Daily Archives: 2 March 2022

Fratricide at Ayacucho, 1827

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 334-335:

At eight o’clock, as the sun warmed the morning air, one of the Spanish generals, Juan Antonio Monet, a tall, sturdy man with a russet beard, approached the patriot lines and called out to General José María Córdova, whom he knew from former days. Monet told Córdova that in the royalist ranks, as in the patriot, there were soldiers with relatives on the opposite side: would he allow them to greet each other before hostilities began? When General Córdova consulted with Sucre, the general in chief agreed immediately. And so it was that fifty men of opposing sides met on the slopes of Cundurcunca, among them a number of brothers, to embrace and weep—as one chronicler put it—in a heartbreaking display of farewell. Indeed, for Peruvians as for Venezuelans and Colombians before them, revolution meant fratricide, and men who spoke the same language, held the same religion, even shared flesh and blood, would now set upon one another in defense of an idea. Seeing the heart-wrenching scenes, General Monet asked Córdova if there wasn’t some way to come to terms and avoid the bloodshed. Córdova answered: Only if you recognize American independence and return peacefully to Spain. Monet was taken aback and said as much: Didn’t the young patriot general realize that the Spanish army was vastly superior? Córdova responded that combat would determine whether that was true. Monet walked away shaking his head. There was no turning back.

The battle was fierce, short. The royalists clambered down Cundurcunca in their red, gold, and blue regalia, laboring mightily under the banners, their helmets glinting in the sun. Republicans in dark, somber overcoats lined up to meet them. Cries went up as they watched the enemy troops descend: “Horsemen! Lancers! What you see are hardly warriors! They are not your equals! To freedom!”—and so on, up and down the lines. Before the battle officially began, a young Spanish brigadier was first to attack and first to fall; even so, the royalists took immediate control of the action. General Valdés and his men descended on the republicans like a horde of punishing angels, splitting their formation so wide that it gaped, momentarily helpless. But patriot morale was strong and the setback spurred them to higher resolve. When Córdova cried out, “Soldiers! Man your arms! Move on to victory!” his battalion scrambled to mount a fierce retaliation and soon the course of battle changed. The patriots bayoneted royalists left and right, snatching their silver helmets as trophies. By one in the afternoon, they had taken the heights. By mid-afternoon the field was littered with the fallen. Before sundown, Canterac offered Sucre his unconditional surrender.

Almost three thousand royalists were taken prisoner, surrendering in the face of a daunting republican fervor. Perhaps it was the exhaustion after so many weeks of forced marches; or a terror of Bolívar’s famed barbarian hordes; or the dizzying altitude, which, at thirteen thousand feet, can steal the very breath from a man. Or perhaps what prevailed in the end was Sucre’s brilliant strategy to make the soldiers of the king work harder, climb higher, march longer; and then strike them with a virulent force. The white-haired viceroy La Serna, fighting bravely to the last, had to be carried off the field with injuries; General Miller, who found him by chance in one of the huts where the wounded were nursed, offered the gallant old soldier tea from his saddlebag and insisted that medics attend to him promptly. The dead amounted to 1,800 for Spain; only 300 for the republicans.

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