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1st Conde de los Andes

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1st Conde de los Andes

José de La Serna & Martinez de Hinojosa was born on the 28th July, 1770 in Jerez de la Frontera. He entered the military as a cadet at the age of 12. He participated in the War of Roussillon and the War of Independence, where he excelled at the Battle of Bailen and the defense of Zaragoza. In the second siege of this city he was captured and taken to France, from where he escaped through Austria and Thessaloniki.

José de La Serna is the last of a large list of men who Governed America in the name of the King of Spain. He spent his time in America, first as General-in-chief of Upper Peru, and then as Viceroy. This was the same time as the American independence which was consolidated during the second phase of the emancipation. 

The independence movement had its origin in the abdication of Bayonne and the occupation of Spain by Napoleon's armies. America considered its ties to the monarch broken, who was kept captive, and did not accept the submission to the new government. They formed their own governments and accustomed to administer themselves. This led the way for the emancipation of the ruling class; white Creoles and half caste.

 

Two factors were critical for the independence of America:

  • The Trafalgar defeat which marked the “coup de grace” to the Spanish Armada. For two hundred years the Viceroys depended on the Royal Navy to master the Pacific and the Central and South Atlantic. In the last century it still contained the aspirations of the English, Dutch and French. Besides, it was the only possible communication with such extensive regions. Spain lost its Navy, turned weak to enforce at sea and to protect the American viceroyalties.
  • In January 1820, the decisive significance of the Major Riego coup in Cabezas de San Juan. When the opposing armies ranged around seven thousand men on either side, a mass of 18,000 armed soldiers which could have landed in Montevideo would have ended, at least temporarily, with the American independence. That army never arrived.

General La Serna arrived in America in 1816. The disastrous policy of Viceroy Pezuela led to the independence of Chile and the subsequent landing of San Martin in Peru. The Aznapuquio's pronouncement, in January 1821, in which the army forced Pezuela to resign and claimed La Serna as Viceroy, changed radically the situation. The Patriots were allowed to occupy Lima and proclaim the independence of Peru. The royalists retreated to Cuzco and changed every defeat into victory.

La Serna was not an ordinary Viceroy. He was not a ruler in his palace, but a general leading his army. His worries were how to feed and pay the troops and the necessary military movements to oppose an invasion by the enemy. Despite many troubles, with La Serna the royal army rose like a phoenix from the ashes offering the King four years of victories.

The resurgence of the Spanish army in Cuzco and its victories were more creditable due to the isolation of the royalist Peru. Especially after 1820, when even the news were coming through via the Patriot territory. He won the battles of Torata, Moquegua and Zepita against Chilean, Peruvian, Colombian, Venezuelan and Ecuadorian patriotic forces. He could have completely defeated Bolívar if it had not been for the betrayal of Olañeta. His General commanding the Southern Army rose up against him accusing him of being a liberal. Olañeta was defeated but the army was so exhausted and divided, that General Sucre took advantage of the situation and defeated La Serna at Ayacucho on December 9, 1824. La Serna’s disadvantage was that the Patriots could afford endless defeats but one defeat of the royalists meant the expulsion of America.

Bolívar wrote to General Canterac, the Viceroy’s deputy: 

“…may I say that your military behavior in Peru deserves the applause by the opponents. It is a marvel what you have achieved in this country. Alone you have delayed the emancipation of the New World, taking into consideration the difficult terrain and destinations. (...) I beg you to offer my sincere respects to General La Serna, whose wounds, though painful, enfold him in honor”. 

King Ferdinand VII recognized his heroism rewarding him with the title of Count of the Andes. On his return to Spain he was briefly Governor of Granada. He died in Cadiz, in July 1832, at 62 years of age.