San Juan Nepomuceno, Bolívar

Bolívar's War

Bolívar's War is a term coined by some historians to refer to a series of independence wars in South America from 1811 to 1825 led by General Simón Bolívar. These wars eventually led to the independence of several South American states from the colonial rule of Spain and the formation of Great Colombia.

The term Bolívar's Wars was coined to a linked series of emancipation movements in South America in which Bolívar had the command of the patriot forces, therefore it shouldn't be confused with the wars of liberation of the individual countries (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Bolivia) but with the time in which Bolívar was the commander in chief of the revolutionary forces. For example in Venezuela Bolívar was only appointed commander in chief in 1813 following his victory in the Admirable Campaign and later shared the supreme command with other generals like Santiago Mariño, Manuel Piar and José Francisco Bermúdez.

Beginning of the independence movement

Independence movements in the northern regions of Spanish South America had an inauspicious beginning in 1806. The small group of foreign volunteers that the Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda brought to his homeland failed to incite the populace to rise against Spanish rule. Creoles in the region wanted an expansion of the free trade that was benefiting their plantation economy. At the same time, however, they feared that the removal of Spanish control might bring about a revolution that would destroy their own power.

Creole elites in Venezuela had good reason to fear such a possibility, for one such revolution had recently exploded in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue. Beginning in 1791, a massive slave revolt sparked a general insurrection against the plantation system and French colonial power. The rebellion developed into both a civil war, pitting blacks and mulattos against whites, and an international conflict, as England and Spain supported the white plantation owners and rebels, respectively. By the first years of the 19th century, the rebels had shattered what had been a model colony and forged the independent nation of Haiti. Partly inspired by those Caribbean events, slaves in Venezuela carried out their own uprisings in the 1790s. Just as it served as a beacon of hope for the enslaved, Haiti was a warning of everything that might go wrong for elites in the cacao-growing areas of Venezuela and throughout slave societies in the Americas.

Independence movement in New Granada

Creole anxieties also contributed to the persistence of a strong loyalist faction in the Viceroyalty of New Granada, but they did not prevent the rise of an independence struggle there. Creoles organized revolutionary governments that proclaimed social and economic reforms in 1810 and openly declared a break with Spain the following year. Forces loyal to Spain fought the patriots from the start, leading to a pattern much like that which characterized the Plata: patriot rebels held the capital city and its surroundings but could not dominate large sections of the countryside. Some interpreted an 1812 earthquake that wreaked particular destruction on patriot-held areas as a sign of divine displeasure with the rebels. The year 1812 certainly was the onset of a difficult period for the independence armies of New Granada. Loyalist forces crushed the rebels' military, driving Bolívar into temporary exile.

Bolívar's Campaigns

Venezuelan War of Independence (1811-1812)

For details, see Venezuelan War of Independence

Venezuela declared its independence from Spain July 5 1811, beginning its wars against that country.

In 1812, Spanish forces led by General Domingo Monteverde defeated the Venezuelan revolutionary army, led by Francisco de Miranda, which surrendered at La Victoria in July 12, 1812, effectively ending the first phase of the revolutionary war; Simón Bolívar and other revolutionary leaders fled abroad.

Bolívar in Venezuela (1813-1814)

For details, see Admirable Campaign

After his defeat in the Venezuelan War of Independence in 1812, rebel leader Simón Bolívar fled to New Granada. He later returned with a new army, and the war entered an increasingly violent phase. After much of the older aristocrats had abandoned the cause of independence, younger officers, like Bolívar, carried on the struggle. Bolívar's forces invaded Venezuela from New Granada in 1813, waging a campaign with a ferocity captured perfectly by their motto, "war to the death". Captain General Domingo de Monteverde faced attacks on two fronts. Bolívar in the west and Santiago Mariño on the east. Bolívar's forces defeated the royalist army in a series of battles and entered Caracas on August 6, 1813, besieging Monteverde at Puerto Cabello by September 1813.

With loyalists displaying the same passion and violence, the rebels achieved only short-lived victories. Elites reacted with open distrust and opposition to the efforts of these common people. In 1814, royalist forces reinforced by new llanero (cowboy) recruits and led by José Tomás Boves lost a series of battles to Bolívar's forces but then decisively defeated Bolivar at La Puerta on June 15, 1814. Boves took Caracas in July 16, 1814, and again defeated Bolívar's army at Aragua in August 18, 1814, at a cost of 2,000 royalist casualties of the 10,000 engaged and most of the 3,000 in the republican army. Bolívar and other leaders then returned to New Granada. Llaneros played a key military role in the region's struggle. Turning the tide against independence, these highly mobile, ferocious fighters made up a formidable military force that pushed Bolívar out of his home country once more.

Spanish Invasion of New Granada (1815-1816)

For details, see Spanish Invasion of New Granada

By 1815, the independence movements in Venezuela and almost all across Spanish South America seemed moribund. A large military expedition sent by Ferdinand VII in that year reconquered Venezuela and most of New Granada. Yet another invasion led by Bolívar in 1816 fails miserably.

Bolívar in Venezuela (1816-1818)

For details, see Bolívar in Venezuela 1816-18

Bolívar returned to Venezuela in December 1816, again leading a largely unsuccessful insurrection against Spain in 1816-18.

Bolívar in New Granada (1819-1820)

For details, see Bolívar in New Granada

In 1819, Bolívar's forces from Venezuela crossed the Andes into New Granada in June-July 1819. At Boyacá August 7, his army of 2,000 defeated a Spanish and colonial force of 3,000. On August 10, 1819 Bolívar's republican forces took Bogotá. The Congress of Angostura then elected him the first president of the [[Gran Colombia|Republic of [Gran] Colombia]].

Bolívar in Venezuela (1821)

For details, see Bolívar in Venezuela 1821

Bolívar returned to Venezuela in April 1821, leading an army of 7,000 from New Granada. At Carabobo, June 24, his forces decisively defeated Spanish and colonial forces, winning Venezuelan independence, although hostilities continued.

Republican Campaign in Ecuador

For details, see Republican Campaign in Ecuador

At Pinchincha, Ecuador in May 24 1822, General Antonio de Sucre's Venezuelan forces defeated Spanish and colonial forces defending Quito, conquering the city.

Republican Campaign in Bolivia

For details, see Bolivian Independence War

Bolívar was now president of Gran Colombia and Peru. Only a small section of the continent in Upper Peru was still defended by royalist forces. The liberation of this region fell to Antonio de Sucre, and, in April 1825, he reported that the task had been completed. The new nation chose to be called Bolivia after the name of the Liberator.

Aftermath of Bolívar's War

Simón Bolívar had a dream of uniting all South American, Central American and Caribbean countries and turning them into a single, economically independent country, which he had planned to name Gran Colombia. However, internal divisions had resulted in wars, and the fragile South American coalition collapsed.

See also

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