Ignacio José de Allende y Unzaga was a Mexican-born officer in the Spanish army who switched sides and fought for independence. He fought in the early part of the conflict alongside the “Father of Mexican Independence,” Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Although Allende and Hidalgo had some initial success against the Spanish colonial forces, both were eventually captured and executed in June and July of 1811.
Early Life and Military Career:
Allende was born to a wealthy Creole family in the town of San Miguel el Grande (the name of the town is now San Miguel de Allende in his honor) in 1769. As a young man, he led a life of privilege and joined the army while in his twenties. He proved an able officer, and some of his promotions would come at the hands of future foe General Félix Calleja. By 1808 he returned to San Miguel, where he was put in charge of a royal cavalry regiment.
Allende apparently became convinced fairly early on of the need for Mexico to become independent from Spain, perhaps as early as 1806. There was evidence that he was part of an underground conspiracy in Valladolid in 1809, but he was not punished, probably because the conspiracy was quashed before it could go anywhere and he was a skilled officer from a good family. In early 1810 he became involved in another conspiracy, this one led by Mayor of Querétaro Miguel Domínguez and his wife. Allende was a valued leader because of his training, contacts and charisma. The revolution was set to begin in December of 1810.
El Grito de Dolores:
The conspirators secretly ordered weapons and spoke to influential Creole military officers, bringing many over to their cause. But in September, 1810, they got word that their conspiracy had been found out and warrants issued for their arrests. Allende was in Dolores on September 15 with Father Hidalgo when they heard the bad news. They decided to start the revolution then and there as opposed to hiding. The next morning, Hidalgo rang the church bells and gave his legendary “Grito de Dolores” or “Cry of Dolores” in which he exhorted the poor of Mexico to take up arms against their Spanish oppressors.
The Siege of Guanajuato:
Allende and Hidalgo suddenly found themselves at the head of an angry mob. They marched on San Miguel, where the mob murdered Spaniards and looted their homes: it must have been difficult for Allende to see this happen in his home town. After passing through the town of Celaya, which wisely surrendered without a shot, they marched on the city of Guanajuato where 500 Spaniards and royalists had fortified the large public granary and prepared to fight. The angry mob fought the defenders for five hours before overrunning the granary, massacring all inside. Then they turned their attention to the city, which was sacked.
Monte de las Cruces:
The insurgent army continued to make its way towards Mexico City, which began to panic when word of the horrors of Guanajauto reached them. Viceroy Francisco Xavier Venegas hastily scraped together all of the infantry and cavalry he could muster and sent them out to meet the rebels. The royalists and insurgents met on October 30, 1810 at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces not far outside of Mexico City. The barely 1,500 royalists fought bravely but could not defeat the horde of 80,000 insurgents. Mexico City appeared to be within the reach of the rebels.
With Mexico City within their grasp, Allende and Hidalgo did the unthinkable: they retreated back towards Guadalajara. Historians are unsure why they did: all agree that it was a mistake. Allende was in favor of pressing on, but Hidalgo, who controlled the masses of peasants and Indians who made up the bulk of army, overrode him. The retreating army was caught in a skirmish near Aculco by a larger force led by general Calleja and split up: Allende went to Guanajuato and Hidalgo to Guadalajara.
Although Allende and Hidalgo agreed on independence, they disagreed on much, particularly how to wage war. Allende, the professional soldier, was aghast at Hidalgo’s encouragement of the looting of towns and the executions of all Spaniards they came across. Hidalgo argued that the violence was necessary and that without the promise of loot most of their army would desert. Not all of the army was made up of angry peasants: there were some Creole army regiments, and these were almost all loyal to Allende: when the two men split up, most of the professional soldiers went to Guanajuato with Allende.
The Battle of Calderon Bridge:
Allende fortified Guanajauato, but Calleja, turning his attention to Allende first, drove him out. Allende was forced to retreat to Guadalajara and rejoin Hidalgo. There, they decided to make a defensive stand at the strategic Calderon Bridge. On January 17, 1810, Calleja’s well-trained royalist army met the insurgents there. It seemed that the vast insurgent numbers would carry the day, but a lucky Spanish cannonball ignited a rebel munitions dump, and in the ensuing chaos the undisciplined rebels scattered. Hidalgo, Allende and the other insurgent leaders were forced out of Guadalajara, most of their army gone.
Capture, Execution and Legacy of Ignacio Allende:
As they made their way north, Allende had finally had enough of Hidalgo. He stripped him of command and arrested him. Their relationship had already deteriorated so badly that Allende had tried to poison Hidalgo while they were both in Guadalajara before the battle of Calderón Bridge. Hidalgo’s removal became a moot point on March 21, 1811, when Ignacio Elizondo, an insurgent commander, betrayed and captured Allende, Hidalgo and the other insurgency leaders as they made their way north. The leaders were sent to the city of Chihuahua where all were tried and executed: Allende, Juan Aldama and Mariano Jimenez on June 26 and Hidalgo on July 30. Their four heads were sent to hang on the corners of the public granary of Guanajuato.
Allende was a capable officer and leader, and his history is enough to make one wonder “What If?” What if Hidalgo had followed Allende’s advice and taken Mexico City in November of 1810? Years of strife may have been averted. What if Hidalgo had sent reinforcements to Allende at Guadalajara, like he requested? The skilled soldier Allende may have defeated Calleja and drawn more recruits to his cause.
It was unfortunate for the Mexicans involved in the struggle for Independence that Hidalgo and Allende quarreled so bitterly. In spite of their differences, the tactician and soldier and the charismatic priest made a very good team, something they realized at the end when it was too late.
Allende is today remembered as one of the great leaders of the early Independence movement, and his remains rest in Mexico City’s hallowed Independence Column alongside those of Hidalgo, Jiménez, Aldama and others.
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Villalpando, José Manuel. Miguel Hidalgo. Mexico City: Editorial Planeta, 2002.