Gendering Latin American Independence
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Writing Type: Letter


Letter to a friend describing the British occupation of Buenos Aires,1807-1808.

Keywords: Buenos Aires, British occupation

Archive: Hallworth Library, University of Nottingham

Location Details: Reproduced in Eds. Gabriella Nouzeillers and Graciela Montaldo, The Argentine Reader, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2002, pp.40-42. Translated by Patricia Owen Steiner


I have given you a little idea of what Buenos Aires was like at the time of Beresford's arrival, and, although superior pens have written about it, I am going to give you my own opinion. The war has been blamed on our military establishment, but not persuasively. It is difficult to find another event such as this in history.

First of all, nobody ever imagined that there would be a war here. Old people had forgotten what war was, and young people were quite uninterested in war. (I have already told you what it was that kept them occupied.)

No one believed that a foreign squadron would be able to land here. No one had seen the huge ships at what are now called the outer beacon lights. (p.41) Nothing bigger than brigantines. When the port captain, Martin Thompson, 4 Viceroy Sobremonte that sails had been sighted near Quilmes, people chose to believe that they belonged to smugglers, even though Thompson had said that they were the sails of a warship....

What a night! How to describe the situation faced by the viceroy, he who was later blamed for all the confusion and for spending too much energy on to protect the king's treasure. A great deal has been written about this. 9 I will only say one thing: that it is very difficult to explain why all the men charged with defending the city were so terribly surprised by what happened and why they felt it was impossible to save the country.

When the time came to think about surrender, our leaders were so bewildered that one of the judges, Don Joaquín Campusanos, who lived on Mercy Street in the house now owned by Don Tomás Anchorena, asked Don José Mila de la Roca, a businessman who happened to be in the fort, to go back to his and find a Mercurio [a newspaper, something like a pamphlet, that came m Spain]. The Mercurio had a copy of the official surrender of Pansacola; became the model for the terms of surrender.

With the plan for surrender in hand, our men came out of the fort ready to receive the English army, which arrived with their soft music, marching through the San Francisco district of Buenos Aires. Beresford said that he accepted our surrender plan and would stand by it. He entered the fort where the soldiers on guard yielded to him.

It was five in the afternoon. As the English troops marched in, a squadron stationed itself in front of the plaza and shot off a few volleys just to see how they would go. At the moment the English flag was raised over the fort, the entire English squadron fired their weapons in salute, a custom that fortunately until then was unheard of in Buenos Aires. Between one scare and another, the people already were thoroughly thunderstruck.

Permit a digression. I am going to sketch for you these two military forces, one after the other. The militia from Buenos Aires: I have to confess that our people from the countryside are not beautiful. They are strong and robust, but dark skinned. Their faces are round and dirty. Some have jackets, others do not. Some wear tiny little hats on top of a handkerchief tied under their chins. The handkerchiefs are colored, some yellow, some bright red. In complete disarray, our men ride on filthy, poorly tended horses. Everything is most miserable and most ugly. Their weapons are grimy it is impossible to give a full idea of these troops. When I saw them on that fateful day, I said to a close friend: "Unless the English are frightened to death by the sight of these men, there is no hope for us."

Now I am going to describe for you the troops that marched through the (p.42) Plaza: the Seventy first Highland Regiment commanded by General Pack. The most beautiful troops that you could ever imagine. The most poetic uniforms, boots with red laces, part of the leg bare, a short skirt, hats of black feathers a foot high with a band of plaid ribbon, and a plaid sash over a short bright red jacket.

This exquisite uniform, on the most handsome youths with faces of snow. Oh, the spotlessness of these admirable troops. What a great contrast!

Fijo's regiment from Buenos Aires was still wearing their old garb: long burlap, blue jackets; all quite worn. The regiment of dragoons was more nearly up to date. But everything of ours was in sad contrast to the appearance of the English, above all the freshness of their uniforms and the cleanliness of their weapons.

Everyone was stunned as they looked at the elegant enemy, and they cried as they realized that they were heretics and that the king of Spain would lose the Argentine jewel in his crown (this was the phrase). People cried, not for themselves, but for the king and for religion....

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