The unstable situation brought about by the political crisis of 1808, both in New Spain and in Spain itself, made it possible for liberal and independence-minded ideas to take root among the New Spanish, leading to the organization of a plot against the viceregal government, which had accepted the rule of Napoleon in Spain and its dominions, and giving birth to the independence movement.
One of the early settings for this struggle was the Alhóndiga de Granaditas.
After refusing to hand the city over to the rebels, the city governor, Juan Antonio Riaño, thought it advisable to bring th e city’s “people and its wealth” into a fortified bastion.
By the 25th of September, 1810, a large number of Spaniards and well-to-do New Spanish, along with their personal fortunes, had crowded into the Alhóndiga de Granaditas. According to calculations, there were some 600 men and women inside and the amount they brought in with them is thought to have totaled more than three million pesos.
On September 28, the insurgents demanded the surrender of the Alhóndiga in the name of Hidalgo, but the Spaniards’ only reply was to begin the defense. At around 8:00 in the morning, the insurgent forces of Miguel Hidalgo, consisting of over fifty thousand men decided to attack the city of Guanajuato.
Sergeant Major Berzábal (who was commanding the Spanish) was killed in the initial skirmish and it was decided to raise the white flag. The local indigenous people moved up to the building as they thought that the Spanish had already surrendered. However, nobody could rein in Riaño’s son, who took up the attack with renewed fury.
The Alhóndiga seemed to be impregnable and the shots and bombs raining from its rooftop wreaked havoc among the att acking army, making it impossible to get anywhere near the door.
At the height of the battle, a burly worker from the Valenciana mine whose nickname was “El Pípila” came forward. This native of the town of San Miguel el Grande, protecting his back from the bullets with a slab of paving stone, set fire to the door of the Alhóndiga, opening the way for the insurgents.
At the close of battle, which ended with the capture of the Alhóndiga, 200 soldiers and 105 Spanish civilians lay dead.
Here, the first blood in the war of independence was spilled.
The fact that the very first engagement was also the first great triumph of the war greatly benefitted the cause of liberty.