May 18 is a national public holiday in Uruguay to commemorate the victory of Uruguayan forces over Spanish colonialists in the pivotal Battle of Las Piedras in 1811.
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After Argentina revolted against Spain in 1810, the Spanish were forced to flee eastward across the Rio de la Plata and set up their new headquarters in the region in Uruguay, at Montevideo.
Jose Artigas followed the Spanish to Uruguay, at first with less than 200 men. However, by the time of the battle, he had around 1,000 soldiers.
The commander of the royalist forces, Jose Posadas, moved his forces just outside of Montevideo to Las Piedras for the express purpose of provoking a rebel attack because he was sure he would win the battle. However, things turned out to the contrary: Artigas’ forces won a decisive victory that became the turning point which ultimately led to the independence of Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay.
Jose Artigas ordered his men to care for their wounded opponents and to have mercy on those who were captured. This was a rare bit of chivalry in those days, and Artigas is often quoted for his line, “Clemencia para los vencidos”, meaning “mercy for the conquered”. Interestingly, one of the captured royalist soldiers happened to be Artigas’ own nephew.
On Battle of Las Piedras Holiday, the people of Uruguay remember the victory that helped them win their freedom as well as one of their most cherished national heroes, General Jose Artigas.