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Chapter 8

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 10

p111 Chapter IX

Struggles and Intrigues.

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.

Meanwhile, Sucre kept a constant watch over the enemy. He sent out guerrilla parties, and took the offensive whenever he saw the probability of triumph, or retreated when the enemy was superior in force. During this time he was receiving the new contingents sent in small parties by Bolívar.

The Viceroy, La Serna, was not inactive. After concentrating Canterac's defeated army, he left Cuzco with thirteen thousand men, an army far superior to that under Sucre. He was confident that he could expel the patriots from Peru.

Sucre's campaign against La Serna is considered the most difficult among all those waged by the independent armies of America. Historians have divided it into three parts: first, the establishment of the army in the Department of Cuzco during October, facing the enemy on the banks of the Rio Apurimac; second, the retreat from the Apurimac; second, the retreat from the Apurimac to Huamanga, a march of three hundred miles accomplished in thirty days; third, the battle of Ayacucho, which took place on December 9, 1824.

The first part of the campaign cannot be narrated at length in this essay, for it could not be understood without a better knowledge of the geography of that section of Peru than is usually possessed by  p112 an American reader. It is enough to say that Sucre took positions and changed them, always availing himself of every opportunity to do harm to the enemy, to increase his own safety and to enhance his prospects of final success. Sucre could not be taken by surprise. His presence was felt everywhere. He never left a path unprotected, and never failed to notice a movement of the enemy. He knew their plans almost as if they were his own. There were skirmishes almost daily. Sometimes it was Miller, commander of the cavalry, who defeated a detachment from the Viceroy's army; now it was Sucre himself who attacked a part of the enemy. Once he sent his divisions along with instructions about the route and all other details necessary for their movement, and then he disappeared. After six days of absence the commanders of the division supposed that he was lost or taken prisoner, and they were going to select a suitable substitute when Sucre reappeared. He had been exploring by himself and had learned everything he wanted to know of the movements and plans of the enemy.

When the entire Spanish army advanced, on October 22nd, Sucre withdrew, crossed a broad river called Pachachaca and took possession of a plain where there was sufficient fodder for the animals and facilities for defense. The Viceroy intended to advance beyond Sucre and to cut his communications with the Liberator. When Sucre discovered  p113 that the intention of the Viceroy was to reach Huamanga, he decided to advance against him and attack before he had an opportunity to cut communications with Lima.

This was at the end of October. La Serna decided to attack Sucre, to destroy him and then to fall upon Bolívar. Then began the famous retreat which took Sucre from the town of Lambrana to Quinua, a small village to the east of Ayacucho. He went over the mountains, following paths that even today seem impassable. At times he divided his army into small groups, and united it again at the proper point. He was supposed to be at one place and would appear at another. He seemed not to sleep or to rest at all. There was practically no food. The altitude made all movements painful and fatiguing. New paths had to be opened. But he went on and on, in such a masterful way that his losses were negligible, considering the vast difficulties that were overcome. La Serna arrived at La Concepción and Sucre at Uripa, close to the Rio Pampas, where detachments fought every day. Sucre then succeeded in establishing himself in a very strong position and the Viceroy did not dare to attack. The Spaniards crossed the river above Sucre's position and he, noting this movement, crossed the river himself and quickly continued his advance, until on December 2nd the Spaniards again reached him at Matará, a village situated in a precipitous region.

 p114  Sucre, learning one day that the royalist division under Valdez had not had time to join the main corps, forayed against sections of the royalist army, so as to incite it to attack. The Viceroy avoided a pitched battle in order to give Valdez time to arrive. In view of this fact, and in view of the fact that he had no resources at Matará, Sucre decided to retreat further. His path led across the deep ravine of Corpahuaico. He knew well the danger of being attacked when his army was under such a disadvantage. And attacked he was, for the Viceroy had been active during the night and had prepared an ambush for the independents.

Sucre sent some scouts ahead. They were made prisoners. Then he placed himself at the head of Córdoba's division and ordered his men to descend into the valley as quickly as possible and cross at any cost. He passed without difficulty, but the Peruvians under General La Mar had arrived at the most abrupt place when the enemy opened attack. La Mar fought bravely, kept his men in order and pressed on, reaching the other side with relatively few casualties. No sooner had the Peruvians passed when Valdez, with all his Spaniards, was in the ravine ready to exterminate the last division, commanded by Jacinto Lara.

This division, with the cavalry, ammunition, provisions, hospital supplies and artillery finally reached  p115 the bottom of the valley, but Valdez was already in position, cutting the army in two. Sucre and some followers occupied one of the edges of the ravine, while Lara, making a detour with the cavalry under General Miller, tried to dodge past the enemy. It was impossible, and a terrible and unequal struggle took place for several hours. But Lara rose to the heights of heroism and fought like the men of the Grecian epics. The Rifles battalion, under the brave Irishman, Arthur Sandes, bore the brunt of the battle. It stood unshaken during the onrush of the royalists; the men fell fast, but the battalion held its place. It was necessary to save the rest of the division, and Rifles did it as a handful of Spartans once saved Greece from the armies of Persia. The division passed on, and in the evening had joined the other sections of the army. Sucre went to Lara, embraced him as a brother, and heard from him the story of his adventurous day. Rifles was later the object of honorable mention by the Congress of Colombia. Sucre asked Bolívar to promote Colonel Sandes to be a general. A complete disaster had been averted. The cavalry was saved, but only one piece of artillery remained, little ammunition and supplies had been rescued, and the baggage was almost a total loss. But Sucre was not daunted. If necessary, he was ready to force the enemy into the open and play his last card with the freedom of America at stake.

 p116  To show the difficulties under which Sucre labored in his career, a fact must be recorded here which reflects credit both upon himself and upon the Liberator. On October 9, 1821, the Congress of Colombia had given Bolívar extraordinary powers to handle the difficulties at Pasto, including the power to promote officers at his own discretion. When Bolívar went to Peru the Government did not revoke those powers. But when he was surrounded with the greatest difficulties, at the supreme moment of the conflict against the Spaniards, the law was rescinded at the suggestion of Vice President Santander.

Bolívar was practically deprived of the authority he had exercised in the south of Colombia and of the power to promote deserving officers of the army; but, worst of all, he was removed from the command of the Colombian troops serving in Peru. Bolívar's heart was filled with sadness. Immediately he wrote to Sucre and communicated to him the orders of the Congress and of the Colombian Executive, instructing him to pass the news to the army with great caution, so as to avoid any breaking in the discipline. The forces of Colombia were placed under the command of Sucre.

The latter consulted General Lara. Three communications resulted: one was a private letter from Sucre; one a communication of the whole army under his command to the Liberator; the third, a petition to Congress. Sucre told Bolívar that he was  p117 in duty bound to revoke his decision to obey the Congress, as he had no right to abandon the army at the moment of greatest danger.

"Be it as it may," he wrote, "you must revoke your resolution of the twenty-fourth of October. You have a great duty to this army, and must not by any means abandon it. Neither the laws nor all the decrees our good men at Bogotá could think of would shield you against the responsibility for the evil results we might suffer because of your determination . . . The morale of the army would decline. Its love for the Government, its enthusiasm, its national spirit, would greatly diminish, if it were persuaded that you are not ready to combat the oblivion into which the gentlemen at Bogotá want to thrust you. . . . All here are much displeased over the affair and blame General Santander. May he be totally innocent! I want always to be his good friend."

The army's communication to Bolívar was, in part, as follows:

"Perhaps the representatives of the country did not think that the law of July 28th would result in your decision of October 24th. The legislators know that we have not come to Peru in search of fortune, but seeking Colombia's glory, the honor of her army, the safety of her borders, the independence of America. And, Sir, without any flattering purpose, we say that  p118 we came here to be with you, who have educated us, made soldiers of us, and impressed on our hearts the love of freedom, and who invited us to carry this freedom to our unfortunate brothers. . . . We do not now desire to express any complaints, in spite of the fact that we have seen the atrocious insult committed when the Executive consulted the Congress whether Colombia would recognize the promotions granted by the army — as if we had renounced our country, as if our services were a mere speculation, and as if the army would receive promotions as freely as they are obtained in the capitals. This insult, which has been more deeply felt on account of its publication in the press than on its own account, we have suppressed with sorrow, because our hearts belong to Colombia, and our arms and blood shall support her liberty, laws and Government. We do not desire to oppose the resolutions of the men selected by the people. . . . It is our aspiration and humble prayer that Your Excellency revoke (or at least suspend until our claims reach the Congress) your decision of October 24, at that, assuming again the direction of the army, we may see you lead it with fortune and glory to the end of the heroic undertaking which Your Excellency began and in which we hope Your Excellency will give us more laurels, so that we may go back to Colombia and there offer with them and with our trophies the purest homage of our patriotic love on the sanctuary of national representation."

This communication was signed by Sucre, Lara, Córdoba, Sandes and all the other officials of the army.

The Liberator vouchsafed no answer. He devoted his time to obtaining contingents for Sucre's army and his communication with Santander. Sucre's prophetic words were beginning to come true. Peru was proving too costly to Bolívar.

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