September 9, 2010

Los Insurgentes: Army of the Americas

It was a bloodbath. A massacre, which had resulted in the deaths of up to 600 men, women and children. Heroes and legends, they may be; but the Army of the Americas was also untrained and undisciplined.

Only 800 people had left Dolores, but their numbers had been swelled since into the tens of thousands. Very few were military. Most of them were poor people, indigenious Indians or the mestizo, pre-Hispanic Mexicans. Armed with the tools of their trade (scythes, axes and the such) or whatever they could lay their hands on, they were unused to obeying the orders of generals. Fuelled with three centuries worth of rage and hatred, they overwhelmed the fortified granary, at Guanajuato. The city's population of terrified Spaniards, hidden inside, didn't stand a chance.

Guanajuato Granary

Ignacio Allende, himself a Captain of the Realistas (Spanish Army in Mexico), was furious.They were following the empassioned orders of Miguel Hidalgo. The man was a priest! He had no military training. He wasn't a battleground strategist. He had no concept of the practical things, like feeding his army.

As a result, several towns in their wake, including Allende's home-town of San Miguel, had been ransacked and looted. Prisoners were being executed, before ransom, as a means to raise funds, could even be considered.

It wasn't that Hidalgo was actually giving these orders directly. But there was something of the supernatural in the man. The fire in his eyes; the passion in his speech; the kind of words that he used. He invoked God and Ferdinand VII. He carried a banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe. He made it sound like their insurgency was divinely ordained; and that was manna for the soul for these people. They had had Napoleon's anti-Catholic policies foisted upon them and here was Heavenly retribution. Whatever they did now had to be right. Their very slogans and flags read, "Long live religion! Long live our most Holy Mother of Guadalupe! Long live Ferdinand VII! Long live America and death to bad government!" The Mother was with them.

Miguel Hidalgo

Allende, as Catholic as the next man, angrily turned upon Hidalgo.Ignacio Allende The two had already come to strong words a few days before. That time it was over Allende's use of the flat of his sword, over the shoulders of looters, which had upset Hidalgo. Allende had protested that he was trying to regain order.

Hidalgo, then, as now, agreed that the raiding and executions were heinous. But he also understood the patterns of history. There never was independence without bloodshed. This was the way it always was and they could only pray for a swift end to it.

The Army of the Americas moved on.

José Mariano Jiménez had joined them in Guanajuato. He was a mere engineer, but proved to be a natural on the battlefield. He soon rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant colonel. When the 90,000 army reached the city of San Mateo Atenco, Jiménez was in charge of 3,000 men. The Realistas came out and met them at a bridge, over the Lerma River. This was to be the decisive Battle of Monte de las Cruces.

Out-skilled and with the lay of the land against them, the Army of the Americas should have been destroyed. The Realista General Torcuato Trujillo was able to place cannons in the surrounding mountains, which should have torn through them. Allende and Juan Aldama, with their experienced eyes, must have looked in horror at what awaited them. It was not a battle with any odds in their favor. But Hidalgo was preaching and Jiménez was listening.

José Mariano JiménezOn October 30th, 1810, the battle began. Be it instinct, engineering prowess or luck, Jiménez's positioning of his artillery was pure genius. Fighting alongside Aldama's brother, Ignacio, Jiménez's strategy won the day for them. Jaws must have dropped to see General Trujillo's Realistas so completely defeated. Jiménez was made a colonel and sent to Mexico City to see if he could bring about a peaceful resolution. He was told, by the viceroy, that all insurrection would be violently put down. Jiménez returned to Hidalgo. The fight was still on.

The Army of the Americas marched as far as Cuajimalpa, one of the boroughs of Mexico City. Allende wanted them to continue all the way into the center and take the country. Their forces now outnumbered the Realistas. He was certain that they could win the capital. Hidalgo wasn't so sure. Despite their victory, they had taken some heavy casualties at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces. Hidalgo was also finally taking on board what Allende had been saying about the lack of training within the Army of the Americas. He gave the order to retreat.

This was not a popular decision and some of the army began to desert. Disagreements now dividing Allende and Hidalgo, they also parted company. Allende returned to Guanajuato with a smaller army. The Realistas had taken back that town and Allende wanted to free it. He was unsuccessful and had to flee, with his army, back to Hidalgo's forces.


Hidalgo, meanwhile, had led the main body of his army to Guadalajara. Arriving in November, 1810, he immediately set about forming an administration to govern an independent Mexico. He appointed political ministers, with himself at the helm; set up a newspaper; and set about creating laws. Amongst these was the abolition of slavery and the end of tribute payment to the viceroys. He also created a foreign minister, Pascacio Ortiz de Letona, whom he sent to the USA on a mission to gain support, supplies and arms. Ortiz was ambushed en route to Philadelphia and killed.

While all of this was going on, the Army of the Americas were rampaging through the city. They ransacked the homes and businesses of all Spanish citizens, killing them in the process. There was no discrimination. Spanish supporters of the insurgency were executed alongside those who had remained loyal to Napoleon. It was into this scene of carnage that Allende returned and he was livid! However, he'd also brought news that the Realistas were on the way. Hidalgo did not want to upset his army, when they would be called upon to fight very soon.

The Realistas arrived in January 1811. Allende, Aldama and Abasolo, with all of their military training, wanted to keep the fighting within the city. The Realistas only had 6,000 men, while Hidalgo now had up to 100,000 and nearly 100 cannons too. Allende stressed the importance of an escape route. Hidalgo argued for fighting on open ground. He was still in control and so he won out. The stage was set for the disastrous Battle of Calderón Bridge.

Battle of Calderón Bridge

General Félix María Calleja del Rey, of the Realistas, was later given the title of Conde de Calderón for his victory over the insurgents. His army was highly experienced and tightly trained. They faced the Army of the Insurgents, who still fought mostly with homemade weaponry and a lot of passion. The turning point of the battle came when the Realistas blew up an artillery wagon belonging to the Army of the Americas. The resulting explosion killed everyone near it, but also sparked a mass dispersal. As more people ran, those watching on thought that the retreat had been sounded. Hidalgo's army fled.

Afterwards, it finally dawned upon the Army of the Americas that Hidalgo was not a military man. A great and wonderful priest and a brilliant orator, but not the best general for the battlefield. At Hacienda de Pabellon, near Aguascalientes, on January 25th, 1811, Hidalgo was stripped of his leadership. He was still their political and spiritual leader; but, from now on, all military manoeuvres would be determined by Allende.

The Army of the Americas, now in some disarray, moved north towards the USA. The idea was to send ambassadors over the border to request support. En route though, they received a message from the Nuevo León general, Ignacio Elizondo. Though once a Realista, he had expressed support for the insurgency. Even more importantly, his message stated that he had already achieved contact with the USA. He had armaments for them.

Message from Elizondo

The army set off towards the meeting place, at the Wells of Baján. Initially welcomed, they were soon ambushed. Elizondo was still a Realista. The leaders were taken to Chihuahua and placed on trial. All were found guilty of insubordination and sentenced to be executed.

On June 26th, 1811, Allende, Aldama and Jiménez faced the firing squad together, along with other members of the army. Once dead, they were decapitated and their heads were sent to Guanajuato. There they were locked into cages and hung from the walls of the fortified granary, where, 11 months before, so many Spanish people had been killed.

Padre Hidalgo was handed over to the Bishop of Durango, so that he could be officially defrocked and excommunicated before his execution. On July 30th, 1811, he too stood in front of the firing squad. His decapitated head joined the others in the Guanajuato cage.

The leadership were all dead, but the battle for Mexican Independence had only just begun. Noting well what had happened to Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama, Jiménez and the others, people came and, nevertheless, took up the gauntlet. They were still hearing the cry, '¡Mexicanos, viva México!'

Where to Visit:

* Pénjamo, Guanajuato. This is Hidalgo's home city. His childhood estate, Corralejo, is open to the public. It has his home and several monuments, within agreeable gardens. During the first week in May, every year, there is a fair held there in Hidalgo's honor.

* Guanajuato, in the state of Guanajuato. Top on the list is the granary (Alhóndiga de Granaditas), where so many Spanish people died and, later, the heads of Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jiménez were displayed. It now serves as a regional museum.

Also in the city is the statue of El Pípila. This commemorates a miner, whose feats of strength, in hoisting a flagstone onto his back, were instrumental in breaking down the defences of the granary to allow the insurgents in.

* San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. This UNESCO World Heritage town was the birthplace of both Allende and Aldama. It was once ransacked by the Army of the Insurgents.

* Battlesite of Monte de las Cruces, in the Miguel Hidalgo National Park (aka La Marquesa National Park), near San Mateo Atenco, in Mexico state. (Find it off the Mexico City - Toluca highway.) There's an obelisk there, commemorating the battle, alongside statues of Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jiménez. It's a popular tourist attraction, so expect to find many refreshments and other souvenirs in the unoffical mercado.

* Cuajimalpa, Mexico City. There are monuments here of all of the leaders. At San Lorenzo Acopilco, there is a bust of Hidalgo, marking the point where the insurgents turned around.

* Guadalajara, Jalisco. This is where the insurgents formed their fledging (and temporary) government. There is a mural depicting Hidalgo, in the Rotunda of Illustrious Men (Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres).

* Calderón Bridge, Zapotlanejo, Jalisco. The site of the disastrous battle was made a Mexican historical monument, in 1932.

* Hacienda and San Blas of Pabellón de Hidalgo Church, Rincón de Romos, Aguascalientes. The house, where Hidalgo was stripped of his military leadership, by the Army of the Insurgents, now acts as a museum to the War of Independence (Museo de la Insurgencia).

* Hidalgo's Dungeon (Calabozo de Miguel Hidalgo), Chihuahua. The building, where the leaders of the insurgency were held, is now a museum. It covers that period, as well as the rest of criminal and penal history in Mexico.

* Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno), Chihuahua. Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jiménez, along with other insurgents, were detained here during their trial.

* San Francisco Church, Chihuahua. This church, on Calle Libertad, was where the headless bodies of the insurgents were originally buried. (They were later disinterred and moved to Mexico City.)

* For those truly wishing to follow the complete trail, then it may be of interest to know that the Bicentennial committee have released a series of Routes. For more information, visit their official site.

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