Battle of Ayacucho - Bolivars last victory

By Ian Spence

Following on from our Demonstration in 2008 of the Battle of Maipo, the defining battle of the South American Wars of Liberation in the Southern part of South America, we have this year moved north to the final battle of the Grand Colombian fight for freedom from Spain. This was part of Simon Bolivars Campaign and his Army was commanded by General Sucre, possibly the finest General in the Wars. Grand Colombia was what we now know as Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuala and this can be seen in the Flag carried by the Colombian troops. It is also one of the battles that involved troops commonly thought of as “British” as they were recruited and Commanded by British Officers. The British played a part in Bolivars Campaign with several Units of British troops and more recruited locally but officered by British Colonels.

The Battle

 The Battle of Ayacucho in Peru occurred between the Royalists (Spanish) and Patriots during the South American Wars of Independence (1808–1829). Also known as the Battle of the Generals, it was fought on December 9, 1824, on the high plain in southern Peru and ended in victory for the forces seeking independence from Spain.

Although other Spanish colonies in America had already been granted independence, Spain sought to hold Peru because of its considerable mineral wealth and the largely apolitical attitude of its people. In 1823, however, revolution and upheaval in Spain created widespread dissension among the Spanish forces in Peru. In 1824 Patriot leader Simón Bolívar and General Antonio José de Sucre took advantage of this and opened a military offensive, hoping to retake Lima from the Royalists.

After prolonged maneuvering during the autumn of 1824, the two sides came together in battle on the Plain of Ayacucho, 186 miles southeast of Lima. Spanish Viceroy José de La Serna y Hirojosa commanded the Royalist force of some 9,300 men and seven guns. Sucre had 5,780 men and two guns. Both sides had some cavalry.

In the maneuvering before the battle, La Serna managed to position his force north of Sucres army, hoping to cut the Patriots off from the sea and additional forces that Bolívar was raising in Lima. La Serna tried to employ his superior numbers to advantage by encircling his opponent, but Sucre avoided this, taking up an excellent defensive position on the plain. La Serna then planned to pin the enemy flanks while finishing off the Patriots with a drive into the center of their line. Sucre planned to allow La Serna to attack, hoping that he would be able to first contain the attack and then exploit it with a reserve of three battalions of infantry and five cavalry squadrons.

The battle opened early on the morning of December 9. The Royalist left wing advanced first against the Patriot right wing commanded by General José Maria Córdoba. This attack failed, as did another Royalist assault on the Patriot center. Córdoba then counterattacked, driving back the Royalist left and opening a break in the Royalist lines that allowed Sucre to introduce his infantry and cavalry reserves to seal the victory. The entire battle had lasted less than an hour and a half.

Despite being outnumbered, Sucre had won a complete victory. The Royalists lost 1,400 dead and 700 wounded, while the Patriots sustained 309 dead and 607 wounded. Particularly grievous for the Royalist cause was the large number of senior officers—including 15 generals, 16 colonels, and 68 lieutenant colonels— among the 2,500 Royalists taken prisoner. For this reason the engagement is sometimes called the Battle of the Generals. La Serna, who had received a half dozen wounds, was among those captured.

Under the terms of capitulation, La Serna agreed to withdraw all Spanish forces from Peru. Sucre then moved into upper Peru. In August 1825 he declared the province of Chuquisaca independent and renamed it Bolivia, in Bolívar’s honor. Although fighting by small isolated Spanish units continued thereafter, the Battle of Ayacucho marked the effective end of the South American Wars of Independence.

The Game

The terrain was constructed based on some contemporary maps of the battle and the use of modern technology. Google Earth and photos of the area were used and we consulted some South American experts who explained how the battlefield looked. The accounts that exist are not very helpful as Sucre fails to mention the gully in his account. The gully, or quebradas as it is called in South America, is the key battlefield feature and it plays a vital role in preventing the Spanish from using their greater numbers to overwhelm the Patriots. It presented a particular problem as we had to make it a nice feature, but also had to make it clear for gaming purposes where it started and finished. The quebradas aside the terrain is flat and uninteresting, not a tree in sight! The Board is made of high density foam board used for roof insulation on a 10mm MDF base. This gives it solidity and stops it from warping. 

The Figures

The figures are all 1/72 plastic , from various leading manufacturers HaT, Zvezda,Airfix,Strelets and Italeri . The decision to use plastic, rather than metal was a cost and weight one at first. However, it was also a practical decision as we realized he amount of work required to get the armies we wanted. Nobody, when we started, did a commercial range of figures in 1/72. It also shows that starting up in wargaming does not have to cost a lot of money. We estimate that either Army could be purchased for around £60.

 The Napoleonic ranges from these manufacturers offer nearly all you need to field the main armies of the period. Where there are gaps, a bit of conversion work was required. For the infantry, the main conversion work was with the shakos. For the artillery it was a case of removing particular distinctive items and also making sure that the very light calibre guns were represented correctly (no 12pdrs here !)  For the cavalry there was a great deal more conversion work required. A large number of the units in this period were lance armed, so we had to replace the sabres and carbines with metal lances. One particular unit though required far more work, The Dragons de Peru, in the Spanish Army, wore a uniform that was part Carabinier and part Hussar. This resulted in using Hussar bodies and replacing all of the heads with Carabinier ones, using the cut/pin/superglue process. These were then mounted on the Carabinier horses. There are cavalry units on the Patriot side that required combining various sets of figures and cutting and pinning arms as well.It sounds like a lot of effort but the result is worth it.

 We have tried many methods of making the plastic figures more resilient to use on a wargames table and have a 4 stage approach. Wash the figure in washing up water/Undercoat with a mix of PVA Glue and acrylic paint/Paint the figure/Varnish with two coats of varnish. There was also an article in a recent issue of Battlegames Magazine giving advice on plastic figure painting – differs to ours so proves that, once again, there are many different ways to tackle this. 

The Rules

 We have been using Dave Brown’s General de Brigade for Napoleonic battles, for many years. The second version was released in 2010 and became even more popular with us as various tweaks in the rules allowed smaller units of 15-20 figures to be represented in a realistic way. The QRS that we are using today was amended for Liberators by our group and is available as a download from the General de Brigade Forum - http://generaldebrigade.blogspot.com/ - see Rules updates on right hand side.

We also intend trying Sharpe Practice and Songs of Drums and Shakos for the many smaller actions that abound in these wars. Regimental Fire and Fury has also been used by several members of the Liberators Yahoo group with good results.

Further Research

When we started our South American Adventure there was a very small amount of material and information available. We discovered the period through John Fletchers Liberators book, which covered the Southern theatre and gave History, Scenarios and Uniforms all in one book. John has, subsequently, produced a supplement for the War in the South and last year a book on the British and Irish involvement in the Wars with Battle and Uniform details. Hopefully this year will see the publication of the book for the War in the North, covering Bolivar and Sucres battles, along similar lines. The Liberators website is grenadierproductions.com and  we recommend it if you are interested in this unknown and neglected period.

There are now several readable books available on the Wars and the easy to find ones are:

Liberators  - Robert Harvey

Conquer or Die – Ben Hughes

If you want to see things “in the flesh” then Miranda House in London is worth a visit :www.venezlon.co.uk or if you fancy a trip across the Channel the Musee San Martin in Boulogne is well worth a day trip, but book in advance as it is not always open.

We look forward to seeing you and discuss  the game, the figures and the period at Salute.


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