Second British Invasion of Buenos Aires (1807)
In July 1807 a British invasion force of 12,000 men under Lieutenant-General Sir John Whitelocke attacked Buenos Aires. After a couple of days of intense street fighting, the attacking British division, consisting of three British brigades under Brigadier-Generals Samuel Auchmuty, William Lumley and Robert Craufurd, surrendered to an army comprising no more than a militia under General Santiago de Liniers.
On 1 July, the Buenos Aires defenders led by Colonel Bernardo de Velasco fought bravely but were overwhelmed by in a fierce British bayonet charge in the city outskirts. At this crucial moment, Whitelocke did not attempt to enter the city, but twice demanded the city's surrender. Meanwhile, the Buenos Aires Mayor, Martín de Álzaga, organized the construction of defences on the part of the civlians, digging trenches, fortifying buildings and erecting barricades, with much enthusiasm from the Creoles that hungered for independence.
Finally, 3 days after forcing the troops under Velasco to retreat, Whitelocke resolved to attack Buenos Aires. Trusting in the superior training of his Redcoats, he divided his division into 12 columns and advanced initially without the protection of the artillery. His division was met on the streets by a mixed race militia, including Gauchos (cowboys from the Pampas, usually mestizos) Amerindians and 686 African slaves that were promised freedom in return for fighting the British,. stiffened by the local 1st Naval Infantry Battalion and Colonel Cornelio de Saavedra's 1st Los Patricios Infantry Regiment, and fighting continued on the streets of Buenos Aires on 4 July and 5 July. Whitelocke underestimated the importance of urban combat, in which the women and children employed cooking pots filled with burning oil and boiling water from rooftops, injuring several Redcoats of the 88th Regiment. The militiamen from the Arribeños Battalion from the interior defeated all British attempts to seize the La Merced Convent, after the Redcoats had overwhelmed the Catalinas Convent defenders. The porteños (locals) from the Los Patricios Regiment successfully defended the San Miguel Church and Plaza Mayor, inflicting heavy casualties on the British columns advancing along the streets near San Carlos School. The local naval infantry played an important part in defeating Brigadier-General Robert Crauford and his two thousand Redcoats in the Battle of Plaza del Mercado which is now recalled by the people of Buenos Aires in annual conmemorations as La Defensa (The Defence). The porteños naval infantry battalion lost four officers killed, including Lieutenant Candido Lasala. He was killed ranging artillery fire near the Plaza Retiro, where a monument was eventually erected in memory of this first hero of the Argentinian Marine Corps. The locals eventually overwhelmed the British troops. The British had 5,000 casualties, including deserters.
By the end of 5 July, the British controlled Retiro and La Residencia at the cost of about 70 officers and 1,000 other ranks killed or wounded, but the city's centre was still in the hands of the defenders, and the invaders were now demoralized. At this point, an unexpected counter-attack spearheaded by the Los Patricios Regiment, overran many British units with their commanders, including Brigadier-General Robert Crauford and Colonel Denis Pack. Then Whitelocke proposed a 24-hour truce, which was rejected by Liniers, who ordered the militia artillery in the form of the Artilleros de la Unión (under Lieutenant-Colonel Francisco Agustini) to open fire on the British.
After suffering 401 killed, 649 wounded and 1,924 captured, Whitelocke signed an armistice with Liniers on 7 July; despite having 6,000 Redcoats still in possession of several strongpoints on each flank of Buenos Aires and a strong reserve in the form of two fresh regiments under Colonel Thomas Mahon near the Chuelo River. In the confusion of defeat, many British soldiers deserted their units and more than 50 were promptly returned to the British commanders and were shackled in chains, while the others were allowed to stay and would form part of the 1,200-strong British contingent that would help in the liberation of Chile. Whitelocke left the Río de la Plata basin taking with him the remnants of his division in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Colonia, but leaving behind 400 seriously wounded in the care of the victors. According to Argentine journalist Juan José de Soiza Reilly, the British dead can be found today buried in a mass grave under Calle Cinco de Julio near Avenida Belgrano in downtown Buenos Aires. On his return to Great Britain, Whitelocke was court-martialled and cashiered, mainly for surrendering Montevideo. There was much criticism in the British newspapers in the way Whitelocke had employed his division and for having surrendered to a largely militia force. Whiletocke would claim that in the 71st Regiment alone there were 170 deserters. Liniers was later named Viceroy of the Río de la Plata by the Spanish Crown.
Road to independence
The Local militia battalions had been commanded mostly by revolutionaries (like Cornelio Saavedra, Manuel Belgrano, Esteban Romero, Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, Juan José Viamonte and Martín Rodriguez) who would soon lead the War of Independence. Within three years of defeating the second British invasion, Buenos Aires established a government independent from the Spanish Crown, anticipating the eventual declaration of Independence of Argentina of 1816. This sparked the Wars of Independence throughout South America that ended Spanish domination in 1826.
- "Meanwhile the army was formed into four brigades under Auchmuty, Lumley, Crauford, and Mahon; and a garrison of thirteen hundred rank and file was set apart for Monte Video, consisting of two companies of the Thirty-Eighth, the Forty-Seventh, the detachments of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Light Dragoons, some Marines and a Local Militia." A History Of The British Army – Vol. V – (1803-1807), Hon. Sir John William Fortescue, Pickle Partners Publishing, 2014
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- The African Experience in Spanish America, Leslie B. Rout, p. 167, CUP Archive, 1976
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- "The firing now opened from the tops of the houses, whence we also received grenadoes and earthen pots, filled with composition, which burnt several of our party." (An Authentic Narrative of the Proceedings of the Expedition Under the Command of Brigadier-Gen. Craufurd, Until Its Arrival at Monte Video; with an Account of the Operations Against Buenos Aires Under the Command of Lieut.-Gen. Whitelocke, p. 157, G. E. Miles, 1808)
- "His division was the first to enter the town, and a large portion of them fell victims to the fury of the inhabitants, who, from their houses, assailed the British troops, in a manner which afforded little opportunity of retaliation, or even of defence." A Memoir of the Late Major-General Robert Craufurd, Robert Craufurd, George Robert Gleig, pp. 6-7, 1842
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- "Above seventy officers and one thousand men were killed, or badly wounded. One hundred and twenty officers and fifteen hundred rank and file were taken prisoners..." (An Authentic Narrative of the Proceedings of the Expedition Under the Command of Brigadier-Gen. Craufurd, Until Its Arrival at Monte Video; with an Account of the Operations Against Buenos Aires Under the Command of Lieut.-Gen. Whitelocke, p. 164, G. E. Miles, 1808)
- "The killed numbered four hundred and one of all ranks; the wounded six hundred and forty nine; the prisoners, several of whom were hurt, nineteen hundred and twenty-four, making a total of very nearly three thousand casualties, or more than half of the force engaged." A History Of The British Army – Vol. V – (1803-1807), Hon. Sir John William Fortescue, Pickle Partners Publishing, 2014
- "On the other hand, the British had captured over a thousand prisoners and more than thirty guns; they were in occupation of strong posts on each flank of the city; and they had still an effective force of over six thousand all ranks ready for further operations." A History Of The British Army – Vol. V – (1803-1807), Hon. Sir John William Fortescue, Pickle Partners Publishing, 2014
- "Mahon, pursuant to his directions, had marched from Reduction on the previous day, and finding the bridge over the Chuelo intact, had crossed that river at five in the evening, and encamped on the northern bank within two miles of the Residencia." A History Of The British Army – Vol. V – (1803-1807), Hon. Sir John William Fortescue, Pickle Partners Publishing, 2014
- "In El Retiro, discipline collapsed and desertion soared. On 9 July eleven men of the 45th disappeared, the next day twelve 9th Light Dragoons went missing ... informed of the problem by Whitelocke, Liniers ordered the deserters rounded up and returned to El Retiro. 'Above fifty' were discovered and embarked in chains to stand trial at Monte Video. Many more were never found." The British Invasion of the River Plate 1806–1807: How the Redcoats were Humbled and a Nation was Born, Ben Hughs, p. 212, Praetorian Press, 2013
- "By midday on 12 July the evacuation was complete. As well as the hostages and their servants, 400 of the most seriously wounded and a number of medical officers were left behind." The British Invasion of the River Plate 1806–1807: How the Redcoats were Humbled and a Nation was Born, Ben Hughs, p. 212, Praetorian Press, 2013)
- "A suitable punishment was long debated. To be beaten by the South Americans was so humiliating that desperate measures were called for and Brigadier-General Crauford 'strove hard to have [Whitelocke] shot." The British Invasion of the River Plate 1806–1807: How the Redcoats were Humbled and a Nation was Born, Ben Hughs, p. 219, Praetorian Press, 2013