As part of their campaign to provide historians with good collections of republican Venezuela’s most important documents, Pedro Grases and Manuel Pérez Vila have given us ten volumes of material on the armed forces of Venezuela in the ninteenth century. To date there are five volumes on the independence and four on the republican period to 1846. There will be three more volumes taking the series to the beginning of the twentieth century.
Within the collection, the material divides into chronological blocks. Two volumes cover the period up to the Congress of Angostura (1819), two more volumes the decisive era from the Congress of Angostura to the battle of Ayacucho (1824), and a fifth volume carries the collection to the dissolution of Gran Colombia in 1830. For the republican period two volumes (numbers 6 and 7) span the early governments from 1830 to 1841, and an eighth volume includes the Ordenanzas dal ejército of 1841. The ninth contains the Naval Ordinances of 1793, while the tenth covers the rest of the early governments through 1846.
Throughout the series we find the same high quality of presentation, annotation, and documentation that we have come to expect from the compilers’ previous work on Pensamiento político venezolano del siglo xix and the Escritos del Libertador. Every volume begins with a preface explaining the scope and purpose of the documents included, the selection criteria, and a short discussion of the historical context and significance of each piece. Following the prefatory remarks Grases and Pérez Vila have placed a “Sumario: relación de documentos,” in which they list each document, describe its contents, and indicate its source. Once the entire collection is completed there will be a volume of indices.
Such is the plan of this important work. Many pieces included in the collection come from other printed sources and thus are not being published for the first time, but most of these are much more readily available here than in their earlier form. The annual Memorias of the Secretaría de Guerra y Marina form the base of this collection, but the documents included run the gamut from official battle reports, through private letters from prominent military figures, to personal hojas de servicio. There are internal documents of the armed forces, as well as external laws, regulations, and comments about them. There are treatises on strategy, manifestos by military heroes, Army and Navy budgets, a manual of arms, and a discussion of tactics for the infantry. And this short list only begins to catalogue the varied information included.
To be sure, the compilers have avoided political polemics against the armed forces, and the collection stresses official papers. Yet given the central role of the Army in nineteenth-century Venezuelan affairs, this material is invaluable. Moreover, before Pedro Grases and Manuel Pérez Vila went to the trouble to bring it together a student of Venezuelan history had to expend a great amount of time and energy searching out even the basic documents concerning the Army.
In sum, these volumes provide an outstanding collection of sources, some official and some unofficial, some published previously and some manuscript, on the history of Venezuela’s armed forces. The Presidencia de la República deserves our gratitude for its support of this project.