Detail of the engraving “Battle of Boyacá”, from the National Museum of Colombia. (Source: museum website) (CNN Spanish) — Two hours. That was how long the battle of Boyacá lasted, the confrontation between the royal troops and the liberators that marked the end of Spanish rule over the territory of what was then New Granada on August 7, 1819 and gave way to the creation of the “Great Colombia” by Simón Bolívar. “How is such an important thing going to be defined on that little bridge?” That is the question that, as the historian Diana Uribe says, one asks oneself when visiting the Boyacá bridge, in the Colombian city of Tunja, the scene of a short but intense battle, the culmination point of a struggle for independence that had begun at the end of the 18th century. How did the battle of Boyacá happen? By mid-morning on August 7, 1819, the liberating army had positioned itself on a hill near the Boyacá bridge, in El Tobal. After noon, the royalist army appeared and sent an advance party to scare away the independentistas, historian Marie Arana recalls in this article. The military commander “ordered his second-in-command to drive them away, so that the main body of his troops could pass. But Bolívar accelerated the patriotic march and before long his entire army—wave after wave of roaring soldiers—crossed the hill “. By four in the afternoon, just two hours after the start of the confrontation, the liberators had already achieved victory. About 1,600 prisoners from the ranks of the crown and 66 deceased among the independentistas was the balance of Boyacá, according to the review of the National Museum of Colombia. According to the liberating army, 90% of the members of the Third Division of the royalist army were killed or captured, including General Barreiro who was in command of the vanguard. Bolívar was “present at all points of action, gave precise orders to highlight the courage of the troops, the efforts of the chiefs and officers, and finish once and for all the work that he had taken on,” General Francisco wrote. de Paula Santander, in command of two battalions and the rearguard guides during the battle, in her autobiographical writings about the battle. Commemoration of the battle of Boyacá on the bridge in Tunja, 130 km northeast of Bogotá, on August 7, 2013. (Credit: Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images) High morale and the support of the local population, keys to the triumph of the liberators in the battle of Boyacá The attack of the liberating army, unlike strategies that had been implemented previously, did not take the royalists by surprise, who even knew of the arrival of Bolívar in Tunja and had received ammunition, says the Museum. And there was no significant numerical difference between the sides either: there were about 2,700 royalists and barely 100 more on the side of the independentistas, equally victims of the rains, hunger and misery. However, says the National Museum, the key was in the different way in which the armies assumed the conditions they faced. “The men under Barreiro’s command showed little loyalty to the Crown and, consequently, less commitment to their military goals,” he explains. There was a high number of deserters —some even went over to the opposite side— and the hostility of the settlers towards his campaign was also notorious. On the side of the liberators, meanwhile, morale was high and “fueled by the support of the civilian population” according to the writings of the military leaders of the time. The inhabitants played a key role because they received them in their homes, fed them, took care of them and provided them with necessities such as clothing and even horses in the case of the peasants. Santander said this about his soldiers: “With a meager ration and only with that, our soldiers, in whose heart there was no other interest than to destroy the Spaniards, manifested themselves satisfied, happy with their fate, firm in their resolution, constant in their labors and superior to all dangers and privations”. Boyacá, where the strength of the Spanish army was broken “I confess to your majesty that I was extremely surprised, because although I had foreseen the ruin of the kingdom, I had never imagined that a small action would result in the loss of the capital and nearly three hundred leagues but it has happened.” These words of Gabriel de Torres, who was serving as governor of Cartagena at the time, show how the implications that Boyacá had had were clear to the Spanish. And there were many. On August 10, just three days later, the liberators took Santa Fe—which the Spanish abandoned upon hearing of their defeat in battle—and thus began the end of Spain’s control of the viceroyalty of New Granada. This battle concluded a campaign that had begun in the late 18th century. After Boyacá, the territories now occupied by Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama formed “Great Colombia” that lasted until 1830. So why does Colombia celebrate independence on July 20? On July 20, 1810 there was an uprising (with a trigger known as “Llorente’s vase) that triggered the signing of the Santafé Independence Act and is symbolically considered the day of independence. However, the truth is that that date marked the beginning of a process whose definitive moment, in reality, was precisely August 7, 1819. In the years that passed between both milestones, according to the Ministry of Culture, it was when a good part of the population was unified under the idea of independence and when the leadership of figures such as Bolívar and Santander took shape. In Boyacá “we managed to break the strength of the Spanish army in the north of the continent. From then on there will be resistance, there will be areas where they will take refuge, but the bulk of the army is already defeated,” summarizes Uribe. In Arana’s words, that was where “the balance of power changed entirely.”
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