Battle of Ayohuma
|Battle of Ayohuma|
|Part of Bolivian War of Independence
Argentine War of Independence
Old map of the battle
| United Provinces of South America
|Commanders and leaders|
|Manuel Belgrano||Joaquín de la Pezuela|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Ayohuma ("dead man's head" in Quechua) was an action fought on 14 November 1813, during the second Upper Peru Campaign of the Argentine War of Independence. The republican forces of the Army of the North, led by General Manuel Belgrano were defeated by the royalists, commanded by Joaquín de la Pezuela.
After the rout of Vilcapugio, Belgrano established his headquarters at Macha. There he reorganized his army, obtaining help from Francisco Ocampo (then President of Charcas), and from the provinces of Upper Peru (Cochabamba, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and Chayanta). At the end of October 1813, the republican army included around 3,400 men, of which barely 1,000 were veterans. An important fraction of the republican army, under the command of General Díaz Vélez had remained isolated at Potosí after Vilcapugio, but was able to reunite with Belgrano after a small action at Tambo Nuevo relieved them from the pressure of the royalist army.
Despite their recent victory, Pezuela's troops were short of horses and supplies. They had sought refuge on the Condo-Condo heights, where, being surrounded by hostile populations and still recovering from the casualties suffered at Vilcapugio, they could not readily take the offensive against the Army of the North. However, on 29 October, they left their camp in Condo-Condo in order to attack the republicans before they could obtain further reinforcements. On 12 November, they arrived at Toquirí, a hill dominating the small plain of Ayohuma, half a league from the village of the same name.
In the meantime, just two leagues away from Toquirí, on 8 November, Belgrano had discussed his plans with his officials. The majority of them wanted to withdraw to Potosí, but the general convinced his officers to fight. That same night the army left Macha, reaching Ayohuma on the morning of the next day.
The armies that were about to face each other exhibited a significant disproportion. While the republican cavalry outnumbered the royalists' two-to-one, Pezuela had twice as much infantry and 18 pieces of artillery, against only eight carried by Belgrano's troops.
At dawn of 14 November the royalists began their descent from their high position and by mid-morning they had deployed the bulk of their forces on the plain. Belgrano's troops were meanwhile attending Mass, even if aware of the enemy movements. An hour later, Pezuela had completed their maneuver, outflanking the republicans on their right. In the opinion of Lieutenant Gregorio Aráoz de Lamadrid, one of Belgrano's best officers, this move proved decisive for the outcome of the battle. Then, Pezuela's artillery opened fire, blasting holes in the republicans ranks. In a hail of enemy fire, Belgrano ordered the advance of his infantry and cavalry toward the enemy right flank, but they could not overcame Pezuela's entrenchements. To make matters worse, the republican's lighter guns were no match for the royalists. Belgrano was forced to retreat. By a trumpet call and waving the United Provinces flag on the top of a hill, he managed to gather some 500 men, leaving around 200 dead, 200 injured, 500 prisoners and almost all his artillery on the battlefield.
Among the dead was the commander of the Batallón de Castas ("Castes' Battalion"), Colonel José Superí, who was killed by the royalist artillery. His battalion was made of soldiers of African and mulatto descent. José María Paz, an officer who would later play a key role in the Argentine Civil Wars, had to rescue his brother, Captain Julián Paz, when the latter's horse was killed by gunfire while crossing a stream. Three mulatto auxiliary women, María Remedios del Valle and her two daughters, became famous for their efforts to provide water to the troops and assist wounded soldiers on the battlefield in spite of the heavy royalist bombardment, and they are since remembered as the Niñas de Ayohuma ("Maidens of Ayohuma") in Argentina.
Belgrano's 500 survivors retreated to Potosí, but the city had to be quickly evacuated on 18 November due to the approaching royalists. Belgrano moved back to Tucumán, where on 30 January 1814, he resigned the command of the Northern Army to General San Martín. He would later write about the tactical superiority of the Spaniard officers as compared to his limited knowledge of warfare.
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