The War of Paraguay: Supplement 1, The Uruguayan Civil War

twop-c-10This post remains available for posterity’s sake, but a much revised and much expanded version of this translation is available completely for free! The revised version includes translated footnotes, a translated appendix, an expanded introduction, and a map of disputed territory and important locations. You can download a copy in the following formats: DocxEpubMobiPDF. Or, if you want to throw some money my way, you can set your price for it on Smashwords. And it’s in the public domain!

Next week’s chapter will deal somewhat with the aftermath of the Uruguayan Civil War, a conflict in Uruguay which lasted from 1838 to 1851, and which eventually pulled in Brazil. So, this post should provide the background information necessary to make sense of that chapter.

The War in Uruguay

Portrait of Fructuoso Rivera by Baldassare Verazzi

In July 1836, the forces of Fructuoso Rivera clashed with those of Manuel Oribe at the Battle of Carpintería. To distinguish themselves, the two sides wore divisas, colored bands of fabric. Oribe’s were white, blanco, Rivera’s red, colorado. With this clash, and the ensuing war, the two political parties that would dominate Uruguay for the remainder of the century were formed. The nation had experienced frequent rebellions and insurrections by caudillos—military leaders with spheres of influence in different parts of the country—but the caudillos were quickly being absorbed by these two groups.

Let’s rewind a few years. Rivera, one such caudillo, was the first constitutional president of Uruguay. His presidency was plagued with insurrections, especially by the old revolutionary Juan Lavalleja. (Actually, Lavalleja, Rivera, and Oribe were all old revolutionaries, who had fought first Spain and later Brazil to secure Uruguay’s independence.) Fearing that Lavalleja would win the presidential election of 1835, Rivera decided not to run, instead throwing his full support behind Manuel Oribe. Oribe won the election, but before Rivera left office, Rivera assigned himself the position of Commander General of the Interior.

Oribe inherited a depleted treasury and a corrupt bureaucracy, which he appointed a commission to investigate. Oribe also dismissed Rivera as Commander General after Rivera had decided to lend military support to the Riograndense Republic, a newly independent state formed from the Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sul. Oribe, not wanting to anger the Empire of Brazil, replaced Rivera with his brother, Ignacio Oribe. Naturally, this did not sit well with Rivera—nor did Oribe’s pardoning of old supporters of Juan Lavalleja. In 1836, Rivera launched a revolution, whose first major battle was the Battle of Carpintería.

Lavalleja joined Oribe, and Juan Lavalle (IMPORTANT: Juan Lavalleja ≠ Juan Lavalle), an exiled Argentinian Unitarian, joined Rivera. The Unitarians were an Argentine party that wanted a centralized government, modeled on the government of the Napoleonic Empire. They were mostly a party of intellectuals, military figures, and the elite—as were the Colorados, whose support lay in Uruguay’s urban center of Montevideo, rather than the rural population. The Colorados favored free trade, free navigation of rivers by European ships, and immigration. The Blanco party was supported by the Argentine party then in power, led by Juan Manuel de Rosas, the Federalists. The Federalists favored a decentralized form of governance. Internally, the Blanco party drew its support from wealthy landowners and the rural population of Uruguay.

A cheat sheet I made of who’s who.

Rivera was defeated in the Battle of Carpintería, and he and his forces fled to Porto Alegre, a city in the Riograndense Republic. But, at the proposition of receiving support from Brazil, Rivera betrayed the fledgling republic in 1838, and returned to Uruguay with reinforcements from the Empire. At the Battle of Palmar, Rivera was victorious, and soon besieged Montevideo. In October of the same year, Oribe resigned from the presidency, fleeing to Buenos Aires, where Rosas recognized him as the legitimate president of Uruguay. In March 1839, the Uruguayan congress elected Rivera president—and at this point, the Guerra Grande began.

The conflict lasting from 1836-1851 can be divided into a few different sections. The whole thing is the Uruguayan Civil War, but the portion between 1839 and 1851 (actually to 1852) was then known as the Guerra Grande—the Great War. Incidentally, the Paraguayan War was soon titled the Great War as well. Anyway, the former Great War—the one embedded in the Uruguayan Civil War—can also be divided into a few parts. First, the War in Argentina, then the Great Siege of Montevideo, and finally the Platine War—which actually only occurred after the Civil War was over.

The War in Argentina

During the War in Argentina, Rivera allied himself with the governor of Corrientes Province (a quasi-independent state at the time), Genaro Berón de Astrada. Berón de Astrada, Lavalle, and Rivera invaded Argentina, but instantly suffered a defeat at Pago Largo. 800 prisoners were executed by Argentine forces, including Astrada himself. Afterward, Rosas’s force, under command of Pascual Echagüe, entered Uruguay, but they were defeated at the battle of Cagancha, in December of 1839. Without any reserves, Echagüe was forced to retreat back to Argentina. Taking the initiative, Juan Lavalle set out from Corrientes with 4000 correntino troops, and with the aid of French ships he landed in Buenos Aires province in August 1840. Within the heart of the Argentine Confederation, Lavalle was hounded by Oribe’s army, and he constantly evaded conflict, until finally the two clashed in September 1841. Lavalle’s forces were decisively defeated, and after the battle there were more mass executions of prisoners, largely by beheading. Lavalle managed to escape that fate, but he died soon after.

1841 was, so far, not a good year for Rivera and the Unitarians. France had been blockading the Río de la Plata since Rivera returned to power in 1838, specifically blockading Rosas’s seat of power, Buenos Aires. But in 1840 the blockade ended, and Rivera had to scramble to put together a naval force. Rivera’s improvised fleet fought with the Argentine navy throughout 1841, but was ultimately destroyed and disassembled, allowing Argentina free reign on the Río de la Plata. However, in November, the Colorados had a lucky turn at the Battle of Caaguazú. José María Paz, a Unitarian, defeated Pascual Echagüe, who then renounced his post as head of the campaign. He was replaced by Justo José de Urquiza, who also replaced Echagüe as the new governor of Entre Ríos. Urquiza’s governorship meant little, because after the victory at Caaguazú, José María Paz occupied the capital of Entre Ríos, and declared himself the governor of it.

In February 1842, representatives of Paz, Pedro Ferré (a Unitarian who had replaced Berón de Astrada as governor of Corrientes), Juan Pablo López (Unitarian governor of Santa Fe), and Rivera met, and decided to continue the war against the Federation, but now with the goal of forming a new government which would be composed of all of their territories, as well as the Riograndense Republic—Bento Gonçalves, a major leader of the rogue Brazilian state, had secretly met with Rivera, so they were good with each other again. This new Platine state would be called Uruguay Mayor.

In October of the same year, these caudillos met directly, and agreed to have Rivera lead their military. This decision bothered Paz, who withdrew from their alliances.

After that meeting, Rivera crossed into Argentina to confront Oribe at Arroyo Grande. The battle of Arroyo Grande commenced on 6 December 1842, the largest battle of the war so far, and massive by the Guerra Grande’s standards. On the Blanco/Federalist side, Oribe, his brother Ignacio, and Urquiza commanded 9,000 soldiers, against the 7,500 of the Colorados/Unitarians, commanded by Rivera, Juan Pablo López, and Pedro Ferré. Rivera’s forces were crushed, and the current phase of the Argentine civil war was effectively over, as were any hopes for Corrientes, Entre Ríos, and Santa Fe being independent of Argentina. While there would later be revolts in those provinces, they would never be such strong contenders as they had been between 1839 and 1842. More importantly for our purposes, Rivera was driven out of Argentina, back to Montevideo, with Oribe in hot pursuit.

On 16 February 1843, Oribe arrived at Cerrito, a hill to the north of Montevideo (though today it is one of the more central neighborhoods of the city), and began to besiege the capital. Thus ended the War in Argentina, and thus began the Great Siege.

Portrait of Manuel Oribe by Manuel Rosé

The Great Siege

The Great Siege of Montevideo, which Alexandre Dumas styled as “The New Troy” in his book of the same title, lasted eight years. During that time Uruguay was ruled by two governments. The Government of the Defense, Rivera’s government, controlled Montevideo. The Government of Cerrito, headed by Oribe, controlled the rest of the country. Although at various times Rivera had forces outside of Montevideo, these forces almost never occupied any population centers. The forces defending Montevideo were largely composed of Europeans, some of whom had been drawn to Rivera’s cause, others immigrants, and others mercenaries. There was an Italian legion, a Basque legion, two French battalions, one Montevidean battalion, and three battalions of freed slaves (during the war, both sides freed slaves to use as soldiers.) The army at Cerrito was composed of Blanco Uruguayans, and Rosist Argentinians.

At the beginning of the siege, French and English ships blockaded Buenos Aires, and after 1845 they began to protect Montevideo. This support was crucial to the port city’s survival during the siege, so things started to look bad when in 1849 England agreed to withdraw, and in 1850 France did the same. However, the landscape of the war was drastically changed by two events in May 1851. On May 1st, Justo José de Urquiza announced that Entre Ríos would resume its right to trade directly with other countries. It had long bothered him that Buenos Aires had the exclusive right to international commerce, and with a growing economy of entrerriano ranchers supporting him, he rebuked it. As Urquiza expected, Rosas instantly declared war on him, and on May 29th—the second event—Entre Ríos, the Government of the Defense, and the Empire of Brazil signed a treaty of alliance. The Riograndense Republic had dissolved in 1845, turned once more to the province of Rio Grande do Sul, so this was no longer a point of contention between Rivera and the Empire.

Against these enormous powers, and with 16,000 Brazilian soldiers entering Uruguay, Oribe knew he had no hope of victory. He entered negotiations with the government of the defense, and on 12 October 1851 signed the peace treaty that ended the civil war. This treaty established that there were no winners or losers—that there would be no reprisals or purges by the future governments—gave Brazil the right to intervene in future conflicts, obliged Uruguay to return fugitive slaves to Brazil, gave Brazil the right to free navigation of the Uruguay river, and gave Brazil sovereignty over the formerly disputed territory of Misiones Orientales—now a part of Rio Grande do Sul.

With peace (ostensibly) made, the allies turned their attention to Rosas.

End of the War

The Uruguayan Civil War was over, but the Guerra Grande was still on. At this point the allies formed the so-called ejército grande (of course, what else), which numbered about 40,000 in total (though 12,000 of those remained in Uruguay.) Rosas’s forces numbered 22,000, and on 3 February 1852, the forces met at Caseros, not far from Buenos Aires. The Battle of Caseros was the final battle of the Guerra Grande, and the end of Rosas’s reign. After three hours of fighting the Rosist forces were defeated. Rosas escaped to England, where he lived out the rest of his days.

With the war over, Uruguay was devastated, and had taken on enormous debt. The Argentine Confederation was somewhat unified under Urquiza, though Buenos Aires Province would soon secede.

In accordance with the idea of “no winners, no losers,” Uruguayans hoped to have a government of fusión, with a mixture of Colorado and Blanco politicians. Eugenio Garzón was expected to be the first president of the reunified nation, as, because he’d served under Urquiza, he had fought on both sides of the war. But after Garzón died unexpectedly, Juan Francisco Giró, a Blanco, was elected. Giró did make an effort to have a government of fusión, with Oribe heading the National Guard, and Venancio Flores, a prominent Colorado, leading the Army and Navy. (Get used to reading Flores’s name by the way, he started the Uruguayan War, and he was Uruguay’s president for much of the Paraguayan War.)  Nevertheless, contention persisted, and Flores forced Giró to resign in 1853, successively appointing a triumvirate consisting of himself, Fructuoso Rivera, and Juan Lavalleja (remember him?). Lavalleja died later that year, and Rivera died at the beginning of 1854, after which Flores was elected president.

Oribe died in 1857, but the Blanco party lived on just as much as the Colorado did party after Rivera’s death, and the two would go to war again hardly more than a decade after the Treaty of 1851, in the Uruguayan War—the conflict which set off Paraguay’s Guerra Grande.


This fact sheet from the Ceibal project for info about Battle of Carpintería, and the origins of the political parties.
This other fact sheet from ibid for info on the 1851 peace treaties.
This post for info about Oribe and his presidency.
This book for general info about the war and earlier conflicts.
And Wikipedia, de claro.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s