DI MEGLIO Gabriel Marco
A heavy burden. The plebeians of Buenos Aires and permanent war during the Independence period in the Southwest Atlantic, 1806-1828
Working Paper, International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World, 1500-1825, Harvard University
Harvard University
Lugar: Cambridge, MA, EEUU; Año: 2008 p. 1 - 1
In the first third of the 19th century, Buenos Aires, geographically the last important port of the South Atlantic, was changed by war. This trading and administrative small city became a warrior one. Three important war phases occurred in those years: the British Invasions (1806-1807), the War of Independence (1810-1820) and the war with the Brazilian Empire (1825-1828). After the city was recovered from the British occupation in 1806, the consequence was the formation of several new Militia battalions, integrated by volunteers and including almost all the mature masculine population of Buenos Aires. They defended successfully their town from a new attack a year later. When the European alliances changed because of the French invasion of Spain in 1808 the war activities seemed to be finished, but soon after –and related to the European events- the revolution that removed the colonial authorities from power in 1810 led to a new war between supporters of change and loyalists. This conflict came later to be a war for Independence; it was long, expensive and it involved new warfare modes. During its development, Buenos Aires was the main base of the revolutionary armies: troops were trained there, part of them where recruited there, and they were mainly financed by Buenos Aires’ incomes. The forces shaped in Buenos Aires fought the royalist, with different luck, in many parts of what today are Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. And it was not all: the city created a small navy to combat the royalists ships, and it maintained a parallel war for years against some provinces that did not recognize its predominance over the former Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, of which it hade been the capital. When the conflict was over for Buenos Aires, it turned its forces against the indigenous groups of the frontier (only 150 miles away from the city). And a few years later, when Buenos Aires supported a rebellion in the Banda Oriental (nowadays Uruguay) against the Brazilian occupation of the territory, war started again. This time an army organized by Buenos Aires fought in Brazil, while other forces were involved in a civil war among some provinces.   Thus, war was almost permanent in the considered period, an it was a heavy burden. This paper examines the impact of the constant presence of war for Buenos Aires population, especially for its subaltern groups, from where troops were taken. The paper makes a balance of the consequences of recruitment, mobilization of people and duration of conflicts for those who fought and those who were related to them, like women. It also outlines the motifs of soldiers to fight: identification with the Revolution, aspiration of social uprise, money or, in the case of slaves, the will of acquiring freedom. The military conflicts brought not only classical war effects like desertion, but some aspects that came to be keys in Buenos Aires from then on: the appearance of new forms of collective action in the Militia and the Army, such as the many mutiny attempts led by sergeants, corporals and soldiers (most of them members of the plebe); the making of a strong identity with the cause of the Fatherland, which built a symbolic equality between white americanos and those whose who were classified as castas in colonial years; the development of a pattern of political mobilization.   The paper employs, reorganized, some materials I have already used in my dissertation and other works, and it adds new sources from the judicial archive and memories written both by local literate people and foreigners. It includes a new topic in my research: naval war. The modest Buenos Aires’ navy and the corsair ships in both the War of Independence and the War with Brazil recruited part of its members from the local population, but most of its crew was a sort of Atlantic kaleidoscope: British, Irish, (North) American, French, Sardinians and African former slaves served as sailors (even the admiral in the two conflicts was a stranger, the Irish William Brown). The paper includes some considerations of their experience in the war, especially taking in account the mutinies they starred in the navy (known by the trials that survived). The objective is, then, to provide a view of the experience of those who fought or suffered the long war period that opened the 19th century in the Southwest Atlantic.