The Battle of Tucumán was fought on 24 – 25 September 1812 near of the Argentina city of San Miguel de Tucumán, in the War of Argentine Independence. The Northern Army, commanded by General Manuel Belgrano, defeated a Royalist army under Brigadier Juan Pío Tristán. As a result the outnumbered Patriots halted the Royalist advance into northwest Argentina. Along with the Battle of Salta (20 February 1813), the Battle of Tucumán confirmed the area that would remain under Argentine control at the end of the war.
The Battle of Huaqui (20 June 1811) had returned Upper Peru (Alto Peru) to the Royalists or “Goths” as they were called at the time (loyalists the King of Spain). Pío Tristán led an army of 3,000 men from Peru and Juan José Castelli, a militarily inexperienced revolutionary from Buenos Aires, could not stop their advance as they moved south.
On 27 February 1812 the First Triumvirate assigned Manuel Belgrano to command the Northern Army. Belgrano set up his headquarters in San Salvador de Jujuy and tried to revive the moral of the Patriot army defeated at Huaqui. This is the period when the new flag of Argentina was unveiled.
However the Patriots realised they were unlikely to be able to defend Jujuy. So on 23 August 1812 the Triumvirate ordered the mass withdrawal of the entire population of Jujuy toward the centre of Argentina, specifically to Córdoba. The civilian population joined the military on what became known as the Jujuy Exodus. As the crowd moved south the inhabitants of Salta and Tarija joined the exodus.
The Patriots applied a scorched earth policy so the Spaniards advanced into a wasteland. Belgrano’s army destroyed everything that could provide shelter or be useful to the Royalists.
At the Combat of Las Piedras (3 September 1812) the Patriot rearguard (under Díaz Vélez) defeated two Royalists columns. Following the victory Belgrano dispatched Juan Ramón Balcarce toward Tucuman to recruit and train, as far as possible, a body of cavalry from the local militia.
The inhabitants of Tucuman were alarmed by the exodus and tried to convince Belgrano to halt the retreat and fight. Three officers were also critical to convincing Belgrano to give battle at Tucumán: Díaz Vélez, Balcarce and Manuel Dorrego.
The Army of the North arrived in Tucumán on 13 September 1812. Balcarce had managed to collect only 400 men from the militia; well organised but without uniforms and armed only with spears. Belgrano said he would only stay and fight if 1,500 cavalry joined his forces, and if the neighbourhood contributed 20,000 silver pesos to his war chest. The local authorities authorised the money so Belgrano elected to ignore the summons of the Triumvirate and make a stand at Tucuman.
The leading inhabitants of Tucuman and the surroundings enlisted men for the army, plus provided livestock and food for the maintenance of defenders.
Small contingents arrived from Catamarca (under Bernardino Ahumada y Barros) and from Santiago del Estero. Belgrano formed a personal escort from some riders who arrived from Upper Peru (under Manuel Ascensio Padilla).
The Royalist army slogged their way south without shelter or the possibility of resupply. Irregulars organized by Díaz Vélez and including gauchos from Jujuy, Salta and Tarija, and Belgrano’s regulars, constantly harassed their advance. It was not until 23 September when, from the hamlet of Los Nogales, Tristan sighted Tucumán. It was also here that Tristan received news that the Northern Army was camped in the square and there willing to give battle.
Order of Battle
Royalist order of battle:
Royalist Order of Battle
generally north to south
- Tarija Cavalry Regiment
- Abancay Battalion
- Cotabamba Battalion
- Real de Lima Battalion
- Chichas Militia and Fernando VII battalion 1
- 13 guns 2
- Total: 1,000 Cavalry; 2,000 Infantry; 13 guns
(1) The Chichas Militia and Fernand VII battalion fought together
(2) The 13 guns of the Royalists do not feature in accounts of the battle until captured by the Patriots with the supply train.
Patriot order of battle:
Patriot Order of Battle
generally north to south
- Commander: General Manuel Belgrano
- Right Wing Cavalry (Balcarce)
- Tucuman Cavalry3
- Patria Dragoons 4
- Reserve Cavalry (Captain Antonio Rodríguez) 4
- Infantry Centre (General Manuel Belgrano)
- Cazadores Battalion (captain Carlos Forest)
- 6th Infantry Regiment (captain Ignacio Warnes)
- Pardos y Morenos Battalion (Colonel José Superí)
- Reserve of Infantry Company (Lieutenant-Colonel Manuel Dorrego) 2
- Left Wing Cavalry (Colonel Eustaquio Díaz Vélez)
- Militia Cavalry3
- Company of Santiago del Estero Militia Cavalry
- Total: 1,000 Cavalry; 800 Infantry
(1) The Patriot artillery was deployed between the columns. I assume only the infantry columns in the centre. Baron Eduardo Kaunitz of Holmberg commanded the artillery.
(2) Probably comprising picquets
(3) Both the Tucuman Cavalry and the Militia Cavalry were Gauchos. Gauchos from Jujuy, Salta and Tarija were involved in harassing prior to the battle so were probably present and probably in these units.
(4) Most of the sources I used mention “Dragoons” usually in the context of the “Tucuman Cavalry and Dragoons”. Fletcher (2005) gets more specific and says the “Patria Light Dragoons”, and two squadrons of them at that. Given the number of squadrons I have a suspicion that the reserve cavalry were also from this unit.
The battle was fought over two days. Most of the action occurred on 24 September 1812 however the Royalists didn’t quit the field until the following day.
The battle – 24 September 1812
On the morning of 24 September 1812 the Royalist army marched towards Tucuman. The Patriots had burnt fields in the area of Los Pocitos which disturbed the Spanish. Either because of this, or in an attempt to prevent a possible Patriot retreat towards Santiago del Estero, Tristan chose to outflank Tucuman and then attack the city from the south-west. The Royalists used the old Royal Road of Peru and arrived in the vicinity of Manantial, within league (4-7 km) of Tucuman [When I checked on Google maps I figured this distance was about 5 km].
At dawn Belgrano had positioned his forces north of the city on the expected Royalist approach route. However, when he saw the Royalists on the Royal Road he redeployed his men to the south-west of the city in the rough and uneven terrain of the Campo de las Carreras, facing west. The quick pace of the Royalist attack barely gave the Patriots time to reorganise and deploy their artillery.
The battle began in the centre where the Patriot guns bombarded the advancing Royalist infantry at long range causing some disorder. The Cotabambas and Abancay battalions were particularly affected.
In the north Belgrano ordered the Balcarce to attack with his cavalry. The Tucuman cavalry spontaneously began to outflank the Royalists – Belgrano may have thought they were fleeing – as the Patria Dragoons attacked frontally. The Patriot cavalry pincer on the Royalist left flank routed the Tarija cavalry regiment at the end of the line. The Royalist cavalry fled through their own infantry causing disorder as they went. The Tucuman cavalry reached the enemy’s rear almost without encountering resistance. Unfortunately, the Gauchos then broke formation to loot the Royalist baggage. Only the supporting Dragoons and Belgrano’s other regulars [presumably the “Reserve Cavalry”] stayed in formation.
When the Royalist line drew close enough the Royalist infantry in the centre and south charged with the bayonet.
In the centre the Patriot Cazadore Battalion and 6th Infantry Battalion were facing the Royalist Abancay, Cotabamba and Real Lima Battalions. The Royalist infantry had been disordered by the artillery fire as they approach and then the fleeing Tarija cavalry regiment. Seeing this Belgrano ordered Warnes to charge with his 6th Infantry Battalion, accompanied by the reserve cavalry under captain Antonio Rodriguez and presumably the Cazadores battalion under captain Carlos Forest. The Patriots drove the Royalists back inflicting considerable casualties and taking many prisoners. However, the Patriots also lost cohesion.
Belgrano was positioned in the south where the Royalist infantry – the Paruro, Chicas Militia and Fernando VII battalion (the latter two seeming to operate together) – were initially unstoppable and dealt severely with the Pardos y Morenos Battalion and the Santiago del Estero Militia Cavalry. The Royalists captured Colonel Superí of the Pardos y Morenos Battalion then wheeled left to threaten the Patriot infantry in the centre.
At this moment both generals thought the battle lost. Belgrano fled the field with about 200 of his troops. With the defeat of his left and centre, Tristan abandoned his guns and ordered the surviving Royalist infantry – those in the south – to withdraw. The 6th Infantry Battalion took the opportunity to regain the ground lost earlier and released Colonel Superí.
Then a huge swarm of locusts swept over the grasslands, confusing the soldiers and obscuring their vision, and further disordering the front line. It is possible that the locusts inconvenienced the Royalist troops more than the Patriots and contributed to their retreat.
With the withdrawal of the Royalists and the Patriot cavalry dispersed the battlefield was left to the Patriot infantry. Díaz Vélez, assisted by a group of infantry under Manuel Dorrego [presumably the Reserve infantry company and perhaps elements of other units], captured the Royalist artillery train. The Patriots captured 39 carts loaded with weapons and ammunition and eight artillery pieces. They also took prisoner 354 men, 32 officers and three army chaplains, plus 120 women. The Patriots captured the flags of the Cotabambas, Abancay and Real de Lima regiments. Díaz Vélez then pulled the Patriot infantry and artillery back to the previously prepared trench works on the outskirts the city of San Miguel de Tucumán. With infantry in the trenches, artillery in key positions and sharp shooters on the roofs, Tucuman would be a hard nut to crack.
Belgrano, still unaware of the outcome, was trying to rally his troops when he eventually met Balcarce and his cavalry. Although completely unaware of the state of the infantry and the city, Balcarce was the first to classify the battle as a Patriot victory, based solely on the number of Spanish corpses and debris on the field. Belgrano took the rest of the afternoon to reorganise his army.
Tristan, having regrouped to the west of the battlefield, marched on the city. Afraid of what might wait his troops within the city, he chose to threaten an entrance, but ordered a withdrawal before the first enemy shots. Tristan made a last attempt at taking the city through diplomatic channels, demanding Diaz Velez surrender within two hours, under threat of torching the city. Díaz Vélez rejected the ultimatum and invited Trisstan to dare, considering the Patriot troops were victorious and, if necessary, he would behead the Royalist prisoners.
Tristan did not accept the challenge and spent the night camped just outside the city, wondering about the course to follow.
The battle – 25 September 1812
On the morning of 25 September Tristan found the troops of Belgrano – presumably the cavalry – behind him. Belgrano summoned the Royalists to surrender. This time it was Tristan who rejected the demand and the Royalist army retreated towards Salta. 600 men under Díaz Vélez harassed the Royalist rear in their flight north, taking many prisoners and also rescuing some Patriots who had been captured by the royalist troops.
The Battle of Tucumán was the most important victory of the patriot armies in the Argentine War of Independence. The victory consolidated the work of the May Revolution and defined the final extent of Argentine territory.
The Patriots captured 13 guns, 358 muskets, 39 wagons, 70 boxes of ammunition and 87 stores campaign, and the flags of the Cotabambas, Abancay and Real de Lima regiments. all of which served the Northern Army throughout the campaign. 450 Royalists lost their lives in combat and other 690 officers and soldiers were captured. The Cotabamba, Paruro, and Abancay regiments were destroyed, as was part of the Real de Lima.
The Patriots lost only 80 dead and 200 wounded.
If you google for images of “Batalla de Tucuman” you’ll quickly find a the two below. I like the map of the “Campo de las Carreras”. It shows the grand tactical outflanking movement and battle deployment.
The other map, Plano de la Batalla de Tucumán, has a problem that bugs me. Like the map above it has the grand tactical outflanking movement. It also shows the battle deployment, however, the scale of the tactical part of the map is fairly obviously wrong. The map suggests that the armies would deploy across a 5 km frontage. That can’t be possible. A battalion deployed in line on a frontage about 120 metres so the entire Royalist army would have a frontage of less than 1 km.
Fletcher, J. (2005). Liberators! Volume 1: The War in the South. Grenadier Productions.
Marley, D. (1998). Wars of the Americas: a chronology of armed conflict in the New World, 1492-1997 [2nd ed.].