South America – The Wars Of Independence

THE Spanish occupation of Peru was a conquest, not a colonization. The narrow plateau from Colombia to Chile and the adjacent dry valleys on the Pacific and in northwestern Argentina had been found fully populated by civilized races. The work of subjugating them was practically accomplished within eight or ten years after Pizarro landed in Ecuador, and this marvelous result was achieved by private adventurers, who, though they had commissions from Madrid, really acted on their own responsibility. A very few appreciated the advisability of well treating the Indians and thereby preserving the effective industrial organization, but the vast majority concerned themselves only with immediate profit. For eighteen years the original conquerors and the adventurers who followed in their track fought over the spoils. When the Marquis of Canete was appointed viceroy, he found eight thousand Spaniards in Peru alone, four hundred and eighty-nine of whom had grants of land and Indians.

We can never know the sufferings of the Indians during the civil wars that have been briefly mentioned in the preceding chapter. The chronicles tell us minutely the stories of the battles, marches, sieges, surprises, assassinations, and deeds of military prowess, but little of the destruction and abandonment of the irrigating canals and terraces, the ruin of the magnificent roads, the breaking up of the ancient socialistic system, the impressment of natives into the rebel bands, the death by exhaustion of thousands dragging artillery over the steep mountain paths, the starvation of whole villages robbed of their crops. But the sturdy physique of the Andean Indians and their perfect adaptation to the climatic conditions saved them from extermination. In the midst of the devil’s dance of Spanish carnage, the Inca officers reported minutely the crops stolen or destroyed, and the deficiencies were made up as far as possible from the villages which had escaped for the time being.

Naturally the Spanish government was anxious to put an end to such a state of affairs. Considerations of self-interest reinforced the eloquent indignation of Las Casas, but the New Laws could not be put into effect, notwithstanding the sentiment of fidelity to the Castilian king and the growth of considerable cities in which Spanish law and customs were dominant. The enlightened advisers of Charles V came to the conclusion that Peru could never become a loyal and profitable appanage of the Crown until freedom of action was granted to its government. Don Andres Hurtado de Mendoza, Marquis of Canete, accepted the difficult post of viceroy. He was a scion of the noblest house of Spain, distinguished alike in arms and letters, capable and resolute, of mature years and wide experience. His salary was fixed at the then fabulous sum of forty thousand ducats in order to enable him to maintain regal state, and, accompanied by his vice-queen and an imposing retinue he assumed power with ceremonial splendor. He prohibited further immigration from Spain and ordered that no Spaniard in Peru should leave his district without permission. Though the encomienderos were left in possession of their estates, they were made to understand that they must cease the more outrageous forms of oppressing the natives. He sent for the more notorious disturbers, and they came joyfully expecting to receive more grants, but were summarily disarmed and banished. He employed the more adventurous in expeditions to the interior and in completing the conquest of Chile. All the artillery in the country was gathered together under his eye, and the corregidors were required to dismiss most of their soldiery. Finally, the viceroy continued Pizarro’s policy of founding cities into which were gathered the Spaniards who remained scattered over the country. He did much to alleviate the lot of the natives, though he dared not venture on giving them all the rights guaranteed by Spanish law. No efforts were spared to Hispaniolise the Inca nobles, and native chiefs who could prove their right by descent were formally allowed to exercise jurisdiction as magistrates. Even the rightful emperor, Sayri Tupac, who had maintained his independence in the wilds of Vilcabamba, was induced to swear allegiance and accept a pension and estates in the valley of Yucay. When the Inca had attested the documents by which he renounced his sovereignty, he lifted up the gilded fringe of the tablecloth, saying “All this cloth and its fringe were mine, and now they give me a thread of it for my sustenance and that of all my house.” Retiring to Yucay, he sank into a deep melancholy and died within two years.

In the meantime Charles V had been succeeded by Philip II. The Marquis of Canete’s liberal and enlightened policy did not wring money fast enough to suit the greedy despot. He listened to the slanders against the “good viceroy” brought home by disappointed Spaniards, and Cailete’s reward for five years of brilliant service was a recall. Only his death saved him from hearing with his own ears the reproaches of his ungrateful sovereign.

After the recall of Canete, the most notable viceroy was Toledo, and he was notable for the very opposite policy that he set up. Instead of pacification and justice, his was a reign of destruction and atrocities, which resulted in 1780 in the great Indian rebellion under the leadership of Tupac Amaru, the lineal descendant of the last of the reigning Inca emperors. In Peru proper it did not spread beyond the southern frontier provinces, and the story of its suppression belongs to the history of Bolivia. The authorities were so alarmed that the reforms, to pro-cure which Tupac had risked and lost his life, were shortly afterward adopted. The vitality and fighting qualities of the half-breeds now stood revealed, and the Creoles, jealous of imported officials and dissatisfied at their exclusion from places of honor and profit, realized that a weapon lay ready to their hand when they should determine upon revolution.

General Theodore de Croix, a Fleming, was entrusted with the reorganization and reform made necessary by the Indian rebellion. The Corregidors, petty tyrants over whom no effective control could be maintained, were abolished; the country was divided into a few great provinces, each ruled by an intendente to whom were responsible the subdelgados who had charge of local affairs, and measures were taken for the enforcement of the laws intended to protect the Indians.

By the year 1790 these valuable reforms had been put into effect, but they came too late. Ideas of liberty had begun to infiltrate into the educated classes, and among the Creoles the abstract right of Peru to autonomous government became the subject of secret though wide-spread discussion. A succession of able and liberal viceroys, however, averted the danger for the time, and the outbreak of the revolution in the rest of South America found Peru ruled by Abascal, whose energy, foresight, and determination not only prevented an insurrection at Lima, but nearly saved all South America to Spain.

The storm soon to burst over South America was gathering when the Viceroy Abascal assumed the reins of power in 1806. He made no pretensions to statesmanship, but it did not escape his shrewd soldier’s eye and common sense that French revolutionary ideas would soon make trouble. Her very existence threatened in the titan conflict then devastating Europe, Spain could not be relied upon to spare any of her soldiers to guard her colonies. He must take care of himself. Wasting no time in seeking to propitiate the revolutionary elements, he quietly set to work to organize and arm an efficient army while vigilantly watching the course of events. With the first overt act he pounced upon the plotters. Two republican visionaries, named Ubaldo and Aguilar, were the first martyrs for liberty. A few learned and respected professors in Lima dared to speculate on the future of America as affected by recent events in Europe, but the viceroy summoned them to his presence and his stern warnings silenced them. Two young lawyers held evening parties where politics were discussed by the rising youth of the capital. One of the ring-leaders was condemned .to ten years’ imprisonment and the other sent to Spain, while several mere were shipped off to southern Chile. Although the liberals continued to meet and conspire, and the priests were particularly active, for the present nothing definite came of all this.

For six years Abascal held things in splendid control, and in 1816 he thought that his work was virtually completed and that he had earned the right to retire. Resistance was confined to Buenos Aires, to the thinly populated provinces of Tucuman and Cuyo, and to the banks of the Orinoco. The Argentine revolutionists were fighting among themselves, and that they must succumb before an advance in force from the Bolivian plateau appeared certain. The last act of his administration was to send out a fleet that compelled four Argentine ships which Admiral William Brown had brought around the Horn to withdraw to the Atlantic. He was succeeded by General Pezuela, a strategist of no mean abilities, who had borne a brilliant part in the Bolivian campaigns. The new viceroy straightway set about final preparations for a decisive advance across the Pampas to Buenos Aires, but like a thunderbolt from a clear sky came the news that San Martin had made a sudden descent on Chile and won the battle of Chacabuco, annihilating the Spanish forces in that country. Pezuela saw himself obliged to begin a war to reduce Chile to obedience—an undertaking sure to be long and arduous; and in the meantime Venezuela had risen in insurrection under Bolivar and Paez.

Having won the Chacabuco victory, San Martin did not rest content until he had created a fleet. It consisted of only three frigates and as many brigs, mounting about one hundred and eight cannon against four frigates and thirteen smaller ships, mounting three hundred and thirty guns manned by the Spaniards. But San Martin’s disparity of force was more than made up by the superior skill and experience of the foreign seamen he had engaged. His admiral was Lord Cochrane, a Scotchman of noble family, but radical principles and adventurous disposition. A daring and reckless fighter, inventive and fertile in resources, he excelled in leading cutting-out expeditions and surprises.

San Martin’s plan was to wait patiently until a rising should compel the Spaniards to retire to the interior, and then to organize the country and gather an army for the final campaign on the plateau. He kept, therefore, at a safe distance from the Spaniards; sent out detachments which scoured the country up to the walls of Lima; and entered into communication with the conspirators in the city. Crowds of young enthusiasts hastened out to join him; Cochrane daringly cut out the frigate Esmeralda under the very guns of Callao castle; an expedition sent to Tacna, on the extreme southern coast, was enthusiastically received; and numerous desertions from the Spanish army culminated in a battalion of Venezuelans coming over in a body.

Notwithstanding this encouragement, San Martin saw that outside help was necessary, and, despairing of obtaining it from Chile or the Argentine, turned his eyes to the north. Bolivar’s battles of Boyaca and Carabobo had redeemed northern Granada and Venezuela in 1819 and 1821, and he was now advancing toward Quito to complete the expulsion of the Spaniards from that viceroyalty. With a force of Colombians, Sucre went to Guayaquil by sea and climbed the Ecuador plateau. Defeated and driven back on his first attempt, he was reinforced by a division sent by San Martin, and renewed the effort with better success. Although Bolivar had in the meantime been checked in his southward march on Quito by loyalists of southern Colombia, Sucre alone destroyed the Spanish army which had held Ecuador for so many years. The battle of Pichincha, fought in May, 1822, left Bolivar and Sucre free to employ their numerous and well-disciplined troops in completing the liberation of Bolivia.

Bolivar joined his victorious lieutenant at Quito, incorporated Ecuador with his new republic of Colombia, and proceeded overland to Guayaquil, where San Martin lost no time in going to meet him for a conference. The Argentine expected to find as unselfish a patriot as himself, but the “liberator” was not single-minded. He had formed plans for his own glory and aggrandizement to the accomplishment of which San Martin might be an obstacle. When the latter broached the subject of a joint campaign against the Spaniards in Peru and Bolivia, Bolivar gave him no satisfaction, and evaded the Argentine’s noble offer to serve in a subordinate capacity. The silent soldier made no protest and uttered no reproaches. Confiding not even in his closest friends, he calmly considered his plight on his way back to Lima. His situation in Peru, bad already, would be made ten times worse by Bolivar’s intrigues. Seeing that he could be of no further service to the cause of South American Independence, he formally resigned his authority to a national congress, deliberately sacrificing his own future for the cause he loved, but leaving behind him a name untarnished by any suspicion of self-seeking or personal ambition.

Bolivar waited in vain for the expected invitation to come with his veterans. The leaders in Peru did not propose to jeopardize their own supremacy. They thought they were strong enough to whip the Spaniards by themselves, and made great efforts to drill and equip an efficient army. By the end of the year four thousand men under the command of Alvarado were sent to the southern coast to make an attempt to get between the Spanish armies. It failed before the astonishing energy of the Spanish general Valdez, who by forced marches reached the pass which the Peruvians were trying to climb, and taking up a strong position, beat them back with great slaughter. Alvarado retreated, but was caught by Valdez and completely routed ; hardly a third of the army escaped to the seashore. The news of this defeat brought about a change of government at Lima. A revolution, headed by the principal officers, made Riva Aguero, the leader of the Peruvian liberals, president, while General Santa Cruz, a Bolivian, received chief command of the forces. Word was sent to Bolivar that his offer of help would be accepted ; and another Peruvian army was recruited. Before the six thou-sand men promised by Bolivar had arrived, the Peruvians had regained confidence. With the aid of a London loan, the patriots got seven thousand soldiers ready for service, and in May, 1823, five thousand men under the command of Santa Cruz sailed from Callao for southern Peru. This time they advanced so promptly that the Spanish generals could not get to the passes in time to dispute the way. Santa Cruz entered La Paz and defeated the first army which came against him. But the two main Spanish bodies hastened up from Cuzco and Charcas, outmaneuvered Santa Cruz, united their forces, and routed his army in a panic, not a fourth ever reaching the seaboard.

Shortly after Santa Cruz’s departure on his ill-fated expedition, Sucre arrived at Lima with the first installment of the promised Colombian auxiliaries. The Spanish general, Canterac, had concentrated a large army at Jauja and descended on the capital; Lima was denuded of Peruvian troops; the government helpless against the Spaniards or Sucre. The Colombian was made commander-in-chief, and retiring to the fortifications of Callao before Canterac’s overwhelming numbers, procured Riva Aguero’s deposition and the nomination of one of his own tools as nominal president, while he sent off an urgent message to Bolivar to come in person. Canterac, after holding Lima for a few weeks, went back to the mountains, and Bolivar himself landed at Callao on the 1st. of September, almost at the very moment when Santa Cruz’s army was getting involved in that snarl out of which it never extricated itself. The news of its destruction left Bolivar undisputed master of the situation, and in February the submissive rump of the Peruvian parliament conferred upon him an absolute dictatorship. He now devoted all the wonderful energy with which nature had endowed him to preparation for a campaign which he meant to be final; and united ten thousand men under his command, two-thirds of whom were Colombian veterans and the rest Peruvians, Argentines, and Chileans who fought for the sheer love of fighting. His officers were the pick of South America, men who had proven their bravery and skill on all the hundred battlefields from Venezuela to Chile. With such a force he did not hesitate to attack the Spaniards, although the latter were nearly twice as numerous.

Suddenly, however, his plans were seriously disturbed by a revolt of the garrison in Callao castle—Argentines and Chileans who had not received their pay. The mutineers hoisted the Spanish flag and sent word to Canterac that he might come in and take possession. This event produced a great sensation at Lima. Many citizens who distrusted Bolivar or were fearful of the final result vacillated in their allegiance. Even men who had been prominent liberals went over to the royalists. Bolivar abandoned the capital and removed his base of operations to Trujillo, three hundred miles north. But discouragement gave place to confident enthusiasm when news came that the Spanish generals were fighting among themselves. Olaneta, the renegade Argentine, who commanded in Bolivia, had quarreled with the viceroy La Serna, whom he regarded as a pestilent liberal and an enemy of the absolute pretensions of the Spanish king. The viceroy sent Valdez against him, and some hard fighting had taken place, when this fratricidal war was interrupted by the news of Bolivar’s preparations.

Though just recovering from a dangerous illness, Bolivar lost no time in taking advantage of Olaneta’s revolt. His army numbered nine thousand men ; it was well supplied with cavalry, and the troops received their liberal pay punctually. The patriots advanced rapidly and unopposed over the Maritime Cordillera, covered by a cloud of Peruvian guerillas, under whose protection Sucre marked out the daily route and brought in provisions. The city of Pasco, just south of that transverse range which forms the northern limit of the great Peruvian plateau, was reached and Bolivar’s army hastened south along the western shore of the lake of Reyes to the marshy plain of Junin at the southern end, where he met Canterac hurrying up from Jauja with a slightly inferior force.

When Bolivar caught sight of the royalist army, he held his infantry back in a defensible position, and sent his cavalry toward the enemy. Canterac rashly charged in person at the head of all his cavalry, but instead of the easy victory he expected, his squadrons were thrown into some disorder when they encountered the patriot lancers. The latter, however, were compelled to retreat, and fled into a defile, followed by the royalists. The royalists did not notice that a Peruvian squadron had been drawn aside, and scarcely were they in the defile than they were charged from the rear. The fugitive patriots in front rallied, and the disordered and huddled royalists, caught between two fires, could make no effective resistance. They were quickly cut to pieces and driven from the field. The whole affair had not lasted three-quarters of an hour; the numbers engaged_ did not much exceed two thousand; the royalist loss was only about two hundred and fifty, yet this battle of Junin produced al-most decisive results. Though Canterac was not pursued, he did not stop in his precipitate flight until he had reached Cuzco, five hundred miles away, losing two thousand men by desertion on the road.

Leaving Sucre in command of the army, which now threatened Cuzco itself, Bolivar returned to Lima to look after his political interests, collect money, and urge the sending of reinforcements from Colombia. La Serna called in all his outlying divisions, while Sucre confidently scattered his forces. He under-estimated the strength of the royalists, for to his consternation La Serna suddenly broke out of Cuzco at the head of ten thousand men, and before Sucre could concentrate, his opponent was threatening his rear and maneuvering to cut him off from his base. Happily the royalists were compelled to march in a semicircle, and Sucre, by desperate exertions, united his forces and cut along the radius, coming in sight of La Serna just as the latter had succeeded in getting between him and the road to Jauja. Sucre’s position was desperate. The valleys to the north were rising in favor of the royalists ; a patriot column advancing from that direction to reinforce him was driven back; his provisions and ammunition were beginning to fail. Sucre’s army was La Serna’s real objective. Even if he could shake off the pursuit, another march to Lima would be as barren of results as Canterac’s last descent, and to leave the Colombian army at Guamanga would expose Cuzco and Bolivia to invasion. During three days the opposing armies marched and countermarched among the ravines on the west bank of the Pampas River, and finally Sucre took the desperate resolution of crossing the deep gorge in which the river runs in order to reach the high grounds on the other side. He managed to get his main body over safely, but the Spaniards fell upon his rear guard, killing four hundred men and capturing one of his two cannon. The two armies were now opposite each other on the high, narrow and broken plateau which lies between the Eastern and Central Cordilleras, separated only by the gorge of the Pampas. They marched in plain sight of each other, the royalists along the slopes of the Central Cordillera, while the patriots skirted the foothills of the Eastern. Sucre hoped to outrun the enemy and reach the main road to Jauja, but La Serna again outflanked him; he offered battle, but the viceroy had determined to engage under conditions where not a patriot could escape, and by skilful manoeuvres the royal army succeeded in getting into the protection of the eastern range at a point north of Sucre. Irretrievably cut off from the Jauja road, convinced by his previous failures that he could not better his position by any further manoeuvres, the Columbian general resolved again to offer battle, although this time upon a field chosen by La Serna. He ceased marching and allowed the enemy to dispose their forces at will.

On the 8th of September, 1824, La Serna’s army, numbering eight thousand five hundred men — of whom only five hundred were Spaniards—encamped on the high grounds overlooking the little plain of Ayacucho, which sloped gently eastward to the little village of Quinua. To the left the level ground was bounded by a deep and precipitate ravine, and on the right by a valley which, though less difficult, was impracticable for fighting. Sucre’s army lay at the eastern extremity of the plain, at the edge of the slope which rises from Quinua. Behind was no cover to re-form in if defeated. His forces were a little less than six. thousand, and he had only one cannon against the enemy’s eleven, but three-fourths of his men were the pick of the Colombian veterans and the rest Peruvians of high spirit. Tired of interminable marching through the mountains, isolated in a hostile region, starvation staring them in the face, confident of their superiority, man for man, to the royalists, and led by fiery young generals,—Sucre was only thirty-one and his chief lieutenant twenty-five,—they welcomed the opportunity to fight it out once for all, face to face, man to man.

The morning sun of the 9th rose radiant behind the mountains where the Spaniards lay encamped. Sucre deployed his army in the open plain, riding down the line exclaiming, “Soldiers, on your deeds this day depends the fate of South America,” while the Spanish columns descended in perfect order from the heights. La Serna realized that his men would not fight with the same spirit as the patriots and that defeat might be followed by wholesale desertion, but he counted on his artillery and the reserve he had left on the high ground as a sure refuge in case of a reverse.

The story of the battle is soon told. The patriots advanced to meet the Spanish attack; musketry volleys on both sides did terrific execution, and the two armies met bayonet in hand. On the left the Spanish columns were unable to make any impression on the Colombian infantry, and while the conflict was still undecided the royalist cavalry rashly charged, hoping to strike a deciding blow. But they were met by a counter charge of the patriot squadrons and rolled back to defeat. The whole left of the royalist army dispersed, and such was the confusion that the impetuously pursuing Colombians reached the Spanish camp and spiked the artillery, defeating on the way the enemy’s center. In the meantime the Spanish right under Valdez had outflanked the Peruvians who held that part of the line and driven them back, but before he could reach the patriot center the battle had been decided. Attacked by the victorious cavalry, Valdez’s men were cut to pieces, and by one o’clock in the afternoon the Spanish army, except the reserve under Canterac, had ceased to exist as an organized body.

Of the royalists, fourteen hundred were dead. The viceroy was wounded and a prisoner, his men deserting and dispersing by hundreds. Of the patriots six hundred were wounded and three hundred dead. Canterac sued for terms, and that afternoon fourteen generals, five hundred and sixty-eight officers, and three thousand two hundred privates became prisoners of war. Never was a victory more complete and decisive than Ayacucho. The war for independence was over. Only under Olaneta in far southern Bolivia and at Callao castle did a Spaniard remain under arms. Sucre marched to Cuzco, where he rested and refitted and then went on to Puno and La Paz. Olafieta’s troops deserted as the Colombian approached, and the last of the Spanish generals fell at the hands of his own men as he was bravely trying to suppress a mutiny. Callao castle held out for thirteen months, and with its surrender was hauled down the last Spanish flag which floated on the South American mainland.