The War of Paraguay: Chapter IX, The Invasion of Rio Grande do Sul

Although the Furtado (1) Cabinet was not yet in power when Rio Grande do Sul was invaded by the Paraguayan army, this event belongs to its administration for the same reason that the events of Yatay and Riachuelo, victories whose glory alone vindicated the cabinet, do. (Address from 13 August 1867.) The cabinet of 12 May (2) did not have time to prepare, from Rio de Janeiro, any kind of resistance to an invasion that had taken place on 10 June in São Borja, the Paraguayans being already on the opposite shore of the Uruguay. They had barely been able to send some order or other to Montevideo. Besides, the President of Rio Grande (Gonzaga), the commander general of the borderlands (Canavarro), the commander of the field army (Osório [3]), the admiral (Tamandaré), and the plenipotentiary of the alliance (Otaviano), had been appointed by the Furtado ministry. To the cabinet of 12 May, in propriety, one should attribute the events that happened after the arrival of General Porto-Alegre, Minister Ferraz, and the Emperor in Uruguaiana. The blame for not having prepared anything within Rio Grande itself to stop the devastation does not belong to it, but its predecessors.

Estigarribia (4) crossed the Uruguay River on 10 June 1865, without encountering any resistance other than that of a 370-man contingent of the National Guard, with which the 1st Battalion of the Voluntários da Pátria were joined. This small force could not stop the enemy. São Borja was occupied on 13 June and systematically surrendered to the soldiers. From São Borja the invading army marched through Itaqui, completely devastating it. Parallel to that army, Commander Duarte’s (5) column marched on the right bank of the river. On 7 June Itaqui, abandoned by its inhabitants, was occupied and immediately sacked. Between Itaqui and Uruguaiana runs the Ibucuí, a river that the enemy crossed without opposition after doubts and disagreements between Caldwell and Canavarro. On 5 August the Paraguayans enter Uruguaiana, where only the day before our generals’ decision to not defend it had been announced, producing an indescribable panic.

1875mapaderiodelaplata-chap9-1
Map of the action described in the above paragraph. Source.

Serious condemnations of the Empire’s administration can be deduced from the state of helplessness on our side of the Uruguay. The basis for these criticisms was quite old because the government had known the invasion plan, put into effect in June, since January. In five months no effective measures were taken, nor was any defense plan drafted to impede the invasion. If a person wants to figure out to whom belongs the responsibility for having allowed the free and open crossing of the Uruguay by the enemy’s army, it is unclear how to cleanly place the blame.

The Furtado ministry defends itself by saying they trusted in the assurances that the president of Rio Grande do Sul province gave them, and above all, by claiming that they didn’t find a single thing prepared for them, because of which they had to improvise everything, and that even so, with the things that they hurriedly gathered together, we were victorious in Riachuelo and Yatay.

For his part Gonzaga, president of Rio Grande, defends himself by asserting the insufficiency of the resources that existed in the province, the simultaneous requests of Canavarro and Osório, and the assurances that the commander of the borderlands gave him that he would defeat the enemy, eventually wanting to go to Candelária in search of him.

Canavarro, for his part, defends himself by saying that his complaints were not attended, that he lacked the resources on which he had counted, and that after the strength and aims of the invading army were known, he employed against it a tactic with which he managed to destroy it completely, bringing about the best result that could be desired.

Osório excuses himself from not having run to the aid of São Borja or Uruguaiana, and from having disregarded Rio Grande, explaining the situation in which the Concordia army (6) found itself, and the necessity of not weakening it—it was the alliance’s base of defense—to which he added that, to his mind, any Paraguayan column that penetrated Rio Grande would be irredeemably lost.

Until, in January, López requested permission from Argentina to cross through the province of Corrientes, it was reasonable to consider the invasion of Rio Grande as improbable, given the fact that this region found itself defended by the neutral territory that lay in between it and the supposed invader. With that request made, now there was no such improbability in supposing López capable of the madness of crossing Argentine territory, creating a casus belli. It was still not probable, but protecting the border against any possible surprise was imperative. After the invasion of Corrientes, in the middle of April the likelihood, the almost certainty of an attack on Rio Grande was discovered, and since then the advisability of defending the Uruguay’s fords was evident.

Meanwhile, the ministerial crisis in Rio de Janeiro was happening with all the consequences that the change of governments always brought, all the more so since the transition of power from the hands of the historic Liberals to the progressives, had affected in Rio Grande do Sul (where each group or party had their own general) a radical change, or at least, a profound shake up of the military command.

Translator’s Notes

1. Francisco José Furtado, Brazilian Prime Minister 1864-65.
2. That is, the Olinda Cabinet, which took power on 12 May 1865.
3. Manuel Luis Osório, field marshal of the Brazilian army from 1865-66.
4. Antonio de la Cruz Estigarribia, Paraguayan Lieutenant Colonel who lead the invasion into Rio Grande do Sul.
5. Pedro Duarte, Paraguayan military officer.
6. Concordia is a city in Entre Ríos, which served as a rendezvous point for the allied armies. At the time that Estigarribia entered Rio Grande do Sul, Osório was already in Concordia, though the entirety of the Brazilian army had not yet arrived, and divisions from the other allied nations were on their way.

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