The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXI, Military Measures

Absent the emperor, the ministry endeavored to begin recruiting volunteers all over the country. The foundation had to be the National Guard, and the government appealed to this organization. For the war in the south, Furtado had raised from the different corps 14,796 national guards (decree of 21 January 1865) and for Mato Grosso 9,000 from the corps of Minas and São Paulo. But it was necessary to find those men and organize battalions. The ministry resolved to draw on all the means of attracting the National Guard to service. Nabuco drafted every decree from the Council of ministers given with such goal, namely: making the volunteer corps equal to those of the National Guard (4 August 1865); conceding to the national guards the same favors as the volunteers received (30 August); exempting from recruitment and active service any national guard that could be replaced (12 September); extending the enlistment of volunteers until the end of the war with Paraguay (4 August).

Except in Rio Grande do Sul, where there were counted 23,574 men on campaign (1863), and in Bahia, which sent a battalion and later 2,000 men in loose detachments, the National Guard showed itself generally resistant to the war. On paper it was a force of 440,000 men; in reality it was a nuisance. Nabuco tests the waters of the National Guard of the court, addressing the following communication to its commander in chief, which gave rise to a curious incident:

“Minister of Justice, — Rio de Janeiro 10 August 1865. — Most illustrious and excellent senhor. — Sending Y.E. the attached decree, number 3,505, dated 4 August, regarding the National Guard, I should recommend Y.E. to make the greatest efforts in its execution. The decree says: ‘The corps of the National Guard that, with its current organization, with its officers and soldiers, march voluntarily to war, will be on the same level as the volunteer corps and will enjoy all the advantages conceded to those.’ Y.E. will make the National Guard understand that its cooperation is critical for our army to save and avenge our invaded and defiled country; that the empire’s constitution and its very institution impose this duty on it; that no national guard can, without dishonoring the Brazilian name, cease to follow its emperor, who finds himself in Rio Grande do Sul amidst the dangers of war, making a great sacrifice to give a great example. In effect, it is essential to defeat Paraguay and defeat it soon, so that the victory is not, being late, as disastrous as a defeat; so that the victory is not, being late, attributed to the time and resources of the Empire, instead of the patriotism and spirit of the Brazilian nation. Y.E. will give the commanders of the corps under your orders information of said decree, and propose to the government the conducive measures to make the National Guard, for its own honor and glory, and that of the country, the army’s true and effective aid in time of war. — God protect Y.E. — José Tomás de Araújo. — Senhor commander in chief of the National Guard of the court.”

The italicized phrases Nabuco was in the habit of repeating when talking and writing to different people, doubtless because he could find none better or more expressive.

General Fonseca Costa, later Marquis of Gávea, tried, as it seems, fulfilling Nabuco’s advice, to persuade his officers to a resolution that he hoped conformed to the government’s desires, and which in turn appealed to his subordinates. Regarding his interpretation of the notice ,Nabuco wrote to him on 14 August:

“I read your memo from the 12th which accompanies the agenda in which my notice from the 10th was published. I should tell Y.E. that I approve of the terms in which said order is revised, inspired by the patriotism and zeal of service. Y.E. did very well, and acted in accordance with my thinking, meeting the commanders of the corps to inform them about decree 3,505 and express to them what the country, the constitution, and the institutional law of the National Guard demand of them.

“I don’t approve, however, of Y.E.’s actions, demanding from said commanders a positive response, as far as the hypothesis of said decree. Y.E., let them work in accordance with the inspiration of your patriotism. It is no secret to you that we should only demand a positive response if we are sure that it would be affirmative and glorious for the National Guard and for the country. If it were negative, what shame for the National Guard, for the country, and for all of us! Besides the stain that would fall on our land and our time, I would see myself obliged to make the National Guard of the court leave the court, which is not in the spirit of governance, barring extreme circumstances. Y.E., passing along decree 3,505, you made the government’s thoughts known; well, my general, that’s enough for now. If the gravity of circumstances were to increase, the government would proceed as fits the dignity of the country, because it cannot allow the egoism of one generation to jeopardize the future of others, and see this land surrendered to foreigners. What was done on the 12th is as much as the government desired of Y.E. The meeting of the 16th should not, as such, take place. Y.E., tell the commanders that the government does not demand a positive response from them and that it only charged you with informing them of decree 3,505 and that it trusted, when the time came, in the patriotism of all.”

1280px-El_emperador_del_Brasil_entregando_la_bandera_á_la_Guardia_Nacional,_en_el_momento_de_su_salida_para_el_Paraguay_(1865)
A contingent of national guardsmen receiving the flag from the emperor before departing for Paraguay, 1865.

Some presidents distinguish themselves in their shipment of volunteers, specifically Dantas of Bahia (i), who resolved to surpass Luís Antônio Barbosa de Almeida in that province (1), and to surpass Paranaguá in Pernambuco (ii). The emperor’s absence hindered the government’s actions. “He has delayed us,” writes Nabuco to Dantas (23 August), “and I believe that here with us he could move all of the empire, while there in the field he can only move Rio Grande do Sul and obstruct the timely application of many special measures.”

The surrender of Uruguaiana made a soon end to the war seem credible for a moment. López’s army withdraws from Corrientes, and everyone believes the difficult part of the campaign finished. Just as after the treaty of 20 February it was supposed that the Paraná would be passed, and after Riachuelo it was taken as a certainty that the Uruguay would be passed, now it was no less certain that López would hardly offer resistance within his territory.

Optimism and dismay occur with equal ease; the excess of imagination is the same. Some feared, contrary to those who saw everything through rose-colored glasses, that with the allied armies passing the Paraná, Paraguay would repeat its invasion, joining with Urquiza’s cavalry and the Blancos against Mitre and Brazil.

For the moment the ministry considers the war “dominated,” in their words. Saraiva suspends the delivery of volunteers. Nabuco writes to Paranaguá: “The surrender of Uruguaiana and the moral effect it should produce ought to be translated into less effort for the war and more attention to the reorganization and moral pacification of the province.” And on 9 November: “Y.E. will see new orders from the Minister of War regarding the delivery of forces; given the state of the campaign, they now seem unnecessary. We should only concern ourselves with the organization and moral pacification of the provinces. In conclusion, it’s best to enlist people to complete the corps of the army that remain incomplete and discontinue the creation of new corps of volunteers or National Guard contingents.”

Sometime later the Emperor wrote: “If I had been in Rio de Janeiro, Saraiva would not have suspended the shipment of volunteers.”

The assumption that with the complete destruction of one of López’s armies the war was under control was very mistaken, and similar, as such, to all the solutions given before and after to the Paraguayan challenge. What seemed a reasonable outcome was taken as a certainty, when the only thing to take as a certainty was the absurd. But Saraiva’s order uncovered, as is deduced from Nabuco’s words (“Let us discontinue the creation of new corps of volunteers or National Guard contingents”), the government’s fatigue from this insufficient and part-counterfeit volunteer system, preventing regular recruitment, the crucial condition for the formation of the numerous military we needed. Up until the taking of Uruguaiana it can be said that the voluntarios da patria flocked to the war effort. The Emperor’s example made up the minds of many. But once the invader was expelled from Brazilian territory, the impromptu offerings made in the first months of war ceased almost completely despite the war continuing, with the government having more and more difficulty recruiting people. The Zacharias cabinet would later go to the extreme of liberating slaves to generate soldiers.

The central theme of the opposition was that the ministry of 12 May “found everything prepared and at its disposal” (Urbano’s [2] words.) “What is the current ministry going to do? War, says the honorable President of the Council. I believe that we Brazilians can be persuaded, as he is, that the war will be finished before the actions of the current ministry can be felt in it. The war can and should be finished before a single soldier arrives there, thanks to the skill and efforts of the worthy general who finds himself at the front of the respective ministry” (Martinho Campos’s words.)

The general opinion was that the Furtado cabinet had left its successor all the armaments, troops, and ships that it could need; but in reality, the preparations made were in no way enough to face those of López. In June of 1865 we had in Concordia 17,000 men, and López had in Corrientes 30,000, which he could reinforce, as necessary, with many more. It can be said that Furtado had not left any means of resistance in Rio Grande. Canavarro did not have arms or soldiers. Expeditions made by Gonzaga from Pelotas in June, Ferraz found only halfway there. Furtado’s military administration was active and productive, and his naval administration noteworthy. In the latter, it even seems that a kind of stand-off was initiated with the ministry of 12 May between the vigorous impulses of Pinto Lima and Alfonso Celso. It fell to Silveira Lobo to execute the works that Pinto Lima would leave unfinished and which, as such, should be attributed to him.

But if the Furtado ministry had to create the army and all the means for war, not only was the Olinda Cabinet’s task no lesser, rather it can be considered two or even three times more formidable, and it even surpassed that of the ministry of 3 August when the challenge of defeating López in his successive lines of defense appeared at its greatest extent. “I believe that the worthy deputy of Pernambuco, my old friend [Urbano],” says Ferraz (speech on 16 April 1866), “wants to draw a parallel between the number of soldiers sent to the war by the previous ministry and the current ministry in order to exalt the services of the former and debase those of the latter. Senhores, we have all fulfilled our duties … The previous ministry made the first thrust forward; we followed it. If they mobilized 10 to 12,000 men, we have mobilized thirty-some thousand.”

The cabinet was also attacked for the fact that those men were conscripted, that now the war was no longer being waged with volunteers like in the time of the Furtado ministry. But to desire that this most difficult and distant war be waged solely with volunteers was a hypocrisy. The Furtado cabinet availed itself of the primary impulse of the offended and invaded nation, and the Olinda ministry also came to utilize the surge of indignation produced by the invasion of Rio Grande and the enthusiasm awoken by the Emperor’s departure; but with Estigarribia’s army exterminated and the Paraguayan fleet destroyed, the country believed its honor to be saved, and the nation did not rise up for the sake of the deserted stretch of Mato Grosso, where the enemy still maintained itself, with the same onrush as that produced by the first news of the affront, and the passing of the Uruguay. But in no case could a war of such proportions, beyond the country, be waged with volunteers alone. It is certain that Furtado represented in his power the popular element and that popularity serves to organize patriotic battalions; but even so, one can’t suppose a great difference between what he would have done and what his successors did. On the contrary, it seems that that popularity granted him as much as it could give him straight away, and that the moderate Liberal government that took power in his place gave the war the heat of a new current of opinion, the competitive drive of other figures, as much from Bahia as from Pernambuco.

A Liberal deputy, Godoy de Vasconcellos, told Ferraz when he said the words previously quoted: “The accusation was another, senhor Minister of War; it referred to the voluntarios and the involuntarios.” And Ferraz responded: “I have still been unable to ascertain the foundation of that accusation directed at the government. I can say definitively that if the least violence in recruitment is proven, I decree an immediate discharge, because I do not approve of such abuses.”

The greatest difficulty was that of militarily organizing the drafts made by the presidents of the Northern provinces. Ferraz explains to the Chamber what a labor this was: “Now,” he said in said speech on 13 April, “I must declare to the honorable deputy that in the army and in the provinces the following has occurred: there are corps that come organized though not disciplined, because this is not possible, except with their respective officers; they travel leaving garrisons in ports to be gathered into hospitals; these corps arrive here already deteriorated; continuing toward the South they leave whatever portion of their forces remains in Santa Catarina and Montevideo, and upon integrating themselves with the army they find themselves as deficient in number as they are in instruction, and with officers that know nothing of the art of war. Now, these men directed by such officers jeopardize the army’s operations and they cannot be counted on, for which I decreed that the soldiers of any diminished corps be distributed amongst the older corps of soldiers, following the example seen in Crimea, where, with the conscripts sent to the corps of veterans, the veterans served them as fathers and instructors, and in little time the conscripts were made into as good soldiers as the others. So it has happened in our army: the volunteers, whether voluntary or not, have been made worthy of the greatest applause, and have acquired such a degree of training from the old corps, that not only Mitre and Flores, but even Urquiza would have recognized that Brazil had an army of seasoned soldiers.”

Footnotes

i. Nabuco wrote to Dantas, who he called a “noble and tireless president” on 30 September 1865: “I congratulate you again and you congratulate me by delivering 1,200 brave countrymen. Our land and its children ought to feel proud.”
ii. Nabuco to Paranaguá (October 23rd). — “We await your forces (1,600 braves). This house now smells of men. I greatly applaud the patriotism of so many important people from the diverse locales that have volunteered to organize forces.” About the administrations of Dantas and Paranaguá, see later letters from Cotegipe and Camaragibe to Nabuco. It can be said that, with the shipments of troops that they made, they earned the departments they administered in the following cabinet. That service was what the emperor appreciated the most.

Translator’s Notes

1. Manuel Pinto de Sousa Dantas was president of the province of Bahia from 1865 to 1866, and Almeida was his predecessor.
2. Urbano Sabino Pessoa de Melo, a Liberal politician from Pernambuco, member of the Chamber of Deputies from 1838 to 1866, and one of the proponents of the Praieira Revolt.

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