Wednesday, 12 February 2014

200th Anniversary of the Battle of La Victoria, 12th February 1814

The Battle
As the sun was rising, at approximately 7:00 in the morning of 12 February 1814, the spearhead of the Republican forces located at El Pantanero spotted Morales’s forces moving in from the south and west of the town. The first clash between the vanguard forces occurred an hour later. Morales’s forces quickly pushed the defenders back and took control of the positions near the Aragua River and on the heights of El Calvario and El Pantanero, while the Republicans retreated behind the defensive perimeter they had set up around the houses in the town surrounding the main plaza.

In his book El General en Jefe José Félix Ribas, the Venezuelan historian Héctor Bencomo Barrios describes the battle as follows:

The magnificent barrier of artillery fire and fusiliers, coupled with existing obstacles, had turned the main square into a true stronghold. Nine times the enemy cavalry charged, and nine times it was forcefully pushed back, because the position was virtually impregnable to cavalry forces. Morales, blinded by his ignorance of tactics and his thirst for blood, was incapable of realizing this and obstinately tried to overcome the Republicans….

Edgar Esteves Gonzales, in turn, in his book Batallas de Venezuela 1810-1824, describes the events as follows:

The infantrymen sought to protect themselves behind any breastwork they could find, trying to hold off the waves of cavalrymen that came at them, one after the other, with no surcease for the Republicans. Morales’s men doggedly attacked again and again while the inexperienced defenders dropped one by one….

Yet another author, Juan Vicente González, in his biography of General José Félix Ribas, published in La Revista Literaria in 1865, quoting from Gaceta de Caracas number 42, tells us that:

…nine times Morales charged and nine times he was pushed back; the battle began at 8:00 in the morning and was fought on the outskirts of the town, and was fought in the streets, where the enemy hordes were finally able to penetrate; and was fought from the square, where the formidable leader regrouped, uncertain whether help would or would not come, self-confident and trusting to his luck. On horseback, in the midst of his soldiers, he encouraged and drove them; he was everywhere; he held back and tired the enemy forces. There was in his eye, in his speech, a spark that shone in those dark moments; his look forced hearts to strive. Thrice the horse under him fell to the ground; a thousand bolts of lightning flashed around the plumage on his head, the target of every shot, heroically handsome and visible in the midst of his comrades.

At approximately 4:00 in the afternoon, following a frenzied battle, when the stamina and morale of the defenders seemed to be flagging, a cavalry column approached from the west along the Valencia-San Mateo road to attack Morales and his men from behind. It was Campo Elías, the victor at Mosquiteros and avenger of those who had fallen at La Puerta. He had marched from La Cabrera, some 40 Km. away, with two cavalry squadrons consisting of approximately two hundred (200) horsemen under the command of Manuel Cedeño and the brothers Juan and Francisco Padrón, as well as two hundred and twenty (220) infantrymen under Lieutenant Colonel José María Ortega and Captain Antonio Ricaurte, in aid of the Republicans. Rivas took advantage of the confusion that reigned following the unexpected arrival of help and ordered an attack, led by Major Mariano Montilla. One hundred lancers and fifty light infantrymen broke away from their defensive positions and managed to break through the ranks of the attackers, allowing Campo Elías’s troops to breach the bulwarks. Reorganizing his forces in the main plaza, Ribas ordered a general attack. Morales, who had no idea of the size of the forces attacking him or whether additional reinforcements were on the way, was unable to withstand the onslaught and, taking advantage of the waning light after sunset, retreaded to the higher ground of El Pantanero, pursued by Mariano Montilla and Vicente Campo Elías. Meanwhile, Boves, with the reserve forces, was approaching along the road from Villa de Cura.

The battle ended with the Republicans in control of the main plaza and Morales’s forces spread out in the hills of El Pantanero. The next day, following the arrival of Boves at the head of the reserves, the enemies of the Republic tried to regain the upper hand, an initiative that was stymied by a group under the command of Colonel Campo Elías, who defeated Boves’s men and sent them fleeing. Boves was forced to return to Villa de Cura. One of the men to die in this battle was Rudecindo Canelón, a captain in the Valerosos Cazadores battalion who had endured prison in Puerto Rico and in Coro following the fall of the First Republic and had been a heroic figure in the Battle of Araure.

The Republicans had suffered serious losses. In his official report General José Félix Ribas said “We, in turn, lost some 100 men and have close to four hundred wounded. Among the former, we must lament the death of the intrepid commander of the “Soberbios Dragones de Caracas”, C.L. María Rivas Dávila; cavalry lieutenant C. Ron....” He goes on to report that two horses had been killed out from under him, but that he had not been injured. His report then goes on to say that no prisoners were taken “because our troops show no mercy....”

In the case of the death of the commander of the “Soberbios Dragones de Caracas”, Luis María Rivas Dávila, who was not a professional soldier but a lawyer from Mérida, and who had joined the liberation movement when the Admirable Campaign passed through his city –and who had distinguished himself during the fighting at Cerritos Blanco outside Barquisimeto, protecting the withdrawal of the Republican troops, and at the Battle of Araure- history tells us that when the bullet that would ultimately kill him was removed, he held it up and said “Give it to my wife and tell her to keep it, and to remember that it is to it that I owe the most glorious moment in my life, the moment when I died defending the cause of my soil.” With his last breath he cried out “I die content. Long live the Republic!”

On the tactical side, we cannot fail to point out that General Ribas made the best possible use of his forces given the circumstances and the terrain where he was facing his enemy. By placing his troops, mostly inexperienced infantrymen, in a defensive position within a fortified square, he neutralized the advantages of mobility and brute force that the cavalry gave Colonel Morales. The layout of the streets leading to the plaza where Ribas mounted his defense offered the great advantage of providing both the infantry and the artillery with clear, very specific fields of fire that the enemy would necessarily have to follow during their approach and attack. In the case of Colonel Morales, in view of the defensive position adopted by his enemy, he should have reorganized his forces, launching attacks mainly with the infantry and used his cavalry to prevent the arrival of reinforcements that could attack him from the rear.

Although the Battle of La Victoria was not a decisive encounter in the War of Independence, it was extremely important from a strategic standpoint because it meant that communications between Valencia, where the general headquarters were located, and Caracas, the seat of the Republican government, remained open and prevented Morales and Rosete from joining forces against the latter city, which would have led to a defeat of the Republicans.

This episode in the War of Independence has gone down in Venezuelan history as a most significant battle thanks to the courage of the young university students and seminarians from Caracas who, although not men of arms, did not hesitate to seize them and offer up their lives in defense of the cause of independence.

In commemoration of the Battle of La Victoria and in honor of the young men who fought there, on February 10, 1947, the National Constituent Assembly proclaimed February 12th as Youth Day in Venezuela, “in recognition of the services young people had rendered to the republic.”

Plaza Jose Félix Ribas, La Victoria, Venezuela

Written by Carlos A. Godoy L. In commemoration of the 200 anniversary of the battle of La Victoria. Caracas, Venezuela. January 2014


  1. A great read, I never knew this battle even existed??

    1. Ray: I´m glad you liked it. There are many unknown battles like this, I hope that we will be able to post information on them in the near future.

  2. I enjoyed very much reading your page, Thanks.

  3. You're very welcome Ronald, I'm glad you liked it. Carlos really did a good job with it.