Talking Peace with Chivalry, 1820

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 255-256:

So it was that the archenemies of one of the bloodiest episodes of South American history met on a muddy road, far from the medullas of political power. They approached one another from opposite directions, their paths as contrary as their essential natures: Bolívar had come from a long line of aristocrats and wore his pedigree lightly; Morillo, born into a family of peasants, had become Count of Cartagena in the course of an illustrious career. Bolívar was confident, spontaneous, as only the wellborn can be; Morillo was shrewd and deliberate, having scrapped for every honor he had been awarded. Into that historic moment, Bolívar rode a strong mule, was accompanied by a handful of men, and was dressed in the garb of a humble soldier. Morillo, on the other hand, set out on a magnificent horse, was clad in a uniform bespangled with decorations, and accompanied by fifty of his best officers and a full regiment of hussars. As they rode over the bare hills in the damp chill of a November morning, they might have glimpsed the sparkling expanse of Lake Maracaibo in the distance. If they had glanced south, they would have seen the splendid peaks of the cordillera. Weary of war, anxious about their own capacities to execute it, they came to that crossroad with high and not dissimilar hopes.

Morillo was first to arrive, and when he appeared at the appointed place he was soon met by Bolívar’s aide Daniel O’Leary, who announced that the Liberator was on his way. As they perched on their horses, peering expectantly down the road, the general asked what kind of escort would accompany the president of the republic. O’Leary replied that Bolívar’s retinue amounted to no more than twelve patriot officers and the three Spanish commissioners who had negotiated the armistice in Trujillo. Morillo was taken aback. “Well,” he finally managed, “I thought my escort too small for this venture, but I see that my old enemy has outdone me in chivalry. I’ll order my hussars to withdraw.” He did so immediately. The Liberator’s modest party soon appeared on the crest of the hill that overlooked Santa Ana, and Morillo moved forward to meet it. As the two neared one another, General Morillo wanted to know which of the horsemen was Bolívar. When O’Leary pointed him out, the Spaniard exclaimed, “What? That little man in the blue jacket and sergeant’s cap; the one riding the mule?” But no sooner had he said it than Bolívar was before him. The generals dismounted and embraced each other heartily. Their words were cordial, warm—filled with the kind of respect and admiration only the most serious rivals can have for one another. They headed to the private house Morillo had commandeered for the occasion, and sat down with their officers for a celebratory lunch.

For all the enmity that had passed between them, the two leaders were instantly companionable, with much to discuss. Morillo had fought in the Battle of Trafalgar only days after Bolívar had trekked to Rome as a young man and made his spirited vow on the heights of Monte Sacro. Morillo had served under the Duke of Wellington, the brother of Richard Wellesley, whose help Bolívar had solicited when the revolution was but an idea, with much blood yet to be shed. There were innumerable toasts made to the end of hostilities and the future of Spanish American understanding. “To the victories of Boyacá!” one Spanish colonel sang out. “To Colombians and Spaniards,” General La Torre added, “may they march side by side all the way to hell against the despots and the tyrants!” The men spoke of sacrifices, of heroism, of the past ten years of their lives, which had been steeped in the dark business of war.

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Filed under Latin America, military, nationalism, Spain, war

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