National Army of Colombia

The ephemeris of the National Army

In Tunja, the Liberating Army was able to recover and replenish for two days. In the morning of August 7, 1819, while Barreiro was trying to recover his communications with Santafé in Motavita, Bolivar discovered his intentions, and was able to surprise him in the Puente de Boyacá, and thus define the fate of the budding Republic.
The Discovery of America on October 7, 1492, and the Puente de Boyacá Battle on August 7, 1819, are the most important and momentous dates in our history. The first triggered the process of nationality creation, and the second, is de facto birth of the democratic and sovereign State that governs us today. In this sense, due to the heroism of the Liberating Army, the Boyacá field is the most dignified and sacred monument of the country. Below, we present a brief account of the most relevant aspects of this battle.

Before the unfortunate campaign of 1818 in Venezuela, El Libertador (the Liberator) chose to give a political-strategic turn that would result in the victory of freedom in South America. Venezuela was occupied by the main Spanish force sent by General Pablo Morillo, which tripled in numbers to the patriot army. This situation led Bolivar to look towards New Granada, scarcely garrisoned by the Third Royalist Division and made up of only 3000 soldiers under the command of Colonel José María Barreiro.

Furthermore, the difficult economic situation in Venezuela, ruined by the Decreto de Guerra a Muerte (Decree of War to the Death), implied that another raid on Caracas was unproductive. In contrast, New Granada, despite the terror regime, kept its agricultural, livestock and mining resources at a good productive level, and was, therefore, a decisive strategic objective to gather the human and material resources necessary to fuel the war of independence.

Under this new scenario, Bolivar promoted Colonel Francisco de Paula Santander to Brigadier general, and sent him to Casanare to organize a civil government and the patriot forces, which were scattered and fought against the royalists separately. This work was commendable to such an extent that he managed to organize a strong division of 2000 men in only six months, which was named Vanguardia (Vanguard).

The military activity of Santander in Casanare and the pressure of viceroy Sámano in Santafé forced Colonel José María Barreiro to invade the Casanare plains in April 1819. However, the dilatory and exhausting war proposed by the patriot leader prevented the royalists from making any progress. In consequence, the invaders could not occupy other terrain than the one covered by the troops. Thus, Barreiro had to countermarch and his forces were decimated and discouraged. In fact, he himself could not escape the effects of this incursion, and malaria forced him to establish his headquarters in Tunja.

Due to the increasing military capacity of the Vanguardia Division and the reputation of General Santander in the area, General Jacinto Lara went to Apure to communicate the situation to Bolivar, who immediately began to plan and execute the campaign to liberate New Granada of 1819, in the village of Setenta.

The rain season would soon start in the Plains, which prevented keeping the army united, so, Bolivar made the decision to go immediately to the new objective, considering that when the winter overflowed the rivers, the movement would be impossible. His plan was ingenious and remarkable, but it was still strategically and logistically dangerous. That may be the reason why it became an epic accomplishment, filled with a great deal of adventure and intuition.

On May 27, Bolivar left the village of Mantecal in Apure along with the Retaguardia (Rearguard) Division, commanded by General José Antonio Anzoátegui. On June 6, he crossed the Arauca River, and arrived six days later in Tame, where General Santander was waiting for him.

Rains increased so intensely that small sewers, estuaries and streams became wide rivers that flooded the savannah, while the currents that descended from the mountain range dragged cattle, mules and harnesses. Nevertheless, the march continued thanks to the sacrifice and discipline of the liberating troops, even though the flooded plains and the cold roads of the Andes eliminated the horses, the cattle and provisions, which left the army impoverished in the freezing cold moor.

Facing Paez's reluctance to leave the Llanos, Bolivar changed his initial strategic plan, which conceived a two-front war, to penetrate New Granada in one direction, via Paya and Pisba to Socha, in the Province of Tunja. It was a difficult and painful route that gave him the possibility of obtaining a strategic surprise.

In Paya, located in one of the branches of the Eastern Ranges, the Liberating Army had its first encounter with one of the detachments established by Colonel Barreiro as an observation post. The first combat cleared the route, and the army managed to cross the moor having nature as their only enemy. The way was full of great obstacles, especially for the llaneros, who fought the enemy with great courage, but also with uncertainty caused by an unknown nature that caused anguish and discouragement.

The Army took about three weeks to cross the dreaded Pisba moor. During the first week, the available patriots, barely recovered, had to face the Spanish Army in the area of Gámeza and Tópaga. There, after a combat that lasted almost one day, the patriot army managed to overcome an indecisive action, and distracted the enemy with a countermarch that took them to occupy the fertile valleys of Cerinza and Duitama. This forced the royalists to go back to Paipa to recover their communication with Santafé.

On the other hand, the Pantano de Vargas Battle, fought on July 25, was an encounter combat in which Bolivar tried to surprise Barreiro, but, instead, he was surprised while occupying the heights. He had no choice but to perform a suicide attack from the low grounds to the heights of Picacho and Cangrejo. He was almost defeated there, but Colonel Rondon's cavalry was able to save the Army from the catastrophe.

In spite of being the cruelest battle of the campaign, its psychological consequences deeply transcended. Barreiro understood that he could not defeat Bolivar, who in turn acquired strategic and tactical initiative. Another act of deceit by Bolivar led to the occupation of Tunja, leaving the royalists behind, depleted and demoralized.

In Tunja, the Liberating Army was able to recover and replenish for two days. In the morning of August 7, 1819, while Barreiro was trying to recover his communications with Santafé in Motavita, Bolivar discovered his intentions, and was able to surprise him in the Puente de Boyacá, and thus define the fate of the budding Republic.

Both forces arrived in this place. The patriot force had physically strengthened, was better supplied, had good munition, a higher morale and full knowledge and desire to find the enemy and defeat him. The royalist force, without courage for combat, not expecting the enemy, even less expecting to confront him, was only thinking of arriving in Santafé.

This battle, despite being a combat encounter, was already decided when the Liberating Army surprised and disjointed the royalist army, which had to surrender completely to his adversary after only two hours of combat, following the escape of the cavalry. The victory was evident in the results: 13 casualties and 53 wounded patriots versus one hundred royalist casualties and more than 1600 prisoners.

This victory gloriously sealed the liberating campaign of New Granada with political, economic and military consequences that permeated South America and Europe. As stated by General Pablo Morillo himself: "Bolivar in a single day finished with the product of five years of campaign, and in a single battle regained what the king's troops won in many battles."

The subsequent escape of viceroy Sámano from Santafé allowed the occupation and the beginning of the republican government. New Granada, commendably administrated by General Santander, became a human, material and moral source to fuel the independence war in the rest of the country and South America. In consequence, the battles of Carabobo, Bomboná, Pichincha, Junín and Ayacucho were held with glorious results.

Even the Peninsular Army, which was preparing to crush the American patriots on a second expedition in January 1820 under the auspices of the "Holy Alliance", after being notified of the patriot victory in Puente de Boyacá, rose against the absolutism of king Ferdinand VII in Arcos de la Frontera, and temporarily forced him to submit to the Constitution of Cadiz in 1812.

The current National Army, commemorating this immortal Battle and being a worthy legatee of the Liberating Army, celebrates its ephemeris and, conscious of its glorious past, keeps alive the spirit of sacrifice and love for freedom.

Mayor general (Ret) José Roberto Ibáñez Sánchez