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Chapter 7

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Antonio José de Sucre

by
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 9

p101 Chapter VIII

A Misunderstanding.

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.

In spite of the disaster at Junín, the Spaniards decided to keep on fighting. It was difficult to secure a decisive victory in the extensive territory in which the armies were now operating, for there was no defeat that did not leave ample opportunities for retreat and reorganization, and no victory was not marred by the escape of a portion of the enemy, who were always asked to recuperate and go on with the struggle.

The independents pursued the royalists after Junín, and reached Huamanga on August 21st. They could not advance rapidly because of the many wounded and scattered men who claimed their attention. Also, they were trying to gain time so that the expected reënforcements could arrive from Guayaquil. The difficult passage of the cordillera hindered their progress and the retreating army had laid the country waste, so that provisions were obtained with the greatest difficulty.

Bolívar arrived in Huamanga five days after the troops. He realized how difficult the work of reorganization was going to be, and reached a decision that was misinterpreted by Sucre and which occasioned the only difference of a personal character that ever existed between the two leaders. Bolívar  p102 could not trust the all-important concentration of supplies to any secondary man, and had to choose between himself and Sucre. He selected Sucre and ordered him to the rear of the army to attend to the transference of hospitals, military administration, and the safety of communications, so the way would be open for a retreat in case of disaster.

This order, perhaps given without sufficient explanation, was resented by Sucre, who by his superhuman work of preparation had made possible the victory of Junín. He regarded himself demoted. As soon as he obeyed the order, he wrote:

"After having carried out the commission which you gave me, and fulfilled my duty toward you, be good enough to permit me to think of myself for a moment.

"You will agree, General, that a man who lacks sufficient dignity to fill a position must not have it, and less still live in a company guided by honor and glory. I have been removed from the head of the army to carry out a commission which anywhere else would be given to an assistant general, at most. I have been sent to the rear at a time when we are advancing against the enemy. Consequently, public testimony has been given of the fact that I am incapable of active operations, and my companions have been led to consider me as an imbecile or a useless man.

"I believe, sir, that in using these words I shall not be accused of undue pride or ambition.  p103 After having sincerely refused the highest position in Peru, which was once offered me by the national Congress, it seems that I have the right to expect that compatriots will believe that I am not merely possessed with the desire for public esteem. But this disregard of position does not deprive me of the consideration I owe my present place, nor have I the authority to debase the dignity of such a place.

"It is true that I have accepted the title of commander‑in-chief of the army, a position to be filled in a vague and informal way. But I always knew this, and have not been ignorant of the criticism of other officers regarding my empty office. I continued in it, however, to please you and to serve the army of Peru, without ever presuming on the title. But it so happens that, as the result of ignoring such things, one goes from one evil to another; and I have seen with sorrow that after suffering small blows (and perhaps not all of them small), the worst blow that I ever expected has been given me: I have been demoted before the united army to the rôle of a caretaker for the sick and the men left behind.…

"From all this you will gather that my situation is one of actual conflict. I am separated from the army by the distance existing between honor and disgrace; and my heart is united to you, to the army, and to the glory of Colombia in the undertaking of giving freedom to this country. If you will permit me, I shall adopt the resolution dictated by my military conscience and the purpose of justifying myself. But still I shall be submissive and I allow  p104 you yourself to decide this delicate matter. . . .

"I have fulfilled my obligations with all devotion, until our army, acquiring an absolute superiority over the enemy in all respects, presages and even insures a happy and early success. And then a most unexpected and shameful event separates me from the army. . . .

"After this frank exposition, I believe, Sir, you will not consent to my humiliation before the whole army. You will not wish an honorable soldier to resign himself to blame and content.… I shall remain a few days in Huancayo and Tarma (doing whatever may be most useful for the army), while you have the kindness to send me such orders as in my unfortunate position you shall deem most fitting. I dare suggest as most advisable such orders as well save me from new and unjust humiliations; for as I have told you on other occasions, I wish to be and can be a good private citizen of Colombia, since fortune has not favored me sufficiently to make me a good soldier. Long ago I became convinced that I am not fitted for public office. I know it, and confessed it freely; and that is all that can be expected of me.

"Be good enough, General, to accept my constant sincere wishes for your prosperity and happiness. I shall always desire keenly that fortune and victory follow you everywhere. I do not know how to end this letter; my sorrow hardly permits me to ask you to preserve some remains of esteem for me, and that whatever may be my condition may always wish to consider me your faithful friend and humble servant."

 p105  That Sucre was not altogether wrong, and that his construction of Bolívar's orders had been shared by other officers is proven by the words of O'Leary and O'Connor. The former wrote: "When the army arrived at Huancayo the Liberator was forced to take steps to increase it. One of the most extraordinary steps was to instruct Sucre, nominally commander‑in-chief but whose real function was as adjutant general, to go to the rearguard to gather the scattered and convalescing soldiers and send them to headquarters."1 "Anybody could observe," writes the latter, "that this was no errand for a general in chief; but the Liberator had so ordered and it was necessary to obey blindly."2

Bolívar immediately answered his friend in following terms:

"… This is the only thing in your life you have done without talent. I believe you were entirely out of your senses when you thought that I could offend you. I am full of sorrow on the account of your own sorrow, but I do not feel in the least that I have given you cause for offense.

"I had wished to attend myself to the commission I gave you; but, thinking that you could attend to it better on account of your tremendous activity, I entrusted it to you, rather as a proof of regard than as a humiliation. You  p106 are aware that I do not know how to lie and you also know that my soul is high enough not to degrade itself with pretenses. Consequently, you must believe me.

"Day before yesterday, (knowing nothing whatever of your feelings), I told Santa Cruz that he and I would remain here to take charge of that same rearguard whose leadership dishonors you, and that you should go ahead with the army to the vicinity of Cuzco or Arequipa, depending upon the position of the enemy. And in all this I was not considering and do not consider anything but service; for glory, honor, talent and dignity, all are concentrated on the single aim — victory of Colombia's army and the freedom of America.

"I did not have such a poor opinion of you as to believe that you would be offended at occupying different offices in the army and in doing anything useful. If you wish to know if your presence in the rear guard was useful, examine our treasury, our ammunition, our supplies, our hospitals and the column of Zulia; all destroyed and almost lost in an enemy country, unable to act. And what about the vanguard? Colonel Carreño has led it. General Santa Cruz has advanced six days before me. The enemy could not face us and they are not going to face us for a month. The army needed and still needs all that you are going to get, and more besides. If to save the army of Colombia is dishonorable, I do not understand words or ideas.

"I shall end, my dear General, by telling you that your sorrow should be changed to repentance  p107 for the damage that you have done yourself in considering yourself offended by me.

"This sensitiveness, this gossip of the common people, is unworthy of you. Glory consists in being great and being useful.3 I have never paid attention to small things and I have always thought that what was not unworthy of me was not unworthy of you.

"Finally, I want to tell you that I am so positive of the selection that you yourself are going to make between your going on with your present position and your returning to Colombia, that I do not hesitate to allow you freedom of choice. If you go away you will not agree with the opinion which I have of your heart.

"If you wish to come to place yourself at the head of the army, I shall go to the rear, and you will march forward so that all the world will see that I myself do not despise the position I gave to you. This is my answer."

O'Leary comments upon this as follows:

"Bolívar's letter honors him as much as Sucre is honored by his own. With such souls could anyone doubt the success of their undertakings?"

This ended the incident, but Rey de Castro, quoting don Pedro Antonio Torres, vicar general of the liberating army, and later Bishop of Cuenca, makes the following comment:

p108 "This example of authority on the part of Gen. Bolívar and of subordination on the part of general Sucre not only enhanced the morale of the army, and especially of the Peruvian division, which was accustomed to do what it wanted; but it also served general Sucre himself when the Liberator returned to Lima to besiege Callao and to move the reënforcements of men and ammunition arriving from Colombia. Then Sucre, left in charge of the campaign, was obeyed without opposition by all the officers of the army. I have never heard further mention of this incident, though at the time it was quite sensational."

Bolívar was correct in his estimation of the relative importance of the different positions in the army. There was no danger at the front, for the enemy did not stop in its flight. The great need was for reconstruction and reorganization of the troops and of the supplies necessary to continue the war, and Sucre, as one author expresses it, was the creator of armies.4

At the end of August General Valdez, having defeated Olañeta, came with four thousand men to help La Serna. The Spaniards gathered all the strength they could summon and were ready to assume the offensive. To counteract this, Bolívar tried again to hasten the arrival of the reënforcements  p109 asked from Colombia. Three thousand men, with good arms and ammunition bought from England, were already on the way. But he was then obliged to meet a new complication; Spanish warships superior in class and number to those of the independents had appeared in Peruvian waters. These boats made it possible for the Spanish to transport additional men and at times to hinder communication by sea between Bolívar and Colombia.

After deliberating whether he should attend to the situation in Lima himself, or remain with the army and send either Sucre or La Mar, he became convinced that he should take charge of the difficult situation by virtue of his office. Sucre was left in effective command of the army with discretionary powers. They had arrived near Cuzco, and Sucre maneuvered to gain time while new soldiers increased his strength. Nothing else could be done, for by the middle of October La Serna had about twelve thousand men under his command, while the Republican army had only six thousand.

Bolívar thought the campaign might be resumed in 1825, for he did not believe that the royalists would attack during the rainy season which was about to begin. With his usual energy, he attended to the administration of the part of the country free from the Spaniards. He formally laid siege to the fortress of Callao, with some new troops just arrived from Colombia under command of Salom. He took  p110 measures to improve the independent navy and did all in his power to make the liberated section of Peru ready to help in the campaign or to serve as shelter in case of retreat.


The Author's Notes:

1 O'Leary; Vol. II, p280.

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2 F. Burdett O'Connor; Independencia Americana.

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3 This sentence of Bolívar's has become immortal. It is inscribed on the medal struck to commemorate the unveiling of the Liberator's statue in Central Park, New York.

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4 Laureano Villanueva — Op. cit.


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