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Argentine War of Independence

The Argentine War of Independence was fought from 1810 to 1818 by Argentine patriotic forces under Manuel Belgrano, Juan Jose Castelli and Jose de San Martin against royalist forces loyal to the Spanish crown. On July 9, 1816, an assembly met in San Miguel de Tucuman, declared full independence with provisions for a national constitution.


The territory known today as Argentina was part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata and its capital city was Buenos Aires. It was ruled by a viceroy appointed by the Spanish Crown and guarded by the Spanish royal army. Part of the conflict between the settlers and the crown can be traced to the traditional, full prohibition of trading with all countries except for Spain. English, French, and Portuguese ships were banned from the port of Buenos Aires. Despite this long-standing legislation, the citizens of Buenos Aires were well renowned as traficantes (contraband dealers), since they would often trade illegally with many foreign merchants who were eager to tap the viceroyalty's market. In addition, the successful resistance against the 1806 and 1807 British invasions of the Rio de la Plata, which organized mostly by criollos (persons who were locally born), helped reinforce a sense of regional identity. During the first invasion, Viceroy Rafael de Sobremonte and his staff retreated from the capital to hide himself along with the state treasury in Cordoba to the north. The residents of Buenos Aires would later accuse him of cowardice.

On May 13, 1810, a British frigate arrived in Montevideo bringing the latest news about the Peninsular War. The residents of Montevideo learned that Napoleon Bonaparte's forces had conquered Andalusia and laid siege to Cadiz, the last redoubt against the French on Spanish soil. Moreover, the Supreme Central Junta, which had governed the Empire for the past two years, had abolished itself in favor of a Regency. Word quickly spread throughout the viceroyalty. In Buenos Aires the news that Cadiz was all that was left of a free Spain unleashed a series of events, known as the May Revolution, in which citizens gathered in the Cabildo (City Hall), decided to suspend Viceroy Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros from office and created the Primera Junta (First Junta), a provisional government to rule the viceroyalty in the absence of the king and an independent Spain.

First Junta and Big Junta

With the power of the Crown transferred to a small Regency Council in Cadiz and the city besieged by French troops, a power vacuum existed, and on May 25, 1810, the First Junta was created in Buenos Aires, removing Viceroy Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros from authority the same day. The junta, presided by Cornelio Saavedra (1760-1828), included Mariano Moreno (1778-1811) and Manuel Belgrano (1780-1820) and was later expanded to include deputies from the other provinces and became the "Junta Grande," or Big Junta.

The revolutionary leaders remained nominally loyal to the Spanish King, while claiming the right to elect their own authorities , instead of having a viceroy appointed from Spain. Officially, the Junta aimed to preserve in Rio de la Plata the sovereignty of the imprisoned King against the advances of the French, but acted in a manner which suggested the exact opposite. They also attempted to gain support for the Buenos Aires juntas from the territories of Upper Peru (today mostly Bolivia) located on the northern border region with the Viceroyalty of Peru.

Armed Conflict

Two campaigns were ordered by the Junta Grande in order to gain support for the revolutionary ideas of Buenos Aires.

Alto Peru campaign (1810-1811): The improvised militia was commanded by Antonio Gonzalez de Balcarce and tried to penetrate the intendencies of the Upper Peru (today Bolivia). The militia first engaged in combat with the Spanish army in the Battle of Suipacha and it was the first great victory for the patriots . But the campaign would end unsuccessfully next June after the Battle of Huaqui. There, the militia was outnumbered by royalist forces from Peru and suffered heavy losses.

Paraguay campaign (1810-1811): Another militia, commanded by Manuel Belgrano, made its way up to the Intendency of Paraguay. The first battle was fought in Campichuelo and the Argentines claimed victory. However, they were completely overwhelmed in the subsequent battles of Paraguari and Tacuari. This campaign also ended in failure from the military point of view; but some months later, Paraguay broke its links with the Spanish crown and became an independent nation.

Violent internal disagreements and the undesired outcomes of the campaigns, led to the replacement of the Junta by a triumvirate in September 1811; see First Triumvirate (Argentina). The new government decided to promote another campaign to the Upper Peru with the reorganized Northern Army.

Second Alto Peru campaign (1812-1813): Facing the overwhelming invasion of a loyalist army led by General Pio de Tristan, Manuel Belgrano, then commander of the Northern Army, turned to scorched-earth tactics. He ordered the evacuation of the people and the burning of anything else left behind, to prevent enemy forces from getting supplies or taking prisoners in the city of San Salvador de Jujuy. This is known as the Jujuy Exodus.

General Belgrano led the Northern Army to victory in the Battles of Tucuman and Salta in the northwest of present-day Argentina, forcing the bulk of the royalist army to surrender their weapons. Tristan (a former Belgrano's coed at Salamanca University) and his men were granted amnesty and released. These cities have remained under the Argentine government ever since. But again, the patriot army was defeated in Upper Peru in the battles of Vilcapugio and Ayohuma.

During the campaign, the Triumvirate established recently arrived from Spain Jose de San Martin as Lieutenant Colonel and ordered him to create the professional and disciplined cavalry unit called Granaderos. The same division helped the revolution that collapsed the government and elected a Second Triumvirate (Argentina) by late 1812.

In January 31, 1813, a Spanish army company coming from Montevideo landed near the town of San Lorenzo, in the Santa Fe province. The Second Triumvirate urged San Martin to stop further raids on the west bank of the Parana river. The Granaderos division met the Spanish on a field near the town's convent and made an easy victory on February 3 in the Battle of San Lorenzo. After this battle, the Second Triumvirate awarded San Martin the rank of General.

Fearing a major Spanish attack, a general assembly (the Asamblea del Ano XIII) was called in Buenos Aires on February 27, to discuss future military campaigns. It was finally decided to dissolve the Triumvirate status and to create a new regime of a one-person government. The same assembly elected the first Supreme Director in January 31, 1814: Gervasio Antonio de Posadas. Posadas decided to create a naval fleet with the help of Juan Larrea and appointed William Brown as Lieutenant Colonel and Chief Commander on March 1, 1814. This tiny fleet engaged in combat with the Spanish ships on the coasts of Montevideo in the Action of 14 May 1814 and defeated them three days later. This action secured the coast of Buenos Aires and William Brown was awarded the rank of Admiral.

Supreme Director Posadas was replaced by Carlos Maria de Alvear the next year, on January 11, 1815, and was quickly followed by Ignacio Alvarez Thomas on April 21. Alvarez Thomas appointed Alvear as the new General of the Northern Army to replace Jose Rondeau, but officials would not recognize this act and remained loyal to Rondeau.

Third Alto Peru campaign (1815): The Northern Army, unofficially commanded by Jose Rondeau , started another campaign, but this time without the authorization of Supreme Director Alvarez Thomas. With the lack of official support, the army faced anarchy and later would lose the aid of the Provincial Army of Salta, commanded by Martin Miguel de Guemes. After being defeated in the battles of Venta y Media (October 21) and Sipe-Sipe (November 28), the northern territories were lost. They were reannexed by the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru, and later became present-day Bolivia. This unsuccessful outcome to the campaign would spread rumors in Europe that the May Revolution was over.

Despite this final defeat in the north, the Spanish Army was eventually stopped and could not advance further. With King Ferdinand back in power, an urgent decision was needed regarding independence. On July 9, 1816, an assembly of representatives from all of the provinces met in the Congress of Tucuman declaring the full independence of Argentina from the Spanish Crown and provisions for a national constitution. Santa Fe, Entre Rios and Corrientes later joined.

The following year, San Martin took command of the Northern Army preparing a new invasion of Upper Peru (now Bolivia), but quickly resigned, foreseeing another defeat. Instead, he became governor of the province of Province of Cuyo. He developed a new strategy to attack the Viceroyalty of Peru through the Captaincy of Chile. San Martin largely based this plan on the writings of Sir Thomas Maitland who was quoted to say that the only way to defeat the Spanish at Quito and Lima was by attacking Chile first. At this point, the Argentine War of Independence gets mixed with the Chilean independence War as both armies joined forces.

Chile campaign (1817): Installed in the city of Mendoza, San Martin reorganized the Granderos cavalry unit along with the Army of Cuyo and crossed the Andes Mountains to attack the Royalists in Chile at the beginning of 1817 in the Battle of Chacabuco. With the aid of Chilean patriot Bernardo O'Higgins he made a triumphant entry in the liberated city of Santiago de Chile. Argentine and Chilean armies merged in the unofficial South American Patriot Army and continued the campaign together against the Spanish division commanded by Osorio. However, their forces were surprised and very badly beaten at the Battle of Cancha Rayada on March 18, 1818. In the confusion, a false rumor spread that O'Higgins had died, and a panic seized the patriot troops, many of whom agitated for a full retreat back across the Andes to Mendoza. Crippled after his defeat at Cancha Rayada, O'Higgins delegated the command of the troops entirely to San Martin in a meeting on the plains of Maipu. Then, on April 5, 1818, San Martin inflicted a decisive defeat on Osorio in the Battle of Maipu, after which the depleted royalists retreated to Concepcion, never again to launch a major offensive against Santiago.

This is considered to be the conclusion of the Argentine War of Independence, but battles continued by land and sea in Peru until 1824 when the last Spanish garrison surrendered in the Battle of Ayacucho and Peru proclaimed its independence. These events were part of San Martin's own campaigning with O'Higgins and Simon Bolivar and Buenos Aires no longer recognized his authority..

The meeting of Guayaquil

On 26 July 1822, San Martin met with Simon Bolivar at Guayaquil to plan the future of Latin America. Most of the details of this meeting are secret, and this has made the event a matter of much debate among historians. Some believe that Bolivar's refusal to share command of the combined forces made San Martin withdraw from Peru and resettle as a farmer in Mendoza, Argentina. Another theory claims that San Martin yielded to Bolivar's charisma and avoided a confrontation. It is widely believed that both men were members of Masonic societies, and the outcome of the meeting might have been arranged by hidden players, however this has been denied by the Great Masonic Lodges See Lautaro Lodge.

Annual commemoration

Today, the Dia de la Revolucion de Mayo (May Revolution Day) on May 25 is an annual holiday in Argentina to commemorate these

significant events in the history of Argentina. These and other events of the week leading to this day are referred to as the Semana de Mayo (May Week). Argentine Independence Day is celebrated on July 9, to commemorate the Argentine Declaration of Independence declared in 1816.

See also

Spanish American wars of independence

History of Argentina

Liga Federal

United Provinces of South America

Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata

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