Sword, Vol. XII N° 47, p. 139)
Sandes, Arthur (1793-1832), commander of
the Rifles Battalion in the South American wars of independence,
was born in
1793 in Dublin or Kerry and fought at the Battle of Waterloo in
Belgium. He left the British army in 1815 and two years later
joined Colonel Frederick Campbell's Regiment of Chasseurs
(Rifles). This was a unit recruited in London for service in
Venezuela by Luis López Méndez, Bolívar's representative.
sailed for Venezuela in January 1818 as
part of the 'Expedition of the Five Colonels' (800 men) but
virtually dissolved in the West Indies, before ever reaching the battlefield. There were no ships readily
available to take the soldiers of fortune to the mainland and no
money to honour the false promises made in
London. Fatal illnesses, duels,
resignations and desertions took a heavy toll. When his son
Duncan (an officer serving in his unit) died of a fever, Colonel
Campbell had had enough. He resigned his commission and returned
to Britain accompanied by his second son, who had fallen ill.
Major Robert Piggot, an Irishman, assumed command and finally
reached Angostura with between 30 and 60 men on 23 July 1818. In August, the mercenaries, now reduced to 10 or 11 officers and 8
other ranks, went with General Anzoátegui to Misiones del Caroní.
There, Piggot, who had since been promoted to Colonel,
recruited and trained 400-500 indigenous people and created the
'1st Rifles Battalion', also known as the 'Black
Rifles'. He led this unit at the battle of Gamarra on
27 March 1819, which was its
baptism of fire, but left the army shortly afterwards because of
succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Sandes, who commanded the
regiment for the rest of the war. The Rifles fought at virtually
every theatre of operations and although the troops changed
(1818-1819 Venezuelans, 1819-1821 New Granadans, 1822-1825
Ecuadoreans and Peruvians) the backbone of Britons and Irishmen
remained constant and ensured continuity. It has been argued
that the Rifles, a South American unit organised along British
lines and led by a mixed cadre of European and criollo
officers, was the best regiment in Bolívar's army.
service in the Venezuelan plains during the first half of 1819,
the Rifles was part of the expeditionary force taken by Bolívar
across the 'Llanos' and the Andes and fought in the campaign
which resulted in the liberation of central Colombia. The
battalion was present at Gameza (where it was mentioned in
dispatches), Vargas (where Sandes was wounded twice and had his
horse shot under him) and Boyacá (where it took part in a
decisive charge against the Spanish artillery). Soon after this
battle, an epidemic broke out in the Patriot army. Colonel
Sandes fell seriously ill but fortunately later recovered.
During 1820 and 1821, Sandes led his regiment in operations in
Northern Colombia and Venezuela. It distinguished itself in the
battles of Ciénaga (10 November 1820) and Carabobo (24 June
1821). Unfortunately, the climate proved deadlier than the
Royalists and the regiment was greatly reduced in number by an
epidemic which broke out in Santa Marta province in October
next went south and fought the Spaniards on 7 April 1822 at a
place called Bomboná, a battle which was one of the unit's
finest hours. In this feat of arms, it was the Rifles who
outflanked the Royalist positions and after a fierce bayonet
charge forced the enemy to withdraw from the field. After the
battle, the Liberator rewarded the Rifles' gallantry and among
the promotions was that of Lieutenant Colonel Sandes to full
Colonel. The regiment was renamed 'Rifles of Bomboná, 1st
of the Guard' and all its members were awarded the 'Order of the
Liberators', one of the few occasions during the war on which
this decoration was bestowed upon an entire unit. Arthur Sandes,
now aged 29, had risen from Captain to Colonel in only four
years, a meteoric rise in many armies but not uncommon in the
Patriot forces, a young force where merit was rewarded and where
quick promotion was made possible by a terrifying casualty rate.
Sandes and the Rifles took part in the suppression of the
rebellion led by Benito Boves in Pasto and played a key role in
the battles of Taindala and Yacuanquer in December 1822. In
March-April 1823, the regiment was sent to Peru as part of the
Colombian expeditionary force led by General Sucre and its
conduct in this last campaign of the Wars of Independence was
equally courageous. The Rifles took part in the crossing of the
Andes and were present at Junín on 6 August 1824 as part of the
Patriot reserves. However, the unit did not actually fight in
this action which was exclusively a cavalry encounter.
Their hour of
glory came at Corpaguayco on 3 December 1824. As part of the
operations which led to the decisive battle of Ayacucho, the
Royalist and Patriot armies were manoeuvring against each other.
The Spaniards attacked the South American rearguard when Sucre's
forces were crossing a river. The brunt of the assault fell on
the Rifles who put up a stubborn resistance. Heavily
outnumbered, the regiment managed to stop the Royalists' advance
long enough to allow the bulk of the Patriot army to escape.
They paid a terrible price: 200 of their members were killed,
including Major Thomas Duckbury, the second-in-command, and 500
others were wounded, captured or went missing in action. The
Rifles were reduced to a mere skeleton. The battle over, it is
reported that Colonel Sandes sat down and cried.
Sucre had been forced to
sacrifice his rearguard in order to save the rest of his army.
There would have been no victory at Ayacucho on 9 December 1824
had it not been for the Rifles' gallant stand at Corpaguayco six
the remains of the regiment were part of the Patriot order of
battle but remained in the reserve and did not take part on the
fighting. Instead, the Rifles and another battalion, the
'Vargas', were given a nerve-wracking mission: guarding the
arsenal and the numerous Spanish prisoners. At any given moment
there were only 50 Riflemen posted to keep an eye on 2,500
weapons and 2,000 prisoners-of-war. A number of the regiment's
officers were temporarily transferred to other units and fought
in the battle.
As a tribute
to their bravery during the Junín-Ayacucho campaign, Sandes was
promoted to Brigadier General on Sucre's recommendation and the
Rifles were authorised to add one more battle honour to their
colours: 'Liberators of Peru'. A Decree of Congress dated 1
February 1825 extended the gratitude of the nation to the
regiment, a rare distinction. In November 1825, Bolívar ordered
General Salom to give Sandes a reward of 25,000 pesos for his
services to the Republic.
the Rifles followed Sucre into Alto Peru (present-day Bolivia)
where Sandes left the regiment. As Brigadier General, he was now
too senior to be in charge of a single battalion and was made
second-in-command of a division which included his former unit.
With the war over, Sandes remained in Peru as part of the
Colombian garrison and was expelled from the country in January
1827, when Lima overthrew the pro-Bolivarian government and got
rid of its troops. He was appointed Commandant General of
Guayaquil in December and in 1828 fought in the war between Peru
and Colombia. After organising the port's defences, Sandes led
one of the two Colombian divisions at the battle of Portete de
Tarqui on 27 February 1829, the Colombian victory which decided
the outcome of the war. Peace restored, Sandes was appointed
Governor of the Department of Azuay and settled in Cuenca. He
died in this city on 6 September 1832 and was buried in a
personal life, O'Connor mentions that Sandes and Sucre coveted
the hand of the daughter of the Marquis of Solanda, a beautiful
lady from Quito. With characteristic chivalry, the Venezuelan
General declined to use his more senior rank to press his
advantage over the Irish Colonel. The winner of a card game
would propose to the girl, the loser would withdraw from the
race. Sucre won and married his
sweetheart but marital bliss proved fleeting: the Marshal of
Ayacucho was assassinated in Berruecos in 1830. According to
Lambert, Sandes never married, but Hasbrouck tells us that 'some
of his descendants were said to have been living in Venezuela as
recently as 1911' (this is not necessarily a contradiction).
remembers her adopted son. There is an Avenida Sandes in Cuenca
and the Irishman's name is engraved on the monument at Portete
Alfred. Foreign Legionnaires in the Liberation of Spanish
Columbia University Press, New
York, United States, 1928.
- Lambert, Eric.
of Kerry’ in The Irish Sword Vol. 12, No. 47, 1975.
- Lambert, Eric.
Voluntarios Británicos e Irlandeses en la Gesta Bolivariana.
Ministerio de Defensa, Caracas,
1980 and 1993 (3 vols.)
Moises-Enrique. Freedom's Mercenaries: British Volunteers in
the Wars of
Independence of Latin America.
Hamilton Books, University Press of America, Lanham MD, 2006. (2