Boyaca, Colombia (1819 AD)
The Battles of Vargas Swamp and Boyaca were the decisive engagements of the wars of independence that ravaged the Spanish territories of New Granada at the beginning of the 19th century. Together they marked the beginning of the end of Spanish control of two colonies, both Colombia and Venezuela, and is a pivotal historic event for both countries. These battles are also hailed as the crowning achievement of the career of Simon Bolivar, arguably the greatest military leader in the history of South America. The fields where these battles took place are among the most popular historic and military sites in Latin America.
Throughout the 1810s, wars of independence were raging throughout the Spanish empire in the Americas, from Chile to Mexico. Although the largest conflict took place in Mexico, the most decisive campaigns were those waged by Simon Bolivar. In the course of his career, Bolivar dislodged the Spanish from almost all of South America and well into Central America. The critical year of his campaigns came in 1819.
For years, Bolivar’s attempt to remove the royalist government in Venezuela with mixed to poor results. The nearly decade-long campaign had yet to score a decisive victory against the empire, when Bolivar was inspired to change his strategy. Instead of continuing to battle the government in its stronghold in Venezuela, he marched his army over the mountains into New Granada (now Colombia) in one of the greatest such maneuvers since Hannibal crossed the Alps.
Although the rebel army was weakened by the journey, they made it through to New Granada where they recuperated and picked up reinforcements. The royalist army was not prepared for this turn of events, and Bolivar fought his way towards the capital of Bogata. Enroute he defeated a superior Spanish army at the Battle of Vargas Swamp.
With this success, the rebel army grew with fresh volunteers. In desperation, the royalists assembled an army to defend Bogata, but Bolivar cut them off at Boyaca. On August 17, the two armies met. The battle was brief, lasting barely more than an hour, during which time the Spanish were routed. Casualties were relatively light for both sides, but the rebels took nearly two-thirds of the Spanish soldiers prisoner. This crippled Spain’s ability to hold New Granada, which subsequently became Bolivar’s main base to continue the fight against Venezuela, and later, Ecuador and Peru.
The battlefields are in the immediate vicinity of Boyaca and have been preserved. The Battle of Vargas Swamp is commemorated by the Vargas Swamp Lancers Monument, one of the largest and most dramatic military statues anywhere. The Battle of Boyaca took place by the Boyaca Bridge, an 18th century bridge which was the focal point of the military action. Several monuments surround the bridge, most notably the Von Miller Mounment which commemorates Simon Bolivar.
Both the Vargas Swamp and Boyaca Battlefields are located in the hills immediately outside the modern-day city of Boyaca, approximately forty miles northeast of the capital of Bogata. The battlefields are open sites, with no cost of admission. Web: www.turiscolombia.com/boyaca (official tourism website of Boyaca).