Medals of the Wars of Independence

Latin America’s wars of independence against Spanish rule began in the early nineteenth century as nationalist leaders persuaded their supporters to take up arms against royalist garrisons. As the republican forces took control of local royal mints, their generals created medals to reward their victorious officers and men.

José Gil de Castro (Peru, Chile, 1785–1841), Portrait of José de San Martín, c. 1818. Museo Histórico Nacional, Buenos Aires3 (PUNC)
José Gil de Castro (Peru, Chile, 1785–1841), Portrait of Bernardo O’Higgins, 1821. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago de Chile (PUNC)
Uruguay, watercolor of British landing at Montevideo, 1807

The Rio de la Plata, part of the boundary between present-day Uruguay and Argentina, became embroiled in the Napoleonic wars because of Spain’s brief alliance with France during Ferdinand VII’s forced exile. British forces attempted to invade Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807, but were defeated both times. They were more successful in occupying Montevideo from 1807 to 1814. An Irish deserter from the British infantry, Peter Campbell (c. 1780–1832), joined the republican forces under José Gervasio Artigas (1764–1850) and went on to found the Uruguayan navy. An Uruguayan navy order is named after him.

Argentina, Medal for the Battle of Montevideo, 1814 (Ar5f )
Spain, Medal for Montevideo, 1807 (restrike) (RLR)
Argentina, Medal for the Battle for Aruhuma, 1810 (Ar2)
Argentina, Commemorative Medal for Tucumán, 1812 (RLR)
Argentina, Medal for the Battle of Montevideo, 1814 (Ar5d)

A combined Argentine-Chilean army commanded by José de San Martin (1778–1850) and Bernardo O’Higgins (1778–1842) defeated Spanish royalists at the Battle of Chacabuco in 1817, allowing the Chileans to declare their independence from Spain. San Martín defeated remaining loyalist forces at the Battle of Maipú in 1818 and continued victorious in a series of battles, leading to the declaration of the independence of Peru in 1821.

Chile, Legion of Merit for the Battle of Chacabuco, 1817 (Ch49a)
Chile, Legion of Merit for the Battle of Chacabuco, 1817 (Ch49b)
Argentina, Medal for the Battle of Chacabuco, 1817 (Ar6c)
Chile, Medal for the Battle of Maipú, 1818 (Ch2)
Chile, Medal for the Battle of Maipú, 1818 (Ch2)
Argentina, Medal for the Battle of San Luis, 1819 (Ar9 )
Chile, Medal for the Battle of Valdivia, 1820 (Ch4a)
Spain, Medal for the Battle of Callao, 1819 (RLR)
Peru, Medal for the Numancia Batallion, 1820, restrike (RLR)
Peru, Medal for the Battle of Pasco, 1820, restrike (RLR)
Lima, Independence Medal, 1821 (PUNC)

Simón Bolívar’s defeat of Spanish royalists at the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824 effectively ended Spanish military power in South America. The battle consolidated Peru’s independence and soon led to the creation of a new nation, Bolivia, out of the old viceroyalty of Peru.

Peru, Medal for the Battle of Ayacucho, 1824 (Pe7)
Peru, Order of the Sun, Commander, 1824, 20th-century version (Pe25b)

The war for Mexican independence had its roots in the uprising led by Father Miguel Hidalgo (1753–1811) in 1810 and continued through the empire declared by General Agustín de Iturbide (r. as Agustín I, 1822–1823) to its resolution with the final defeat of Spanish forces at Tampico in 1829.

Mexico, Proclamation of Independence, 1821 (RLR)
Mexico, Zacatecas, Medal for the Battle of Tampico, 1829 (Mx11)
Mexico, Medal for Las Cruces, 1810 (RLR)
Mexico, Medal of Independence, 1821 (Mx7b)

Cuba was the last Spanish colony in the Americas to gain its independence, following a protracted insurgency. After Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States occupied the country until 1902 and retained the right to intervene militarily until 1934.

Spain, Medal Bar for the Soldiers in the Spanish-American War (RLR)
New Jersey, Medal for Volunteers in the Spanish-American War, 1898 (RLR)
Cuba, Star of Máximo Gómez, 1898? (Cu1)
Cuba, Cross for Merit Mambí, 1898 (Cu2a)
Cuba, Medal of the Revolutionary Emigrés, 1913 (Cu4)
Cuba, Veterans of the Spanish-American War, 1935 (Cu10)