On 17 August the Battle of Yatay was fought. Receiving news that Duarte’s column, which operated on the right side of the Uruguay (3,220 Paraguayans against 8,500 allies, of which 1,450 were Brazilian) had been completely destroyed, Estigarribia tried to pull back by way of the Itaquy road, but with Canavarro’s division having closed the pass he did not dare to attack it. That very day (19 August) Flores, who was still in Correntino territory, made the first offer of capitulation to him, which, although honorable, was rejected. From the 25th on, with Flores’s and Pauneros’s troops, as well as Tamandaré’s fleet, having arrived, the siege begins to tighten in the presence of Porto-Alegre, who takes command of the Brazilian army.
On 2 September the allied generals renew their proposition offering Estigarribia free escape for him and his officers with all the honors of war and liberty to go wherever they want, and on the 5th Estigarribia responds in the manner of Leonidas at Thermopylae: “All the better; the smoke of the artillery will give us shade.” The motives for this second proposition were that the allies wanted to avoid destroying Uruguaiana by bombardment, not to mention the fear that Estigarribia could be aided by the Paraguayan army if the siege was prolonged. The forces at our disposal were still not enough for an assault on the enemy trenches. A little while later (10 September) Ferraz and General Mitre (with whom Tamandaré, having gone to Concórdia in search of more infantry, returned) arrive, as does the emperor the following day. The situation of the besieged was desperate: they could not expect aid from Paraguay; they lacked provisions, were beginning to suffer hunger, and were under the fire, from land and from ships, of 54 cannons.
The military forces brought together by the three nations, that allied army which the emperor of Brazil looked over, must have seemed even greater than it really was in the eyes of those 5,000 some men, wearied, poorly equipped, starved, besieged, and in an unfamiliar country, the final remains of the army of Itapúa and Candelaria. And even the compensation of making the ultimate sacrifice, the only thing to which they could aspire, depended on the generosity of the enemy, since the enemy could reduce the intensity of their attacks, and defeat them through starvation.Read More »
(1) As we have seen from Ferraz’s letter, on 5 September it was not yet thought that the emperor would take part in the siege of Uruguaiana. Tamandaré decided to go and kiss the hand of H.M. in the city of Alegrete (on 2 September), introducing him to General Flores and perhaps General Mitre. With the issue of commander-in-chief Mitre being in one of our provinces, the emperor of Brazil determined to take part in the military operations, especially since he found himself in that province, and not far off. Six days after Ferraz’s letter sent from Passo do Rosário, the emperor reached the encampment at Uruguaiana (11 September).
The question of the allied armies’ commander-in-chief was resolved by the 3rd article of the treaty of Alliance, through which, at the same time that it gave said command to General Mitre, the treaty established reciprocity in the event that military operations took place mainly in Brazilian or Uruguayan territory. However, Ferraz sent the following confidential notice to the governor of Rio Grande on 5 July: “General Osório will always act as chief commander of the army fighting the Paraguayans on the shores of the Plata and the Uruguay. The commander of arms, or anything else, of the forces of that province, in his rank as chief of reserve forces” (it’s best to repeat this to avoid confusion) “will lend to said chief general however much he can lend and however much the general can request, and if need be both forces will operate jointly within the province, or outside of it, if it is invaded; but in this case General Mitre, in accordance with the treaty of the Triple Alliance, will assume command of all the allied forces; and if as consequence of that province’s invasion the allied armies enter your jurisdiction, again General Mitre will exercise command of them.” This notice, taking into account the italicized words, should be interpreted in the following way, according to Ferraz: General Mitre could only exercise command by virtue of the aforementioned 3rd article, outside of our territory; but, the imperial government would waive its right to command in the event that Mitre was carrying out within our borders, having crossed them in pursuit of the enemy, the execution of a strategic plan. It’s clear that the government expected reciprocity in the event that this happened in Argentine territory, according to that article.
Brazil’s generous conduct is quite self-evident. Per the treaty of Alliance, the head of the Brazilian army, Osório, should have found himself under Mitre’s orders, except in the case of war in our territory or in Uruguay. If Mitre had a plan to beat the Paraguayan army, like, for example, the plan that brought to an end the fighting at Yatay, then passing the direction of operations from one general to another, as operations took place on this side and that of the Uruguay, would equate to sacrificing the principal interest of defeating the enemy to the secondary interest of satisfying a formality.Read More »
The Emperor’s presence in Rio Grande do Sul during the invasion, and concurrent with the allied troops’ arrival, was an act of great consequences—not only for the strengthening of Monarchist sentiments, especially in Rio Grande, but also for the strengthening of the alliance. The letters from Ferraz to Nabuco, written during the voyage, are noteworthy documents. Nabuco was Ferraz’s closest friend in the ministry, perhaps the only one to whom Ferraz could freely vent, without fear of political mistrust or memories of old disagreements. He shows himself extremely protective of his authority, clothing himself with the regalia that his position as ministerial delegate requires. What things he would’ve done, and how he would’ve had to reign everyone in, had the Emperor not been there!
Reaching Santa Catarina (1) on 13 July, Ferraz writes to Nabuco, “The minister has disappeared. The Emperor intrudes in even the most minor details, and everything revolves around him. He has at his disposal even the employees of my office, he gives orders through De Lamare (2), and through any other means. He is stubborn, but then he changes his mind. It is impossible for me to bear. There is no money here for the troops. Let us hope that Dias de Carvalho (3) does something, or takes some measure. I beg that you tell our colleague Silveira Lobo to order the authorities and subordinates in Rio Grande to obey my orders, and only my orders, or those of the governor of the province …”
On 16 July the Emperor unexpectedly arrives in Rio Grande; on the 18th Ferraz writes from that city: “Today, or better said, within two hours (eight thirty), we march to Porto-Alegre. Everything is going well. Enthusiasm has surpassed what was expected. The Emperor is satisfied and is doing well for the moment. The enemy’s plan is to stir up the Blancos … We have to be prepared for everything and we don’t even have cannons … Rest assured that these people think highly of me and are satisfied.”
On 21 July he complains from Porto-Alegre (4) about the state of the palace, and about the manner in which they were received, and on the 22nd he says:
“They have put me in a jam. They wanted rich tack (5) of silver for the Emperor and the prince; they want for Cabral, Meirelles, and De Lamare also rich tack of three hundred to four hundred thousand réis (6) each, and all this at the Ministry of War’s expense. The demands are constant. They want horses for everyone, and even revolvers for the servants. The Emperor is fine, but he listens to these people despite the fact that he recognizes their (illegible). Caxias has comported himself discreetly and well. It’s been going around that he will be named chief general. Porto-Alegre’s appointment was done at the Emperor’s instruction, after hearing that Caxias and I were pleased with him, because this way everyone is content. Danger has silenced the partisan spirit to the point of seeming dead. ‘Good riddance,’ people tell me, ‘to arms and munitions. There is no money, our colleague who’s giving timely orders as fast as possible.’ The active troops are unpaid and unequipped.”Read More »
Meanwhile and almost simultaneously, in Rio de Janeiro, news of the naval battle at Riachuelo (1) and the invasion of Rio Grande do Sul was received. Moved by patriotic impulses, the Emperor resolved to go immediately to the front, not without some resistance from the ministry. This happy resolution, which played out so favorably, seemed to be supported by only one minister, Silveira Lobo, to whom, for this, the Emperor would show himself forever grateful (i).
Nabuco thought that the Emperor in the South would only raise the spirits of Rio Grande province, while in the capital he would inspire the entire country to war. To the emperor, as we will soon see, Nabuco did not betray his feelings. It was necessary to yield before the strict expression of the emperor’s will. With his departure, the issue of adjourning the Chambers remained won, because absent the sovereign, the ministry’s situation before the Chambers was difficult, and it even could have become a case of governmental paralysis, arising at the same time as the invasion of Brazilian territory.
Olinda writes to Nabuco on 4 July: “I receive now a letter from the Emperor, who tells me that to announce the journey to the Chambers and read them the adjournment decree, it is necessary that we be in São Cristóvão at nine in the morning, with the goal of taking precise measures. As such, Y.E., draft the speech to discuss it in today’s conference.”
Nabuco drew up the following draft: “I come to announce in the Senate that H.I.M. has resolved to depart immediately for Rio Grande do Sul, with the object of, with his presence, his prestige, and his example, invigorating the defense of that heroic province in case of foreign invasion. The Emperor feels—and he feels with enthusiasm—that such is his duty as perpetual defender of Brazil, and so firm is H.I.M.’s resolution that the ministry has ended up, by yielding to it, assuming the resulting responsibility. How to resist that desire of H.I.M. when every Brazilian vies for the glory of defending and saving their country, insulted and invaded by foreigners? How to leave him alone, when he should be surrounded by everyone? There is nothing to do but admire and show gratitude to this new proof of the Emperor’s refined patriotism; there is nothing to do but ask God Almighty to protect him and return him healthy and safe, and to add to the Emperor’s titles, with which he reigns over Brazilians, that of glory.”
The following letter accompanied the speech: “I am sending the draft of the speech. It doesn’t seem fit to me to announce the closure, but unwittingly we plant this issue in the Chambers, arousing grave difficulties for us. Tomorrow the decree, which we can present him when advisable, will be signed. Who knows if it will be necessary to do so tomorrow? Y.E. knows that the deliberative assemblies want to make themselves necessary, and be present in grave situations, but experience proves that in such situations they are a nuisance. The adjournment should not be debated. Besides, as the speech is only one, Y.E. should deliver it first in the Senate and then in the Chamber—I find it inelegant that Y.E. and I should say and repeat the same words. See you tonight.”
The joint legislative bodies remained closed from 8 July until 4 March of the following year. A law of the same date sets out how best to handle public business, powers of the ministry, and reciprocal succession of the ministers in absence of the head of State, and on 10 July the Emperor embarks for Rio Grande. With him goes Ferraz, Minister of War, and his accompaniment features the Duke Augusto de Sajonia, son-in-law of H.M., and the Marquis of Caxias, his aide-de-camp.
i. It is known that, to the objections made by the Council, the emperor responded: “If I am stopped from going as emperor, no one can stop me from abdicating and marching as a voluntario da patria.” Baron of Rio Branco, notes to Schneider, I, 218.
1. A major naval battle near the city of Corrientes, on the Paraná river. Brazil won a decisive victory, and effectively secured the Río de la Plata river system up to Humaitá, cutting off the Paraguayan forces that were still in Rio Grande do Sul from any supplies or reinforcements.
Furtado, resentful of Saraiva, reluctantly supports the ministry and gets his friends to contain themselves. “I will give the government,” he says in the Senate, of which he was then a member, in July, “the means of sustaining the foreign war in which the empire finds itself endeavored, and my support, until events come to disavow the words of your excellencies … While events are forthcoming, I will keep a look out to see if the political swallows migrate (1). I have nowhere to which to migrate.”
The rift, the separation between Liberals and Conservatives that they’d sealed in 1862, was evident. The Liberals were getting along better with the pure Conservatives (2), with which they united against the Olinda government, than they did with their allies of yesterday. The more this breakdown of the party affected Nabuco, the further he found himself from wanting to contribute to it; nor did it suit him to aid the opposition in eliminating the Conservative element from the party, of which element he himself was a part.
Considering both halves separately, he still preferred that which represented the doctrine of Paraná, Conciliation, which represented the earliest Liberal tradition; recognizing, however, the insufficiency of that element as a third party, he preferred the government of the Conservatives, who formed an essential party. With the fusion of Liberals and moderates to form the other party not being possible, the Conservative party should have governed, the Conservative party which, since Itaboraí surrendered power to Paraná in 1853, had not returned to power except with the reconstructed Abaeté ministry in 1859, and with the Caxias-Paranhos ministry, also reconstructed, and which even in these two cases of purification had lacked Conservative leaders.
The truth is that the Nabuco’s spirit was objective and practical enough to let itself be dominated, especially during grand crises, by traditions without tangibility, by divisions without distinction, by sides with names that had only personal scope, and by relationships that were purely negative. He considered administration to be a practical thing, that required skill, preparation, the height of vision, and a sense of responsibility; for him there was not but one mode of administration, as in the navigation of waters there is not but one course to follow. Ferraz being at the head of the war chest seemed well to Nabuco, as Ferraz was an energetic, expeditious man, with his own resources and audacious initiatives; Nabuco did not have to enter into inquiries about if in 1860 he had fought with all his might in favor of the Conservative party; he accepted Ferraz’s word of honor of not being already joined with that group, without putting forth clear motives or intentions, nor entering into the examination of the past.
The Chamber’s adjournment freed the government from political minutiae; the recess would be long and would provide time for work. Nabuco would make an effort, would work tirelessly all through this period (almost a year) and then when the Chamber reconvened, if political passions showed themselves to be unyielding, rather than ingratiating himself with one of the sides, he would abandon power. Instead of volunteering to destroy the edifice he had raised, he would leave the work of demolishing it to the architects of ruins, precisely because he was sure that the common enemy would not delay in making a sudden invasion into the house divided, interrupting the work of the internal collapse.Read More »
The speech Nabuco gave in the Chamber on 26 May 1865 was, for that divided assembly, like a shining ray of patriotic eloquence. In the middle of the partisan disagreements, which only tended to worsen and become more irreconcilable, no one expected that appeal to harmony, that invitation to a political armistice in the name of the invaded country. In that moment, his speech had everyone’s assent. Nabuco’s presence beside Olinda was in itself only an agenda of political truces, since one could not forget the sacrifice that he made—his little fondness for power, and his neutrality in personal rivalries. A year later historians will come to do justice to Nabuco’s intentions to save the government and avoid internal struggle. From the first day, his attitude was such that, upon the ministry’s fall, he would continue to be the organizer preferred by the political spirits of the majority and the minority. The session had been very busy. “I have seen you shine today in the Chamber of Deputies,” the humorist Abaeté writes to him, “and I would have envied you if the feeling of friendship did not prevail over that of envy. There is nothing like being minister of the King!”
The speech was short, as fit an appeal to national sentiment, but, precisely because of this, it was vibrant. After having explained the reasons he had for not wanting to take on the task of forming a cabinet, he declares the reasons that moved him to accept his role as justice:
“My noble friend senhor Minister of the Navy has already explained the reason for my entry into the current ministry. It was a sacrifice that patriotism imposed on us all. You know the circumstances in which the country found itself: the crisis was becoming prolonged; public anxiety instantly increased; each day wasted harmed the great concern by which everyone was preoccupied, that is to say, the dream of returning our national honor and dignity. There does not exist any contradiction in my behavior, given the circumstances that suddenly arose, and besides, there is a great difference between organizing such a cabinet—being its brain—and forming a part of it. What’s more, this ministry’s agenda has been reduced to the war, not wanting to alter the political status quo. The noble deputy of Minas province (i), explaining the reasons that he has for not putting confidence in the current ministry, examined some of its members, attending only to the Liberal element, but upon doing so forgot the principle that serves as the basis of the current government. In effect, so that the noble deputy may deny the ministry his trust for such a reason, he should begin by proving that the Progressive Party, under whose government this Chamber was elected, is dissolved.”
Finally, he invoked with the solemnity of his convictions, words, and gestures, the irresistible motivation of the country’s defense, winning over the Chamber and making it forget its divisions:
“It is evident, senhores, that the same thinking that stopped me from accepting the charge to form a ministry, has brought me to enter into this one; that is, the desire to not alter the status quo during a war. Nothing is less timely than exciting political passions in these moments in which we need the concurrence of everyone to save the country, which has been invaded and bloodied by foreigners. This is not a good opportunity to divide the Chamber, making it powerless to do good and making the life of any ministry impossible.
“I believe, senhores, that with the government limited to this agenda of making war without altering the status quo of our political system, it can’t help but deserve the trust and support of this Chamber and of the whole country.
“I could say more, senhores, but I conclude by making these vows: God would not wish that the country, swayed by political passions, come to be powerless against the foreigners that have insulted our flag; God would not wish that history deplore the fluke of a young nation full of resources and life, but disgraced by its own failings … Let us take on the responsibility of the war and leave the settling of scores for after the victory.”Read More »
I know I said it last chapter, but this chapter you really will be completely lost without reading this supplemental post on politics of the Empire of Brazil.
The ministry reflected the situation of the party, but with respect to the hope of restoring unity to the party, the sacrifices that the ministers made were certainly in vain. Otaviano—representative of the Liberal Party in the organization, confidante and friend to Teófilo Ottoni, Furtado, and Sousa Franco—soon proved it, refusing the position offered him. The reason alleged by Otaviano was that he had been designated by Furtado, that is, by his own friends; and for an ambassador of his prestige, standing before the Progressive cabinets, the role of minister did not equate to the position of executor of the Triple Alliance, which he himself ended up signing, or the position of arbiter in the theater of war.
But the reasons he alleged did not leave doubt about the insurmountable division of the old allied parties. To Olinda, who had informed him of his appointment, he answers with the following, in a letter dated 29 May: “The names of political friends, friends at whose side I have been since I began to form part of one of the two parties, appeared in the previous potential cabinets. With such names suppressed in the last and definitive ministerial organization, I don’t consider seemly for me, nor useful for the ministry, my separation from those friends, becoming weakened and without moral force, alongside another citizen friend of mine—a personal friend worthy of my admiration for his talent, but with whom the nation has seen me fighting some in the press, on the debate platform, and in elections, when I appealed to the people who were convinced that he’d fulfilled a great debt.”
The friend alluded to is Ferraz (1), although few politicians have shown more willingness to forget old fights and personal offenses upon entering that cabinet than he. With his political self-sacrifice upon accepting this reliable post, exposing himself openly before the Chamber to the attacks of his adversaries from 1860, he seems to symbolize the sacrifices that partisan interests had to make for the sake of our forces’ victory in the South—sacrifices of which the most heroic was without a doubt that of Caxias (2), who, aged and ailing, went to suffer the fatigues of long campaigns in the marshes and under the sun of Paraguay.Read More »
This chapter and the next few deal heavily with the politics of the Empire of Brazil (should these chapters even be included in this book?), so I recommend reading this supplemental post first. Or you could just skip these chapters entirely. I think they’re neat, but they’re not directly related to the war.
The Furtado ministry fell in a secret ballot vote soon after Parliament reconvened, having not wanted to call for a roll-call vote. They did not want or need to know their enemies.
Firstly, the Emperor called on the Viscount of Abaeté, who for a long time had been a mere spectator of the partisan fighting, to form a government. Abaeté put forward Saraiva’s name. Saraiva, fruitlessly, attempted to form a ministry—Furtado’s friends did not forgive him for that Liberal government’s fall, to which he had contributed (1). In vain, he tried to come to an agreement with Teófilo Ottoni, typical of Saraiva. Giving up, he indicated the name of Nabuco, who was then summoned.
For the first time the Emperor looked to Nabuco, after there’d been five ministries formed with members of the “League” (2), of which party Nabuco had been, in everyone’s opinion, the creator—and the sovereign did not even arrive at him without first having tried two other options. One could believe that the direness of the situation forced the Emperor to turn to Nabuco at the last moment; a circumstance that contributed much to Nabuco, in turn, not accepting.
It was not that some overblown pride moved him: none of his colleagues in the Paraná ministry (3) had even reached this position; Paranhos (Viscount of Rio Branco) would only reach it in 1871; Wanderley (Baron of Cotegipe) in 1885; Pedreira (Viscount of Bom Retiro) had renounced politics. Eusebio de Quierós, who had governed in, made, or unmade every ministry since a certain time, had been called only once to San Cristobal. But Nabuco had created the ruling government, and was, of everyone, the most proper to lead it, because he brought, in a greater degree than any other, the spirit of benevolence, the impartiality necessary to maintain it, and a spirit that inspired great confidence, to—their respective leaders aside—each one of the parties. He had destroyed the Conservative oligarchy in the senate and made possible the new political environment. Of this environment, he was, intellectually, the oracle; politically he had a neutral title—moderator. Because of this, since 1862, every summons to São Cristóvão that was not made to him (although for each time there has been some provisional reason not to name Nabuco) seems to be a preterition (4) For this the belief that he was a persona non grata had been ingrained in political circles; a belief that also existed with respect to Paraná, Eusebio de Quierós, Cotegipe, both Paulino de Sousas, Teófilo Ottoni, and others.
The primary condition for the success of any ministry is the Emperor’s goodwill, and not because he can betray a president of his Council, but because only his discretion can be enough to destroy the minister’s necessary trust in his own stability. So, perfect accord between the two entities—the Emperor and the head of the cabinet—was essential for the government’s progress. The two times that Nabuco had served in the cabinet the Emperor gave him no reason to complain, nor even the third. The reasons that had moved the Emperor to put him off as an option seemed to him plausible, from a strictly parliamentary point of view, given the detachedness in which, without ceasing to guide the government, Nabuco had been placed, and which he himself proclaimed. He also knew the Emperor’s methods well enough to know that if Dom Pedro II had wanted to have him as prime minister, he would have gone looking for him in his exile, as with others he had done on such occasions, even with statesmen that had ostracized themselves. That lack, not of trust, but of desire, of affinity, which the Emperor had toward him, weighed more on Nabuco’s spirit, making him refuse the belated investment of power, than some sensitivity to being summoned only after other ministers.
But more than anything, the visible division of the Conservative Party dominated the Chamber. Nabuco, who had not taken part in Furtado’s fall, was better looked on by historians than Olinda (5), Zacarias, and Saraiva, while the Progressives considered him their most eminent leader. But to form a ministry it was absolutely essential to ingratiate himself with one group or another; in matters of people—which is what these matters come down to, not anything else—and matters of cabinet, for deputies and senators, it was necessary to support their faith in the balance of power, and at the first moment that this was neglected, the minister, whoever they were, had to be excised, which was perhaps feared by Nabuco more than anyone. He would faithfully explain his qualms before the Chamber, and the reasons for his renouncement.
Hearing this, the Emperor summoned the Marquis of Olinda, and Nabuco, as well as Saraiva, acceded to serve at Olinda’s command, proving that they were not motivated by any ambition for that highest position. The ministry was constituted in the following manner: President of the Council and Empire, Marquis of Olinda; Justice, Nabuco; Navy, Saraiva; War, Ferraz; Treasury, Días de Carvalho; Foreign Affairs, Otaviano; Agriculture, Paula e Sousa. Counting those who had been charged with organizing a cabinet and had not achieved it, the ministry brought under its wings four ex-presidents of the Council—Olinda, Ferraz, Nabuco, and Saraiva. Besides these, Otaviano would’ve entered among them, who found himself at the time in the Río de la Plata, and who could not accept. For such names was the ministry known by the denomination of thecabinet of eagles.Read More »
The first appeal to Brazilian patriotism, after López’s attack was known, had to be made by the Furtado Cabinet. The first recruitment of the Voluntarios da Pátria, decreed by the cabinet, produced a spontaneous national movement. The nature of our people being, in great part, recalcitrant toward military service, the battalions of volunteers, which the prolongation of the war necessitated, were recruited by allowing the recruits to choose between service in the rank and file and voluntary service, which would be temporary, with special advantages (i). This does not mean that the war with Paraguay would remain well regarded and popular until the end. There is always a great difference, in any country, between those that embrace the national cause with enthusiasm, and those who defend that cause on the battlefield. The merit of those that offer themselves to the war effort should be considered extraordinary; but the fact is that the campaigns of Paraguay were carried out with soldiers from the draft, and that the war would have been impossible to sustain in any other way given the scale it reached and the time it took. Our race, although we become militant as soon as we wear the uniform and grow accustomed to obedience, does not know to voluntarily exchange independence for discipline. However, that initial drive, which produced volunteer battalions, does not cease to be a prize of honor for Furtado, because it is impossible to deny that part of that drive should be attributed to the government’s popularity, and the expansive ableness of the Liberal element represented in the government.
Transferring power to his successors, in May, the Furtado Cabinet left to them the following inheritance: as far as liabilities, a war with Paraguay recently begun, Mato Grosso invaded and partially under control of the Paraguayans, and the expectation of an invasion of Rio Grande do Sul, towards which province Estigarribia’s corps was already marching. As far as assets, the war with Montevideo, which had looked all but declared, concluded despite itself, sooner than should have been expected, and turned into an alliance; the Triple Alliance signed in Buenos Aires, lacking only ratification; an army corps forming in Montevideo; on the Paraná the fleet that, later (11 June), would be victorious at Riachuelo; and, it can be said, in the shipyards, the better part of the ships that were destined to force the pass at Humaitá.
i. Tito Franco says, speaking about the Furtado Cabinet: “In very short time our little fleet numbered 33 steamers and 12 sailing ship, crewed by 609 officers and 3,627 soldiers. The cabinet began rapidly constructing two battleships in the shipyards of the capital, ordered the construction of others which would come later, bought transports and a great amount of arms and munitions. It joined the single voice of patriotism to an army, and through no other means than the decree to create corps of Voluntarios da Patria.”
“The number of citizens that have volunteered themselves to form battalions,” says the War Report, “can be calculated at 10,000. … Recruitment is suspended and recruiters are declared unfit in every province.” From December 1864 to 12 May 1865 (according to the Baron of Rio Branco in Schneider) 8,449 men went to Montevideo, and 1,898 to Rio Grande and Santa Catarina; total, with officers: 10,353. Compare with what Ferraz says later about the inheritance that the 12 May ministry received from its predecessor.
Brief note: This chapter deals with the Uruguayan War. In the final version of this book, I may end up switching the order of it, so that it occurs closer to chapter IV, V, and VI. Just a heads up. It threw me for a bit when I was first translating it.
The best argument that can be made of the events in Rio Grande is to confess that all our resources together were insufficient to face the enemy; that the enemy’s errors were even greater than ours; and that if we had been wise, perhaps the enemy could have been wise too, crushing us. What’s certain is that everything happened in the best way possible for us. The audacious plans based on the offensive against Estigarribia, when he found himself in Misiones, could have produced a disaster; the very defense of São Borja, could’ve resulted in the union of the three separate columns, and the aid of them by Robles’s army. The only military error worthy of attention that is observed in this improvised war is that of having begun it with forces inferior to the enemy. If the enemy had known to take advantage of the superiority it had in those first minutes, no one can calculate the consequences, or at least the political consequences, of the panic that would have been produced.
All the problems in this war were resolved for us in the most unexpected way. López had no enemy so fatal as his own acts, so poorly directed that they seemed embattled by a hidden power, which entertained itself by scuttling them. His attacks always surprised us, but they lost their effectiveness because of an excess of optimistic recklessness, because of an overly strong surety of being victorious, although the very sluggishness of our movements seems to have helped us, purposefully causing despair in a belligerent who was isolated from the outside world, as Paraguay continued to be, with the river blockaded. The need López felt to attack Rio Grande, a province that he knew to be defenseless thanks to his friends in Montevideo, Corrientes, and Uruguay, became an obsession in the manner of those other despotic whims, and that obsession determined the character of the war. A slave to his fixed idea, he let himself be dragged by it up to the point of invading Argentine territory when he already found himself at war with a nation many times stronger, numerically, than Paraguay, and of a different refinement, wealth, and diversity of resources. If he had proceeded in another way and instead of invading Argentine territory to reach Rio Grande he had left his army from Cerro León and Humaitá to cover his lagoons and jungles, attempting to awaken the suspicions of the Río de la Plata against Brazil’s so-called domineering tendencies, perhaps the Paraguayan War, with Argentine neutrality secretly maintained, would have been the Empire’s ruin.
From this comes the great responsibility taken on by the government that began the Uruguayan War—the cabinet of 15 January 1864 (1). They surely did not foresee Paraguay’s intervention, and when this came about in the form of mediation, it already would be ungraceful to back out. But that is precisely what politics is; the player must always calculate the possible moves of their opponent. In everything we undertake we fight the unexpected; the most foresighted player always wins the game. In 1864 there was in our political sphere a genuine movement in favor of the Uruguayan War, and the Zacarias Cabinet had to yield to that “national unanimity.” It is not a sufficient defense for the cabinet to claim that no one contributed to that unanimity more than the conservative leaders, above all Pimenta Bueno, but it would be valid before a court of chancery.
Given the risk that we ran, the war in 1864 was “a leap in the dark” that the government made with the most absolute unawareness of the complications of the fall. It is quite certain that the complaints and claims that the state of our border produced did not justify the declaration of war to Montevideo, requested by the messengers from the countryside; at least not while the Montevidean government had to fight an armed rebellion. It’s also true that the ministry of 15 January found in Saraiva a man that, through the sacrifice and nobility of his attitude, mended the toughness and wickedness that there could have been in our instructions, and gave the Blanco government an excellent opportunity to finish the civil war and ensure peace in all of the Río de la Plata; but that same government availed itself of such an opportunity to construct, with Urquiza’s resentment and López’s ambition, a system of forces capable of facing Brazil, once Buenos Aires’s superiority was destroyed. From that point arose an order of things full of dangers for us, in Montevideo, and fortune did not wish for the collision of the two coalitions in formation to remain deferred for a more unfavorable eventuality. In the exact moment in which a delay could have been attempted, which probably would come to facilitate, in the future, a combination of forces against Brazil, the ministry of 15 January falls.
On 31 August Furtado receives a situation that is impossible to modify, though he still wants to, because in place of Saraiva Tamandaré remains, the which considered diplomatic issues with the irritability of the mariner little disposed to measure the political consequences of his actions, so that his admiral’s honor and the brilliance of his flag remain intact before the foreign fleets, and also because in those decisive months of September and October Furtado himself found himself fighting with the great crisis of 1864 (2), which threatened to ruin the commerce of Rio de Janeiro. But the government only had one thought; any other person that would have occupied the seat of power in his place would have done the same; ignorance or calculation would give the same result. The Emperor, who was the permanent will of the country, didn’t think of backing out, but even if it had been proposed, events would not have permitted it. In one way or another López had to initiate the decisive match, and the adversary he chose was Brazil. Whatever the responsibility of the ministers that ran the risk of this war, for which the country did not find itself prepared, and which could have been disastrous, the campaign in itself can be considered (as much as it’s possible to calculate what would have happened if events took another course) as a true lightning rod of all the electricity that had been accumulating in the Río de la Plata.
1. That is, the Zacarias cabinet, lead by Zacarias de Góis e Vasconcelos.
2. This refers to a financial crisis, involving a few major banks in Rio de Janeiro, which had been struggling due to a recent decline in global coffee prices (coffee being an enormous industry in the region.)
Two facts explain that disorder— the first (temporary) our complete ignorance of López’s modus operandi; the second (of an essential and permanent character) was the weakness of the whole military system of the Empire.
Our oversight was general. All our civil servants suffered it, and it rested on the political prejudice, turned by the conservative school into a type of national dogma, that friendliness and alliance with Paraguay constituted Brazil’s principal interests in the Plata. That prejudice was so strong that without López’s attack Brazilian statesmen would have had difficulty in agreeing to move our army and fleet against Paraguay. It’s enough to read Paranhos’s circular manifesto from 26 January 1865, addressing the soon-to-be allied nations of the war which we saw ourselves forced to wage, to have an idea of how profoundly that imposed break-up of a friendship, which we cultivated with such care, affected our oldest political superstitions.
In light of subsequent events, this constant request for Paraguayan friendship appears an obvious error. Asunción fostered the secret purpose of dominating navigation on the Paraguay and its tributaries, and taking over Mato Grosso and Misiones, keeping them as a guarantee of their independence and peace. Brazil instructed the Paraguayan army and navy by means of Brazilian officials, like Porto-Carrero and Willagrán Cabrita, Soares Pinto and Caminada, constructing for them the trenches and batteries of Humaitá (1), and the whole system of its defenses; Brazil guided Paraguay through the hand of our diplomats and statesmen: Pimenta Bueno, Bellegarde, Paranhos. Brazil fulfilled no other role with Paraguay than that of the dupe. We armed it against the Empire and shaped the formidable resistance with which we were later to clash.
One of the hypotheses of that a priori diplomacy was that Humaitá’s fortifications would never serve against Brazil, but solely against the re-formation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. With all that, it didn’t much reckon on what really had importance, dealing with a government like that of López. It did not reckon on his lack of mental fixity; nor on the fears that could assail him; nor on how much was left to the influence of intrigues, flattery, and fear; nor on his lack of perception of national interest or of the strength of his large neighbors; nor on his suspicion of being cheated and seeing himself become an instrument of hidden aims; nor on his extraordinary conceitedness, or on the profound indifference that he must’ve shown to all the benefits of civilization when his time of need, his time of misery arrived; nor on the nomad background, indolent and fatalistic, of the old reduced Indian, a background quite visible behind all the authoritarian ostentations and the regal appearance of his power. Brazil’s best course of action would have been to impede, as much as possible, the fortification of the pass giving access to Mato Grosso, and, if not that, at least not lend itself to help construct a Sevastopol (2) on the river. What is certain is that the appearance of ignoring the military conditions and disturbing strength of Paraguay—the cause of such oversight—reached, without exception, from the Emperor to all the parties, governments, civil servants, diplomats, and military figures of that time.
This ignorance is one of the main factors of the war in 1864. The other is the disorganization of the military service in Brazil. Since the first reign, and above all since the debacle of the Cisplatine War, the old military state, that’s to say, what little of the spirit of the Count of Lippe (3) Brazil’s secession had left us with, was forever decaying, and except in Rio Grande do Sul, the military career ceased to inspire enthusiasm and produce the sense of having a calling.
Little by little the spirit of independence is insinuating itself into the officers, the spirit of individual initiative, of criticizing one’s superiors and the way they carry out discipline. Politics, instead of considering the army as a noli me tangere, respecting its proper character and attending to the most perfect preservation of each of its essential qualities, shows itself indifferent to military glory, and it contributes to the decay of all the elements that constitute a militia. In this way the old traditions of obedience disappear before a new spirit of criticism, individualism, which will come be preponderant after the war, thanks to the importance that independent or irregular elements manage to acquire during it (volunteers and National Guards, above all the Rio Grande National Guard), with relation to regular troops or line infantry. Upon the sudden occurrence of the English affair in 1862 (4) the country feels that it is completely disarmed, without army or navy; that it has done nothing but sleep in the peace of a military dream for twenty years (more than a generation), interrupted only by the struggle against Rosas. Then there’s a reaction; attention turns to the country’s defenses, but fixed so singularly on the state of our fortifications, mere simulacrums at the entry-points of Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, so incapable of fulfilling their jobs with the frigate Forte (5) and later with the Wachussett (6).
Politics, more potent than every other concern, deteriorated and rusted the springs of public service. The blame is not isolated to any one person; it belongs to everyone. There was patriotism, good will, and self-sacrifice; but there were also three irresistible things: the indolence born of the climate, of race, and of social habits; the patronage produced by bonhomie and natural benevolence, by the effects of debility, by the lack of resistance, by the fear of consequences, by the near impossibility of saying no, by hurt, by disillusionment; and the partisan spirit with its traditional organization, its secretive freemasonry, its absolute excommunications, imposing conformity on all of its fellow believers. The old Portuguese discipline was too heavy—tiring, like the old dress and old manners—for a society that only wanted rest, the freedom to stretch out and sleep.
From this abandonment, from this force of habit, it is only the privileged class—the political class, responsible for the good preservation of the administrative machine—who could benefit and allow the machine to grind to a halt and become a factory in refuge from its clientele, only they could benefit from the idle parasitism that grabs ahold of the machine, and so, equally, grabs ahold of magistrates or police, schools, colleges and faculties, arsenals, ships and barracks, cathedrals, seminaries and parishes, railways, post offices, town halls, provincial governments, secretaries of state, legislative chambers, electoral colleges—all suffer the same continuous deterioration, upon all sits the same neglect, that same intermittence of energy, that same inferiority of work.
The warrior spirit, the ambition for glory on the battlefield, the custom of obedience and self-sacrifice that forms discipline, the custom of command which the concept of hierarchical superiority gives, which entrusts the care of the troops to the chiefs and makes them compete with each other in the eagerness to have the best instructed and best disposed troop possible—all that, which forms the military environment of a country, was waning, tempering itself to the general tone of indifference that characterized public services, and which, vainly, was hurriedly attempted to be remedied at the last moment. Luckily our moral fiber was not dead; it had been relaxed but not corrupted. There was torpor and laziness, but there was also sensibility, heart, honor, patriotism, idealism—and thanks to the quasi-customary veneration which was still preserved for living examples of the old spirit, of the court of that other epoch, like Caxias, Porto-Alegre, Osorio, Tamandaré, Barroso, thanks to the national conscience admirably embodied by the Emperor, thanks to our economic resources, still intact, thanks to the order of the central motor not yet deteriorated by the mold that covered the surface of the machine, our country could, in a relatively short time, present to the nations of the Plata the greatest military apparatus that to this day has ever been seen in South America, an apparatus that, because of the great expanse of the theater of war, never was fully compiled where it could be contemplated altogether.
1. Humaitá, a Paraguayan fortress on a bend of the Paraguay River, was the single greatest obstacle the allies faced. From October 1866 to July 1868, the allies’ offensive operations all centered on surrounding, and then maintaining the siege of, Humaitá.
2. This is a reference to the Crimean port city, which became infamous when it resisted an enemy siege for 349 days (1854-1855) during the Crimean War. The comparison is apt because both Sevastopol and Humaitá were heavily fortified, both were under frequent, intense bombardment during their sieges, and both faced an allied assault (France, Britain, and the Ottoman Empire in the case of Sevastopol.)
3. An incredibly successful military leader, who reformed the Portuguese military and defended Portugal from the Franco-Spanish invasion during the Seven Years’ War. Despite being outnumbered three to one, Lippe successfully drove the invading forces back, and gained renown throughout the Portuguese Empire.
4. In 1862 the British consul in Rio de Janeiro presented the Brazilian government with an ultimatum, making absurd demands in response to a few incidents of Brazilians mistreating British sailors. Surprisingly, Brazil did not back down, and it instantly prepared for a naval war. The British consul backed down, though not before ordering British ships to capture Brazilian merchant vessels as indemnity. Brazil severed diplomatic ties with the empire in 1863, though the conflict did not escalate from there. More on this in Chapter XXV.
5. One of the British ships that captured Brazilian merchant vessels.
6. A warship of the Confederate States of America, captured by a Union ship while in Bahia Harbor, Brazil, violating Brazilian neutrality.
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 ), 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.
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.
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.
Mitre had been maintaining the most well-considered neutrality in the fight between Brazil and Montevideo, and he had no motive to intervene in the war with Paraguay. “We don’t know if at the end,” he writes to Sarmiento, in Lima at the time, on 10 December 1864, “we will be engulfed by that tempest that more than a year ago we were avoiding, despite the fact that I’m working with perseverance and willpower to prevent it; I don’t know if I will achieve this.” However his sympathies were not in doubt. Whatever the thinking was about the platine enemies of Brazil, civilization’s best interest lay in the destruction of the new power that, with an incalculable force and threatening character, supported by the complete servitude of its people, soon arose in the Alto Río de la Plata (1).
Lopez’s victory over Brazil would’ve been a disaster of greater consequence for Buenos Aires, or at least for the liberal order (in its infancy at the time), than it would for Brazil, which, sooner or later, would’ve ended up imposing its law over Asunción with its battleships. Perhaps neutrality was the Argentine Republic’s political duty; but because they also had a genuine interest in maintaining it, they had to be sure of the Empire’s ultimate victory; and even so it’s likely, in this case, that that interest lay in allying themselves with Brazil, for a new Battle of Caseros, against a tyranny worse than that of Rosas. The destruction of López could not have been a natural desire of the free nations of the Plata, before the use that that man decided to make of militarizing the Paraguayan people was known; but once known, all the countries bordering Paraguay were equally interested in tearing that terrible weapon from the tyrant’s hands. Mitre instinctively felt that the whole Río de La Plata would find itself invested in Brazil’s victory, which would be at the same time civilization’s victory.
After the invasion of Corrientes by Robles’s army, an attack that could already seem to be an act of dementia, there only remained for the Argentine Republic the choice between these two resolutions: To make war with Paraguay on their own, or to ally with Brazil. It is clear that they should prefer the second option; and in effect, the treaty of alliance is made official on May 1st, with the new government that, thanks to us, had triumphed in Montevideo being represented in it.Read More »
The Paraguayan War had such decisive importance in our destiny and in that of the whole Río de la Plata region that it can be considered a dividing line between two periods in our contemporary history. It signals the apogee of the Empire, but also within its origins are the principal causes of the decline and fall of that dynasty: The alluring force exerted by the Argentine Republic’s appearance and development, its military prestige, connected by the working-class spirit to exalted names, and united by the ties of camaraderie that war creates; Americanism; the very emancipation of slaves, an act that in many ways is tied to the war—thousands of Brazilians residing in foreign countries without slaves, constant insults from the enemies of the Brazilian alliance because of its practice of slavery, effective military inferiority for that reason, freedom conceded by the Count of Eu (1), husband of the heiress to the imperial throne, to the slaves of the defeated nation; and republican propaganda—partly of platine origin, a product of the influence of the institutions and the men of the Plata, during the campaign, over Quintino Bocayuba (2) and others, and political influence of the allied camp over our officials, principally those from Rio Grande.
This war’s history, whether military, diplomatic, or political, is yet to be written. It’s difficult to set out the military truth clearly because of the manifest bias of the war’s historians, each in favor of their respective countries. The diplomatic truth waivers not only under that same prejudice, but also under the secrecy of foreign offices, and the reservations of the characters controlling the conduct of the countries involved in the conflict. The political truth, that’s to say, the attitude, the motives, the culpability of the parties, in each one of the belligerent nations, is obscured by the sympathies felt by each writer. Writing a new version of this war does not enter into my purpose, nor would it be within my scope, nor could I even reconcile the three common versions: Brazil’s, Argentina’s, and Paraguay’s.
As far as the military angle, the criticism of any of these derivations comes down to affirming that it would have been better to do what was not done, that is, what was not tested on the touchstone of reality (3). Each time it will be more difficult to obtain the truth from such a critique, since, to arrive at truth, a kind of face-to-face confrontation, impossible today, would be necessary, between those that served as commanders of the opposite camps. It is certain that criticisms of this type lack force, because upon proving that this or that should have been done, instead of what was done, it would remain to be proven whether or not knowing what should havehappened was only possible by virtue of knowing what did happen; and what’s more, it would remain to be proven that every military operation would have been more fortuitous if the campaign had been taken in a different direction. The Paraguayan War will always be an unsolvable problem, because its critics, fundamentally, will always make mistakes, the historian lacking the knowledge of the conditions and circumstances of the moment.
Above the criticism of all those military operations rises the truth contained in the words of the Duke of Caxias, in the Senate, more than once quoted: “Nothing easier, after events have occurred, after the enemy’s territory, forces, and tactics have been familiarized, than criticizing from afar—with total calm and sangfroid, with the official reports available—the management of the campaign, and indicating the most advantageous plans. But it doesn’t happen the same to the person who finds themselves in the theatre of war, walking in the shadows of an entirely unfamiliar country, bristling with natural obstacles. It’s essential that the senators recognize that the Paraguayan War was done blindly, by feeling our way through. There were not maps of the country to serve as a guide, nor reliable pilots. The only terrain that was known was what we stepped foot on. It was necessary to do reconnaissance and scouting missions in order to take a step.”Read More »