Saturday, January 15, 2011

Decisive Battles: Ayacucho 1824

Ayacucho (or Battle of La Quinua) 9 DEC 1824Forces Engaged: South American rebel ("Patriot", "Independentist" or "Republican") forces - Eleven infantry battalions in three divisions;

Peruvian Division {Grand Marshal de la Mar} four single-battalion regiments: Peruvian Legion, 1o, 2o, 3o de Infanteria, 1,580 infantrymen;
1st Division (Colombian) {GEN Lara} three single-battalion regiments: Vargas, Vencedores, Rifle*, 1,700 infantrymen
2st Division (Colombian) {GEN Cordova} four single-battlion regiments: Bogota, Caracas, Voltigeroa (light infantry), Pichincha, 2,300 infantrymen;

for a total of 5,580 infantry.

(*Note: I believe that this may represent the Rifle Battalion of the British Legion, perhaps the only thing most Europeans know about the Wars of Independence. This unit has gained repute as much as anything from being the subject of numerous fictional and historical works in Great Britain - see "Sources" for the article by Ian Fletcher. By this time it is likely that many if not most of the soldiers in the unit were not English or Irish, but surely a handful at least must have remained. We'll talk more about these soldiers in a bit)

Cavalry Division {GEN Miller} Four very understrength "battalions" (seven squadrons) of cavalry: Junin Hussars (2 squadrons), Mounted Grenadiers (Columbia, 2 squadrons), Hussars (Columbia, 2 squadrons), Buenos Aires Mounted Grenadiers (Argentina, 1 squadron), for a total of about 200-300 troopers

Independentist artillery consisted of one cannon and its crew, probably less than fifteen gunners

A total of 5,780 all arms (although rather laughably in the case of the artillery) under GEN Antonio José de Sucre y Alcalá.

Spanish Royalist - Fourteen infantry battalions in three divisions:

Vanguard Division (GEN Valdes) four battalions: I/Imperial Alejandro*, I/Centro, I/Cantabria, I/Castro, about 1,500 infantrymen
First Division {GEN Monet} five battalions: II/Primero, II/Burgos, II/Guias (Legion Tacnena), II/Victoria, II/Infante, about 2,000 infantrymen
Second Division {GEN Villalobos} five battalions: I/Gerona, II/Gerona, I/Primero, II/Imperial Alejandro, Fernando VII, about 2,000 infantrymen

for a total of about 5,500 infantrymen

Cavalry Division {GEN Ferraz} twelve squadrons: Horse Grenadiers of the Guard (2 squadrons), Fernando VII Hussars (3 squadrons), La Union Dragoons (3 squadrons), Peruvian Dragoons (2 squadrons), San Carlos Horse (1 squadron), Halbardiers of the Viceroy (1 squadron), probably about 500-800 cavalry

Royalist artillery organization is unclear. The order of battle lists 14 cannon and their crews under a GEN Cacho but I cannot find any unit breakdown below this; it is possible that the Royalist cannon, being the most poorly supported arm in the Royal colonial army, were simply grouped in a single battalion. Assuming a crew of 10-15 per cannon the Royalists probably fielded roughly 300 artillerymen.

A total of between 6,300 and 7,000 all arms under the last Viceroy of Peru, José de la Serna e Hinojosa, primer conde de los Andes.

(*Note: Spanish infantry units appear to have been multiple-battalion regiments, and most of the units at Ayacucho included both of the battalions, although for some reason de Serna brigaded the battalions in separate divisions. The battalion number is indicated by the Roman numeral to the left of the diagonal, and the regiment by the name to the right. So "I/Imperial Alejandro" represents the First Battalion of the regiment named "Imperial Alejandro".

The Sources: When researching Ayacucho what struck me forcibly is how utterly impossible it is to access the simplest information in English about the South American "Wars of Liberation" period (roughly the first quarter of the 19th Century: more on which below). I tried online and found the Wiki entry (the usual first stop) to have been originally written in a language other than English (presumably Spanish) and then translated by someone with good but not fluent English skills. This has produced some extremely cryptic results. How does one interpret, say,
"The mechanism organized by Canterac foresaw that the vanguard division surrounded, alone, the enemy gathering, crossing Pampas river in order to secure the units to the left of Sucre."
Far from clear, both grammatically and militarily.

Obviously the original sources are in Spanish, and I suspect that given the precarious situation of the South American revolutionaries, like most revolutionaries, much official sources such as regimental returns, supply and quartering documents (if they were ever kept) were lost, or have been lost. In particular the Royalist forces, at the end of a very long supply line (and a Spanish one, at that) and poorly supplied to begin with, are likely to have gone without the usual forms and returns delightful of scriveners since Marius' day. What little that has been translated appears to be available only in hardcopy.

Most of the information on the Wars of Independence on-line is found on wargaming sites; although this site has a nice politico-military summary of the wars originally published in 1912. The website "Liberators!" has some details of the wars, while for those interested in the real-life Richard Sharpes there is this nice little summary of the British Legions by Ian Fletcher. During my research I noted that much of the on-line sources are inactive or incomplete, the most disappointing being perhaps the "Regimientos de America" website, most of which is "under construction" or just unavailable.

You will also have to look hard for a good general history of the period. The most approachable I have discovered is "The Buried Mirror", a rather novelized history by the Mexican writer (and, not surprisingly, novelist) Carlos Fuentes. Nicely illustrated, and easy to read, but very cavalier with detail and a trifle breezy for a useful military history. Still, well worth the time.

The armies of the period are similarly scanted, although as usual the people at Osprey have produced a volume on the Independentist forces, "The Armies of Bolivar and San Martin" containing a brief history of the wars, uniforms, orders of battle, and some references. Perhaps the most complete work is John Lynch's "The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826" (2nd Ed.) published by W.W.Norton back in 1986, It is out of print by available at Amazon, among others.The Campaign: You could probably trace the origin of the Battle of Ayacucho back into the 16th Century, but the revolts, rebellions, and revolutions that culminated on the plain of La Quinua had two main wellsprings; a related group of prefacatory causes and two immediate causes.

The prefacatory causes included the Bourbon Reforms, economic tensions, and the examples of the Atlantic Revolutions.

The Reformas Borbónicas were implemented after the Spanish Bourbons replaced the last of the Hapsburgs at the beginning of the 18th Century. Since the founding of the Spanish American colonies in the mid-16th Century the American-born aristocrats, the Criollos, creoles, had gained position, wealth, and power in the colonies. This privilege was threatened by the replacement of the colonial corregidores by a royal intendant directly responsible to the Escurial (the Spanish Crown), not to the viceroys and other local officials in the colonies. Almost all of the new intendants were Peninsulares, Spanish born. This extended to the colonial courts as well, where by 1807 twelve of ninety-nine judicial appointments were held by creoles.This guy, by the way, is Ferdinand VII, the Bourbon in particular who was hanging about the Escurial when all this fighting took place. Looks nasty, doesn't he, like the sort of person who probably picked his nose as a kid and gives women passersby the sort of looks that make them feel squicky? Well, he was a pretty rotten piece of work, as you'll see. But let's move on to talk about more prefacatory causes.

Like their cousins to the North, the South Americans were irate about taxes, especially when the new Bourbon intendants began to make collection more efficient. Several revolts, one in the Viceroyalty of New Granada (the present northwestern tier of South America which includes Columbia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador) and another in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, shook the Spanish colonial administration in the 18th Century.The American Revolution started South Americans it picked their pockets, the Spanish government jacking up taxes to pay for the help they provided the American rebels. Then the French Revolution added to the colonists' impatience with their royal master; the world seemed an increasingly large place to be constrained by old ties to the "mother country."

But the immediate causes of the Wars came less than a decade into the new century. First, the British attempted to seize several ports on the east coast of the southern cone. The British Army attacked and occupied Buenos Aires in the winter of 1806 (June, which is winter in Argentina, remember). The Spanish viceroy fled with the treasury, the local Spanish aristos welcomed the invaders, but after 46 days the local creoles counterattacked and overwhelmed the Brits, who retreated to the Royal Navy squadron offshore.The now cock-strong creoles tossed out the viceroy, put on of their own in his place, and raised local troops to protect themselves, since the Spanish Crown had protected them for squat. In the summer of 1807 (February), a now-reinforced British expedition attacked and occupied Montevideo, and the following July sent a detachment to take Buenos Aires. After six weeks of fighting in which half of the British forces were killed or wounded, Argentine and Paraguayan militias forced the British to capitulate and withdraw.

This taste of local war did several things. It impressed on the local notables in the Viceroyalties of Rio de la Plata and Peru that the "mother country" wasn't in the running for Mother of the Year. It caused them to organize the first domestic military forces on the continent. And it gave them a taste for self-government.

And then in 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain.The overthrow of the Bourbon Spanish crown didn't break the ties between Spain and its colonies. But they were weakened, and the "Junta of Seville" that claimed sovereignty over the overseas empire because of the place the city had as an origin for the colonial trade was not likely to inspire the same loyalty. Local "juntas", governing councils, began to arise in the colonial states. And when the provisional government of Spain - the "Supreme Junta" itself was dissolved in 1810, well, it was the devil to pay and no pitch hot.

1810-1814 - Debatable Land

For the first four years South America was a mess of little wars everywhere. Poor farmers in the countryside fought urban elites. In the Venezuela part of New Granada,a Spanish immigrant named José Tomás Boves took the "Llaneros", a bunch of mestizo cowboys over to the royalist side by promising to destroy the white creole landowners. But Boves typically ignored actual Spanish officials and really didn't give uno ano de rata about restoring the royal government, choosing instead to keep real power to himself and his buddies.

In the backcountry of Upper Peru, the republiquetas allied with hick gentry and the indios - the pure natives living in rural squalor - but couldn't muster the force to take the major cities.

The fighting in this period had as much to do with class and racial differences as either a love for king or independence. But atrocities mounted and the lines began to harden.

Simón Bolívar proclaimed "war to the death" for New Granada, but this meant that royalist creoles would be purposely spared but even neutral Peninsulares would be butchered. This was the sort of thing that produced the Boves and the llanero sorts on the other side.

So the early years were a typical civil war; political causes could be tossed aside just as easily as they were picked up - Boves' llaneros became independentists once the aristos and cities went royalist after 1815!

So things were fairly unsettled when the French were driven out of Spain in 1814 and the Bourbons returned.

1815-1820 - A Splash of Bourbon

By 1815 the general military picture looked like this:

- In northern South America, Francisco de Paula Santander, Simón Bolívar, Santiago Mariño, Manuel Piar and José Antonio Páez, fought conventional battles in the Orinoco River basin and along the Caribbean coast. They received aid from Dutch Curaçao and anti-royalist Haiti.

- In Upper Peru, guerrilla bands controlled the isolated, rural parts of the country but the cities were held by the Spanish

- The bulk of the former Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata; present Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and parts of Peru, were held by the patriots/Independentists.

When Ferdinand VII was restored he realized that he had the support of the nobility and the Church and dismissed the Cortes (the Spanish legislature), abrogated the Constitution, and ordered the arrest of liberal leaders on May 10, 1814. He restored the Old Bourbon Order: the former laws, institutions and promised to convene a Cortes in the old, conservative form with separate houses for the clergy and the nobility.

This was a clean break with both the autonomous South American governments like New Granada and Rio de la Plata (even though they had not declared formal independence), and with many in the areas not yet beginning to separate - Quito, Peru, Upper Peru and Chile. Many in these regions had held on to the hope that the "new", now-dissolved Cortes that would fully include the overseas possessions and provide an alternative to independence.

Ferdinand's moves didn't send waves of patriots into the tules; most of those already set on independence were fighting for Bolivar or the others already. What they did do was set areas that were outside of the control of the crown on the path to full independence.
"The governments of these regions, which had their origins in the juntas of 1810, and even moderates there, who had entertained a reconciliation with the crown, now saw the need to separate from Spain, if they were to protect the reforms they had enacted."
In 1815 the Escurial dispatched an expeditionary force to pacify the rebellious northwestern partion of South America; 10,500 troops under GEN Morillo. During this period royalist forces retook most of New Granada and Chile.One reason for the effectiveness of the Royalist forces was the narrow appeal of the patriot rebellion. The creoles were terrified more of an uprising from below - of the negro and indian peasants - then of vengeance from the king above. So many New Granadans of the poorer and duskier sort were happy to join the King's troops in robbing, raping, and murdering the creole betters.

But early 1816, Morillo changed his tactics from promises of liberty to slaves and land to the poor to terror. His forces began executing anyone suspected of thinking bad things about the King and he installed something with the delightfully Kafkaesque name of the "Tribunal of Purification" along with a Board of Confiscations.You get the idea.

This violent repression started pushing the poor and religious over towards the rebels. When Bolívar returned from Haiti at the end of 1816 he was ready to start dealing.

The other factor in the close of the Royalist feast days was the "southern cone". What is today's Argentina and the Guays (Para- and Uru-) were never reconquered. In Argentina one José de San Martín, a Spanish Peninsular War vet, became the governor of the Province of Cuyo. In the Royalist advance three armies from the Río de la Plata had gone to take Upper Peru.

Three armies had gotten their Argentinian asses whipped.

San Martín, a brilliant organizer as well as a competent commander, put together what would become the "Army of the Andes". In the high summer (January) of 1817 San Martín did a "Saint Bernard Pass", leading the Army over the Andes, well, over the Andes and into Chile. He descended on the unprepared royal garrisons of north and central Chile and controlled that littoral by February. He assembled a fleet (commanded by a British naval officer, Thomas Cochrane), and Chile was secured and declared independence by 1818.Meanwhile Simón Bolívar assembled a scrubby mix of Llanero guerrillas, New Granadan infantry and cavalry, and the British mercenary Legions. In midwinter (June to July) 1819, using the rainy season as cover, Bolívar led his army across the flooded plains and over the high passes of the Andes (almost a quarter of the Brits and his llanero cowboys died of exposure) and seized Bogotá in a coup de main. He also bagged the royal treasury, and gained the support of many in New Granada, still smarting from the harsh reconquest of Morillo.

By the end of 1819 had formed the beginnings of the new nation of "Gran Colombia". San Martín was consolidating his hold on Chile and eyeing Peru. But, though they did not know it, at that very moment Ferdinand VII was, like the evil Emperor in Star Wars, Strike Back!

1820-1824 - The Spanish Are Revolting!

Ironically, what saved the new nations was neither Bolívar's boldness nor San Martín's thoroughness but Ferdinand's nasty authoritarian streak, which infuriated a young officer by the name of Rafael de Riego.

Colonel Riego was the commander of the Asturias Regiment of infantry, then in Cadiz as part of a 5,000-man expeditionary force preparing for embarkation for the Western hemisphere. Riego was something of a liberal, and he had likely been stewing over the abrogation of the 1812 Constitution.

Finding the officers of the Asturias of a like mind, the colonel led his troops into the streets, and found the other battalions disposed to riot. The disorder spread, and by March Ferdinand was forced to grant the restitution of the Constitution and promised to accept other liberal reforms. In fact, the episode was just the beginning of a nasty little civil war that culminated in a second - this time successful - French invasion of Spain, a viciously nasty Bourbon ratissage and mass murder of the constitutional faction, and a return to absolute monarchy that eventually led to the Carlist Wars and the destruction of what remained of Spanish imperial power and much of Spain itself.But that is, indeed, Another Story.

What the revolt and failure of the Cadiz Expedition did was end hopes of reinforcement from the Peninsula. Bolívar got news of the collapse of Cadiz expedition early in the year and spent the rest of 1820 preparing a campaign against Venezuela.

By the end of the year it was pretty obvious that the Royalist cause had been hammered by the lack of reinforcements and the mess erupting in Spain. Individual Royalist soldiers, and even entire units, began to rally to the Patriots in large numbers or just run off into the countryside.

Another, and perhaps a more severe, problem that stemmed from this was the cutoff of new Spanish troops. The graph below shows what happened fairly clearly; "peninsular" Spaniards make up between a fourth and a fifth of the Royalist forces in the early 1820s. These guys could be counted on, if they wanted to stick around at all, to fight for their King against the locals. But lose them and you have to recruit the locals, and their loyalities were, at best, more shakeable. By Ayacucho the number of home-bred Spaniards is down to 1 percent, not enough to make any real difference.On 28 JAN 1821, the ayuntamiento of Maracaibo chose to join the new nation state of Gran Colombia as an independent republic.

This kicked off a new round of open war, which culminated in the Battle of Carabobo on 24 JUN 1821. This, which we'll talk about in June of this year, was a decisive defeat for the royalists and effectively ended the reconquest in the north. With this victory the Gran Colombian forces took control of Venezuela.

In the south one José de la Serna had deposed the viceroy of Peru early in 1821.

This de la Serna sounds like he was a complete dick; he seemed to spend as much time fighting with other Royalists as with the Independentists, but that might also have been the effect of the civil unrest in Spain. San Martín negotiated with him for half a year, with the patriot position strengthening and the royalist weakening the entire time, until La Serna abandoned Lima to retreat to what he considered better positions in the mountains around Cusco.

Meanwhile, Bolívar sent an army under Antonio José de Sucre to take Quito and after the Battle of Pichincha 24 MAY 1822, Sucre's troops took Quito (now Ecuador).

However, for the next two years two Independentist armies were destroyed trying to breach the Royalist Final Redoubt in the high Andean parts of Peru and Upper Peru. The stalemate continued into early 1824, when La Serna had a falling out with GEN Pedro Antonio Olañeta

At this time the entire Royalist army of Upper Peru (today's Bolivia) rioted. This festival was led by Olañeta, who was a "conservative" (that is, a partisan of Ferdinand). But why would a royal officer rebel against La Serna, who was leading royal troops against the rebels?

You see, when the French invaded and Ferdinand VII declared himself Grand Imperial Pooh-bah of Spain again, he decreed that everything approved during the last three years of constitutional government was illegal - which annulled the designation of La Serna as viceroy of Peru.

La Serna, who seems to be some sort of "constitutional" or "liberal", sent 5,000 troops against Olañeta and his men and between 22 JAN and 17 AUG the two factions fought four engagements; Tarabuquillo, Sala, Cotagaita, and La Lava. Both factions were devastated.

Bolivar, no fool, proceed to maneuver against Cusco. He spanked a Royalist force under de Canterac on 6 AUG 1824. By October the patriots were knocking on the gates of Cusco, Bolívar turned things over to GEN Sucre and returned to Lima to reorganize the army and fund-raise.

La Serna. meanwhile, suddenly realized that the Patriot forces were going to take him like the wild beast took the farm wife; by surprise and from behind. He pulled his forces, what were left, together, recalling GEN Valdés from Potosí, and hastily impressed as many of the locals as he could.

This wasn't really all that effective. The chart shows the dramatic decline in the number of "peninsular" Spaniards in the Royalist forces - less the 1% by Ayacucho - and these men were the only ones truly reliable in battle. But needs must, and so La Serna marched out to maneuver against the Patriot forces while his sergeants labored to make soldiers of the indians they had been provided just weeks before.

And the amazing this is - they did. On 3 DEC 1823 La Serna fell on the Patriot army as a place called Corpahuaico (or Matará, which is which is unclear).

I can find no details of this engagement but the Royalists must have given the Patriots on hell of a beating, because Sucre's force is said to have lost more than 500 killed and wounded as well as most of their artillery for a cost of 50 royalist soldiers. Sucre managed to prevent a rout, apparently, mostly by choosing good ground that prevented the larger Royalist force from encircling or turning his little force. But he seems to have had to burn up one of his best units, the Rifle Battalion of the Colombian Army, whose British, Irish, and other war veterans fought their last time at Corpahuico.But the little engagement had cost the royalists, too. La Serna had had to use up a lot of powder, shot, and other supplies. Now he was losing his raw troops badly to desertion, altitude sickness and other diseases, and his food supply was running short. He found a strong defensive position on the heights of Condorcunca ("condor’s neck" in Quechua). But he had five days' rations and intel that Columbian reinforcement would mean slow starvation and disaster. For now he had the advantage in numbers, and nothing to gain by delay.

The Battle of Ayacucho was about to begin.

The Engagement: The Royalist army opened the ball by moving non-tactically down to the north towards the plateau before Quinua where the Patriot army waited some time between daylight and early forenoon; I have no time recorded for the opening maneuver.The Royalist plan was for GEN Valdes Vanguard Division to lead off, as the name implies, deploying to the Royalist right with the four battalions in line supported by two squadrons of cavalry and six cannon.

The next in line to debouch was supposed to be the center - five infantry battalions of the First Division of GEN Monet supported by most of the cavalry; the Dragoons of La Union and the San Carlos Horse, the Mounted Grenadiers of the Guard and five cannon.

The trail element was the Second Division (GEN Villalobos), supported by single squadron of the Halbardiers of the Viceroy, and, presumably, the remaining three cannon.

Presumably La Serna intended his force to remain within supporting distance until their deployment was completed and presumed that the outnumbered patriot force would stay on the defensive until the maneuver was performed, but in this he was either badly misinformed of the capabilities of his and the enemy troops or simply overoptimistic in his planning, because the participants all recount that Sucre quickly realized the opportunity afforded by the royalists' straggling march downhill and ordered his forces forward.The worst damage was done on the royalist left/patriot right, where the 2nd (Colombian) Division of Córdova, with the patriot cavalry in support, moved forward in attack column and simply overran the Royalist left.
"Colonel Joaquín Rubín de Celis, who commanded the first royalist regiment (tasked to) protect the artillery...which was still loaded in its mules, moved forward carelessly into the plain where his unit was smashed and he himself was killed during the attack of the Córdova’s division..."
The remaining units of the Second Division were apparently smashed in this assault, as it disappears from the further accounts of the day; no doubt the inexperience of the green troopers of the royalist infantry had something to do with this collapse.Seeing the left overrun, GEN Monet pushed his First Division across the ravine that spanned the royalist center and right and attempted to turn the attacking Columbians from their left. This forlorn hope - Monet managed to form only two of his five battalions - was predictably overwhelmed by the advancing Colombians; GEN Monet was wounded and three of his staff killed as the royalist center disintegrated in turn.

The large cavalry contingent supporting the First Division attempted to save the unit from rout but this attack was halted by a combination of disciplined fire from the patriot infantry and the charge of the Independentist cavalry. The main body of royalist cavalry was badly mishandled and began to come apart as well.

The left the Vanguard Division, which faced de la Mar's Peruvian Division and Lara's 1st. The royalists had been the first down the hill and had deployed without difficulty but had been forced to shake out into attack formation to storm an isolated house or estancia that was held by no more than several companies of patriot light infantry. This delayed the Vanguard advance until after the destruction of the royalist left and center; by the time Valdés’ troops were making headway against the fortified place Córdova’s Colombian division had joined the other two against the remaining formed troops on the royalist right.La Serna attempted to rally his troops while his deputy, GEN Canterac himself committed the three-battalion reserve. The Wiki diarist records that
"...however, (the )Gerona battalions were not the same that won in the battles of Torata and Moquegua, because during Olañeta’s rebellion they had lost almost all their veterans and even their former commander Cayetano Ameller; this troop, composed by recruits forced to fight, scattered before facing the enemy, and Ferdinand VII battalion followed, after a feeble resistance."
By 1300hrs Viceroy de la Serna had been wounded and captured, and although the Vanguard Division of Valdés continued to resist, making a fighting retreat to the high ground to his rear the Battle of Ayacucho was effectively over. When the Royalist force assembled on the heights it consisted of a rump division and about 200 cavalry. GEN Valdés and GEN de Canterac, the remaining Royalist commanders, realized that they were in an untenable position; vastly outnumbered, their remaining soldiers morally broken, and days from support with little or no provisions to supply a retreat.They capitulated. Patriot losses are said to have come to about 400 killed and 600 wounded. Royalist casualties are reported to have come to about 1800 dead and 700 wounded.The Outcome: Decisive Patriot/Independentist victory.

Ayacucho marks the end of organized Royalist resistance to the independence movement in Spanish South America. Our man Olañeta, pig-headed Royalist bastard to the end, held out until March in the mountainous region around Potosí. He started with four battalions of regular infantry; I/Union, I/Chichas, and I/ and II/Ferdinand VII, but by February, 1825 both the latter had mutinied. The royalist cause had one last hurrah; a cavalry engagement at Chuquisaca on 22 FEB 1825. But by this point the end was in sight.

But down to two battalions and a ragged tail of cavalry it was over when the I/Chichas mutinied and attacked Olañeta's remaining supporters of the Union Battalion at Tumusla on 2 APR 1825. Fortunately for the overwhelmed Royalist soldiers Olañeta was killed there, and the remaining Spanish troops surrendered five days later.

The Impact: The direct impact was the closure of the Independence Wars of South America. The Viceroyalty of Upper Peru became the nation of Bolivia in the winter of 1825. By the new year of 1826 not a Spanish intendant, garrison, or official remained on mainland South America; the Spanish colonies in the Americas were reduced to what they were on the day the Spanish-American War began, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

But for the new nations of South America in many ways the troubles were just beginning.For one thing, fifteen years of war had done a lot of wrecking in societies and economies that were fairly fragile to begin with. Without the Escurial to engineer a trade bloc the underpopulated new nations provided little incentive for trade within the continent. Spanish protectionism AND subsidies ended; many South American industries but particularly textile production were permanently damaged and foreign imports beat out local production. This hammered the Native communities which specialized in supplying finished products the South American urban markets using pre-industrial techniques. Without a European demand for minerals silver production in Bolivia after 1825 dropped to half its pre-war levels, and in Mexico it dropped to a quarter.

And the timing was as bad as it could be; the Napoleonic Wars had just ended and the global economy was recovering and aggressively seeking new markets. The new South American nations could only connect to the world markets as a Third World raw-material supplier, and finished goods from the northern hemisphere cost more than the raw materials payed.One great achievement was abolition. With the Spanish encomienda system destroyed the new countries moved relatively quickly and ended chattel slavery; the entire continent was free ten years before the United States tore itself apart to take the same step.

But other political moves were not as fortunate. The combination of Spanish absolutism, social stratification, the continued grip on power of large landowners and churchmen, and, especially, the authority seized by force during the wars, produced very volitile and unstable political systems.The resultant creature, the caudillo, would trouble South America from the day after the battle we've just discussed down to this very moment. Nowhere in South America is the tradition of civil government, of peaceful transition between parties, secure from the threat of caudilloism.

In that respect the dead hand of the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons remains clutched around the heart of South America today, 186 years after the last battalions to fight for the Royal cause were shattered on the plain before Ayacucho.

Touchline Tattles: Interestingly, the disaster at Ayacucho has produced its own "Dolchstoßlegende". Apparently one Juan Carlos Losada claimed that the entire battle was a put-up job, and a conspiracy between La Serna, filthy liberal that he was, and Sucre, to fake an engagement and give Bourbon Fred his conge'. Losada says: "los protagonistas guardaron siempre un escrupuloso pacto de silencio y, por tanto, sólo podemos especular, aunque con poco riesgo de equivocarnos” - "The protagonists forever after guarded their pact of silence and, therefore, we can only guess, but with small chance of error on our part."

The memoirs of Andrés García Camba recounts that the Spanish officers of Ayacucho were accused of treachery upon their repatriation to Spain. The liberal leanings and sinister Masonic connections of La Serna were evidence, claimed the accusers, that "The "little business" of Ayacucho was a "Masonic" defeat!".To which the battered "ayacuchos" could only reply wearily "The "little business" was lost, my general, in the same way all battles are lost."


mike said...

Great post Chief, extremely interesting. I have long thought it a shame that there is so much military history out there unread by Americans because it has never been translated, or translated badly as you pointed out above.

What is the source of that great painting of the cigar-smoker with the lunch pail???

I see from wiki that Admiral Cochrane left Chilean Navy service in 1822, at least two years prior to Ayacucho. But he or his successors or perhaps the Royal Navy itself must have been a strong factor in the battle by reducing the 'peninsulares' to the one percent of de la Serna's forces. Wiki mentions that he is the inspiration for Hornblower and Aubrey.

FDChief said...

mike: I was a little shocked by how little there is; this is our nearest neighbor, and it was very difficult to get even the most basic information about this crucial period in South American history. No wonder we've had such problems dealing with the nations of SAM...

The soldier is a Spanish infantrymen in a forage cap and service dress from this website: He's from the Carlist Wars period, but he looked about right for the Liberation Wars period, and he gave the impression I wanted, which was the scruffy appearance of the Spanish colonial troopers in the field.

So far as the problems the Spanish had reinforcing their troops in the Americas, the biggest factor was the failure of the Cadiz expedition and the subsequent civil unrest that consumed the following three years. Cochrane did a fine job putting together a Pacific Fleet for the Chileans, but it wasn't really much of a factor other than giving the Patriots command of the littoral...