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Chapter 9

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 11

p120 Chapter X

Battle of Ayacucho, December 9, 1824.
End of the American Wars for Independence.

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.

At dawn on December 4th the two armies were facing each other, with the ravine between them. The royalists crossed and tried to attack the right flank of the independents. Sucre quickly took positions on a plain and waited for the Spaniards. They did not dare to accept the challenge. Then the two armies moved in parallel lines until they reached another great ravine. There the independents found themselves in a very critical position. They had had no food for two days; the soldiers were exhausted; the baggage had been lost; there was practically no clothing for the army; the mountains were becoming inaccessible. Many towns on which Sucre had counted for help in case of retreat had been taken by the Spaniards or had sided with them. No help could be expected from Bolívar, for communication was almost impossible. Sucre seemed caught in a trap. The ravine seemed impassable. The Viceroy never dreamed that an army would dare go over the precipice. But Sucre was in such a predicament that he had to dare the impossible. He decided to cross the chasm during the night, and did so with the utmost silence and precaution. So well was the operation conducted that  p121 at dawn of the following day he was on the other side at a distance of fifteen miles from the enemy. He stopped at a town where he could get some cattle and potatoes for his famished men and then proceeded in the general direction of Huancavélica, thinking that the Viceroy and his army could not reach him. But he was mistaken; the Viceroy was diligent and would not see his prey slip out of his grasp. On the night of the 5th the two armies were again facing each other. On the 6th they continued their advance along parallel lines. That day a communication arrived from Bolívar advising Sucre that he must not expect any further reënforcements or help because there was nothing to be gotten either from Peru or Colombia. After disastrous losses and extreme privations, the army was thus thrown upon its own resources. Bolívar himself instructed Sucre to risk everything upon the hazards of a battle.

The generals were notified; preparations were made; and on the afternoon of the 6th Sucre began to develop his plans by pretending to retreat. Actually, he was merely moving his forces around in order to find the most advantageous position from which to give battle. Finally he occupied a plain near the town of Huamanga where he decided to await the enemy, after having given rest to his men and having revived their patriotic enthusiasm by his deeds and words.

The Viceroy, believing that Sucre meant to escape,  p122 marched a long way in order to head him off. In the evening of the 7th the tired royalists arrived between the towns of Huamanga and Huanta, thinking that they had cut the retreat of their enemy. Meanwhile, the independents were resting in the little village of Quinua and preparing themselves to fight.

On the 8th Sucre was facing the enemy on the field of Ayacucho. The Spaniards, tired of constant marches and countermarches, were anxious to end the situation in a decisive action, and were eager to fight. The Viceroy, discovering that the patriots were ready for battle, decided to attack them. He moved his army to a hill called Condorcunca and on the afternoon of the 8th actually opened fire. Sucre missed his artillery, lost in the ravine of Corpahuaico, but answered the fire of the Spaniards with his single cannon.

At this very place, a bloody battle had been fought during the Spanish conquest of Peru, and on account of it the Indians had named the place Ayacucho, which means "corner of the dead men." It is less than a mile long and about half a mile wide. To the north it ends in a very deep ravine; another, altogether impassable, bounds it on the south. In the center there is a gully running from north to south. To the west is the Indian village of Quinua, communicating with the road to Huamanga by a six‑mile descending trail. To the east are the Andes, with narrow and difficult paths leading  p123 to the main road to Cuzco. Any army defeated in that place would find it extremely difficult to retreat.

The royalists were more than nine thousand strong while the patriots numbered less than six thousand. In command of the former was a Viceroy; they had field marshals, lieutenant generals, brigadier generals, and a full staff of prominent military men. Canterac was there, as well as Carratalá, and at the head of the vanguard was no one less than Valdez, who had so distinguished himself fighting against the independents. On the side of the patriots was Sucre, and with him the serene and valiant Lara, of Corpahuaico fame; La Mar; the irresistible Córdoba, who had decided the victory of Pichincha; Miller, the Irish cavalry­man who served Colombia so loyally; and other men of lesser reputation if not of lesser bravery and devotion to the cause of freedom.

To show how different was the treatment of the enemy from the days of the "War to Death," there is related a scene which occurred before the battle. One of the Spanish field marshals, don Juan Antonio Monet, was a personal friend of General Córdoba. He sent a message to the effect that he wished to see him before the battle. Sucre gave permission for the meeting and the two friends embraced each other in sight of the two armies. Other friends and even relatives who fought on different  p124 sides met on this occasion and for half an hour forgot the impending carnage.

Positions were distributed as follows: Sucre placed General Miller in the center with his cavalry; the Peruvians were sent to the left and Córdoba to the right; the reserves were put under the command of General Lara; it was his duty to keep open the road to Quinua and Huamanga in case of retreat. As for the royalists, Valdez was instructed to advance against La Mar; Monet was to support Valdez; others were to attack, after a while, the right wing commanded by Córdoba.

The Spanish cavalry reached the field of battle with much difficulty, along a precipitous path where the soldiers had to descend in single file, leading their horses by the halters.

Sucre's words to each of the various sections of his army were different, in order to impress them with something that would particularly appeal to them. To the Second Battalion he said:

"You were with me in Quito. You conquered at Pichincha, and gave freedom to Colombia. Today we are together at Ayacucho. You will again conquer here, and you will give freedom to Peru, assuring the independence of America for all time."

To the Peruvians he said:

"Conquer today and you will have given freedom to your country and to America."

p125 To the fighters of the plains, who had distinguished themselves so much in the campaigns in Venezuela and Colombia, he mentioned the great battles in which they had taken part — Apure, Queseras del Medio, Calabozo, Boyacá, Carabobo, Junín, and added:

"Since Junín, there are no horsemen among the Spaniards; there are no men to match you. There are only one or two thousand beautiful steeds for which you will soon exchange yours. The hour has come to take them. Obedient to your commanders, fall against those columns and destroy them as if you were bolts from heaven. Use your spear against him who dares oppose you. Have the heart of a friend and brother for those who surrender. Long live the unconquerable plainsmen! Long live liberty!"

He had ringing words for the battalion called Bogotá:

"Your name must place you always at the head of Colombia, the Redeemer. Peru does not forget that Nariño and Ricaurte are yours: and today not only Peru, but all America, looks at you, expecting wonders from you. These are the bayonets of the irresistible 'Vanguard Hunters' of the epic struggle of Boyacá. That flag is the flag of Bomboná, the flag which the Spaniards picked up from among hundreds of slain to give back to you, marveling at your heroism."

p126 To the corps called Caracas, formed of the remnants of other heroic regiments he said:

"Relics of worthy treasures bringing to the memory as many victories as the scars which adorn the breasts of you, veterans! Yesterday, at Maracaibo and Coro you filled the remote Atlantic with wonder. Today the Peruvian Andes shall bow before your intrepidity. Your name commands you all to be heroes. It is the name of the land of the Liberator, the name of the sacred city which takes its place with him at the head of America. Long live the Liberator! Long live the cradle of Liberty!"

The Rifles battalion had repeatedly distinguished itself in battle. It was due to its men under Sandes and Lara that the passage of Corpahuaico had been successful. To these men he said:

"No one is more fortunate than you! Wherever you are there is victory. You were at Boyacá, and Nueva Granada was freed. You were at Carabobo, and Venezuela, too, was made free. You stood your ground at Corpahuaico and you alone were the adamant​a shield protecting all the army of freedom. Now, with your ambition for glory not yet satisfied, you are here at Ayacucho, and soon you will cry with me, 'Long live free Peru! Long live independent America!' "

Then, addressing the whole army from a central point, he spoke the following words which historians  p127 place among the great military allocutions recorded:

"Soldiers, the fate of South America depends upon today's efforts. Another day of glory is to reward your admirable constancy."

At ten o'clock on December 9th the battle began. At first the Spaniards succeeded in taking good positions for their artillery, while Valdez advanced toward La Mar, obliging the patriot detachments to withdraw to the main body. Then he tried to wrest from La Mar the latter's position on a small hill. Córdoba was furiously attacked, but he counter-attacked and almost completely destroyed the enemy battalion which had begun the fight. The commander of this battalion, Colonel Rubín de Celis, saw the destruction of his men, saw the second in command fall dead, and with spear in hand he himself ran against the patriots and was killed. There were platoons of Spaniards who fought without moving a step and fell dead, one by one. They followed the heroic traditions of their race.

Valdez was more successful, but La Mar met him with great serenity and bravery. He and Valdez were worthy of each other. For a while the latter succeeded in making the patriots retreat and during an anxious moment the tide of the battle was against America. Canterac made reënforcements ready to attack Córdoba again, but Sucre ordered  p128 the young general to concentrate all his men and advance against Monet, who at the time was in the gully which divided the field of Ayacucho. At the same time Miller, with his cavalry, was to attack Monet. Sucre himself took most of the reserves that were under Lara and advanced to support La Mar, then in the greatest danger.

This was the crucial moment. Suddenly an almost superhuman event occurred. The division under Monet, at the bottom of the ravine, had to be destroyed, according to Sucre's orders. Córdoba determined to obey, not only to the extent of human possibility, but to the extent of triumph or death. He jumped off his horse and killed him to deprive himself of any means of retreat,​b then faced his men, lifted his sword, and gave a simple order that is unique in history:

"Colombians, use your weapons at your own will. Advance to conquer!"

This was all. The division moved after this twenty-four year old boy who did not know what fear was. His was an impetuous nature, so full of life and hope, always ready to laugh or to quarrel. He was generous, violent to the point of insubordination and even rebellion, enamoured of glory. Later mistakes marred a splendid career and led him to a premature and disastrous end. For him, when his country commanded the supreme sacrifice, life meant nothing. He had decided the battle of Pichincha.  p129 He was also to decide the battle of Ayacucho. The shock was titanic. Monet fought beside his men. He was wounded by a bullet, but he remained at his post, encouraging his soldiers in the midst of butchery.

The patriots were losing officers and soldiers heavily, but three commanders of Spanish battalions had died under their flags. Canterac and Sucre each sent more men. Colonel Silva, of the independent forces, was wounded twice, but continued fighting to the very end.

La Mar, supported by Sucre, had succeeded in pushing Valdez back toward his original position. The patriot cavalry attacked the last squadrons sent by Canterac. Córdoba advanced, reached the base of the mountain, and ordered the ascent. The critical moment was over. The Viceroy was there, trying to stop the flight of his men and to make them return to the field. Then Lara was summoned in haste, to finish the battle with the portion of the reserves left under his command. By this time the Spanish artillery was in the hands of the Peruvians, and soon the royalists realized that all was lost. Valdez tried to kill himself, but was prevented by his men and was carried away. Monet, wounded, withdrew slowly. Córdoba attacked the personal guard of the Viceroy. The latter, a brave and honorable man, endeavored to organize a retreat, but the independents did not give time to do so. Wounded  p130 in the head and arm, he surrendered his sword to Córdoba. He was respectfully taken to Sucre's tent, where he found the commander-in‑chief writing a report of the battle on a stone. The afternoon was occupied in the pursuit of the royalists, the pursuers being under command of Lara and La Mar.

Once the Viceroy was taken prisoner, Canterac assumed command. In a conference of the remaining officers, it was decided to enter into negotiations with the conquerors. He and Carratalá went to the encampment of the patriots to confer with Sucre.

Sucre received his foes with the greatest courtesy, shared his own food with them, and then drafted the bases for capitulation. The terms provided for the honor and protection of the royalists. Valdez, consulted in due time, approved the capitulation, and it was signed by Sucre and Canterac on the same day, December 9th.

The treaty stipulated that Peru was to remain free from Guayaquil to the River Desaguadero. The fortress of Callao was to be delivered to the Liberator, as well as all deposits of ammunition and all military supplies. The generals, officers and soldiers were given freedom to embark for Spain at the cost of Peru. Prisoners were to be liberated. All Spaniards, whether military or civilian, might make free disposition of their private property, either taking it with them or leaving it under the  p131 protection of the Government of the Republic. The generals and officers were permitted to retain their uniforms and swords. Complete amnesty was assured, and it was agreed that no one should be molested because of his previous opinions or his services in behalf of the Spanish cause. The Spaniards who decided to remain in Peru were to be considered as Peruvians, with the same rights as the natives. The Spanish warships were to be permitted to stop in the ports of Peru to obtain provisions, and then proceed to Spain; but they were not to touch at any port still in the hands of the Spanish. Furthermore, any member of the royalist army who so desired could enter the Peruvian army with the same rank. Few capitulations show such clemency.

On the following day the royalists descended from the mountains and Sucre went to Huamanga with La Serna, to have the former Viceroy treated. All the enemy generals and other officers were provided with such lodgings and comforts as the place afforded. As a result of this battle Sucre had in his possession La Serna, the Viceroy; Canterac, a lieutenant general; three field marshals, eleven generals of less distinction, sixteen colonels, sixty-eight lieutenant-colonels, four hundred and eighty-four majors and other officers, and more than two thousand privates; fourteen pieces of artillery, and all the ammunition. A few days later the garrisons of Cuzco, with seventeen hundred men, Arequipa,  p132 Quilca and Puno surrendered, as well as other troops organized in different places. The garrison of upper and lower Peru also surrendered themselves, their horses and provisions. Not all the ships abided by the capitulation, but in one way or another they all disappeared from American waters.

Only one man resisted, Brigadier General Rodil, who refused to deliver the fortress of Callao. At last, when hunger, illness and death had all but exterminated the heroic defenders, the Colombian general Salom obtained their surrender.

Thayer's Notes:

a Adamant here is not what one might think, but rather the archaic word meaning "of diamond". The original Spanish, according to Recuerdos Históricos del Coronel Manuel Antonio Lopez (Bogotá, J. B. Gaitan, 1878), p153: firmes en Corpahuaico, fuísteis vosotros solos el escudo de diamante [my italics] de todo el Ejército Libertador".

b A particularly striking instance of a well-known tactic: Frontinus, Stratagems I.11.21; see my note there for several other notable historical examples.

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Page updated: 26 Oct 18