Lately I’ve blogged about my street, Av Caseros, so I figured it’s a good time to talk about the place behind the name. Caseros, in addition to being a street in the southern part of the city of Buenos Aires is also the name of a town to the north of the city. The street is named for that location, which is known for a major battle of the mid-19th century.

Here’s a question for the Argentine guys among my readers: Do boys here grow up reading about the great battles and wars of Argentine history?

In the attic

As a lad I remembered being engrossed in the details of the American Revolutionary War and Civil War. Particularly as a boy from an old Southern family in Tennessee, I learned about the exploits of the Confederacy in fighting the Yankees. And I’ve been to my share of battlefields, those state and national parks that conserve the land on which those conflicts were fought. (Are there any battlefield parks in Argentina?) While I’ve not been to any Civil War re-enactments (even when I lived in Virginia), my family does have a few Confederates in the Attic.

So, I’m wondering if this phenomenal obsession with the military heroics of the past is something that you grow up with in Argentina? Or, does the horrors of military dictatorships color the perceptions of an Argentine boy about the country’s military history? I’m just curious. Of course, I suspect boys growing up in military families have a very different perspective but I’m wondering about the “typical” perspective (whatever that is).

The defeat of Rosas

Avenida Caseros takes its name from the Battle of Caseros, a turning point in Argentine history that occurred on February 3, 1852. For much of the first half of the 19th century Buenos Aires was ruled by Juan Manuel de Rosas. While Rosas had the support of the urban poor, his decades long rule was marked by state terrorism and ruthless vigilante squads that sought out his opponents with bloody reprisals.

(To make a very long story short, I’m omitting a lot about the political context of early 19th century Argentina).

Justo José de Urquiza, who controlled the Entre Rios province north of Buenos Aires, rebelled and started building his own army to challenge that of Rosas. Urquiza built a large army with soldiers not just from the northern provinces of Entre Rios and Corrientes but also with soldiers from Brazil and what is now Uruguay. Urquiza’s army of more than 25,000 men advanced on Buenos Aires and met Rosas army of nearly equal size at Caseros, which at the time was a rural area located just north of the city of Buenos Aires.

It was one of the largest battles to be fought in the Americas up to that time. But the fighting was slow. The men were armed with smoothbore flintlock muskets that required fourteen steps to load, firing approximately one shot per minute.

Many in the cavalry fought with crude lances, often nothing more than bamboo poles with a knife blade or sheep shearing clippers tied to the end with strips of rawhide. Rosas also enlisted Indian squads as irregular cavalry.

The battle began just after eight in the morning. At ten Urquiza advanced one division of his cavalry in a maneuver to outflank Rosas infantry. The resulting cavalry charge was so fast and furious that the dust rising from the charge caused the cavalry to completely miss the enemy, riding right pass them. Nevertheless, Urquiza himself led another cavalry charge that was successful.

Several battalions under Rosas command mutinied and killed their own commanders. Seeing that defeat was inevitable, Rosas quietly made his way away from the battle zone, hiding out in Buenos Aires for a day before boarding a British vessel for exile in England where he lived until his death twenty-five years later.

By three in the afternoon Urquiza had rode into Buenos Aires and established headquarters at Rosas house in Palermo and commenced a bloody purge that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Rosas supporters. (Rosas’ estancia was located on the land that is now Parque 3 de Febrero, ironically named after the date of the Battle of Caseros).

The fall of Rosas in 1852 started a new phase in Argentine history, the era that would eventually bring the development of modern Argentina.

Urquiza, however, wouldn’t enjoy for long his role in bringing down Rosas as politicians clad with swords and their own armies would wrestle over control of Buenos Aires throughout the remainder of the decade.

Eventually returning to his home province of Entre Rios Urquiza solaced himself by building the largest house in Argentina at that time (Palacio San Jose). Urquiza was killed in his own home by his political enemies in 1870.