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The Battle of Junin

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The Battle of Junin

Simon Bolivar

Painting by Jose Gil de Castro (1785-1841)

The Battle of Junin:

On August 6, 1824, Liberator Simon Bolivar and his trusted lieutenant Antonio José de Sucre routed a mighty Spanish army at the Lake of Junin high in the Peruvian mountains. This victory set the stage for the Battle of Ayacucho, where another stunning patriot victory assured freedom for Peru and all of South America.

Forces in Spanish Peru in 1824:

By early 1824, Liberator Simon Bolivar had the Spanish on the run in western South America. Colombia and Venezuela had been liberated, the knockout punch having been delivered at the Battle of Boyaca, and Ecuador had been freed by Bolivar's loyal lieutenant Antonio Jose de Sucre. Peru was still a royalist stronghold, however, and there were two mighty Spanish armies in the highlands near Cuzco: fourteen thousand soldiers under General Jerónimo Valdez and six thousand soldiers under General José de Canterac.

Bolivar Attacks:

Valdez’ mighty army was dispatched by Viceroy José de la Serna to deal with an uprising in Upper Peru, present-day Bolivia. De Canterac did not believe that Bolívar would leave the safety of the lowlands, so he waited in his highland headquarters near Lake Junin. Bolívar, however, once again did the unexpected, taking advantage of his enemies being divided to rush to the attack. He rounded up his army, which consisted of some 9,000 soldiers mostly from Peru, Colombia, Chile and Argentina and marched with them to Junin.

The Race:

De Canterac was surprised to see a massive patriot army on his doorstep, but he quickly made to ride out to meet them. On August 6, 1824, the armies clashed. De Canterac had sent his forces down one side of the lake, only to find that Bolívar had chosen to march along the other side. Seeing this, he ordered a retreat so that he would not be cut off. Bolívar saw this and pressed his men on: it would be a race to the end of the lake, and whoever got there first would be in a superior tactical position.

The Forces Engage:

Bolívar’s Argentine cavalry made it to the end first. There, these tough-as-nails plainsmen wielding lances and swords held off the entire Spanish army while Bolívar brought the rest of his force to engage them. The hero of the day was British General William Miller, whose cavalry pretended to retreat before turning on and attacking the royalist cavalry. The patriots made headway as dusk fell, and De Canterac retreated, fearful of facing the tough patriot army on the plains. The Battle of Junín had lasted only about an hour and had mostly been fought with lances and swords: some witnesses say that not a shot was fired. The large part of both armies did not even see action.

Aftermath of the Battle of Junin:

The importance of the Battle of Junin took a while to develop. The patriots had obviously won, killing or capturing some 500 Spanish soldiers while losing less than 200. Compared to other battles, such as Maipu or Boyaca, Junin was but a skirmish. But the psychological effects of the battle were enormous.

De Canterac had beaten a hasty retreat all the way back to Cuzco. The defeat and subsequent retreat greatly disheartened the royalists, and many of the common soldiers deserted or even switched sides. Some estimate that the loss at Junin may have resulted in the loss of as many as 3,000 royalist soldiers due to desertion, illness and defection.

The royalist army reunited and played cat-and-mouse with Sucre in the highlands until December 9, 1824, when they met at the decisive Battle of Ayacucho. Sucre routed the royalist army, effectively putting an end to Spanish rule in South America.

Sources:

Harvey, Robert. Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000.

Lynch, John. The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826 New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986.

Lynch, John. Simon Bolivar: A Life. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.

Scheina, Robert L. Latin America's Wars, Volume 1: The Age of the Caudillo 1791-1899 Washington, D.C.: Brassey's Inc., 2003.

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