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Bolivar in New Granada

'''Bolivar'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 Simon Bolivar fought in them. Bolivar's victory in New Granada secured the eventual independence of northern South America. It provided Bolivar with the economic and human resources to complete his victory over the Spanish in Venezuela and Colombia. Bolivar'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 Jose San Martin's Crossing of the Andes in 1817.Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar, 273.Mijares, Augusto. The Liberator, 354.


During the years 1815 and 1816, Spain had reconquered most of New Granada after five years of de facto and official independence. By 1817, Bolivar 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 Bolivar) and established liaisons with the revolutionary forces of the Llanos, including one group of Venezuelan llaneros (cowboys) led by Jose Antonio Paez and another group of New Granadan exiles led by Francisco de Paula Santander.

The campaign

Bolivar 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 Bolivar 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, Bolivar 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 Bolivar'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 Paez. With only the forces he and Santander had recruited in the Apure and Meta River regions, Bolivar set off in June 1819.Lynch, John. Bolivar, A Life, 124-127.Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar, 261-264.Madariaga, Salvador de. Bolivar, 339-343.

The route that the small army of about 2,500 menincluding a British legiontook went from the hot and humid, flood-swept plains of Venezuela to the icy mountain pass of the Paramo de Pisba, at an altitude of 3,960 meters , 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.Lynch, John. Bolivar, A Life, 127-129.Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar, 264-266.Madariaga, Salvador de. Bolivar, 343-348.

Despite some intelligence that Bolivar was on the move, the Spanish doubted Bolivar's army could make the trip, and therefore, they were taken by surprise when Bolivar's small army emerged out of the mountains on 5 July. Bolivar rebuilt his forces by placing a levy on the local population. In a series of battles the republican army cleared its way to Bogota. First at the Battle of Vargas Swamp on 25 July, Bolivar intercepted a royalist force attempting to reach the poorly defended capital. Then at the Battle of Boyaca on 7 August 1819, the bulk of the royalist army surrendered to Bolivar. On receiving the news, the viceroy, Juan Jose de Samano, and the rest of royalist government fled the capital so fast that they left behind the treasury. On 10 August Bolivar's army entered Bogota.Lynch, John. Bolivar, A Life, 129-130.Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar, 266-73.Madariaga, Salvador de. Bolivar, 357-358.

Political ramifications

With New Granada secure Bolivar 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 Bolivar's success. In December Bolivar 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.Lynch, John. Bolivar, A Life, 132-134.Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar, 274-275, 280-285.Madariaga, Salvador de. Bolivar, 353-354, 361-364. Bolivar 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. Bolivar's victory in New Granada was, therefore, a major turning point in the history of northern South America.

See also

United Provinces of New Granada

Spanish reconquest of New Granada

Military career of Simon Bolivar

Gran Colombia


Lynch, John (2006). Simon Bolivar. A Life, New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300110626.

Masur, Gerhard (1969). Simon Bolivar (Revised edition). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Madariaga, Salvador de. (1952). Bolivar. Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313220296

Mijares, Augusto (1983). The Liberator. Caracas: North American Association of Venezuela.

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