as he expressed in the letter to Bolívar.

The President, the Congress and the officials of the Government also took shelter in Callao. In this emergency,  p69 instead of supporting Sucre and leaving him free to operate, they wasted their energies in political discussions, intrigues and the fostering of personal ambitions. The evil that has been the greatest curse of Latin American countries — the desire on the part of everybody to be in power and the general lack of willingness to perform the modest and useful labors of ordinary citizenship — existed strongly in Peru. Disorder was constant and energy was rampant. This demoralization could not fail to contaminate the army and Sucre was obliged to give expression to the danger in very emphatic terms. He informed the Government that should the debates and disorders continue, he and the Colombian army would withdraw to Trujillo and remain there only as reserves.

The confusion was so general that there was daily communication between Callao and Lima. Army supplies were disposed of without Sucre's knowledge and soldiers and officers were transferred from regiment to regiment at the whim of anyone in a high position.

Sucre had accepted the command of the army in order to avoid its complete dissolution, and to please Bolívar. He had jeopardized his own military reputation by the evacuation of Lima, but he could go no further. So he decided to be merely the head of his own division and act in accordance with his own judgment.

Finally, Sucre surrendered the command, stating that he would resume it only on condition that he  p70 would be given a free hand. He told the Minister of War: "I might be part of it as one of many, but I will not enter into it in the capacity of General."

He also wrote to Bolívar:

"Callao is now in chaos. The President commands as head of the country. The Marquis de Torre Tagle commands as head of the city, though he is sick in bed, and I command the troops. . . . Such confusion has obliged Congress to assemble and issue a decree by which the national representatives, the Executive and the tribunals will go to Trujillo, leaving the General of the Army in complete freedom to defend the town and conduct the war as he pleases in view of the needs of the country, and empowers him to use the national credit to raise troops with no restrictions whatever. . . . I will not say what is better, but it is true with such division the country is being lost and the complication of authorities makes it difficult and nullifies every effort. It would be better for all to go and quarrel at Trujillo and leave us to work in freedom."

At that time the Government had not even furnished Sucre with transports for the troops to reënforce Santa Cruz. He wanted to cut all sea communication with the Spaniards, and as they had no hope of reënforcements, Sucre knew that there was no real use for their keeping Lima and that they would eventually abandon the city.

p71 Late on the night of June 19th, he was writing all these details to Bolívar. He was insisting, at two o'clock in the morning, the only one man could save the day, and that man must be Bolívar, whose prestige was above all others. After some hours of rest he got up and received news of Santa Cruz' arrival in Arica on the 11th, of his plans for the campaign in the south, and of his request that assistance be sent by land. Sucre asked instructions from Bolívar on this phase of the campaign: Should he send two thousand men and the Chilean reënforcements to Santa Cruz, or himself assume command of them?

The Congress, in view of Sucre's attitude, decided to change the capital to Trujillo, leaving the commander of the army free to act and with full powers to carry on war as he saw fit. He was also given power to obtain resources on the credit of the country and to take all necessary steps to continue the war.

Riva Agüero opposed this decree and Congress deposed him, ordering him to leave the country, and appointed Sucre supreme military leader of Peru. Sucre also refused this appointment, but the Congress insisted, and after long debates and repeated petitions he accepted the extraordinary powers granted him, on the condition that he would exercise them only in the provinces directly affected by the conduct of the war. He insisted that he would limit his activities to fighting the enemy and would take no part in political discussions.

 p72  Riva Agüero refused to retire from power and said that in obedience to the previous decree he would go to Trujillo, where he would answer any charges made against him.

Congress appointed a committee to go to Guayaquil to obtain Bolívar's presence in Peru and then adjourned, leaving the situation wholly in Sucre's hands. Riva Agüero agreed to take a part in the northern campaign and Sucre took charge of the campaign in the south.

Once in Trujillo with the representatives and Government officials, Riva Agüero, feeling stronger, dissolved the Congress, exiled the opposing representatives, and appointed one man for each department from among his friends, and formed a body which he called the Consulting Senate of the Republic.

The Author's Note:

1 There were two Generals by the name of Valdez, — one in the Royalist army and one among the Independents. Both distinguished themselves by their bravery and ability on the field of battle.

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