The War of Paraguay: Chapter VI, López’s Intervention. — End of the Uruguayan War. — Invasion of the Argentine Republic by the Paraguayans.

By fortune, no darkness shrouds the origins of the Paraguayan War. In June, with López’s aid solicited by the Blanco government after Saraiva’s mission arrived in Montevideo, López offers his mediation to the imperial government; in August and September he protests Brazil’s threat of reprisals and the aid Tamandaré lent to Flores’s invasion. Seeing his mediation rejected, his protest scorned, in November he captures the steamer Marqués de Olinda, which was bringing to Mato Grosso the new governor, Carneiro de Campos, charged with organizing the defense of that western Brazilian province against any sudden attack from Paraguay. One month after the attack on the Marqués de Olinda, López invades Mato Grosso, his troops having the same orders to pillage and destroy, the same objectives of plundering and raping with which we later saw them cross into Uruguay. It was not a civilized war, this war which caught us by surprise. It was like an invasion of barbarians, a horde of Huns suddenly launched into our defenseless populations.

The Marqués de Olinda lost, Carneiro de Campos imprisoned, and Mato Grosso invaded, we had to force the pass at Humaitá and go on until Asunción. By our luck, a great obstacle was going to disappear from our way. Through the agreement of 20 February (1865), Montevideo was surrendered to Flores, and since that day, not only did we not have to sustain two wars, but we also could count on the Eastern State as an ally instead of an enemy.

Nothing is more likely to be true than the theory that attributes the abrupt resignation of Paranhos (Viscount of Rio Branco) to the emperor, because of that pact: however it is impossible to imagine that the emperor could have asked him to do anything else. And what could be expected to come from the forcible taking of a trading city, in great part foreign, European, such as Montevideo, even supposing that it could not defend itself? Or what could be expected to come from the city’s bombardment, the unavoidable preliminary action of such an assault?

The total deadlock in resolving the war with Montevideo, after the attitude taken by López, had been a catastrophe, and if the delay did not make an impression on our government, it’s because no one expected what happened: the invasion of Rio Grande do Sul, after that of Montevideo. In Flores’s complete victory, López sees the hand of the Argentine government, an accomplice to the invasion according to the Blancos, and he suddenly turns against Buenos Aires with the same violence with which before he turned against Brazil, repeating on 13 April what he did in the waters of the Paraguay with the Marqués de Olinda, only now with canister shot and soldiers boarding the other ships, by which method the Gualeguay and the 25 de Mayo were taken over, two small Argentinian warships that were caught unawares in the port of Corrientes. The following day General Robles (1) occupies the city and invades Argentinian territory, if not for which Paraguay could have claimed some pretext for their actions.

Translator’s Notes

1. Wenceslao Robles, a Paraguayan general.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter V pt. 2, Saraiva’s Mission. — The Uruguayan War

One cannot deny that this was an intervention into eastern politics, but it was a disinterested intervention, according to the interests of the Republic and the desires manifested by it in the past; but not even this offered support was enough to become an effective intervention, remaining on offer to any government that would assume the responsibility of accepting the intervention to pull together the parties and reorganize the country. And this was not the case only with Brazil’s support—the impartial candor with which it was offered elicited support from the Argentine Republic and commanded the respect of Great Britain, engaged in the mediation. What Saraiva really wanted was to infuse Aguirre with validity. “I am, however, convinced,” he told the imperial government, “that if the president reforms the ministry he will not request nor need to request a single soldier from Brazil. The Eastern State needs order, and its inhabitants yearn to see it reestablished by a government of men who are sincere, active, and upright. A new administration with these characteristics and with the moral support of the other powers will have sufficient strength to establish order and impede revolts.”

Atanasio Aguirre ca. 1861

That negotiation was aborted. Aguirre promised to constitute a new ministry, but with elements still more factional, and with Leandro Gómez (14) figuring in it. The mediators put forth the names of Castellanos, Villalba, Andrés Lamas, Martínez, Herrera, and Obes. Given the impossibility of coming to an understanding, the representatives of the three nations brought the mediation to an end on 7 July.

Saraiva went to confer with Mitre in Buenos Aires. In that Republic the dominant political attitude was hostile to the Blanco party; all sympathy was with Flores, and because of that Brazil’s intervention, at a time in which it was equivalent to insuring victory for the revolution, was considered by the Argentine government to be an act of providence, an unexpected gift of fortune. Saraiva and Mitre got along from then on, and from this perfect accord resulted the new Brazilian doctrine in the Plata, which from 1864 to today governs the relations between Brazil and the Argentine Republic. For that reason, perhaps by having known Mitre’s government’s intentions, and having penetrated their desires with regards to Montevideo, Saraiva is still more convinced that peace is the most agreeable policy for Brazil, and from Buenos Aires he even tries to attract Aguirre to his ideas, meeting up with his confidential agent Reguera.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter V pt. 1, Saraiva’s Mission

Note: This is a really long chapter, so I’m splitting it into two parts. This won’t be a regular thing though—I think there’s only one other chapter, maybe two, long enough that I’ll want to split them up. Also, see this post for background info.

When the old brigadier Netto (1) came to Rio de Janeiro, at the beginning of 1864, to excite our government against Uruguay’s, presenting, as the new leader of the eastern campaign, a portrait of the long-standing abuses committed against Brazilians, it produced a fury of opinion, and from this violent impulse was born Saraiva’s mission. We had suffered the humiliation of English retaliation at the Rio de Janeiro bay entrance, and the ideology of democracy, with Teófilo Ottoni (2) at the head, showed itself to be of as bellicose a humor as the emperor himself was said to be. Given these circumstances, Netto’s presence inflamed spirits predisposed to acts of imprudence and senselessness. The conservative party took the initiative to make interpellations in the Chamber of Deputies about the state of the campaign.

From this so-called patriotic attitude of the opposition and the majority, in the session of 5 April what resulted was war, unless the Blanco government would completely yield to the demands and grievances of the Brazilians enlisted under Flores’s flag. Today it would not be possible to investigate whether or not our complaints were founded. The Brazilians residing in Uruguay (3) should have suffered the fate of the easterners themselves, or abstained from any interference with those factions which always devastated the countryside. Neither should the Brazilian government have forgotten the chronic anarchy of the Republic. Order, peace, and calm in the Eastern State were only possible if Brazil and Argentina united for many years to uphold the healthy elements of that country; but since Brazil and Argentina could not do so and did not want to do so, they lost the right to demand responsibility in the eastern government, whatever it was, because of acts that almost always resulted from the state of disorder in the border regions. It is unnecessary to examine the claims and complaints one by one to be sure that the ministry of 15 January 1864 made a mistake in yielding to their first impulse and allowing themselves to be commanded by the clamor of Flores’s supporters, who demanded immediate intervention in Montevideo.

José Antônio Saraiva, Brazilian Foreign Relations Minister 1865-1866.

If our country had the luck to not be immediately engaged in a war with this Republic, it owes it only to the circumstances of having conferred to Saraiva the role of inspector. Succeeding events have proved that if others had found themselves in his position, the mission would have begun with the occupation of Uruguayan territory, followed by the bombardment of Montevideo, and a war against the entire Río de la Plata.

Saraiva arrives in Montevideo on 6 May 1864. His instructions are to address to the eastern government “our last friendly intimation,” concluding by demanding, with regard to the crimes and abuses against the lives and property of Brazilians, “1st That the government of the Republic put into effect the necessary punishments, if not for all the criminals, then at least those that, being recognized as such, go unpunished, and even occupy some posts in the eastern government or work in state offices. 2nd That the police officers that have abused the authority they exercise be immediately dismissed, and held accountable. 3rd That those Brazilians that have been dispossessed of their property by military or civil authorities of the Republic be compensated justly. 4th Finally, that the Brazilians forced to take up arms in service of the Republic be completely released.”Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter IV, Antecedents to the Uruguayan Issue

This chapter and the next focus on Uruguay, and the civil unrest there from 1850-1865, so I recommend you first read this supplemental post about the Uruguayan War if you haven’t already. Also, a more general note, though I’ve decided to include some translations of footnotes from the original text, in places where I would have to add my own translator’s note otherwise. Why write a translator’s note when I can just translate a note that Nabuco wrote for me? “Footnotes” are Nabuco’s, “Translator’s Notes” are mine.

Since the war against Rosas the Argentine dictator (1), when we prevented Montevideo from falling under Oribe’s control (2), the matter of the Eastern State of Uruguay was the most important and dangerous foreign policy problem. We had no ambitions on its annexation, nor did we want to mix ourselves up in its internal affairs, our sole purpose being to have a peaceful and secure border, for which the complete independence of that state was an essential condition. “The foreign policy,” writes the Baron of Rio Branco, a supporter of this thinking, “created by the conservative party and principally by Paulino de Souza, Viscount of Uruguay, consisted then, as it still does today [1875], of maintaining the independence of the two states threatened by Argentinian ambitions: Paraguay and Uruguay.”

The years have greatly modified the Argentine Republic’s aspirations, as measured by that primitive platine sentiment becoming different on both sides of the Río de la Plata; but it can be said that not even today is the old hope of re-forming the former viceroyalty (3)—if not in its entirety, then at least in the Plata basin—completely dead for Argentine patriots. Many sons of Buenos Aires still dream of the United States of South America, sons on whom the tradition of the past and a common literature still weigh heavy, with the same force as they did on the mid-century generation, contemporary to the siege of Montevideo. Back then, however, this sentiment was more alive and more broadly asserted.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter III, The Abolition of Privateering

Note: This chapter is hardly relevant to the Paraguayan War, but it’s incredibly short, so why not translate it? It’s so short in fact, I also translated the footnote included with it. I don’t normally include translated footnotes in this online version of the book, but I figured I’d do so for some of the shorter chapters that would be just a few paragraphs without them. Maybe you can get an idea of what the footnotes-and-all version of the book is like from this. To be clear: The “Footnotes” are from Nabuco, the original author. “Translator’s Notes” are my own.

In the time of the Paraná ministry Brazil adhered to the four principles of maritime law proclaimed in the Congress of Paris of 1856 (1)—namely, abolition of privateering; inviolability of enemy merchandise under a neutral flag, except contraband of war; inviolability of neutral merchandise even under an enemy flag; and requirement that a blockade be effective to be respected (2).

1856 Épinal print of European sovereigns at the Treaty of Paris.

Brazil’s adherence was harshly derided as entailing the abandonment of the only resource at our disposal in case of a war with any naval power, but it is true that the principles sanctioned in the Congress of Paris mainly benefited weak nations without armadas. That same behavior of the United States was only a diplomatic strategy to obtain what they wanted: complete immunity of private property on the sea (3) (i).

The foreign policy of the ministry also touches on the issue, or better said, as we will see further on, the various issues of the trafficking of Africans, a constant motive for the English legation for interference. (5)


i. In the congressional session of 1857 (15 June) Paranhos defended his ministry’s act in this manner: “The United States did not adhere to the new maxims approved by the Congress of Paris, because they wanted to take the principle of inviolability of non-offensive property to its logical conclusion, and (in the same way that privateering was abolished) for the safety of property belonging to one of the belligerents to stay guaranteed against enemy ships at sea. The United States did not maintain that privateering was a strategy to which one could resort in the current state of civilization, nor did they deny that it could seem a kind of organized and legal piracy … According to the signatory powers of the Paris Declaration, the four principles should be considered inseparable. A partial adherence is unacceptable; one must accept all or none; the power that doesn’t accept this accord will remain excepted from its application. (Doctor Nabuco: “Seconded.”) So that if we had not accepted it, in case of a war in which any of the powers that signed the treaty of 30 March 1856, or any of those that later adopted those same principles, took part, Brazilian merchandise would be easy prey under an enemy flag, and enemy merchandise would not be protected by the Brazilian flag. Now, should we sacrifice peacetime advantages to an expedient in war? Would this be an agreeable policy for the Empire, which in all its foreign relations, as a rule, practices justice and moderation? (Senhor Jacintho de Mendonça: “And it doesn’t even have any standing as a convenience to the Empire. The history of the war in the South could tell you that.” (4) Senhor J. Otaviano: “Seconded.”)
“Would such conduct suit the Empire that has a navy still very reduced and whose exports are made almost totally through foreign ships? I believe not … Senhores, steamships have reduced the services that privateers can lend down to a very little thing, and the nations that have a great maritime force also have a large merchant marine; if they wish to take advantage of that resource, they will surely surpass those nations of lesser naval power.”

Translator’s Notes

1. A post-Crimean-War meeting of European powers.
2. Here’s the full text of the provisions, courtesy of the International Committee of the Red Cross: “1. Privateering is, and remains, abolished; 2. The neutral flag covers enemy’s goods, with the exception of contraband of war; 3. Neutral goods, with the exception of contraband of war, are not liable to capture under enemy’s flag; 4. Blockades, in order to be binding, must be effective, that is to say, maintained by a force sufficient really to prevent access to the coast of the enemy.”
3. The US wanted all non-military merchandise to be protected during wartime, even enemy goods under an enemy flag, and they proposed this as a provision at the Congress of Paris. The provision was rejected, so the US did not formally adhere to the declaration, because it did not go far enough.
4. “War in the South” likely refers to the Cisplatine War, a war Brazil fought against Argentina and the nascent state of Uruguay. During this conflict, Argentinian privateers wreaked havoc on Brazilian merchant ships.
5. We will not see this later on. Nabuco here refers to the next section of Um Estadista do Imperio, titled “Trafficking and Slavery,” which was not included in the excerpt La Guerra del Paraguay, because it has nothing to do with the war. There will be later discussion of slavery in this book, as it relates to the Paraguayan War, but not about its relation to trafficking or the Paraná ministry.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter II, Montevideo

Note: This chapter deals with an incident which occurred in the aftermath of the Uruguayan Civil War, which I just wrote a whole supplementary post about. I recommend reading it before reading this chapter, if you have not already.

The situation in the Eastern State at the end of 1853 also appeared full of difficulties. In February 1854 the Uruguayan government requested the Empire’s intervention, invoking the 12 October 1851 treaty of alliance (1). Not without much hesitation, our government decided to send to Montevideo a division under the command of General Francisco Félix. No unpleasant event, fortunately, resulted from the presence of that Brazilian force in our neighbor’s capital; but in August 1855 the republic again entered a period of crisis, seeing the president, General Flores, forced to abandon the capital, where immediately a de facto government was formed (2). In this way, the danger of a civil war arose, in which we could see ourselves entangled, along with the Argentine Republic and Buenos Aires. Through all the time of the Paraná ministry the Argentine Republic was divided into two governments: that of the Confederation, whose capital was Paraná, under the presidency of Urquiza, which the thirteen provinces obeyed; and that of Buenos Aires, reduced to the province of Buenos Aires.

Brazil did what was most prudent, given the circumstances: Limpo de Abreu, who shortly before had left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was sent to the Plata on a special mission. But before arriving at his destination, the rift—the cause of his departure—was fixed, General Flores having resigned from the presidency, and having been replaced by Bustamente, president of the senate, in accordance with the Constitution.

To this episode Nabuco (3) refers in the following congratulatory message to his colleague from Foreign Affairs: “Y.E., deign to accept my congratulations for the agreeable solution that before your arrival had had the political contention that caused your appointment. Fortune not only accompanies you, but it precedes Y.E.’s steps.”

The following paragraph from an intimate letter to Boa-Vista proves completely the sincerity of the Empire’s politics and the selfless thoughts that animated it. “The policy that we pursued in the Eastern State was not one of balance, but rather one of observation. It was fit, senhor barón, to judge whether the casus fæderis, or cause to comply with our obligation to lend aid to the legitimate government, had arrived; it was fit to know from which part the beginnings of stability would be; it was fit that we would not, beguiled by sympathy, identify ourselves with a foreign party, going along with it—to the detriment of Brazilian relations—in its fortune and adversity, or imposing its will upon the Republic; it was fit to not have the ambitions of the Blancos nor those of the Colorados, a rivalry that was born and appeared after the victory (4); it was fit that Brazil’s intervention was not seen as an imposition, as complicity in the revolutionary movement, as partiality in favor of the Colorados, but rather as a necessity, a desire of all, Blancos and Colorados, as a principle of security for Brazil itself and for the Eastern State. Time, and only time, will show the true character of Brazil’s conduct. Time already vindicates us, and you vindicate us when you say: ‘It is essential that Brazil not be at the mercy of the ambitious of Uruguay.’”

Translator’s Notes

1. Refers to the treaty ending the Uruguayan Civil War, which granted Brazil the right to intervene in future conflicts in the country. In 1854, there was conflict brewing within the Colorado party.
2. This refers to the Rebelión de los Conservadores, a revolt against the Colorado president Venancio Flores by dissidents within his own party.
3. That is, José Tomás Nabuco Jr., the father of Joaquim Nabuco, and a Brazilian politician.
4. The two major political parties that emerged from the Uruguayan Civil War.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter the First, Pedro Ferreira’s Mission

Map of the Río de la Plata region, from George Thompson’s 1869 book The War in Paraguay

A delicate task in the Río de la Plata was fitted to the Paraná ministry (1), the task of guaranteeing the results of the Battle of Caseros (2), and of the ministry of 29 September’s policies (3). Of Uruguay, whose independence we had contributed to saving, of the Argentine Confederation, and of Buenos Aires, whom we had helped liberate from an overwhelming tyranny, we only wanted to be good and loyal neighbors (4); but it was no easy matter, to live in peace with any of them, since the so-called balance of the Plata threatened at every moment to unite them all against us. Peace could only be the fruit of a continuous vigilance and a consummate prudence. And even so, it was in an instant threatened.

López I (5) had given the Brazilian minister Leal his cards (6), accusing him in a note of “being dedicated to scheming and imposture in contempt of the Supreme Government of the State,” and of raising atrocious calumnies against him. With this note arose an issue from which war between both countries could come, and if events had proceeded in another way it is certain that war would have developed.

In demand of reparations for the offense done by the president of Paraguay to the Brazilian minister, the government of Brazil sent to Asunción (7) a fleet lead by Commander Pedro Ferreira, who was made plenipotentiary. At the Paraguayan government’s command, the fleet stopped at the mouth of the Paraguay River (8), Ferreira advancing on the steamer Amazonas, which ran aground before arriving at Asunción. Then began a singular correspondence between the Brazilian envoy and the Paraguayan government, which wound up with Fereira agreeing to board smaller steamers to escape the Amazonas. Such bad beginnings seemed to herald the failure of the mission.

Commander Ferreira’s behavior was quite criticized then, but it seems likely that abstaining from forcing the Paraguay River, at López’s order, was the most prudent and discrete resolution that he could adopt. “Our negotiator and admiral’s instructions,” wrote Paranhos (9) shortly after, “authorized him, in certain cases, to proceed in an energetic and military manner. If this wasn’t so, he would not have shown such determination to justify, with so much deliberation, the conduct that he observed from Tres Bocas … Denied the reparations, and with it the passage of his ships to Mato Grosso, not only was he authorized to force the way, he had orders to do it, and to send two or three of the ships that comprised his expedition to the Brazilian waters of alto Paraguay, and, in this way, await new orders from the imperial government.”

The steamship Amazonas, circa 1880

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The War of Paraguay: Foreword

EDIT: A previous version of this post described the Paraguayan War as the deadliest war in Latin American history. That is not the case, as the Mexican revolution almost certainly claimed more lives. The Paraguayan War is, however, the deadliest inter-state war in Latin American history—in the history, in fact, of the entire western hemisphere.

Watercolor by José Ignacio Garmendia, depicting Paraguayan soldiers ambushed while pillaging the allied camp’s commissary in the Second Battle of Tuyutí

I’m very excited to write that tomorrow, I will post the first chapter of The War of Paraguay. Before I do, I want to establish what exactly this thing is, what you should know before reading it, why I think its cool, and what my ultimate plans with it are. But before any of that,

Francis, what’s up with the title?

The title is a near literal translation of the Spanish, La guerra del Paraguay. It should be translated as The Paraguayan War, because that’s the English name for the war—and that’s how I translate it whenever it appears in the text. But for the title, I’m using The War of Paraguay because there is already a book titled The Paraguayan War, and there could well be more books with that title. I don’t think its that important since the title isn’t even the original author’s invention, as I’ll explain right now:

What is this book?

This book is an excerpt from Joaquim Nabuco’s Um estadista do Imperio (A Statesman of the Empire), which is a massive work chronicling the political scene in the Empire of Brazil, from 1813 to 1878 (pretty much the whole life of the Empire), with a special focus on Nabuco’s father, the eponymous estadista, José Nabuco. This excerpt is not a contiguous section of the book—it is pieced together from a few different “books” within Um estadista, which together describe the political, diplomatic, and military events surrounding the Paraguayan War. Each of these books contains multiple chapters, and nothing has been cut from them in the excerpting process, aside from a few footnotes. So each chapter, each book of chapters, is whole, although some of the books have gaps in between them, where Nabuco’s original work had more chapters on matters unrelated to the war.Read More »