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The Admirable Campaign

Simon Bolivar re-takes Caracas from the Spanish in 1813


The Admirable Campaign

Simon Bolivar

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The Admirable Campaign was a military campaign, led by Simón Bolívar, with the aim of liberating current-day Venezuela from Spanish rule in 1812-1813. The campaign consisted of several battles and skirmishes as Bolívar led an army he had raised in New Granada (now Colombia) inexorably towards Caracas. Bolívar was victorious, and Spanish forces surrendered on August 4, 1813. It was a short-lived victory, however, as the wars would continue for years to come.

The First Venezuelan Republic

Bolívar, a young member of the wealthy landed class, was a key player in the First Venezuelan Republic, which declared independence from Spain in 1810 and lasted until 1812. After Spanish and royalist forces led by Domingo de Monteverde rallied and defeated the republic, Bolívar went into exile in Curacao. He was determined, however, to return to the mainland and continue the fight.

Unrest in New Granada

Although Monteverde was able to reclaim Venezuela for the Spanish, New Granada (today Colombia) was also in chaos. King Ferdinand of Spain was a captive of the French, who invaded Spain and put Naopleon's brother on the Spanish throne. In New Granada, many cities opted for limited or full independence while others remained loyal to Spain. The cities were not unified and occasionally fought even with one another. In November of 1811 the important port of Cartagena declared itself independent, not only of Spain but of most of the rest of New Granada as well. In October of 1812, Bolívar went to Cartagena to offer himself as a solider to the new government.

The Cartagena Manifesto

Once in Cartagena, Bolívar set to work on one of his greatest pieces of writing: the Cartagena Manifesto. A relatively short document, it describes why the First Republic failed and states the urgent need for New Granadan support for the liberation of Venezuela. According to Bolívar, the republic had been doomed by opposition from the church, the 1812 earthquake and political mistakes made by the republic's leaders. As for the need to liberate Venezuela, New Granada would never be independent and safe with such a nearby neighbor in the hands of royalists and Spaniards.

A New Command

New Granada was a mess, as different cities and towns had different governments and loyalties. The most important independent group was the United Provinces of New Granada, consisting of a loose union of the provinces of Antioquía, Cartagena, Nieva, Pamplona and Tunja. Cartagena was a loosely affiliated member of the union, and Bolívar was one of several Venezuelan officers offered commissions, including José Félix Ribas and Antonio Nicolás Briceño. The Cartagena army was commanded by a Frenchman Pierre Labatut who gave Bolívar 200 men and sent him to the town of Barranca on the Magdalena River.

Liberating the Magdalena

The posting had meant to be an exile, for Labatut did not care for Bolívar or the other Venezuelan officers. Bolívar saw it as an opportunity. He swiftly moved to attack the Spanish garrison at Tenerife, driving it off and seizing valuable arms and munitions. Constantly recruiting, Bolívar moved up the Magdalena River, liberating towns and defeating small royalist garrisons wherever he found them. Within a matter of weeks he had freed the Magdalena River for navigation and increased the size and firepower of his army. The rulers of the United Provinces of New Granada were impressed.

The Battle of Cúcuta

Bolívar's army had swelled with new recruits and his superior officers in Cartagena ordered him to dislodge Spanish General Ramón Correa and his force of some 1000 men from the Cúcuta Valley in eastern New Granada. On February 28, 1813, Correa met Bolívar on the fields outside of the town of Cúcuta. Bolívar tricked Correa into a fight on open ground, hiding most of his troops in the foothills until Correa came out of the town to attack what he believed to be a much smaller force than his own. José Félix Ribas, Bolívar's second in command, led aggressive charges that did not allow Correa's forces to get organized. When the Spanish were driven off, Bolívar triumphantly entered Cúcuta to the cheers of the populace and was delighted to find that the royalists had left supplies behind. For his stunning victory against a larger force, Bolívar was made Brigadier General.

March on Venezuela

Cúcuta lies on the border between Colombia and Venezuela: Bolívar began recruiting and pushing for permission to invade Venezuela. Local commanders, such as Francisco de Paula Santander, argued against it, but in May Bolívar was given permission to liberate the Venezuelan border provinces. Bolívar and his army, which now numbered some 1,200, quickly moved into Venezuela, capturing the cities of Mérida and Trujillo.

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