The War of Paraguay: Supplement 2, The Uruguayan 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!

Not to be confused with the Uruguayan Civil War, the Uruguayan War, or Brazilian Invasion of 1864 [Invasión brasileña de 1864] as it is known in Spanish, or War Against Aguirre [Guerra contra Aguirre] as it is known in Brazil, was the the conflict that set the Paraguayan War in motion. With some chapters coming up that deal heavily with this conflict, it’ll be useful to know the broad strokes of the thing, before Nabuco sketches in the details of Brazil’s involvement in it.

The Conservatives’ Rebellion

Venancio Flores ca. 1865

In the wake of the Uruguayan Civil War, Blancos and Colorados alike pushed for a new political culture of cooperation, closing the divide between the rival factions. One take on how to achieve this cooperation was fusión—proposed by the widely respected statesman (though he was an old Colorado, Blancos admired him as well) Andrés Lamas, the idea was to rebuke the old titles of Blanco and Colorado, and move forward without these partisan distinctions, unified for the good of the country. In August of 1855 he published a “Manifesto addressed to my compatriots” [“Manifiesto dirigido a los compatriotas”], which introduced the idea of fusionismo, and was harshly critical of the caudillo sects of both parties. Shortly after this, a group of Colorados continued with this criticism, focusing their vitriol on the Colorado caudillo president of Uruguay, Venancio Flores. Things only worsened when Flores demanded that La Libertad, the mouthpiece of these dissidents, cease publication. On 1855 the dissidents formed the Conservative Party, and took up arms against Flores. Flores fled the capital, and the Conservatives established Luis Lamas as president of the country. During this time, Flores’s minister of Foreign Affairs requested intervention from the Empire of Brazil, which was less than eager to get involved in another civil war in the Eastern State.

Concurrently, Manuel Oribe, the founder of the Blanco party, had returned from Spain, and was on board a boat in the harbor of Montevideo. Flores had prohibited him from leaving the ship, but now, thrown out of power, Flores approved Oribe’s disembarking, and arranged to meet with the Blanco caudillo. The two came to a verbal agreement to work together against the Conservative government, for the good of the country. With the caudillo loyals of Flores and Oribe standing against them, the Conservative government dissolved itself, and on 10 September Flores presented his resignation to the Uruguayan parliament. The president of the senate, one of Flores’s Colorado allies Manuel Basilio Bustamante, then assumed the presidency.

In November Oribe and Flores signed an agreement to not run for the presidency in the next regular election, and to support the Colorado politician Gabriel Antonio Pereira instead—another fusionist Colorado with bipartisan support, elected in 1856.

Flores in Argentina

Oribe died late in 1857, at which point Flores was in Argentina, securing ties with the Porteño Unitarian Bartolomé Mitre. Bartolomé Mitre had lead Buenos Aires province’s secession from Justo José Urquiza’s Argentine Confederation, though he hoped to re-form a united Argentinian state, which Buenos Aires would dominate. So at this time there were exiled Colorados in Buenos Aires, launching attacks on the fusionist government in Montevideo (which they believed actually favored Blancos), and exiled federalists in Montevideo launching attacks on Mitre’s government. One such attack, lead by César Díaz, a Colorado who’d run against Pereira in 1856 and received no votes, was undertaken in January 1858, but quickly defeated at Quinteros. With Díaz’s surrender, Pereira ordered that all the insurgents be executed. The Quinteros Massacre [Hecatombe de Quinteros or Masacre de Quinteros] infuriated the Colorados who weren’t part of Pereira’s government, and seemed to confirm the belief that fusionism was nothing but a Blanco ruse—especially when Pereira exiled more Colorado military leaders shortly after Quinteros. With these waves of attacks and exiles, the result was an Uruguayan government steadily trending toward the more fanatical segments of the Blanco party, which would culminate with Atanasio Aguirre taking power in 1864.

But in 1859, a different conflict was heating up. Flores, with a division of loyal Colorado soldiers, was fighting alongside Bartolomé Mitre in an attempt to put down Justo José Urquiza at Cepeda. Mitre and Flores were defeated, and Buenos Aires reincorporated into the Argentine Confederation—however, under favorable conditions for Buenos Aires. The negotiation process (mediated by Francisco Solano López) left Buenos Aires with a lot of control over trade on the Río de la Plata—the exact issue that had been a source of dispute between the interior provinces and Buenos Aires for years.

Needless to say, this was not the end of this phase of civil unrest in Argentina, and in 1861, Urquiza, Mitre, and Flores clashed again at the Battle of Pavón. Although Urquiza’s forces were doing well, after two hours of fighting he abruptly fled. Effectively, Mitre had won the war, and secured Buenos Aires’s status as the center of Argentinian politics, though with such an undecisive victory, he was hardly as dominant as he would’ve wanted.

Regardless, the situation was perfect for Flores—he had aided the now president of Argentina through his military ascendancy, and in 1862 Flores began plans for an invasion. When the Blanco president of Uruguay Bernardo Berro learned of this invasion, he asked Mitre to do something about it. Mitre feigned surprise, as if he’d had no idea of such a plan, and made no attempt to impede Flores. And when Flores landed in Uruguay in April 1863, Argentina helped gather exiled Colorados and ferry them across the Uruguay River into the Eastern State. Once again, the Berro government tried to get Argentina to stop this, sending Andrés Lamas to Buenos Aires to meet with Mitre’s foreign minister Rufino de Elizalde. Elizalde denied that the Argentine government had any involvement with Flores, at which point it was clear that the republic would be of no help to the Blancos. Their only hope of an allied state in the region (since Brazil had only ever been a friend to the Colorados) was Paraguay, whose aid would come, but far too little far too late.

Rio Grande do Sul

While Flores was going on his “Liberating Crusade” [Cruzada Libertadora] in the western departments of Uruguay, Andrés Lamas was calling for Brazil to step in and arbitrate the conflict. Whether or not Lamas had proposed such an action, one portion of the Brazilian population couldn’t help but be involved in the war—the borderlanders. These were the people from the southernmost Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sul, mostly ranchers, living in a poorly defined area which was not clearly Uruguayan or Brazilian territory. The wealthiest of them owned land that was clearly Uruguayan territory, and managed thousands of heads of cattle. They used their liminal status, and their distance from the administrative centers of both countries, to their advantage. As Thomas Whigham describes them in The Paraguayan War, they “used the laws of the empire and of the Oriental Republic to their advantage when possible and ignored the laws when not.” (144)

Cooperation from these borderlanders would be crucial for Flores’s success. They had their own caudillos, their own weapons, and they also had connections to many Colorados who, after the Quinteros Massacre, had fled to live among them. Likewise, getting them to refuse to aid Flores would be a boon for the Blancos. Seeing the advantageous position that they were in, with both sides of a civil war wanting their favor, General Antonio de Souza Netto went to Rio de Janeiro to request Brazilian action. (This is the place where Chapter Four will start, by the way.) Netto had declared Rio Grande an independent republic back in 1832, and though the Riograndense Republic had eventually rejoined the empire, he was still a major leader in the region. He had had good ties with the Blancos during the Uruguayan Civil War, but recently he’d been irritated by the Blanco government’s taxes.

As Nabuco says, Netto’s testimony of abuses committed against the Riograndense population produced a “fury of opinion” [“arrebato de la opinión” (26)] in Rio, and so Brazil sent Foreign Relations Minister José Antonio Saraiva to Montevideo with a list of grievances to assert, and compensations to request. Saraiva was instructed to present their demands as an ultimatum, with the threat of military force if Montevideo did not comply, though to also offer, if they did comply, Brazil’s cooperation in stopping Colorados in Rio Grande from leaving the province to join Flores. Saraiva arrived in May 1864, by which point Berro had left office, and Atanasio Aguirre (a more radical Blanco) had ascended as interim president.

Although Saraiva took as light a hand as he could, given the circumstances, with the Blanco government (he didn’t even threaten military action, as he was supposed to), the Uruguayan foreign minister refused his demands, saying that if they were truly legitimate concerns of the Empire, and not just a pretense for war, they would’ve been brought up earlier. Uruguay’s foreign minister also said that the claims could be resolved after Flores was defeated. Saraiva asked Rio de Janeiro to grant him further powers—at this point, he believed the only way forward was to pacify the state by an enormous show of force on the parts of Brazil, Argentina, and maybe even Paraguay.

In June of 1864, the dream team assembled in Puntas del Rosario to draft a peace agreement. Elizalde, Lamas, Herrera (Aguirre’s foreign minister), Saraiva, Thornton (a respected British diplomat), and Flores put together an accord with a no-winners-no-losers kind of vibe, similar to that of the 1851 treaty. Thornton would later say that this meeting, with representatives from Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina present, was the genesis of the Triple Alliance.

The treaty only had to be ratified by Aguirre, who almost did so, approving of everything except for a stipulation added by Flores, that the Blanco government step down, and a non-partisan government take its place. Flores would not disarm without this condition being met, and Aguirre refused to meet this condition, and by July the plan had collapsed.

The Brazilian Invasion of 1864

Following a final ultimatum issued by Saraiva on 4 August, Francisco Solano López warned that Brazil’s invasion of Uruguay would not be tolerated. Brazil did not heed the Paraguayan dictator’s warning, and in October 1864, invaded the country. López’s response was to capture a Brazilian vessel on the Paraguay River, and prepare for his opening maneuvers of the war (he was also hoping to receive some aid from Urquiza, since many entrerrianos still had Blanco sympathies—no such luck.) This of course did not deter Brazil, who continued down to Paysandú, a city on the eastern shore of the Uruguay River, where 1100 Blancos were holed up. The Blancos had decided to make a stand at this city because it would make an easy landing site for López if they could hold out long enough—as well, the land on the opposite side of the river was Urquiza’s, who they were still hoping would help them. In late December, after Brazilian forces arrived, and the leader of the besieged Blancos refused to surrender, Brazil and the Colorados bombarded the city for 52 hours, finally breaking the siege and forcing a surrender on 2 January 1865. In the aftermath of the surrender, many Blanco prisoners were executed, although an Argentinian officer ordered the killing to stop, averting a total massacre. Regardless, Paysandú was a bloody affair.

Siege of Paysandú as depicted in L’illustration

Now attention shifted to Montevideo, which was besieged by the combined forces of Brazil and Flores on 31 January, and blockaded by Admiral Tamandaré on 2 February. It was obvious that the allies had the forces necessary to take the city, which was only defended by 3500-4000 poorly trained soldiers. However, Brazil did not want to destroy the city—they didn’t want another Paysandú, perhaps. For almost two weeks Aguirre hesitated to agree to the requests for mediation, but on 15 February his mandate as interim president was up, and Tomás Villalba succeeded him. Villalba immediately called for mediation, and by 20 February everything had been signed. Flores would take power, and he agreed to look after the Riograndense ranchers’ business interests. Blancos fled Montevideo, and those Blancos who didn’t flee Flores purged, along with fusionists, upon his return to power.

The Colorados were essentially left with total control of the country, and Flores with a dictatorship. The borderlanders could rely on a government favorable to them in Montevideo. And Brazil had a friendly base of operations in the Río de la Plata, from which they could fight the imminent Paraguayan War.


This post by Walter Rela, archived by Web Archive September 15 2015 – for lots of info about the Conservatives’ Rebellion
The Paraguayan War, Vol I by Thomas Whigham – for general info
“Uruguay and the Paraguayan War: The Military Dimension” by Juan Manuel Casal, from I Die with My Country, edited by Henrik Kraay and Thomas Whigham – for general info
The War in Paraguay by George Thompson – for general info
La guerra del Paraguay by Joaquim Nabuco – for that one quote and general info i guess lol do i even have to cite this
Wikipedia – siempre mi amor

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