The battle of Junin
August 6th 1824 - 194 years ago today
A pure cavalry action between Republican and Royalist forces cleared the way for Bolivar’s advance on Spanish controlled Peru. Liberation and independence was within sight.
Rebellion and the dream of independence coursed through 19th century South America with the same raw power and force as the mighty Amazon. The United States had shown that liberation was possible against the old world empires, all that was needed were fearless, passionate soldiers and a mythical leader like Washington. South America had some of the hardiest and deadliest soldiers in the world led by the brilliant, charismatic Simon Bolivar. Knowing that Spanish power could be broken only by taking Peru, Bolivar somehow urged his men through some of the world’s harshest and varying climates. Pushing them on through fiery deserts, high rocky passes, and frigid frozen tundra Bolivar moved his army into the Lake Junin basin at some 12k feet high in the Andes.
The Spanish commander was a General Jose de Canterac, he was a man who overrated his abilities and believed himself to be much more clever than he actually was. Disregarding his superiors direct orders to not get caught in the mountains, Canterac believed his HQ was safe because of the difficulty in getting to it. It’s easy to imagine his shock when Bolivar the Liberator and his army appeared with in striking distance of his forces. Canterac moved quickly sending his men down from the high ground to stop Bolivar’s but quickly reversed course when it became apparent Bolivar was moving along the opposite shoreline.
Fearing that his infantry would be cut off from it’s supply line Canterac ordered his cavalry to rush on to secure the head of the valley. Bolivar mirrored his adversary and what ensued must have been an incredible sight as the beautifully and colorfully clad cavalry of both sides made a mad dash, racing each other, separated by a pristine blue lake at the top of the world. (If I were making the movie this is were I would steal from Peter Jackson and have one of those awesome Nazgul chasing Arwen helicopter shots.)
The two sides met on the marshland with the Royalists smashing through the Ilaneros (or plainsmen). This is where the majority of the republican casualties were inflicted, but the “plainsmen” were by no means defeated. As the Spanish horsemen hacked and slashed with their sabres they victoriously pushed through the Republicans and came out on to the open plain seemingly having won the day. But the Spanish had made a fatal mistake, in the thoroughness of their charge the Spanish had overshot a detachment of Republican cavalry who now charged in from the rear and began lancing left and right cutting the Spanish up. This action gave the Ilaneros time to regroup and recover and then they too joined the fight hitting the pinned Spanish force in the flank. Royalists forces were beaten from the field, without a shot fired, the rebellious Republican forces had inflicted 250 losses and a decisive defeat on Canterac’s Royalists while suffering only 150 of their own. Bolivar’s route to Peru and freedom was clear.