The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXIII, Mato Grosso

The Olinda ministry could do nothing in Mato Grosso.

Furtado decided to send an expedition to that province “with the purpose” (as he said in the Senate, in his speech on 13 August 1867), “of reinforcing the threatened capital’s defenses and, later, taking the offensive if possible.” Colonel Drago, named as civil and military governor, was put in command of the expedition, and marching through Santos, São Paulo, and Campinas with large heights along the path, he reached Uberaba where he incorporated the Mineiro brigade commanded by Colonel Galvão. Not abandoning Mato Grosso province, Furtado obeyed the demands of the general public; but any expedition sent from Rio de Janeiro with the purpose of taking the offensive would have had the same end as this one, since nothing had been organized to sustain the vast extension of unpopulated terrain that had to be crossed. Drago’s delay in marching to Mato Grosso exasperated the government, who ended up dismissing him and ordering he be charged (Ferraz).

According to Furtado, the cause of the disaster was not Drago’s delay, which allowed the rainy season to grow nearer without beginning the march; nor was it that chief’s abandonment of the road of Sant’anna do Parnaíba, where deposits of provisions had been established, because he believed it was exposed to the Paraguayans. Furtado attributed it to the column’s change of objective (a change decreed by Saraiva, interim Minister of War), by virtue of which the expedition, instead of directing itself to Cuiabá and joining that capital’s forces there, had to come to Cuiabá’s defense by situating itself in Coxim.

Mon_herois_laguna_dourados_detalhe_colericos.jpg
Detail from the Monumento aos Heróis de Laguna e Dourados in Rio de Janeiro. Photo courtesy of Carlos Luis M C da Cruz. 

The appraisal of the suffering and privations experienced by these troops until their withdrawal from Coxim merits attention; but not even Drago’s delay, nor his column’s change in objective in 1865, can be blamed for the outcome of the impracticable attempt, in 1867, to cross the Apa and invade Paraguay with such meager forces. In August of 1866 the Olinda Ministry had left power and on 23 March 1867 Colonel Camisão joined the war council which agreed to cross the enemy border. The endeavor of attacking Paraguay with less than 2,000 men would never have entered the thinking of the Furtado Ministry, who assigned an army of at least 12,000 men for this goal, nor of its successor. It was born from the replacements that death or sickness produced in the column’s command, bringing it into the hands of General Camisão, who, burdened with an excess of military pride, wanted to erase from his record, at any cost, any stain from the abandoning of Corumbá, in which he was implicated. Drawing on the power to invade Paraguay if conditions were favorable, a power granted to the expedition’s chief given how formidable this force was expected to be, Camisão makes a per fas et nefas command. The consequence was that sad and heroic retreat of Laguna up to the left bank of the Aquidabán, related in one of the most beautiful books of military literature (1), and in which our soldiers saw themselves closely pursued, at times across flooded plains, at others between burning scrub, decimated by hunger and by cholera, which at the same time protected them against the enemy.

Translator’s Notes

1. Nabuco refers to A Retirada da Laguna (“The Retreat of Laguna”) by French Brazilian writer and military engineer, Alfredo d’Escragnolle Taunay, Viscount of Taunay.

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