Bolívar's campaign to liberate New Granada

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Bolívar's campaign to liberate New Granada
Part of Venezuelan War of Independence
Paso del ejercito del Libertador por el Paramo de Pisba.jpg
Paso del ejército del Libertador por el Páramo de Pisba. Francisco Antonio Cano (1922). Bolívar, his staff and llanero soldiers tend to a dying comrade on the Moorlands of Pisba. (Museo Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá).
Location Viceroyalty of New Granada
Result Liberation of New Granada by Independentists

Flag of Miranda.svg Venezuela
Flag of New Granada (1814-1816).svg Neogranadians

Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Spanish Monarchy
Commanders and leaders
Simón Bolívar
José Antonio Páez
Francisco de Paula Santander
Juan José de Sámano y Uribarri
2,200 (1819) 4,500 (1819)

Bolívar's campaign to liberate New Granada of 1819-1820 was part of the Colombian and Venezuelan wars of independence and was one of the many military campaigns fought by Simón Bolívar. Bolívar's victory in New Granada (today, Colombia) secured the eventual independence of northern South America. It provided Bolívar with the economic and human resources to complete his victory over the Spanish in Venezuela and Colombia. Bolívar's attack on New Granada is considered one of the most daring in military history, compared by contemporaries and some historians to Napoleon's crossing of the Alps in 1800 and José San Martín's Crossing of the Andes in 1817. [1] [2]

Venezuelan War of Independence Venezuelan section of the Spanish American war of independence

The Venezuelan War of Independence (1810–1823) was one of the Spanish American wars of independence of the early nineteenth century, when independence movements in Latin America fought against rule by the Spanish Empire, emboldened by Spain's troubles in the Napoleonic Wars.

Military career of Simón Bolívar

The military and political career of Simón Bolívar,, which included both formal service in the armies of various revolutionary regimes and actions organized by himself or in collaboration with other exiled patriot leaders during the years from 1811 to 1830, was an important element in the success of the independence wars in South America. Given the unstable political climate during these years, Bolívar and other patriot leaders, such as Santiago Mariño, Manuel Piar, José Francisco Bermúdez and Francisco de Paula Santander often had to go into exile in the Caribbean or nearby areas of Spanish America that at the moment were controlled by those favoring independence, and from there, carry on the struggle. These wars resulted in the creation of several South American states out of the former Spanish colonies, the currently existing Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and the now defunct Gran Colombia.

Colombia Country in South America

Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia, is a sovereign state largely situated in the northwest of South America, with territories in Central America. Colombia shares a border to the northwest with Panama, to the east with Venezuela and Brazil and to the south with Ecuador and Peru. It shares its maritime limits with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Colombia is a unitary, constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments, with the capital in Bogota.



During the years 1815 and 1816, Spain had reconquered most of New Granada after five years of de facto and official independence. By 1817, Bolívar had set up his headquarters in the Orinoco region in southern Venezuela. It was an area from which the Spaniards could not easily oust him. There he engaged the services of several thousand foreign soldiers and officers, mostly British and Irish, set up his capital at Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar) and established liaisons with the revolutionary forces of the Llanos, including one group of Venezuelan llaneros (cowboys) led by José Antonio Páez and another group of New Granadan exiles led by Francisco de Paula Santander.

Orinoco river in South America

The Orinoco River is one of the longest rivers in South America at 2,140 kilometres (1,330 mi). Its drainage basin, sometimes known as the Orinoquia, covers 880,000 square kilometres (340,000 sq mi), with 76.3 percent of it in Venezuela and the remainder in Colombia. It is the fourth largest river in the world by discharge volume of water. The Orinoco River and its tributaries are the major transportation system for eastern and interior Venezuela and the llanos of Colombia. The environment in the Orinoco's basin is extremely diverse; it hosts a wide variety of flora and fauna.

British Legions

The British Legion or British Legions were foreign volunteer units that fought under Simón Bolívar against Spain for the independence of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and José de San Martín for the independence of Peru in the Spanish American wars of independence. Venezuelans generally called them the Albion Legion. They were composed of over seven thousand volunteers, mainly Napoleonic War veterans from Great Britain and Ireland, as well as some German veterans and some locals recruited after arriving in South America. Volunteers in the British Legion were motivated by a combination of both genuine political motives and mercenary motives.

Ciudad Bolívar City in Bolívar, Venezuela

Ciudad Bolívar, formerly known as Angostura and St. Thomas de Guyana, is the capital of Venezuela's southeastern Bolívar State. It lies at the spot where the Orinoco River narrows to about 1 mile (1.6 km) in width, is the site of the first bridge across the river, and is a major riverport for the eastern regions of Venezuela.

By 1819, José María Barreiro, who was in charge of the royalist troops in New Granada, counted with at least 4,500 trained soldiers at his command (without including the troops scattered throughout the region). Bolivar was able to round up merely 2,200 able men, which he distributed into four battalions, three regiments, one squadron, and an artillery company that lacked cannons. In the most part, Bolivar's soldiers were non-Spanish men, many of them recruited from the Venezuelan plains. Simon Bolivar's plan consisted of mobilizing his army from Venezuela to Casanare, in New Granada, to unite forces with Francisco de Paula Santander and his men, and infiltrate the territory through Tunja to combat the troops of Viceroy Juán de Sámano.

The campaign

Bolívar conceived of the operation in late 1818 and early 1819 after the Congress of Angostura began its deliberations and had reappointed him president of Venezuela. If Bolívar could liberate New Granada, he would have a whole new base from which to operate against Pablo Morillo, head of the royalist forces in the area. Central New Granada held great promise since, unlike Venezuela, it had only been recently conquered by Morillo and it had a prior six-year experience of independent government. Royalist sentiment, therefore, was not strong. But it would be hard to take the initiative against the better prepared and supplied royalist army. To surprise it, Bolívar decided to move during the rainy season, when the Llanos flooded up to a meter and the campaign season ended. Morillo's forces would be gone from the Llanos for months and no one would anticipate that Bolívar's troops would be on the move. The proposed route, however, was considered impassable, and therefore the plan understandably received little support from the Congress or from Páez. With only the forces he and Santander had recruited in the Apure and Meta River regions, Bolívar set off in June 1819. [3] [4] [5]

A military operation is the coordinated military actions of a state, or a non-state actor, in response to a developing situation. These actions are designed as a military plan to resolve the situation in the state or actor's favor. Operations may be of a combat or non-combat nature and may be referred to by a code name for the purpose of national security. Military operations are often known for their more generally accepted common usage names than their actual operational objectives.

Congress of Angostura

The Congress of Angostura was convened by Simón Bolívar and took place in Angostura during the wars of Independence of Colombia and Venezuela, culminating in the proclamation of Gran Colombia. It met from February 15, 1819, to July 31, 1821, when the Congress of Cúcuta began its sessions. It consisted of twenty-six delegates representing Venezuela and New Granada.

Second Republic of Venezuela reestablished Venezuelan Republic declared by Simón Bolívar

The Second Republic of Venezuela is the name used to refer to the reestablished Venezuelan Republic declared by Simón Bolívar on August 7, 1813. This declaration followed the defeat of Domingo Monteverde by Bolívar during the Admirable Campaign in the west and Santiago Mariño in his campaign in the east. The republic came to an end in the following year, after a series of defeats at the hands of José Tomás Boves.

Bolivar's troops cross the Cordillera Oriental Bolivar's troops in the Cordillera Oriental.jpg
Bolívar's troops cross the Cordillera Oriental

The route that the small army of about 2,500 men—including a British legion—took went from the hot and humid, flood-swept plains of Venezuela to the icy mountain pass of the Páramo de Pisba, at an altitude of 3,960 meters (13,000 feet), through the Cordillera Oriental. After the hardships of wading through a virtual sea, the mostly llanero army was not prepared and poorly clothed for the cold and altitude of the mountains. Many became ill or died. [6] [7] [8]

Páramo high-altitude wet tundra in South America

Páramo can refer to a variety of alpine tundra ecosystems. Some ecologists describe the páramo broadly as "all high, tropical, montane vegetation above the continuous timberline". A more narrow term classifies the páramo according to its regional placement in the northern Andes of South America and adjacent southern Central America. The páramo is the ecosystem of the regions above the continuous forest line, yet below the permanent snowline. It is a "Neotropical high mountain biome with a vegetation composed mainly of giant rosette plants, shrubs and grasses". According to scientists, páramos may be "evolutionary hot spots" and among the fastest evolving regions on Earth.

Cordillera Oriental (Colombia) mountain range in Colombia

The Cordillera Oriental is the widest of the three branches of the Colombian Andes. The range extends from south to north dividing from the Colombian Massif in Huila Department to Norte de Santander Department where it splits into the Serranía del Perijá and the Cordillera de Mérida in Venezuelan Andes. The highest peak is Ritacuba Blanco at 5,410 m (17,750 ft) in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy.

Despite some intelligence that Bolívar was on the move, the Spanish doubted Bolívar's army could make the trip, and therefore, they were taken by surprise when Bolívar's small army emerged from the mountains on 5 July. Bolívar rebuilt his forces by placing a levy on the local population. In a series of battles the republican army cleared its way to Bogotá. First at the Battle of Vargas Swamp on 25 July, Bolívar intercepted a royalist force attempting to reach the poorly defended capital. After the Vargas Swamp Battle, Bolivar reorganized his men, resting them until 4 August, when he ordered a return to Venezuela. However, in the night, he redirects his forces towards Tunja, and took the city by mid-day of 5 August 1819. Due to Bolivar's flash conquest, Barreiro was obliged to mobilize his troops to defend the capital, Santafé, from Bolivar. The Royalist men took the fastest route to Bogota (which led through the Boyacá Bridge) but were unable to pass, as Bolivar intercepted them, early morning of 7 August. Bolivar's republican troops were composed of approximately 2,850 men, which successfully divided and defeated the 2,670 royalist soldiers in a battle that lasted two hours. The battle resulted in the death of 66 republicans, 250 royalists, as well as the capture of approximately 1,600 of the remaining royal troops. The Battle of Boyacá on 7 August 1819, the bulk of the royalist army surrendered to Bolívar.

Conscription compulsory enlistment into national or military service

Conscription, sometimes called the draft, is the compulsory enlistment of people in a national service, most often a military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names. The modern system of near-universal national conscription for young men dates to the French Revolution in the 1790s, where it became the basis of a very large and powerful military. Most European nations later copied the system in peacetime, so that men at a certain age would serve 1–8 years on active duty and then transfer to the reserve force.

Bogotá Capital city in Colombia

Bogotá, officially Bogotá, Distrito Capital, abbreviated Bogotá, D.C., and formerly known as Santafé/Santa Fé de Bogotá between 1991 and 2000, is the capital and largest city of Colombia, administered as the Capital District, although often erroneously thought of as part of Cundinamarca. Bogotá is a territorial entity of the first order, with the same administrative status as the departments of Colombia. It is the political, economic, administrative, industrial, artistic, cultural, and sports center of the country.

Vargas Swamp Battle

Vargas Swamp Battle was an armed conflict that occurred near Paipa, on July 25, 1819. A joint Venezuelan and New Granadan army commanded by Simón Bolívar was trying to prevent Spanish forces from arriving at Santafe de Bogotá, which was lightly defended, before they did. Bolívar's army successfully bested the royalist army in spite of the exhaustion of the troops after climbing the Páramo de Pisba, and crossing the swamp. This battle and the next victory over the Spanish by the Boyacá Bridge secured the independence of New Granada.

On the day of the battle of Boyacá, Colonel Barrerio (leader of the royalist forces in Nueva Granada) was captured alongside 37 Spanish officers. The 38 prisoners were executed on 11 October 1819 by decree of Francisco de Paula Santander, keeping true to Bolivar's motto of 'war to the death.' On receiving the news, the viceroy, Juan José de Sámano, and the rest of royalist government fled the capital to Cartagena de Indias so fast that they left behind the treasury. On the afternoon of 10 August Bolívar's army entered Bogotá without any royalist resistance. [9] [10] [11] His arrival concluded the campaign for liberating Nueva Granada. The battle of Boyacá was a decisive triumph over Spanish power in Nueva Granada, and the Spanish America as a whole. Despite the Royalists' strength in the other provinces of the region, such as Santa Marta and Pasto - where resistance would withstand various years of revolutionary uprisings - the capital of the viceroyalty of Nueva Granada had fallen in the hands of the New Granadans.

Juan José de Sámano y Uribarri Viceroy of NEw grenada

Juan José Francisco de Sámano y Uribarri de Rebollar y Mazorra, was a Spanish military officer and viceroy of New Granada from 1818 to 1819, during the war of independence.

Political ramifications

With New Granada secure Bolívar returned to Venezuela, in a position of unprecedented military, political and financial strength. In his absence the Congress had flirted with deposing him, assuming that he would meet his death in New Granada. The vice-president Francisco Antonio Zea was deposed and replaced by Juan Bautista Arismendi. All this was quickly reversed when word got to the Congress of Bolívar's success. In December Bolívar returned to Angostura, where he urged the Congress to proclaim the creation of a new state: the Republic of Colombia (Gran Colombia). It did so on 17 December and elected him president of the new country. Since two of its three regions, Venezuela and Quito (Ecuador), were still under royalist control, it was only a limited achievement. [12] [13] [14] Bolívar continued his efforts against the royalist areas of Venezuela, culminating in the Battle of Carabobo two years later, which all but secured his control of northern South America. Bolívar's victory in New Granada was, therefore, a major turning point in the history of northern South America. With this shift in political power, the path was laid out for the union of Nueva Granada and Venezuela into the Republic of Colombia. However, the campaigns for independence would continue: Antonio José de Sucre marched South, towards Pasto, the Audiencia de Quito, the Viceroyalty of Peru, and the Alto Perú, while Bolivar sought to expand the campaign to the westernmost regions of Venezuela, which still lay under Spanish power, and counted with 27,000 soldiers for its defense.

See also

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  1. Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar, 273.
  2. Mijares, Augusto. The Liberator, 354.
  3. Lynch, John. Bolívar, A Life, 124-127.
  4. Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar, 261-264.
  5. Madariaga, Salvador de. Bolívar, 339-343.
  6. Lynch, John. Bolívar, A Life, 127-129.
  7. Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar, 264-266.
  8. Madariaga, Salvador de. Bolívar, 343-348.
  9. Lynch, John. Bolívar, A Life, 129-130.
  10. Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar, 266-73.
  11. Madariaga, Salvador de. Bolívar, 357-358.
  12. Lynch, John. Bolívar, A Life, 132-134.
  13. Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar, 274-275, 280-285.
  14. Madariaga, Salvador de. Bolívar, 353-354, 361-364.

Further reading