A Short History of Uruguay – Part 2


. .Myself By T.V. Antony Raj .

The Rt. Hon. Viscount William Carr Beresford (National Portrait Gallery, London.)
The Rt. Hon. Viscount William Carr Beresford (National Portrait Gallery, London.)

In early 19th century, the British, Spanish, Portuguese and other colonial forces fought for dominance in the Platine region. In 1806 and 1807, as part of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), the British army attempted to seize Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

In April 1806, Admiral Hope Popham, without the express permission of the British government, launched an excursion with General William Beresford leading around 1,500 soldiers. The modest British troops landed near Quilmes on June 17, 1806. With Spanish forces tied up in the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, the resistance was limited to untrained and poorly organized militia.

After overcoming limited resistance by untrained and poorly organized militia, the British troop advanced towards Buenos Aires. The Spanish viceroy Marquis Rafael de Sobremonte fled from Buones Aires to Córdoba with the city’s treasure, an act designed to protect the crown’s finances. But many in the town viewed his act as a betrayal and cowardice.

Ten days after disembarking, Beresford captured Buenos Aires on June 17, 1806, and hoisted the British flag above the fort on Plaza de Mayo. Then, he sent news of the British triumph to London which reached there ten weeks later. The Times on September 13, 1806, declared in a triumphant article: “Buenos Aires at this moment forms part of the British Empire.

General Beresford, proclaimed governor of the newly conquered territories, announced that he would allow the city to function as before. He offered full British protection to people “of all class” that swear loyalty to “His Majesty’s Government”. Some of the city elite, 58 in number, responded to Beresford’s call to sign allegiance to King George III. Some of them even hoped that the British would support the liberation of the region from Spain. However, Beresford, unsure exactly how to deal with the current situation decided to wait for reinforcements and instructions from London.

During this lull period the city’s 50,000 inhabitants realized the inconsequential size of the British force that invaded them. Driven by shame a counterattacking force of influential Spanish figures conspired to recruit and arm volunteer fighters.

Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, 6th Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (Art by Rafael del Villar)
Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, 6th Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (Art by Rafael del Villar)

An Argentine tradesman, Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, did not believe that the British would help them become independent of Spain. He went to Montevideo and got an interview with governor Pascual Ruiz Huidobro. Huidobro authorized him to organize a resistance. Pueyrredón returned to Buenos Aires and secretly assembled a militia  composed of a ludicrous mix of Spanish soldiers, native Criollos, indigenous villagers, and black slaves at the Perdriel ranch outside the city.

At the end on July 1806, the British uncovered the plot. On August 1, 1806, General Beresford sent troops to attack Pueyrredón at his camp 20 km northwest of the city centre and easily dispersed the militia. Pueyrredón escaped to Colonia del Sacramento and joined Santiago de Liniers, a French emigrant serving as a naval officer for the Spanish.  Liniers recruited fighters from Montevideo.

A few days later, Pueyrredón’S ragtag militia joined the forces arriving from Colonia led by Santiago de Liniers.

Santiago de Liniers (Naval Museum of Madrid)
Santiago de Liniers (Naval Museum of Madrid)

On August 10, 1806, with an ever growing militia force Liniers sent a message to General Beresford, giving him 15 minutes to surrender or face “total destruction”.

“The high estimation of Your Excellency’s honour, the generosity of Spain, and the horror that the destruction of man inspires in humanity drives me to send Your Excellency this warning so that, given the danger you find yourself in, you advise me within precisely 15 minutes whether you are prepared to lead your troops to total destruction or surrender to a powerful enemy.”

General Beresford responded that he would defend himself “until prudent, to avoid whatever calamity may befall the people.”

Two days later, after being overwhelmed in ferocious street fighting, and having retreated back to the fort, Beresford raised a white flag.

William Gavin, a British soldier wrote about the British capitulation in his diary of the invasion, which is one of the few first-hand accounts that exist in English:

“Our position was commanded by the enemy, who occupied the tops of the houses and the great church… we were picked off at pleasure. After a conference between the General and an Aide-de-Camp of Liniers, we surrendered to the greatest set of ragamuffins ever collected together.”

After the reconquest of Buenos Aires Viceroy Sobremonte was stripped of his title, the city’s treasure that he took away was confiscated, and he was barred from entering the city.

Santiago de Liniers was hailed as a hero and was appointed as military general. Liniers, to repel future attacks, immediately set about forming a more organised and professional military force.

In late 1806, as part of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), the British army invaded the Río de la Plata Estuary to avenge Spain’s recapture of Buenos Aires from them. The 10,000-member British force captured and occupied Montevideo for a brief period from February to July 1807, when it left and moved against Buenos Aires, where it was soundly defeated.

In 1807, Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, was sent as a representative of Buenos Aires to Spain. He returned in 1809 to Buenos Aires, to participate in the Independentist movement. The May Revolution of 1810 gave birth to the first local government junta and he was appointed governor of Córdoba. In 1812, he became the leader of the independent forces and a member of the short-lived First Triumvirate. From 1812 to 1815, he was exiled in San Luis.

In 1808, Spanish prestige weakened when Napoleon invaded Spain and installed his brother Joseph on the throne. The Cabildo of Montevideo, that remained nominally loyal to Ferdinand VII as the king of Spain, created an autonomous junta.

Montevideo’s military commander, Javier Elío, eventually persuaded the Spanish central junta to accept his control at Montevideo as independent of Buenos Aires.

In 1810 criollos (those born in America of Spanish parents) from Buenos Aires took the reins of government in that city and unseated the Spanish viceroy.

Independence struggle (1811–30)

Banda Oriental, or more fully Banda Oriental del Uruguay, was the name of the South American territories east of the Uruguay River and north of Río de la Plata, coinciding approximately with the modern nation of Uruguay, the modern Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul and some parts of Santa Catarina. It was the easternmost strip of land of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.

The population of the Banda Oriental was politically divided. The countryside favored recognizing Elío’s junta in Buenos Aires; the authorities in Montevideo wanted to retain a nominal allegiance to the Spanish king.

Artigas at the Citadel - a drawing by Juan Manuel Blanes (June 8, 1830 – April 15, 1901)
Artigas at the Citadel – a drawing by Juan Manuel Blanes (June 8, 1830 – April 15, 1901)

In 1811, José Gervasio Artigas, now a national hero of Uruguay, launched a successful revolution against the Spanish authorities and defeated them on May 18 at the Battle of Las Piedras.

In 1813, the new government in Buenos Aires convened a constituent assembly where Artigas emerged as a champion of federalism, demanding political and economic autonomy for each area, and for the Banda Oriental in particular. The assembly refused to seat the delegates from the Banda Oriental however, and Buenos Aires pursued a system based on unitary centralism. As a result, Artigas broke with Buenos Aires and besieged Montevideo, taking the city in early 1815.

When the troops from Buenos Aires withdrew, the Banda Oriental appointed its first autonomous government.

Artigas organized the Federal League under his protection, consisting of six provinces, four of which later became part of Argentina.

In 1816 a force of 10,000 Portuguese troops invaded the Banda Oriental from Brazil and took Montevideo in January 1817.

After nearly four more years of struggle Portuguese Brazil annexed the Banda Oriental as a province under the name of “Cisplatina“. Argentina claimed Montevideo first, but Brazil annexed it in 1821.

Juan Antonio Lavalleja (Source: biografiasyvidas.com)
Juan Antonio Lavalleja (Source: biografiasyvidas.com)

The Brazilian Empire became independent from Portugal in 1822. In response to the annexation, the Thirty-Three Orientals, led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, declared independence on 25 August 1825 supported by the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (present-day Argentina). This led to the 500-day-long Cisplatine War. Neither side gained the upper hand.

In 1828 the Treaty of Montevideo, fostered by the United Kingdom, gave birth to Uruguay as an independent state. The nation’s first constitution was adopted on July 18, 1830.

 Previous – A Short History of Uruguay – Part 1

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