September 15, 2010

Los Insurgentes: The Guerilla Fighters Pt 1

execution of MorelosSometimes, the road to independence can feel like a relay race. As one leader is captured and executed, another picks up the fallen baton and runs with it. They do not operate in a vacuum, but build upon the momentum of those who went before. But they do so in full knowledge of what awaits them, should they fail. They have to inspire and incite people, who have watched their compatriots killed or sold into slavery. They have to plan their strategies, aware of the torture meted out to Morelos; in the certainty of the firing squad beyond it all. Yet they did it anyway.

As Morelos fell in a hail of bullets, not one but several people rushed to take his place in the rebellion. It was a period which saw the rise, not of vast armies of the dispossessed, but smaller bands of guerilla fighters. This is the story of four of them.

Victor Rosales

Before Hidalgo's shout had even gone up in Dolores, Victor Rosales was in trouble as an insurgent. He'd moved to Mexico City, with the intention that he would become a lawyer. To this end, he'd enrolled at the Real y Pontificia Universidad de México (the Royal and Pontifical University) to study law. This particular establishment had also educated Hidalgo, Morelos and Quintana Roo. Ironically, none of them had managed to be expelled for speaking up against the Spanish government in Mexico. Rosales did just that.

Without the qualifications, Rosales couldn't work as a lawyer. He'd had to return to his home city of Zacatecas, in Zacatecas state. He set up in commerce instead, but with a certain sense of dissatisfaction. This was not what he wanted to do with his life. He was 34 years old, when Hidalgo roused the Army of the Americas. Now Rosales knew what he wanted to do. It didn't take him long to close shop and rush to join the insurrection.

Victor Rosales
Victor Rosales

Rosales became attached to the regiment of Ignacio López Rayón. They marched north and participated in all of the battles that marked Hidalgo's campaign. Rosales was reasonably close to the center of action, because of his regiment. López Rayón was Hidalgo's private secretary. When the padre announced that he was forming a government and López Rayón was named as the Secretary of State. However, shortly afterwards, both López Rayón and Rosales escaped the capture and execution that befell the leaders of their cause.

López Rayón led his regiment back to the south and into Rosales's home city. Zacatecas was an important target. The population were mostly sympathetic to the insurgency; plus there were munitions manufacturers working there. López Rayón decided to take it for the rebels. There was resistance from the Realistas (Spanish army in Mexico) stationed there, resulting in a series of pitched battles. But, on April 15th, 1811, the rebels emerged victorious.

With Zacatecas under his control, López Rayón was able to regroup, recruit and arm his troops. It was a decidedly larger force that left, to join Morelos's campaign in the south, than had arrived. It was also inevitable that the Realistas would try to regain Zacatecas. López Rayón needed to leave behind someone he could trust to defend the city. He left Rosales.

Victor Rosales

Rosales ensured that a steady stream of weapons made their way out of Zacatecas, down to Morelos's army in the south. When the stakes were high enough, he was also called upon to join them personally, bringing his own small army with him. He was present at the Battle of Uruapan. The city was then temporarily used as Morelos's insurgent capital.

In January 1813, Rosales returned again for the attack on Valladolid and, a couple of weeks later, the Battle of Puruarán. They both ended in defeat for the insurgents, with the latter also costing the life of Mariano Matamoros, the movement's second in command. It was demoralizing for all of the Army of the Americas, but, for Rosales, there was an added sting. His prolonged absense from Zacatecas had given the Realista General José María Navarrete an opportunity to enter it.

Navarrete's Realistas stationed themselves in the corn exchange building, in the Plaza de St Augustine. On September 25, 1813, Rosales led his troops into the city, in a bid to overwhelm the mainshift barracks. The Realistas fought back fiercely enough that Rosales sounded the retreat. It wasn't a defeat, but neither was it victory. While they'd not regained control of the city, nor even the corn exchange, they had managed to steal several cases of munitions from the Realistas.

Portal de Rosales
Portal de Rosales, Zacatecas (on the site of the barracks)

However, in the confusion of the rebel flight to safety, Rosales had lost sight of his eleven year old son. Most of the Rosales family were now involved in the struggle; and they lived in this city. Young Timoteo Rosales Gordoa had been there, at the barracks, but now he was in the hands of Realista soldiers. Timotheo was dragged in front of Navarrete, who recognised him immediately. He had no hesitation in giving his order. Shoot the boy, as a message to the people that insurrection would be given no quarter. His father viewed it as an act of revenge. Navarrette could not catch Rosales himself, so he'd killed his child.

In 1814, Morelos promoted Rosales to Field Marshal. He put him in charge of the insurgent activities in Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Michoacan region. For the next four years, Rosales harried the Realistas in those states, even after Morelos's execution left the insurrection in a dire situation. However, lack of resources meant that Rosales was never able to successfully take back his city.

On May 20, 1817, Realista Generals Miguel Muñoz and Miguel Barragan combined their forces against Rosales's men. They met at El rancho de la Campana, in Ario, Michoacán. But it was one fight too many for Rosales. He was killed in action, under the onslaught of the Realista artillery.

Until this year, the location of Rosales's grave was unknown. Then, in May 2010, the remains of the heroes of the independence were removed from their crypt, beneath the Angel of Independence, in Mexico City. Forensic examination revealed that Rosales had been amongst his compatriots all along.

Guadalupe Victoria

Guadalupe VictoriaFor some, it's not enough to merely be prepared to die for your cause. They want something - a tattoo; an endless retelling of events; a medal; a badge of honor; a symbol; a secret language - anything that would mark them out as having been there. Enpassioned with a righteous belief that the cause is all that matters and, even should they die, they want their participation in it to be paramount. They want the world to remember them and it in the same breath. It's that important.

It was after the Battle of Oaxaca that the Fernández brothers decided to change their name. Miguel and Francisco had heard the call of Padre Morelos and left their white collar jobs to take up arms. Thus it was that they were here, on November 25th, 1812, walking in triumph though the gates of one of the richest cities in Mexico. Inside, Morelos would find a reserve of silver bars. It promised to fund the rest of the insurgency. Independence had to be just around the corner.

Miguel, the elder of the two brothers, was particularly enflamed by events. He had played a prominent role in the Battle of Oaxaca and that had been noticed. Life had been slightly disappointing for the 26 year old, until now. Miguel was epileptic (a seizure would eventually kill him). He had trained as a lawyer, at Colegio de San Ildefonso, in Mexico City, but had only been able to find work as a teacher. Then Mexico had erupted to the call of Hidalgo's independence movement. Miguel had already been named Congressman for his native Durango, in Morelos's rebel government. It was heedy stuff and Miguel Fernández was riding the crest of this wave all of the way.

Hidalgo's banner
Hidalgo's Banner

His birth certificate said that he was José Miguel Ramón Adaucto Fernández y Félix, son of Manuel Fernández and Alejandra Félix, of Tamazula, Durango. From now on, he would answer only to a name that encompassed all the hopes, dreams and passions of the insurgency. Guadalupe Victoria. Guadalupe, after the Virgin of Guadalupe, that incarnation of Mary, Mother of Christ, favored by the lower classes. She was the symbol of their insurrection. Ever since Hidalgo had raised them in Her name and stuck Her picture on his lance as their flag, they had marched under the divine protection of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Victoria, as in the Spanish for victorious. ¡Guadalupe Victoria! ¡Mexicanos, viva México!

His younger brother could hardly change his first name to the same thing. That would be too confusing. Francisco Fernández settled for just matching his surname with that of his brother. Francisco Victoria.

By 1814, Guadalupe Victoria had been assigned the leadership of all insurgency movements around the Veracruz area. With an army of 2,000 men, he harried the Realistas (Spanish army in Mexico) throughout the area.

Guadalupe Victoria
Guadalupe Victoria

For a year, his headquarters were in the rebel stronghold of Puente del Rey, close to the main highway between the Veracruz capital, Xalapa, and its main port, Veracruz. This was a road that Realistas were often forced to travel along. The port was the gateway to Spain. The fort, at Puente del Rey, acted as a great watchtower, with commanding views across the entire terrain. Many Realista convoy were intercepted, after being spotted from it. Prisoners and supplies were taken for the rebels.

After the capture and execution of Morelos, the Spanish viceroy thought that he'd won. He wrote home to Spain that the insurgency was under control; and he was confident enough to offer pardons to those who just went home. Many did, but Guadalupe Victoria was not one of them. He had a job to do and that was to maintain the pressure on the Realistas in Veracruz. He stayed to do his job. Even more remarkably, all 2,000 of his men stayed with him.

Nevertheless, the going was tough and there weren't supplies of artillery and practical things, like food, getting through. Victoria's men survived on what they took from the Realistas or were given, as donations, from local supporters. In late 1815, they lost Puente del Rey.

Puente del Rey
Puente del Rey

For two years, the troop were constantly on the move, throughout the Veracruz and Puebla regions. Harrassing the Realistas where they could; or, occasionally, actually meeting them in pitched battle. They knew that they weren't as alone as the Spanish would have them believe. Victoria was in sporadic contact with other isolated leaders. He had to keep the faith that it was only a matter of time before the insurgency gathered momentum again. Then the country would be free.

In 1817, Victoria's forces suffered a crushing defeat, at the hands of the Realistas, near to the small town of Palmillas, in Veracruz. Demoralized, Victoria went into hiding. He spent some time in a cave, near to the city of Puebla. Later, he transferred to a hacienda, in Paso de Ovejas, Veracruz. He was under the very noses of the Realistas there, as the hacienda bordered Puente del Rey, the fort that he had lost to them. He was not discovered.

Victoria was to remain concealed from the Realistas for four years. He emerged, in 1821, at the request of another rebel leader, Vicente Guerrero, to read over a proposition. Victoria helped negotiate the terms of independence, on behalf of the insurgents. A few months later, he was one of three men at the helm of the vast army that swept into Mexico City, to claim their country's independence.

In 1824, Guadalupe Victoria became Mexico's first president.

Guadalupe Victoria
President Guadalupe Victoria

Where to Visit:

* Villa de Tamazula, Durango. This village was the birthplace of Guadalupe and Francisco Victoria. There is a monument to Guadalupe in the main plaza. The house in which he was born is also still standing and may be viewed by the public.

* Calera de Víctor Rosales, Zacatecas.

* Zacatecas, Zacatecas. The birthplace and home city of Victor Rosales. The Portal de Rosales, a local meeting place and monument to him, was built on the site of the old corn exchange, in 1827. This had been the spot where the Realistas had their barracks and where Rosales's 11 year old son was executed.

* Puente Nacional, Veracruz. After independence was achieved, many placenames lost their reference to the Spanish crown. Puente del Rey was no exception. The fort held by Guadalupe Victoria is here. There's a pleasant walk up to it and replicas of soldiers to show how it was defended.


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