Simon Bolivar’s British Soldiers Were His Secret Weapon

Simón Bolívar, the vaunted “Libertador” of South America, was in deep trouble. Outflanked on the left by Spanish royalists at Vargas Swamp in New Granada (present-day Colombia), his troops had withdrawn in dysfunction, threatening Bolívar’s patriot military with collapse. The state of affairs known as for instant motion.

With out hesitation James Rooke led his battalion of 2nd Rifles in a determined bayonet cost to drive the menacing enemy from the heights. Combating the royalists uphill toe to toe, the patriots suffered horrendous losses earlier than extra reserves turned the tide. By the point the firing stopped, Rooke and his second-in-command, Arthur Sandes, had been significantly wounded. Shedding his shattered left arm to amputation, Rooke died just a few days later.

British Volunteers In South America

Rooke was no odd commander, and his 2nd Rifles no odd battalion. They had been a component of the British Legions, recruited by Bolívar amid the 1808–33 South American wars of independence to offer the fight expertise lots of his native troops lacked. The battalion was a hodgepodge of primarily British and Irish veterans of the Napoléonic and North American wars. In time they had been joined by Germans and even a scattering of Bengalis, West Indians and Individuals.

The volunteers ranged from adventurers and mercenaries, to criminals, deserters and scallywags. Many merely absconded with Bolívar’s cash. Those that did present as much as battle, nonetheless, performed a key function within the varied fights for independence. Some remained in South America to grow to be leaders and heroes within the new republics.

Bolívar’s efforts to recruit British fight veterans of the Napoléonic Wars had been terribly profitable, attracting sharpshooters, foot troopers and mounted troops. Lots of the latter had been in the end assigned to the first and 2nd Venezuelan Hussars. (Museo Nacional de Colombia)

IN Want of Veteran fighters

Resolved to releasing northern South America from Spanish rule, Bolívar nonetheless realized his revolutionary military lacked skilled, skilled troopers. Thus in 1817 he made a concerted effort by way of brokers in London to recruit these officers and noncommissioned officers who had discovered themselves abruptly unemployed within the wake of Napoléon Bonaparte’s 1815 last defeat within the Netherlands at Waterloo. The European nations that had aligned in opposition to the “Little Corporal” had been awash with huge numbers of skilled troopers and no conflict to battle. By one estimate Nice Britain alone had a half million unemployed combating males.

Amongst them Bolívar discovered the veterans he wanted. Ignoring the protests of its late Napoléonic wars ally Spain, the British authorities tacitly permitted Bolívar’s recruitment of its idle troopers. There may be hypothesis the Duke of Wellington himself inspired the scheme.

Bolívar’s recruitment efforts had been terribly profitable, and the British regiments crammed out quickly. Amongst them had been the first and 2nd Venezuelan Hussars and the first Venezuelan Lancers, though some European officers — together with William Miller, Thomas Cochrane and the infamous Gregor MacGregor—served other than the legions with excessive distinction as employees and subject officers. Competitors for commissions was fierce, on condition that many captains and lieutenants within the British military had been then serving at half pay, whereas many veteran NCOs had been summarily discharged.

Though the volunteer models had been collectively generally known as the British Legions, some 1,700 Irishmen recruited by adventurer John Devereux shaped what was dubbed the Irish Legion. In 1818 British Legion commander James Towers English recruited a 1,000-man Second British Legion that included 110 Hanoverians who had seen motion at Waterloo with the King’s German Legion of the British military. Bolívar reorganized and reconstituted his military a number of instances through the wars of independence.


The Second British Legion’s motto was “Die or Conquer,” recognizing their sure destiny ought to they fail. In his two-volume 1828 biography of William Miller, the overall’s brother John described the attainable penalties: “The patriot soldier would possibly certainly anticipate to flee with life, decreased to the situation of a slave; however with the patriot generals and officers it was solely a selection between victory and dying. They knew full properly what can be the merciless coverage of the Spaniards in the event that they proved victorious.”

The battle through which Rooke was mortally wounded occurred on July 25, 1819, close to Paipa, within the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Granada, 100 miles northeast of the capital at Santa Fé de Bogotá. In June Bolívar led a joint expedition of Venezuelans and New Granadans west to liberate Bogotá from the Spanish. A military of 1,700 royalists beneath Col. José Maria Barreiro got down to intercept them.

Rooke To The Rescue

Having endured a compelled march throughout the Andes in damp, icy situations, Bolívar’s troops arrived in New Granada exhausted. His cavalry had no horses, an absence of pack mules had compelled the column to desert provides, and the moisture had corroded muskets and saturated cartridges. After amassing provides, arms, ammunition, horses, mules and recruits from among the many native populace, Bolívar resumed his march with some 2,700 males.

Bolívar initially discovered Spanish dug in close to Topagá. Whereas a patriot holding drive confronted the royalists, the overall maneuvered to assault from the rear solely to search out himself hemmed in by the practically impassible terrain of the Vargas Swamp. Studying of Bolívar’s maneuver, Barreiro pivoted to assault. Bolívar held his cavalry and the British Legion in reserve whereas his major effort contested the Spanish assault inch by inch. Barreiro responded by committing his reserves every time the patriots appeared to withdraw. Anticipating a rout, he in the end dedicated all his reserves.

Regardless of holding a numerical benefit over the Spanish, Bolívar abruptly discovered his left outflanked and his troops withdrawing in panic. It was then he dedicated his reserves, together with Rooke’s 2nd Rifles.

As one author noticed, “The bayonet within the palms of an offended British soldier is a fearful weapon,” and Rooke’s ferocious cost certainly saved the day, however at a excessive value to the British Legion.

WIns and extra wins

The slender victory was a preview of the decisive Battle of Boyacá scarcely two weeks later. Marching his troops southwest from Vargas Swamp, Bolívar raced to assault frivolously defended Bogotá. If the royalists gained the race, Bolívar’s marketing campaign would grind to a halt, and any strategic benefit would cross to the Spanish. If Bolívar gained, the patriot military can be able to eject the Spaniards and safe independence for New Granada.
The opposing generals met once more on Aug. 7. Bolívar’s patriot military had grown to greater than 2,800 troopers, whereas

Barreiro had additionally secured reinforcements and fielded just below 2,700 males. Catching the Spanish on the march, patriot Gens. Francisco de Paula Santander and José Antonio Anzoátegui moved to separate the royalist forces, forcing their small vanguard to take defensive positions at a slender bridge throughout the Rio Teatinos. Unable to face up to Santander’s assault, the Spanish van fled throughout the bridge to a low hill overlooking the river.

Bolívar then ordered a pincer assault. Anzoátegui led the Barcelona and Bravos de Paez battalions in opposition to the Spanish major physique on the precise, whereas the British Legion and the first Rifles beneath Sandes pressed the assault on the vanguard. Anzoátegui quickly drove off the Spanish cavalry and captured the royalist artillery. In the meantime, advancing uphill within the face of musket and cannon fireplace, Sandes’ Rifles routed the van, collapsing Spanish resistance. The patriots captured 1,600 of the enemy, together with Barreiro, at a lack of solely 13 killed.

hail the COnquering hero

When Bolívar entered Bogotá, metropolis officers proffered him a laurel wreath. The patriot commander humbly declined, deeming the lads of Sandes’ Rifles extra deserving of the distinction. He then conferred on every British soldier the Order of Liberators.

The victory resulted within the expulsion of the Spaniards and a weakening of the Spanish efforts farther south. So profound had been the modifications that present-day Colombians nonetheless have a good time August 7 as a nationwide vacation. The victory additionally set the stage for campaigns culminating within the independence of Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.
Whereas the British Legion and Sandes’ Rifles sustained solely gentle casualties at Boyacá, they had been to endure mightily at Carabobo two years later.

Liberating Venezuela

Of all of the Latin American international locations Caracas-born Bolívar sought to liberate, maybe probably the most tough to let out was his native Venezuela.

Two successive campaigns — the primary in 1810 by Gen. Francisco de Miranda, the second in 1813 by Bolívar — had established the First and Second Republics of Venezuela. Neither lasted lengthy, having been retaken by the Spanish in 1812 and ’14, respectively. When the royalists regained management the second time, Bolívar signed an armistice with the Spanish even whereas transferring to regroup and reorganize his military. He launched the third marketing campaign for independence in 1821, partaking a royalist military beneath Gen. Miguel de la Torre close to the Rio Carabobo in northern Venezuela on June 24.

Though Bolívar once more loved numerical superiority, a patriot victory was removed from assured. The Spaniards occupied a robust defensive place on low hills overlooking the principle street. A frontal assault would require the patriots to assault uphill within the open. As an alternative, Bolívar reverted to type and break up his forces to assault the Spanish flanks.

Bolívar accepts the Spanish flag after his 1821 victory at Carabobo, a battle through which the British Legion’s Albion Battalion suffered mightily. (De Agostini/Getty Pictures)

Sons of Albion

Amongst his veteran forces was the British Legion’s Albion Battalion, comprising some 350 infantry, together with 100 Germans. Main the battalion was Col. Thomas Ilderton Ferrier, an Irishman who had been instrumental in its formation. Bolívar ordered the Albion and a patriot regiment known as the Bravos de Apure to assault the Spanish proper. Whereas maneuvering into place, the attackers got here beneath point-blank musket fireplace from three Spanish battalions, and the “bravos” broke and fled. Although beneath fireplace, exhausted, low on ammunition and going through overwhelming odds, the lads of the Albion fastened bayonets and superior in line.

One account describes the motion as “a job that required not solely heroic braveness, however Herculean endurance and bulldog willpower to maintain on whereas the final spark of life and power was left.” It was a cost of epic proportions, 200 yards uphill within the face of musket and cannon fireplace. Regardless of horrific casualties — exacerbated by uncharacteristic hesitancy on Bolívar’s half — the legion seized the Spanish positions, forcing the enemy troops to interrupt. Ferrier and a 3rd of his males had been killed within the try. Solely then did Bolívar commit his reserves. The Spanish retreat quickly became a rout, leaving greater than half of the royalists useless, wounded or captured.

Bolívar’s victory at Carabobo secured each Venezuelan independence and the institution of Gran Colombia, encompassing present-day Venezuela, Colombia, mainland Ecuador, Panama and elements of Peru and Brazil — Bolívar’s imaginative and prescient of a United States of South America. El Libertador singled out the lads of the Albion because the “saviors of my nation.”

Sucre Strikes

Whereas Bolívar tended to issues within the north, he entrusted his pal and most in a position commander, Antonio José de Sucre, with command of the southern military, a drive of Colombians, Peruvians, Argentines and the British Legions. In 1822 Sucre resolved to drive the Spanish from their administrative capital at Quito (within the highlands of present-day Ecuador).

Bypassing hostile territory, Sucre first led his military south to take Cuenca earlier than turning again north towards Quito. On Could 24, his practically 3,000-man military confronted some 1,900 royalists beneath Gen. Melchior Aymerich on the slopes of 15,696-foot Pichincha volcano, overlooking Quito.

Sucre’s intent was to lure Spanish forces from behind town partitions and interact them on the plains beneath Pichincha. Troops he despatched up its steep, rocky slopes would then emerge from concealment to flank the royalist military. Sadly, the patriots on Pichincha’s heights suffered altitude illness and confronted bitter chilly and slick trails muddied by rain and snow. Worse but, Aymerich anticipated Sucre’s technique and ordered his veteran Aragón Battalion to climb larger than Sucre’s Peruvian Cazadores del Paya and assault from the rear. The livid Spanish assault caught the Peruvians without warning, prompting their disorderly withdrawal.

Portrait of Antonio Jose de Sucre (1795-1830) by Antonio Salas. (De Agostini, Getty Pictures)

Taking the Excessive Floor

The 400-plus males of the Albion Battalion had been within the rear of Sucre’s military, guarding the availability and ammunition prepare. Seeing his Peruvian battalion falter, Sucre ordered the Albions to climb even larger than the Spanish troops and rout them out with bayonets. Sandes and his males had been itching for a battle, and their unanticipated cost stopped the far bigger enemy battalion useless in its tracks. Discovering themselves trapped between the Albions, the regrouped Peruvians and Colombian reinforcements of the Alto Magdalena Battalion, the Aragons fled downhill for the security of Quito’s stout partitions, quickly adopted by your entire royalist military.

The Spanish left 590 useless and wounded on the sphere together with 14 valuable cannons, whereas the patriots suffered 340 killed and wounded. Hemmed in, Aymerich had no various however to give up his remaining 1,260 troops and town.

The importance of the Battle of Pichincha is tough to overstate. The victory added Quito (the capital of present-day Ecuador) to Bolívar’s Gran Colombia. It additionally marked the start of the top of Spanish rule in South America. However for the heroic cost of the Albion Battalion that day, the battle might have gone very in another way, and a reinvigorated royalist military may need thwarted Bolívar’s revolution.

Rogue Revolutionaries

As necessary because the British Legions had been within the battle to finish Spanish rule in South America, many British, Irish and different European troopers additionally served the reason for independence from outdoors the legions.

Foremost amongst them was British military veteran William Miller, who rose to command Bolívar’s cavalry through the Peruvian Conflict of Independence. His famend battlefield consciousness was particularly evident on the Dec. 9, 1824, Battle of Ayacucho, the decisive encounter the conflict. Recognizing Sucre’s military was collapsing beneath a Spanish assault, Miller, with out orders, led a cost that stopped the assault. Within the wake of the battle the unbiased Peruvian authorities promoted Miller to grand marshal, its highest navy rank.

Jack AUbrey and Horatio Hornblower

Thomas Cochrane, a profitable Royal Navy captain, left Britain in 1818 to command, in flip, Chile’s and Brazil’s navies. Lord Cochrane was profitable in just about each naval engagement through which he participated. After his service in South America, Cochrane returned to the Royal Navy and was in the end appointed honorary rear admiral of the UK. He’s honored as a hero in each Chile and Brazil, and his legendary exploits impressed novelists C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian to create their respective fictional Royal Navy heroes Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey.

Arthur Sandes survived his wounds and the wars, settled in Cuenca and served Ecuador as a normal and governor of the Azuay Division.

Gregor MacGregor’s Ignominious finish

Scottish adventurer Gregor MacGregor participated within the Venezuelan revolution virtually from its outset. A British military veteran of the Peninsular Conflict, he fought for each Venezuela and New Grenada, rising to the rank of normal. Although initially profitable, controversy tainted his in any other case distinguished service after he deserted contingents of British volunteers in two 1819 campaigns in New Granada.

His postwar repute plummeted nonetheless additional. In peacetime he cheated traders and would-be settlers out of huge sums of money by promoting bogus bonds and land within the fictitious colony of Poyais, truly a nugatory tract he’d been granted in commerce by the king of a Honduran indigenous tribe on the Mosquito Coast. Although his was amongst historical past’s most brazen schemes, and dozens of settlers died making the journey, a court docket by no means convicted him. MacGregor later returned to Venezuela, the place he died in 1845. Thought of a nationwide hero, he was buried with full navy honors at Caracas Cathedral, the resting place of Bolívar’s spouse and oldsters.

Whereas Bolívar held the officers and males of the British Legions in excessive regard, the success of his wars of independence in the end rests with El Libertador. In spite of everything, Bolívar was an excellent and charismatic commander whose means and management ensured the inevitable finish of royalist rule. But the endurance, daring and braveness of his veteran overseas volunteers undoubtedly hastened the day when the Spanish crown not reigned over South America.

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