Battle of Ayacucho

Battle of Ayacucho

The Battle of Ayacucho in Peru occurred between the Royalists (Spanish) and Patriots during the South American Wars of Independence (1808–1829). Also known as the Battle of the Generals, it was fought on December 9, 1824, on the high plain in southern Peru and ended in victory for the forces seeking independence from Spain.Although other Spanish colonies in America had already been granted independence, Spain sought to hold Peru because of its considerable mineral wealth and the largely apolitical attitude of its people. In 1823, however, revolution and upheaval in Spain created widespread dissension among the Spanish forces in Peru. In 1824 Patriot leader Simón Bolívar and General Antonio José de Sucre took advantage of this and opened a military offensive, hoping to retake Lima from the Royalists.

On August 6 their Patriot army of some 9,000 men met and defeated at Jurin, some 100 miles northeast of Lima, a Royalist army of equal size under General José Canterac. Only about 2,000 men on each side were engaged in a cavalry fight. No shots were fired; the battle was decided solely by sabers. Following this battle, the Spanish withdrew into the highlands southeast of Lima. While Bolívar organized a new government in Lima, Sucre continued the campaign against the Royalists.After prolonged maneuvering during the autumn of 1824, the two sides came together in battle on the Plain of Ayacucho, 186 miles southeast of Lima. In the Quechua language Ayacucho means “dead corner,” referring to a slaughter of natives there by the Spanish early in their conquest of Peru.

Spanish Viceroy José de La Serna y Hirojosa commanded the Royalist force of some 9,300 men and seven guns. Sucre had 5,780 men and two guns. Both sides had some cavalry.In the maneuvering before the battle, La Serna managed to position his force north of Sucre’s army, hoping to cut the Patriots off from the sea and additional forces that Bolívar was raising in Lima. La Serna tried to employ his superior numbers to advantage by encircling his opponent, but Sucre avoided this, taking up an excellent defensive position on the plain. La Serna then planned to pin the enemy flanks while finishing off the Patriots with a drive into the center of their line. Sucre planned to allow La Serna to attack, hoping that he would be able to first contain the attack and then exploit it with a reserve of three battalions of infantry and five cavalry squadrons.

The battle opened early on the morning of December 9. The Royalist left wing advanced first against the Patriot right wing commanded by General José Maria Córdoba. This attack failed, as did another Royalist assault on the Patriot center. Córdoba then counterattacked, driving back the Royalist left and opening a break in the Royalist lines that allowed Sucre to introduce his infantry and cavalry reserves to seal the victory. The entire battle had lasted less than an hour and a half.

Despite being outnumbered, Sucre had won a complete victory. The Royalists lost 1,400 dead and 700 wounded, while the Patriots sustained 309 dead and 607 wounded. Particularly grievous for the Royalist cause was the large number of senior officers—including 15 generals, 16 colonels, and 68 lieutenant colonels— among the 2,500 Royalists taken prisoner. For this reason the engagement is sometimes called the Battle of the Generals. La Serna, who had received a half dozen wounds, was among those captured.

Under the terms of capitulation, La Serna agreed to withdraw all Spanish forces from Peru. Sucre then moved into upper Peru. In August 1825 he declared the province of Chuquisaca independent and renamed it Bolivia, in Bolívar’s honor. Although fighting by small isolated Spanish units continued thereafter, the Battle of Ayacucho marked the effective end of the South American Wars of Independence.

References

Anna, Timothy E. The Fall of the Royal Government in Peru. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.

Archer, C., ed. The Wars of Independence in Spanish America. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2000.

Lynch, John. The Spanish-American Revolutions. New York: Norton, 1986.

Prago, Albert. The Revolutions in Spanish America. New York: Macmillan, 1970.

Sherwell, Guillermo. Antonio José de Sucre. Washington, DC: Byron S. Adams, 1924.