Bolívar’s Military Campaigns Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The flamboyant and energetic revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar waged a long series of military campaigns during which he experienced drastic shifts in fortune but throughout which he never abandoned his commitment to rid South America of Spanish rule. His audacity, brilliance, and persistence resulted in the liberation of what would become five independent South American countries in the northern part of the continent.

Summary of Event

By 1813, the liberal Creole leader Simón Bolívar had experienced much frustration in his attempts to win independence for his native Venezuela from its Spanish colonial government. From 1810 to 1812, he had taken a leading part in Francisco de Miranda’s abortive independence movement. He had then left Venezuela for the neighboring province of New Granada, where he had served as a military commander for the rebel government in the city of Bogotá. However, he soon became restless and pleaded with the Bogotá regime to allow him to invade Venezuela. He finally secured permission, took five hundred soldiers, and launched his military expedition in March, 1813. Bolívar, Simón [p]Bolívar, Simón[Bolivar, Simon];campaigns South America;liberation of Morillo, Pablo Venezuela;liberation of Peru;liberation of Colombia;liberation of Ecuador;liberation of Bolivia;liberation of [kw]Bolívar’s Military Campaigns (Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824) [kw]Military Campaigns, Bolívar’s (Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824) [kw]Campaigns, Bolívar’s Military (Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824) Bolívar, Simón [p]Bolívar, Simón[Bolivar, Simon];campaigns South America;liberation of Morillo, Pablo Venezuela;liberation of Peru;liberation of Colombia;liberation of Ecuador;liberation of Bolivia;liberation of [g]Venezuela;Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824: Bolívar’s Military Campaigns[0620] [g]Colombia;Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824: Bolívar’s Military Campaigns[0620] [g]Peru;Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824: Bolívar’s Military Campaigns[0620] [g]Ecuador;Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824: Bolívar’s Military Campaigns[0620] [g]Bolivia;Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824: Bolívar’s Military Campaigns[0620] [g]South America;Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824: Bolívar’s Military Campaigns[0620] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824: Bolívar’s Military Campaigns[0620] [c]Colonization;Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824: Bolívar’s Military Campaigns[0620] [c]Government and politics;Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824: Bolívar’s Military Campaigns[0620] [c]Expansion and landacquisition;Mar., 1813-Dec. 9, 1824: Bolívar’s Military Campaigns[0620] Paula Santander, Francisco de Páez, José Antonio San Martín, José de Boves, José Tomás Serna,José de la Ferdinand VII [p]Ferdinand VII[Ferdinand 07];and South America[South America] Sáenz, Manuela

Statue of Simón Bolívar in Caracas, Venezuela.

(Library of Congress)

The ensuing campaign established Bolívar’s reputation. Outmaneuvering his numerically superior adversaries and collecting new recruits as he went from one success to the next, Bolívar entered the Venezuelan capital of Caracas in July, 1813, and was awarded the title by which he would thenceforth be known: the Liberator. After proclaiming the Second Republic of Venezuela, Venezuela;and Símon Bolívar[Bolivar] however, he soon committed grave political blunders, the most serious of which was alienating the tough, fiercely independent llaneros, cowboys of the Venezuelan plains. Laws restricting llanero freedoms, requiring them to hold identification papers and to be tied to laboring for large ranchers, threatened their way of life. Led by a Spanish transplant, José Tomás Boves Boves, José Tomás , the plainsmen proved to be redoubtable opponents. Boves, a ruthless individual known as the Asturian Tiger, proved to be more than a match for Bolívar, routing his forces at the Battle of La Puerta on June 15, 1814.

Shortly thereafter, the tide began turning even more decisively as a result of developments in Spain. As the Napoleonic Wars wound down, French occupation troops fighting in the Peninsular Peninsular War (1808-1815);and Spanish American liberators[Spanish American liberators] War were driven from Spain by combined British forces and Spanish guerrillas, and King Ferdinand VII Ferdinand VII [p]Ferdinand VII[Ferdinand 07];and South America[South America] was restored to the throne. Ferdinand was determined to crush all Latin American insurrections, and Napoleon I’s defeat freed more Spanish troops for that purpose. In July of 1814, Bolívar evacuated Caracas and fled to Colombia. Boves destroyed his last remaining supporters at the Battle of Urica on December 5, 1814. However, Boves, José Tomás Boves was slain during the battle, an event that would hold portent for the future.

From Colombia Colombia;and Símon Bolívar[Bolivar] , Bolívar escaped to Curaçao, Jamaica, then to Haiti, where he received money, supplies, and assistance from Haitian president Alexandre Pétion. During the course of 1815, Venezuela and Colombia were effectively won back to the royalist cause through the efforts of the able Spanish general Pablo Morillo, known as the Pacifier. After two failed attempts to land on the west coast of Venezuela, Bolívar made landfall in September, 1816, at Angostura on the Orinoco River. His revived movement was strengthened from two significant directions. First, English, Scottish, and Irish veterans of the Napoleonic Wars joined Bolívar’s forces and forged a formidable unit called the British Legion. Second, Bolívar gained the support of the new llanero warlord, José Antonio Páez. Páez, José Antonio

South American Independence





In 1819, Bolívar launched his greatest coup: While Páez held Morillo’s attention in Venezuela, Bolívar led his forces on a dangerous and exhausting march across the Andes into Colombia. This daring gamble paid huge dividends when Bolívar staged a surprise attack at Boyaca on August 7, 1819. The much larger Spanish force was shattered, and an independent government was established at Bogotá, with Bolívar as president. Leaving the administration in the hands of the vice president, Francisco de Paula Santander Paula Santander, Francisco de , Bolívar sped back to confront Morillo in Venezuela.

The situation there developed into a stalemate, until news of a coup by a junta of liberal army officers on January 1, 1820, altered the balance. In compliance with the junta’s wishes, Morillo halted aggressive operations against the rebels, signed a cease-fire with Bolívar on November 25, 1820, and returned to Spain, his departure removing the most imposing obstacle to independence. Bolívar and Páez Páez, José Antonio capitalized on the opportunity provided by Morillo’s absence, and on June 24, 1821, at the Battle of Carabobo, royal troops were cleared from Venezuela. Bolívar then turned his attention to Ecuador Peru;and Símon Bolívar[Bolívar] Ecuador;and Símon Bolívar[Bolivar] and Peru, still in Spanish hands. He dispatched his ablest lieutenant, General Antonio José de Sucre, to the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, which quickly surrendered. The inland city of Quito, however, sheltered a Spanish garrison that was determined to resist the revolutionaries.

It was at this juncture that the two major South American independence movements converged. José de San Martín’s San Martín, José de Army of the Andes, which had crossed the mountains from Argentina Argentina;liberation of to liberate Chile, Chile;liberation of was now pressing into Peru, and San Martín was near enough at hand to lend Sucre reinforcements. While Bolívar fought his way down the Cauca Valley, Sucre climbed the heights before Quito Ecuador;liberation of and took the city after a battle at Mount Pichincha (May 24, 1822). It was during his triumphant procession into Quito that Bolívar encountered the vivacious Manuela Sáenz Sáenz, Manuela , who would soon become his mistress and lifelong companion.

From July 26 to July 27, 1822, the two great leaders, Bolívar and San Martín, met privately at Guayaquil. After their conference, San Martín withdrew from Peru, leaving its final liberation to Bolívar and Sucre. In Peru, the last bastions of royalist resitance, under General José de Canterac and Viceroy José de la Serna Serna, José de la , doggedly held on to portions of what are now Peru and Bolivia. On August 6, 1824, Canterac’s army was beaten at the Battle of Junin. Then, on December 9, 1824, Sucre inflicted the final, most devastating defeat on the royalists at Ayacucho, where Serna was captured and effective resistance came to an end.


The lengthy independence struggle and Bolívar’s stellar role in it enabled the Liberator to set forward his plan for a unified South American republic. Called Gran Colombia Gran Colombia , the republic encompassed present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador. Within a scant seven years, however, both Bolívar and Sucre were dead, and Gran Colombia was no more, having split into its component regions. Thereafter, disunity and recurrent coups d’état led by military strongmen known as caudillos became pervasive features of the Latin American sociopolitical landscape. Bolívar brought about South American independence, but his vision of a grand South American republic was never realized.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anna, Timothy E. The Fall of the Royal Government in Peru. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979. Takes the point of view that the crucial elements of South American indepedence lay in royalist weaknesses adeptly exploited by Bolívar and Sucre.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bierck, Harold A., Jr., ed. Selected Writings of Simón Bolívar. Compiled by Vicente Lecunam and translated by Lewis Bertrand. 2 vols. New York: Colonial Press, 1951. Enlightening listing of primary documents, mainly composed of letters of Bolívar during various stages of his struggle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Earle, Rebecca A. Spain and the Independence of Colombia, 1810-1825. Exeter, England: University of Exeter Press, 2000. Focuses on the vagaries of political events in Spain, how they affected Colombia, and the inability of Spanish governments to form policies based on reality.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Graham, Richard. Independence in Latin America: A Comparative Approach. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994. Examines parallels and contrasts between the various freedom movements in the different regions and provinces of Latin America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America from the Beginnings to the Present. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967. Classic study that includes an account of the independence struggles of the 1810’s and 1820’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keen, Benjamin. A History of Latin America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. The pages dealing with the wars of independence compare quite favorably with those of Herring in their flow and clarity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Leary, General Daniel Florencio. Bolívar and the War of Independence. Translated by Robert F. McNerney, Jr. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970. Firsthand account by an officer in Bolívar’s British Legion who was handpicked by Bolívar to write his biography. As may be expected, it is highly complimentary to the Liberator.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Safford, Frank, and Marco Palacios. Colombia: Fragmented Land, Divided Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Two chapters are devoted to describing and analyzing the liberation struggle and the collapse of Bolívar’s grand design.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stoan, Stephen K. Pablo Morillo and Venezuela, 1815-1820. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1974. Unusual account about the only Spanish general who had a chance to defeat the independence movement.

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