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Chapter 6

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 8

p86 Chapter VII

Battle of Junín, August 6, 1824.
The Beginning of the End.

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.

The political situation in Peru was almost hopeless and growing worse every day. The eternal story of those in power wanting to remain in power and those out of power wanting to get into power was being enacted there, as it has been enacted periodically in various Latin American countries. Some have finally reached internal peace through the normal operation of democratic institutions; others have obtained stability through the strong imposition of a personal power; others still disgrace themselves before the world by constant civil strife.

Riva Agüero had to be subdued. Bolívar could not allow a situation to continue that would compromise the final success of the war of American independence. Torre Tagle was no better, but Bolívar had no choice. Consequently he decided to suppress the so‑called Government of Trujillo in order to unify public opinion, or at least to consolidate public effort and direct it towards the fulfillment of the common cause.

He advanced toward Trujillo with four thousand men, but the body of soldiers made his arrival unnecessary by rebelling against Riva Agüero and arresting him on the charge that he was dealing with the Spaniards with the intention of joining them.

p87 Less than four months later, the cause of independence passed through a serious crisis. The garrison of Callao revolted and delivered the city to the enemy. Santa Cruz, with his vessels and whatever army he had been able to reorganize, took sides with Riva Agüero and blockaded the coast all the way from Cobija to Guayaquil. In February, 1824, Torre Tagle turned traitor and delivered the city of Lima to the Spaniards. With several members of his government he went to Callao, where he wrote against Bolívar and protested against the independence of the country. Several groups of soldiers, with their commanding officers, forsook independence and joined the royalist army. The Chileans who had come at the beginning to help in the war, seeing the disorder, left for Valparaíso. We may well think that Bolívar saw then the reasons for San Martín's inactivity. The Peruvians did not seem to be prepared for freedom. It was apparent that many of the most influential among them did not want it.

All this was good news for the Viceroy. He made ready to proceed from Cuzco to Lima and take possession of the few places that remained in the hands of the independents. Bolívar was advised not to compromise his reputation and to return to Colombia. At this time the Liberator was ill to the point of death, in the town of Pativilca. It is recorded that, when asked what he was going to do in the desperate situations that confronted him, he answered: "To conquer!" And he  p88 knew that he was going to conquer, for on his side were three important factors: Congress, which was loyal to the cause of independence; Sucre, who was his right arm; and the common people, who were willing to contribute their very blood to make the country free.

The Congress suspended the Constitutional Government and made Bolívar Dictator. Sucre, when all seemed lost, bravely faced the situation, assumed command of the army and hastened to the mountains to head off the enemy who were advancing, eleven thousand strong, from Cuzco towards the valley of Jauja. He placed troops in various positions where they could unite quickly if the circumstances required. He established headquarters at Huanuco, prepared hospitals, gathered supplies, and did all he could for the welfare of his soldiers. He studied the locality, the roads and passes, in order to know how he might advance or retreat. While he made ready to protect the zone in the hands of the patriots (Lima was still in the hands of the independent army, since Torre Tagle's defection did not take place until February), he was preparing to start an offensive campaign plan for the month of May.

While at Huanuco, Sucre kept up a constant correspondence with the literature, which contains some of the most important thoughts expressed by the young general. Most of his communications referred to military operations, but many of them were on general policies and show considerable sagacity. He advised  p89 negotiations with the Spaniards in order to ensure the safety of Colombia, or an attack against Canterac, who was in Jauja with five or six thousand men, before allowing Valdez to join him.

All the while, he was studying the world situation in order to ascertain how it might favor the cause of freedom. Spain was in a difficult position. The French had taken Cádiz. The independence of some of the Latin American countries had been recognized by England and the United States. Sucre conceived the thought of asking La Serna to join the cause of independence, for he belonged to the Liberal party and offered shelter in Peru to the Spanish rebels who were opposed to King Ferdinand. He knew that this was possible, and in fact had taken place, at least partially, in Mexico, where Iturbide, the most prominent leader of the royalists, had joined the patriots and obtained Mexican independence in 1821.

On the other hand, seeing the difficulties in the path of the patriots, he even considered withdrawing to Colombia. In that case, he wrote Bolívar, an armistice of one year would be of great benefit to the independent cause, for it would allow time for a solution of the European situation which, "more than anything else, is going to decide the fate of America." A communication to Bolívar, written from Yungay, February 25, 1824, contains the following remarkable thoughts:

 p90  "Every Colombian must now have one eye on Peru and the other on the Holy Alliance. This accursed coalition of European monarchs makes me fear much for the existence of our institutions. I cannot deny that I am more concerned over them than over the Spaniards in Peru. The latter, at the most, could wrest Quito from us, while the former would destroy everything we have. I believe you count on the English too much. They will be like the rest; they will want to take their share; and with their power what they will do is to take the lion's share. They are now talking of dividing America among the monarchs of the Holy Alliance, giving Mexico to Spain. I do not doubt it, for Ferdinand, in order to keep something for himself, will give away the rest. We have seen the conduct of the monarchs toward their own people. It will be even more cruel and insolent toward us, for they still believe that we are Indians. Perhaps these Spaniards in Peru are opposed to such a plan and I believe it would not be useless to sound them."

His caution in these circumstances is evidenced by his willingness to be satisfied for the time being with what the independents had already acquired.

"We have arrived at the most important crisis of the revolution. I think that we must be less obdurate than the Spaniards, in order to keep the treasures already gained by our sacrifices, since fate does not seem to wish to  p91 give us everything. Although we all had rather die than be a colony or belong to Spain, we have not the means to go on with the same resolution, and must seek other ways to continue to be our own masters. It has been said that in the spoliation of America France wishes to take Colombia. It is better to die than to become a French colony and be ruled by the Bourbons. Our situation will develop into a great conflict, in which the English commissioners sent to Bogotá offer little alleviation. The English government is more generous than the others, but it will not be so generous as to undertake a war for our sake. We have seen its conduct with regard to Spain, which was offered protection to maintain her liberties, and I do not wish to delude myself with vain hopes. We shall be left to our own fate and we must make use of every measure not to nullify the labors, privations and sacrifices already suffered for our independence."

This appeal to diplomatic negotiation did not in any way imply a weakening of Sucre's military activities. He was busy every hour of the day and nearly every hour of the night in his many labors of organization and vigilance.

Once Lima was lost, he hastened to the coast to concentrate garrisons and strengthen the ports in the hands of the independents. He scattered guerrillas everywhere, and established correspondence with friends in the capital. He also prepared  p92 vessels to attack various positions along the coast and deposit troops wherever it might be necessary. Bolívar was asked to send La Mar to reënforce the Peruvian army situated in Cajamarca. Córdoba, who had distinguished himself in the battle of Pichincha, was placed in command of one brigade. By the first of April Sucre had forty-five hundred men, well equipped and ready to fight, to which number three thousand Peruvians could be added. He also had twelve hundred horses.

The situation existing in the Spanish army was becoming favorable to the independents; divisions in Spain were reflected in America. The commander of the province of Upper Peru, Don Pedro Antonio de Olañeta, was an absolutist, and regarded La Serna, the Viceroy, as hostile to the king; Canterac and Valdez were, like La Serna, members of the Liberal party. The result of this condition was a break between the Viceroy and Olañeta. The latter decided to establish a state for himself between the River Desaguadero and the border of Buenos Aires. Valdez, with four thousand men, attacked, and although he defeated him he did not destroy him entirely. He remained in arms, thus preventing the concentration of royalist efforts against the independents.

Valdez returned to Cuzco, where the Viceroy was organizing an army. In July Canterac, commander-in‑chief of the royalists, moved in the direction of  p93 the valley of Jauja. The Liberator, who at the time was in Trujillo, expecting contingents from Colombia at any moment, ordered Sucre to go with his army across the western range of the Andes and await instructions to attack the royalists. Sucre wrote Bolívar his opinion of his plans. He realized that six thousand men could not withstand an attack of the eight thousand royalists who were advancing against them, but he thought it better to hazard a battle than merely to move and wait for reënforcements, for this course would give the enemy time to concentrate more resources. His idea was either to wait for more soldiers before crossing the Andes or to cross the Andes and advance against the enemy with what men he had.

Meanwhile, the Liberator, fully recovered from his serious illness, had set to work again. Both leaders found themselves more than ever united in a single purpose and in a common conception of the means necessary to attain it. Bolívar answered his lieutenant:

"Your ideas encourage me and many times have shaken my decision. In spite of the weakened state in which my illness has left me, you encourage me to wage a battle, which surely cannot in any way be lost with equal or even with somewhat superior forces. . . . Your spirit is fecund in means, never failing in cooperative measures; your efficiency, zeal and activity  p94 know no bounds. Use all these, and something more, to preserve the liberty of America and the honor of Colombia. The plan is great and beautiful and therefore worthy of you. This is, my dear general, the complete summary of my directions, supplementary instructions and operations. I expect much from the passing of time. Its broad expanse contains more hopes than past achievements, and future wonders must be far superior to past ones. In the great European crucible instruments of marvelous work, of wonderful events and favorable omens are being forged. . . .

"Hasten, then, to come to see me here, first giving all your instructions, so that nothing may be lacking for the execution. Here we shall have a lengthy, deep and quiet conference. . . . You will attack and I shall defend my opinion. If we only had an impartial judge to decide what is best! Fortune shall dictate some lines of action and consequently the advice of wisdom is necessary. This wisdom you must bring with you. . . . Since the cause is of supreme importance, I must have a counselor like you, who is able to deliberate and to execute. Without these two qualities there is no true science."

O'Leary speaks of Sucre's activities during that period (December 1823 to June 1824) as follows:

"Sucre was the right arm of the Liberator and the principal support of the army. He was active, methodical, punctual in the fulfillment  p95 of his duties, and indefatigable at work. Three times he crossed the dreaded Andes, facing the inclemencies of the weather and the hardships of the journey. His spirit of self-sacrifice was the least of his virtues. With his surprising activity and constancy, he obtained resources from the most remote places, and it has even been said, perhaps in all truth, that in the fulfillment of his duties Sucre explored places in the cordillera never before visited by man."1

On June 23, 1824, Sucre wrote a letter from Huanuco which is the best summary of the situation in Peru at that time. It deserves to be quoted at length, for it shows his comprehension of affairs, his wisdom and his constant watchfulness.

"In February, March and April, Peru was like a man in danger of death. The heads of this Republic themselves — that is to say, the Government — through the most infamous treachery have placed it almost in the power of the enemy. The city of Callao, the only fortress of Peru and the strongest on the Pacific Coast, was villainously delivered to the Spaniards as a result of the insurrection of the garrison, composed of troops from Buenos Aires. The privates imprisoned their officers on the fifth of February, and on the eighth raised the Spanish flag. The cause of the mutiny was the command on the part of the troops that they be paid. After this offense they thought themselves  p96 lost, and since they were in possession of the forts, they surrendered them to the enemy. The Spaniards, availing themselves of the absence of our army, which was in the mountains, descended on Lima, four thousand strong, and occupied the city. On February 27th they took Callao. The worst of all was that the Marquis de Torre Tagle, President of the Republic, and his prime minister, the Count de San Donás, have betrayed the trust of Peru, sold the interests of their country and committed the most atrocious crime that has occurred during the revolution — they themselves joined the Spaniards.

"Of course, this event produced upheavals beyond imagination. Two battalions and one squadron of the troops from Buenos Aires, as well as one Peruvian squadron, joined the enemy, which resulted in a general dissolution. We ourselves did not know what to do. We were standing on a volcano, uncertain whether to defend the part of Peru that was left or to return to Colombia. Our honor was pledged to the defense of Peru, and the Liberator, in spite of all obstacles, has determined on the latter course.

Careful, constant and tenacious work has produced the organization which we now have, and has placed us in readiness to begin the campaign. In the Colombian army, which is under my command, we now have sixty-five hundred very good men, with order and discipline such as we have perhaps not had before. I hope that fifteen hundred more Colombians will arrive this month or early in July. The  p97 Peruvian army comprises from three to four thousand men in fair condition. We shall begin active operations in July. The enemy have their army forty leagues from here, but do not dare advance against us, nor do they attempt to do so during the time of our misfortunes, either through respect or fear of the Colombian army. As we are awaiting the arrival of the Colombian reënforcements, which have reached the coast and must cross the snow-covered cordillera, we shall not be able to advance before the end of July, but we hope that on August 7th we shall celebrate the anniversary of Boyacá with the freedom of Peru. If, as we are confident, victory rewards the sons of Colombia and our just cause, we shall end this brief campaign, and it will be a great honor for Colombia to give freedom to Peru when Buenos Aires, Chile, and Peru itself, abandoned the undertaking, after having exhausted their enormous resources. We believe that we can place from eight to nine thousand men on the field of battle, and the enemy will not have more than that. With equal strength we have always defeated them.

"To give freedom to Peru will be a work of resuscitation. If, as we hope, we succeed in this undertaking, it will be an event that will not only carry our military reputation beyond what is needed to insure independence, but for a long time Colombia will have a powerful influence in the policies of America. The Liberator will add one more page to a history stamped with brilliancy, generosity, and immortal glory.

 p98  "We have an immense advantage over the enemy. If they lose the battle they have lost everything, all. They will perhaps fight another of small importance. If we lose it, which is not possible, we shall lose that part of Peru which is now free, but they will still have to work a great deal to reach the south of Colombia. This country is patriotic; after a victory the whole of it will rise against the Spaniards, and even with its resources exhausted, it will give us what is necessary to continue a rapid advance against the remnants of the enemy."

Bolívar reached the shores of Lake Junín, at the foot of Cerro de Pasco, with the purpose of meeting Canterac near a town called Reyes.2 On August 1st Canterac concentrated his army six miles north of the village of Jauja and on the fifth he stationed his infantry and artillery at a place called Carhuamayo. He had seven thousand men divided into two divisions, and thirteen hundred horses. On that same day the independent army had completed its crossing of the Andes and received its final organization at Cerro de Pasco. Sucre was commander-in‑chief. The vanguard was commanded by General José María Córdoba. The center was under Gen. José de La Mar. The rear guard was commanded by General Jacinto Lara. General Andrés Santa Cruz was chief of staff.

p99 Bolívar advanced toward the Spaniards, and on the sixth of August, the battle of Junín took place. This battle is notable because of the fact that not a shot was fired. It was fought entirely by horsemen, the infantry, which formed the main part of the army and was directly commanded by Sucre, having no time to take part. Canterac directed the royalist troops in person. The Colombian horsemen, although almost defeated during the first twenty minutes of the combat, were inspired by the presence of Bolívar and the next twenty minutes decided the outcome of the battle and destroyed the enemy.

It was one of the shortest engagements in the wars for independence and the losses in dead and wounded were not great. In itself the battle could hardly be termed a great battle, but its results were most favorable to the independent cause. Eight thousand Spaniards were dispersed and the Spanish cavalry lost its prestige. The retreat cost the Spaniards two thousand more men than did the battle. In their haste they left behind hundreds of guns, a great part of their ammunition and their cattle. By the evening of the eighth, Canterac had retreated ninety‑six miles! He could have made a stand to defend himself in several places, but his sole desire was to reach Cuzco as soon as possible. He stated that he did not know how the defeat occurred. The confusion and terror of the royalists were  p100 inexplicable. One historian expresses it: "Sucre made the thunderbolt and placed it in Bolívar's hands. The Liberator hurled it and the Spaniards were destroyed."

The result of the Battle of Junín was the freedom of the provinces of Tarma, Lima, Huancavélica and Huamanga, and part of Cuzco. The royalists began to realize that they were at the beginning of the end.

The Author's Notes:

1 O'Leary; Vol. II, p260.

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2 Later called Junín by decree of Bolívar.

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