Print this pageHistorical Text Archive © 1990 - 2014
by Jacquline Banks
The battle of Boyacá near the city of Bogotá, New Granada was a major turning point in the fight for independence in Spanish South America because it resulted in victory for the patriot army over the Spanish forces. The battle was of such great importance that this day, August 7th, 1819, is celebrated today in Colombia. It was Simón Bolívar’s greatest victory.
Simón José Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolivar was born on July 24, 1783, in Caracas. His parents were the upper class couple of don Juan Vicente Bolivar y Ponte and doña Maria de la Concepción Palacios y Blanco. His upbringing was filled with all the advantages that his family's position allowed, including a classical education. His study of the history and culture of ancient Rome and Greece were very influential in his life. When Bolivar was nine his parents died; he was sent to live with relatives until he was fifteen. Then he was sent to Europe to continue his education. On his way to Spain, Bolivar visited Mexico and, during this time, he began to develop his ideals of independence from Spain. There, he alarmed the viceroyalty with his views on the independence of Spanish America.
In Spain, Bolivar met his wife Maria Teresa Rodriguez del Toro y Alaysa. They were married in 1802 when he was only nineteen years old. In 1803, the happy couple returned to Bolivar's homeland of Venezuela. Soon after their return, Maria Teresa contracted yellow fever and died. Heartbroken, Bolivar vowed that he would never marry again. A promise he kept until his death.
Bolivar became a leading advocator for colonial independence form Spain. These ideals only grew as Bolivar got older:
"Bolivar returned to Venezuela in 1807 after a brief visit to the United States. In 1808, Napoleon installed his brother, Joseph, as King of Spain. This launched a great popular revolt in Spain known as the Peninsular War. In America, as in Spain, regional juntas were formed to resist the new king. Unlike the Spanish juntas, however, the American juntas fought against the power of the Spanish king, not only the person of Joseph Bonaparte.” (El Liberatador, par. 6)
That same year, Venezuela declared its independence from Spain and Bolivar was sent with others on a diplomatic mission to England. On June 3, 1811, Bolivar returned to Venezuela and, in August, made a speech calling for independence. He then participated in the battle of Valencia under the command of Francisco de Miranda. He would lead many battles in his fight for his beliefs. After the Spanish royalists took back Valencia, Bolivar fled to Cartagena where he wrote the Cartagena Manifesto (1812) in which he argued for the cooperation of Venezuela and New Granada in order to get their independence from Spain. This document gained him the support of New Granada—Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela—and he invaded Venezuela. It was after this battle that Bolivar was given the title of El Libertador. The success was only temporary and Bolivar was force to flee to Jamaica where he wrote another famous document, the Jamaica Letter (1815) . It was this same year that Bolivar traveled to Haiti to gain the assistance of its president, Alexander Sabes Petión. Bolivar returned to South America in 1817, with the help of Haiti, to continue the fight for independence.
On August 7, 1819, Bolivar led his forces into the most important battle of the Spanish American Independence movement the celebrated Battle of Boyacá.
The Spanish army was an easy target for Bolivar and his troops because they were exhausted and in extremely poor condition to do battle. They had just spent forty-eight hours hiking through rain and the last nine hours trudging through a detour in hopes of avoiding Bolivar and his troops. They were also recovering from their previous loss at Pantano de Vargas two weeks prior. The Spanish army commanded by General José Maria Barreiro had fled the battle crossing a bridge over the Chicamocha River, outside of Paipa. They spent ten days in Paipa in hopes of avoiding more patriot troops. There he got reinforcements from neighboring garrisons and an artillery squadron. After an attack from some patriot troops, Barreiro and his troops left the city. During a brief stopover, Barreiro learned that Bolivar's troops were heading to the city of Tunja and he decided that his troops could make it there before the patriots. He soon realized that he was too late to take Tunja, but he still hoped to make it to Bogotá before Bolivar. Unfortunately for Barreiro, his army did not move fast enough. Bolivar and his patriot troops arrived a few short hours ahead of them.
After Bolivar's victory at Pantano de Vargas, the patriot troops spent ten days in Corrales de Bonza. Bolivar and his troops were in no better condition than Barreiro’s. Bolivar decided to re-cross the Chicamocha River in rafts and return to his old post in Corrales de Bonza. There his army could recuperate and he could watch the movements of the enemy and attack if necessary. He also got reinforcements and was able to collect equipment and ammunition that he had abandoned earlier. On August 3rd, Bolivar led his army toward Paipa, crossed the Chicamocha Bridge, and set up camp at "El Salitre." The next day, he had his army re-cross the river by water and arrive at "La Toma del Molino" in Bonza. They then retraced the same route in silence moving towards Tunja by using a detour that covered approximately 21 miles. The patriot army marched all night stopping only for short rests. They arrived at Tunja at two in afternoon on August 5th. It was easy to take possession of the city because the Spanish troops had already gone to reinforce General Berreiro's army. In Tunja, Bolivar was able to capture arms, ammunition, food, medicine, and clothes for his troops. There the patriot troops were able to get almost forty hours of rest before they met up with the Spanish army. On the morning of August 7th, the patriot troops were given an early warning of the approach of the Spanish armies.
In this battle, Bolivar's troops may have began with a slight advantage but as for man power there were quite even odds:
"At Boyacá, the Spanish Army numbered 3,000 men, and the patriot force 3,000 to 3,200, of which only 2,000 were veterans. The balance was made up of volunteers from the region who, because of their lack of adequate training, were kept in reserve by Bolivar and did not participate in the battle (Boyacá, par. 23)."
Bolivar sent his fellow general, Francisco de Paula Santander, and some troops to cut off the Spanish army advance at the bridge. Bolivar led troops to attack the main part of the army a half-mile away. The battle last about two hours, and in the end the Bolivar army was victorious. The patriot army captured the General Barreiro and his second in command and about 1,800 prisoners. The bridge that Santander used to cut off the Spanish army is a historical landmark in Colombia. El Puente de Boyacá is located near Tunja, the capital of the department of Boyacá.
In the same year of his huge victory, Bolivar created the Angostura Congress, which founded Gran Colombia. The Gran Colombia was a grouping of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador to which Bolivar was named president. During the years that followed the Battle of Boyacá, the Spanish were overcome and the loyalists were defeated. With the added victory of Antonio José de Sucre at the Battle of Pichincha on May 23, 1822, northern South America was liberated.
He then proceeded to drive the Spanish from Peru.
"On July 26, 1822, Bolivar met with José de San Martin at Guayaquil, Ecuador to discuss the strategy for the liberation of Peru. No one knows what took place in the secret meeting between the two South American heroes, but San Martin returned to Argentina while Bolivar prepared to fight against the last Spanish bastion in South America (El Liberador, par. 11)."
Bolivar commanded an invasion of Peru in 1823. In September of the same year, he and his army arrived in Lima with a plan of attack. On August 6, 1824, the patriot army in the Battle of Junin defeated the Spanish army. On December 9th the last of the Spanish army was defeated in the battle of Ayacucho, ending the Spanish presence in South America.
On August 6th, 1825, Antonio José de Sucre called the Congress of Upper Peru. At this Congress, the Republic of Bolivia was created in honor of Bolivar who wrote the Bolivian Constitution of 1826, a document Which called for a life presidency or, in other words, a dictatorship.
The Congress of Panama, the first hemispheric conference, was called by Bolivar, for he dreamed of a united South America, but because of his obvious dictatorial policies and strong feelings of localism in South America, many leaders were not interested in a large single government. Civil wars broke out throughout Gran Colombia−the super state he had created−and eventually led to the dissolution of the country.
Suffering from the tuberculosis Simon Bolivar died on December 17, 1830. At the time of his death, Bolivar was a hated man. Long after Simon Bolivar's death, his reputation was restored. Today, he is seen as a great hero of independence in South America. His birthday is celebrated in Bolivia and Venezuela as a national holiday.It was the Battle of Boyacá that made independence possible for he had shown that the Spanish royal army could be beaten decisively.
Simon Bolivar Monument in Merida, Venezuela
Because Bolivar was the founder of modern-day Venezuela there are many memorials dedicated to him. There are monuments dedicated to him all over the world. Bolivar is seen everywhere as a symbol of independence.
Hamre, Bonnie. "Simon Bolivar, El Libertador." South America for Visitors. http://gosouthamerica.about.com/library/weekly/aa081901c.htm .
Centellas, Miguel. "El Libertador" Bienvenido: Biblioteca Virtual De Simon Bolivar. http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/7609/index.html.
Del Río, Daniel A. Pages of Glory on Simon Bolivar, The Southamerican Washington.The Historical Text Archive.