(by William Henry Koeber)

The War of Independence I

The analogy between the first invasions of South America by the conquistadores and the campaign of liberation undertaken by the South Americans of a later age is curious to remark. The conquistadores undertook three separate invasions: the first in the north; the second in Peru, and subsequently Chile; the third in the Provinces of the River Plate.

In the struggle of the South Americans against the Spanish forces, the field of war was divided into precisely the same categories. Bolivar, Sucre, Miranda, and their colleagues blew up the flames of strife and kept them alive in the north; Belgrano, San Martin, Guëmes, and their comrades maintained the fight in the River PlateProvinces; while the Chilean O'Higgins and his companions accompanied the great San Martin inhis march from Argentina westwards over theAndes to Chile.

From there, having freed the province, the liberating army turned northwards into Peru, eventually to fuse with the stream of patriot forces which was flowing down from the north with the same purpose in view.

Since both Miranda and Bolivar had played such important parts before the outbreak of the revolution, it will be well to deal first of all with the progress of the wars in the north. It was in Caracas that the plans and projects of independence were matured.

When the out break in the south took place, Caracas girded up its loins for war, and Bolivar and Miranda took the field beneath the banner of independence. In no place were the fortunes of war more varied than in the north, and the campaign was destined to last fourteen years before the Spanish power in the old kingdom of New Granada was finally broken.

It is impossible here to go into the full details of the campaigns. In the first place, the patriots, although they fought desperately, ill-armed and undisciplined as they were, suffered numerous reverses from the Spanish veterans who garrisoned the northern districts.

More than once the flames of revolution seemed to all practical purposes extinguished, and Bolivar and his lieutenants, fugitives from the field of strife, were obliged to continue their plans in other lands, among these places of refuge being some of the British West Indian Islands.

Even here the patriots were by no means safe from the vengeance of Spain. Various attempts were made to assassinate Bolivar. On one occasion a dastardly endeavour of the kind was within an ace of being successful. Bolivar had sailed to Jamaica in order to obtain supplies for the patriot forces.

His presence in the island was noted, and some Spaniards bribed a negro to enter the house where he was staying and to slay him as he lay asleep at night.
The murderous black succeeded in penetrating to the room where the General usually slept. A figure lay upon the bed, and this the assassin stabbed to the heart; but it was not that of the Liberator. It was his secretary, who had died in his stead. Bolivar, however, was not a man to be deterred from his plans by attempts such as these.

He was possessed of a high courage, and was by no means averse to distinguish himself on the battle-field from the rest in the matter of costume. At Boyaca, for instance, he donned a jacket and pantaloons of the most brilliant scarlet and gold, thus attracting an amount of attention on the part of the enemy which was sufficiently perilous in itself.

The British did not long delay in taking an active interest in the struggle for independence, and very soon volunteers came flocking to the assistance of these northern districts of South America. Two separate British legions fought for Bolivar. One had been raised in England, and was commanded by General English; the other, formed in Ireland, was led by General Devereux.

Some corps of native Indian troops, it may be remarked, were officered by the British, and there was, moreover, in the patriot service a battalion of rifles composed entirely of British and German troops.

At first it appears that a marked spirit of distrust manifested itself between the native patriots and the British; but very soon a mutual admiration cemented a friendship between the two races. The English volunteers found it difficult to display their true mettle in the early days of the war. They suffered very severely on their first landing, since they were unaccustomed to the climate, and found themselves unable to accomplish the long marches made by the patriots.

In a short while, however, they grew used to the country and its ways, and then their feats, instead of meeting with a certain amount of derision, provoked the enthusiastic admiration of the Columbians.

It is certain that the campaign was no kid-glove one. Some of the marches were attended by almost incredible hardships and sufferings. It was, for instance, necessary in some districts to ford rivers in which the perai fish abounded. This fierce little creature, as is well known, is capable of tearing off a formidable mouthful of human flesh at a single bite, and this it never fails to do when the opportunity offers.

Many severe wounds were caused among the British ranks by these ferocious fish, and it may be imagined that in the first instance experiences of the kind were as startling as they were disconcerting.

General Paez was one of the chief heroes of the north. His career was to the full as adventurous as that of any other revolutionary leader. He enlisted in the first place as a common soldier in the militia of Barinos, and was soon after captured by the Spanish forces.

His execution, together with that of all the other prisoners, was ordered, and would have taken place on the following day but for some circumstances which enabled him to give his captors the slip.

The manner of his release was afterwards frequently recalled with no little awe by the superstitious. At eleven o'clock at night the alarm was given that the Royalist forces were about to be attacked by the patriots, whose army had been seen advancing. The Spaniards retreated in a panic, and Paez and his fellow-prisoners effected their escape.

The following morning, when the Royalists had recovered from their alarm, they could find no enemy within a radius of fifty miles. This incident was put down by the populace to the intervention in his favour on the part of the host of departed spirits known as the "ejercito de las animas."

Paez was extremely popular among his men, the hardy Llaneros of the northern plains, born horsemen and fighters, corresponding in many respects with the famous Gauchos of the south. Paez himself was a magnificent horseman, and wielded the lance, the characteristic weapon of the Llaneros, to perfection.

He was thus doubly beloved of his troops, since it was these qualities, of course, which appealed to them more than the military strategy of which he gave such marked evidence. On one occasion, when accompanied by very few of his own troops, Paez rode up to a powerful body of Royalist cavalry.

When quite close to the enemy his men turned their horses as though in sudden terror, and galloped away, hotly pursued by the Royalist horsemen. When Paez considered that he had drawn these sufficiently far from their camp, he turned upon them and cut them up in detail.

His most extraordinary feat, however, was the capture of some Spanish gunboats on the River Apure by means of his Llanero cavalry. This is an account of the feat as given by an eye-witness who was attached to the British Legion: "Bolivar stood on the shore gazing at these [the gunboats] in despair, and continued disconsolately parading in front of them, when Paez, who had been on the look out, rode up and inquired the cause of his disquietude.

His Excellency observed: 'I would give the world to have possession of the Spanish flotilla, for without it I can never cross the river, and the troops are unable to march.' 'But it shall be yours in an hour,' replied Paez. 'It is impossible,' said Bolivar; 'and the men must all perish.'

'Leave that to me,' rejoined Paez, and galloped off. In a few minutes he returned, bringing up his guard of honour, consisting of 300 lancers selected from the main body of the Llaneros for their proved bravery and strength, and, leading them to the bank, thus addressed them: 'We must have these flecheres or die. Let those follow Tio who please' ('Tio,' or 'uncle,' was the popular name by which Paez was known to his men), and at the same time, spurring his horse, pushed into the river and swam towards the flotilla.

The guard followed him with their lances in hand, now encouraging their horses to bear up against the current by swimming by their sides and patting their necks, and then shouting to scare away the alligators, of which there were hundreds in the river, until they reached the boats, when, mounting their horses, they sprang from their backs on board them, headed by their leader, and, to the astonishment of those who beheld them from the shore, captured every one of them.

To English officers it may appear inconceivable that a body of cavalry, with no other arms than their lances, and no other mode of conveyance across a rapid river than their horses, should attack and take a fleet of gunboats amidst shoals of alligators; but, strange as it may seem, it was actually accomplished, and there are many officers now in England who can testify to the truth of it."

It will be evident from exploits such as these that the Venezuelans were fortunate in their leaders. After a while Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, began to see that the materialization of his lifelong ideal was now no longer a matter of the dim distant future.

The struggle had been severe, and the fortunes of war had proved fickle at the beginning. At one period it had seemed that even Nature had fought against the South American cause. At Barquisimeto an earthquake had shattered the barracks of the soldiers of the Independence, and many hundreds of troops were crushed beneath the ruins.

The moral as well as the material effect of this disaster was serious in the extreme. Miranda, moreover, although able, had proved himself an unfortunate General. In the end he was captured by the Spaniards, and died in captivity in Cadiz.

Even when the tide of battle had definitely turned against the Spaniards, their desperate straits induced them to desperate measures, and the fortitude of the patriots continued to be put severely to the test. One of the most dreaded Spanish moves, for instance, was the freeing of the slaves and the arming of these against their late colonial masters.

So embittered became the struggle that prisoners were put to death on both sides, and many terrible massacres ensued in consequence. A number of other prominent patriot leaders now came forward to assist Bolivar and his comrades, among these being Nariño, who proved himself victorious in many fights against the Royalists. At length, in 1821, Bolivar and Paez effected a junction of their forces, and marched to meet the Spanish army. On June 24 the Battle of Carabobo was fought, which resulted in the complete defeat of the Royalist troops.

This Battle of Carabobo was one which had far-reaching effects in Venezuela. In preparation for this fight Bolivar's army was formed in three divisions. The first, commanded by General Paez, contained the Cazadores Britannicus, or British Light Infantry, numbering 800 men, and 100 of the Irish Legion. This division, with the local troops, was of 3,100 men. The second, commanded by Cadeno, consisted of 1,800; and the third, led by Ambrosio Plaza, was composed of the Rifles, a regiment officered by Englishmen, and other regiments, in all 2,500 men.

The army had suffered terrible privations, and, in crossing the River Aparito some time before the battle, many men, including a number of Englishmen, had actually perished from the attacks of that terrible fish, the perai. Mention has already been made of this fish, which, no bigger than a perch, is provided with teeth which will tear the flesh from the bones in a few seconds. It was from the attacks of flocks of these that the unfortunate men had succumbed.

Just before the battle Bolivar rode along the front of his army, and it is said that the English gavehim three "hurrahs" that were heard a mile off. After this, nevertheless, the attack was postponeduntil the next day, and during the interval the rain came down in tropical sheets. The Spaniardsfought with extreme gallantry, and the battle was waged in the most determined fashion on bothsides before victory definitely inclined to the patriot forces. The English took a veryprominent share in this battle, losing no less than 600 out of 900 men.

Bolivar had now all but fulfilled the oath he had sworn years before in Rome. The Battle of Carabobo proved one of the most decisive of the campaign. Its conclusion marked the end of the Spanish occupation of the north. Bolivar had now cleared his own country of the Spaniards, and was free to turn his attention to Peru.

In the south-east of the Continent the struggle for liberty was far less prolonged than that in the districts of the centre, west, and north. It may be that the wide, open, agricultural plains had infused into the dwellers of Argentina an inherent sense of independence which had continued to flourish and grow, notwithstanding the dominion of the Spaniards. In any case, it was here that the revolt was, if not more enthusiastic, at all events more rapid.

Since 1776, moreover, the date when the provinces of the River Plate were exalted to the condition of a Viceroyalty, a certain freedom of intercourse had obtained which had been utterly lacking before. The trade of the country had expanded, and imports from Europe were now permitted access to the River Plate without first being subjected to the supervision of Panamá or Peru.

When the struggle began, it found the Argentine patriots enthusiastic and prepared. On August 21, 1808, an act of fealty was sworn to Ferdinand VII. This, nevertheless, met with disapproval on the part of many Argentines, who desired the establishment of a junta similar to that of Seville.

The party in favour of this increased rapidly in strength, and shortly afterwards the Viceroy, Liniers, resigned. Although he had to a certain extent the support of the patriot party, his position in the face of the complicated situation had become extremely difficult. He was succeeded on July 30, 1809, by Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros. The latter lost no time in giving proof of liberal intentions. He opened the ports to English vessels, and the commercial situation of the country, which had been deplorable, improved immediately.

In the meanwhile some revolutionary outbreaks at Chuquisaca and La Paz were suppressed by the Royalist troops with a brutality and wanton slaughtering which roused a storm of indignation in Buenos Aires. Cornelio de Saavedra, one of the patriot leaders in the capital, succeeded, however, in preventing an open rising, since this would undoubtedly have been premature.

A secret society was now formed in Buenos Aires, counting in its ranks Belgrano, Nicolas Rodriguez Peña, Manuel Alberdi, Viamonte, Guido, and others. From this nucleus the regiment of patricios was formed, and was commanded by Cornelio de Saavedra.

The chief object of this society was the foundation of an adequate representative Government. To this end its members worked towards the abolition of the Viceroyalty and the formation of a new species of Constitution.

On May 22, 1810, a great meeting was held at which it was resolved that the authority of the Viceroyalty had expired. On this it was proposed that a junta should be created. Confusion, dispute, and intrigue followed; but the mind of the people was made up, and its will was no longer to be denied.

Continue with Chapter Sixteen Second Part

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