One of the most central figures of Latin American independence was Antonio José de Sucre. Known as the "Grand Marshal of Ayacucho," Sucre was an adamant defender of freedom and the liberator of Peru and Ecuador. He worked closely with the Libertador Simón Bolívar in military campaigns and other efforts for independence in the early 19th century. Over the course of his life, Sucre climbed through the ranks in the military, ultimately reaching his most famous moment at the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824. He was one of the most respected leaders of Latin American independence, and eventually became the first leader of Bolivia to be elected through the constitution. Sucre is remembered most for his impeccable military tactics, his wisdom, and his noble honesty.
Sucre's life illustrates a remarkable trajectory of gaining experience and expertise in the army and from the leaders of the independence movement. He was born on February 3, 1795 in the province of Cumaná, Venezuela, to don Vicente de Sucre, a Spanish army lieutenant, and doña María Manuela de Alcalá.1 His family genealogy was distinguished; his parents were descendants of lieutenants and captains who fought in the army and took part in the conquest of America.2 Sucre and his family became involved in the fight for independence from the early stages of the movement. Over the course of his adolescence, Sucre worked his way up the ranks of the military. First he was a subordinate officer on the staff; subsequently, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant for the Junta of Cumaná. By the age of 17, Sucre was on the staff of the Generalissimo don Francisco de Miranda. After Miranda's surrender at La Victoria, Sucre emigrated to Trinidad to dedicate more time to his education. He was soon pulled back into the military campaigns and gained experience under the leadership of Colonel Santiago Mariño and Simón Bolívar. At the 110-day-long Siege of Cartagena in 1815 Sucre demonstrated exceptional military skill; he was then appointed chief of staff and went with General Bermúdez to free Cumaná. In one of his great achievements, on November 25, 1820, Sucre drafted a treaty that ended the "War to the Death" by proposing civilized rules to war. This treaty would later become a central document in American international law.3
Sucre and Simón Bolívar were two honored figures in the quest for independence in Nueva Granada and close compatriots. However, the initial encounter between Bolívar and Sucre included an element of tension. In 1819, Vice President Zea had promoted Sucre to the position of General, although he had no authority to do so. In his Memorias, General Daniel O'Leary recounts that after being introduced to a 'General Sucre,' Bolívar angrily replied, "'There is no such general.'"4 Once Sucre explained that he was unwilling to accept the title of General without Bolívar's approval, he understood and apologized. O'Leary also recounts that Bolívar appointed Sucre as Minister of Army and Navy ad interim, with the explanation that "as strange as it may seem, [Sucre's] ability is not known or even suspected. I am decided to make him known, and am convinced that some day [sic] he will compete with me."5 Eventually Sucre would become Bolívar's favorite lieutenant, and they would be lauded and honored as the two great protectors of independence.6
On the route south from Venezuela, Sucre fought in many key battles for Ecuadorian and Peruvian independence. These campaigns included Guayaquil, the Battle of Pichincha in Quito on May 24, 1822, and the Battle of Junín on August 6, 1824. The Battle of Ayacucho marks the peak of Sucre's career. Bolívar called the Battle of Ayacucho the "summit of American glory."7 It marked the last battle of independence to occur in the Americas, and brought an end to the nearly 50-year-long fight for independence that started in 1775 in Massachusetts. The battle took place on December 9, 1824, in the south-central part of current-day Peru. The city of Ayacucho, which means "corner of the dead men," was so named by the local indigenous populations since it had been the site of a bloody battle during the Spanish conquest.8 In this region in 1824, Sucre led an army that consisted of Colombians, Peruvians, Argentinians, Chileans, and Europeans.9 The Spanish army numbered over 3,000 men more than Sucre's, so he could not rely on military strength along.10 Instead, after multiple days of facing the royalists, Sucre's army retreated to Ayacucho to trick the Viceroy into thinking they were escaping. When the Spanish army arrived and began to attack, Sucre fired back. The pivotal moment of the battle was when Colombian José María Córdoba jumped off his horse and killed the Spanish field marshal don Juan Antonio Monet at the bottom of the ravine between the two armies; Córdoba then shouted, "'Colombians, use your weapons at your own will! Advance to conquer!'"11 Sucre and his army quickly outran their opponents and emerged victorious. The Spanish royalists sustained over 2,000 casualties and their General José de la Serna was captured and taken prisoner. The day after the victory, Sucre wrote a letter to Bolívar humbly stating that the war and freedom of Peru was complete, and that he was very content.12 The Battle of Ayacucho secured Peruvian independence and was one of Sucre's greatest victories in his career of defending freedom.
After securing the independence of Ecuador and Peru, Sucre worked with Bolívar to manage the newly independent state of Bolivia. The Bolivian Wars of Independence, which have been compared to the French Revolution, lasted from 1809 to 1825. Bolívar drafted the fledgling republic's constitution. As the first president, Sucre tried to enact progressive social and economic reforms as part of the Bolivian state laws. However, he encountered strong opposition from the traditional elite in Bolivia and eventually was forced to retire to Ecuador.
The deaths of the great leaders of Sucre and Bolívar were met with great mourning from the people of Nueva Granada at the loss of their heroes. Sucre was assassinated on June 4, 1830, in Berruecos, killed by 2 bullets to the head and one to the heart. General Flores had fabricated the assassination plan in an attempt to separate the southern part of Nueva Granada into an independent nation. As recently as six days prior to his assassination, Sucre had written a letter to his friend Sr. General Vicente Aguirre about the need to improve the interior's administration to increase unity. Rumors of an assassination attempt had circulated, but Sucre was not fearful and declined to leave the area.13 His body was left in the marsh until the following day. Once Sucre's death became widely known, he was greatly lamented in obituaries published in local gazettes and newspapers. Bolívar was deeply affected by Sucre's death, and even became delirious. He roundly denounced the assassinators.14 Bolívar also endured an assassination attempt on the night of September 25, 1828, in his room, but he survived by jumping out the window. Subsequently, his rule became stronger and more repressive.15 When Bolívar died on December 17, 1830 in Santa Marta, the loss of the great hero and Libertador was also mourned by commoners and military generals alike. The praiseful language, intense emotional affect, and inclusion of nationalistic songs in the obituaries of Sucre and Bolívar illustrate the extent of their influence as the purest and strongest proponents of freedom and independence.
1Sherwell 1924: 9.
2Sherwell 1924: 9-10.
3Sherwell 1924: 22.
4O'Leary 1879-1888: 67.
5O'Leary 1879-1888: 67.
6Bushnell 1993: 57.
7Sherwell 1924: 216.
8Sherwell 1924: 122.
9Bushnell 1993: 57.
10Sherwell 1924: 123.
11Sherwell 1924: 128.
12Córdoba 1959: 129.
13Sherwell 1924: 199.
14Ayala Mora 1996: 44.
15Bushnell 1993: 69.
- Ayala Mora, Enrique
- 1996. Sucre: Soldado y estadista. Santafé de Bogotá: Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar.
- Bushnell, David
- 1993. The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Córdoba, Diego
- 1959. Vida del mariscal Sucre: "Su espada flor y su bondad capullo." Colección Autores contemporáneos, XIII. Mexico, D.F.: Editorial América Nueva.
- O'Leary, Daniel Florence
- 1879-1888. Memorias del general O'Leary, publicadas por su hijo Simón O'Leary, por orden del gobierno de Venezuela. Caracas: Imprenta de la Gazeta Oficial. Vol. II.
- Sherwell, Guillermo Antonio
- 1924. Antonio José de Sucre (Gran Mariscal de Ayaucho) Hero and Martyr of American Independence: A Sketch of His Life. Washington, D.C.: Press of Byron S. Adams.