War of the Triple Alliance Paraguay: War is hell, but few wars were as horrible as the Paraguayan War, otherwise known as the War of the Triple Alliance.
During this conflict the recently independent Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay fought against Paraguay in the marshy, wet, and rough subtropical lowland surrounding the Paraguay and Parana rivers and the war culminated at the battle of Tuyuti, which historians often call the Latin American Waterloo.
As the Spanish lost control of their colonial possessions, from the ashes of their old Viceroyalty of the Rio De La Plata the nations we now know as Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay slowly formed.
However, they were unsure of where their borders were. Paraguay declared itself an independent republic in 1813 but soon found itself under the control of dictatorial strongmen.
Triple Alliance Paraguay – Francisco Solano López
In 1862 Francisco Solano López succeeded his father as the dictator of Paraguay. While Paraguay was prosperous and stable under absolute rule of Lopez, who commanded one of the largest and most loyal armies in the region, its neighbours seemed to be in a state of flux and uncertainty.
Argentina suffered constant civil conflict as those in Buenos Aires tried to exert control over the rest of the country.
Brazil, which had declared itself an independent Empire in 1822 under the emperor Pedro I, instantly became the continental superpower and immediately clashed with Argentina, the other power in the region.
Uruguay, then known as the Banda Oriental, was the smallest of the newly independent nations and had to fight for its independence until 1828.
The capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, due to its strategic location on the mouth of the Rio De La Plata, nearly directly across from Buenos Aires, posed a unique threat to Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, and all three were not eager to see it controlled by their rival.
So, ever since its independence, Uruguay had been in a state of constant war.
First against Argentina and Brazil and then between the two major political parties that arose in the country: the Colorados and the Blancos. In 1863 the leader of the Colorado Party, Venancio Flores rebelled against the then President Bernardo Berro and his Blanco Party.
In that small civil conflict between two political parties, in the smallest nation in the region, the greatest war in South American history was sparked. Flores was supported by both Brazil and Argentina, and Lopez saw that as a threat: Paraguay, as a much smaller nation wedged between these two great powers, could only really hope to survive by playing them off against each other.
War of the Triple Alliance Paraguay documentary
Brazil declared war on Uruguay on the 12th of October 1864. Paraguay immediately began to mobilize its army and declared that it would protect the ruling Blanco party in Uruguay. In November of 1864 the Paraguayan gunship Tacuari seized the Brazilian ship Marquis de Olinda, and hostilities between the nations commenced. In late December 1864, Lopez launched his invasion of the Brazilian province of Mato Grosso.
The Paraguayans won a few battles and by mid-January 1865 the southern part of Mato Grosso was under their control. However, Lopez was aware that he needed to get to Uruguay to assist the Blancos and in order to do this his troops would need to cross the Argentine province of Corrientes.
In January of 1865 both Paraguay and Brazil asked Argentina for permission for their armies to move across Corrientes.
Argentine President Mitre, declined both. Lopez ignored that and sent 20,000 men under General Venceslao Robles into Corrientes.
Paraguay declared war on Argentina in March 1865. By April the Paraguayans had taken the province’s capital, the city of Corrientes and captured most of Argentina’s warships.
This proved worthless, however, as in February Colorado and Brazilian troops entered Montevideo and forced the Blanco into exile. Uruguay had now swapped sides in the war.
In May Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay signed the Treaty of the Triple Alliance and the War of the Triple Alliance commenced. The Allies began to slowly mobilize and eventually pushed the Paraguayans back.
After defeats at Riachuelo and Yatay, Lopez ordered a complete withdrawal from Argentina to focus on defense. By early 1866 the Allied army consisted of around 35,000 men.
They were slowly encroaching into Paraguayan territory and the small-scale raids that Lopez was sending at them had done little to stop their march.
War of the Triple Alliance Paraguay – The Allies
The Allies were suffering massive casualties from disease and starvation due to difficulties maintaining supply lines.
In the swampy, thorny, and mosquito ridden swath of land known as Tuyuti the allies set up camp. Lopez and his 27,000 strong army moved towards this camp.
He had decided that he wanted to take the initiative, however, by doing this, he was ceding the geographic and numerical advantage to his opponents; the terrain of Tuyuti was inherently advantageous to the defender.
To make up for this Lopez planned a surprise attack at dawn, with 4 separate assault columns attacking simultaneously. The allies had camped between the Estero Bellaco marsh and a thick underbrush called Mato.
In the centre lay the Uruguayan and Brazilian artillery along with divisions of Uruguayan infantry under Colonel León de Palleja. Further back in the centre and to the left lay the main Brazilian forces and reserves.
All in all these totaled around 22,000 Brazilians and 1,600 Uruguayans. The Allied right was composed of the Argentinians.
At the front, led by Wenceslao Paunero, were 4 divisions, with some cavalry on the flank.
Behind them was the Argentine artillery, with 2 cavalry divisions in reserve behind them.
Further back and under the command of Argentine President Mitre, were an artillery division and 3 cavalry divisions.
War of the Triple Alliance Paraguay – Argentine forces totaled around 11.000 men
The Argentine forces totaled around 11,000 men. The original Paraguayan plan involved using the dense shrubs and thorns surrounding the camp as cover, so they could move their army into position before surprising the Allies.
However, it proved much more difficult than expected and rather than all four groups arriving and attacking the allied camp at dawn, it wasn’t until noon that the signal for the attack was given.
Even then the Paraguayans still struggled to get through the bushes quickly and so the Allies could clearly see them forming up slowly in front of them. Unaware of the delays with the other columns, Colonel Diaz attacked first.
His cavalry, with sabers in hand, charged towards the Uruguayan and Brazilian centre.
He made short work of the Allied pickets and after a short wait in order to allow more men and guns to arrive he took his two cavalry regiments and charged towards the entrenched Uruguayan artillery.
The charge was met with an 18-pounder volley that ripped through the dense Paraguayan lines.
As they got closer the Uruguayans started to fire musket volleys at regular intervals. The Paraguayans continued the charge, despite hundreds falling under the hooves of their advancing comrades.
As the Paraguayans got with 180 meters of the Uruguayan line, the 27 guns of the Artillery Regiment opened fire and wreaked havoc. Men and horse were torn asunder.
The survivors of the charge quickly turned back and galloped towards the bushes they had struggled to emerge from. Half of Diaz’s cavalry were butchered without so much as touching the enemy line.
He was furious and wondered where on Earth the other columns under Barrios and Marco were. As Diaz’s infantry formed up, Marco’s troops arrived on his left. Paraguayans readied themselves for another charge.
Brazilians reinforced the Uruguayan left flank just as Diaz’s infantry began their advance
As the Paraguayan infantry slowly trudged through swampy terrain they were fired down upon by the Brazilian guns and artillery. The Brazilians reinforced the Uruguayan left flank just as Diaz’s infantry began their advance.
Their ranks were swept away and the already thick marsh was made more impassable due to the bodies. The regrouped Paraguayan cavalry then made another charge at the Allied artillery.
The commander of the artillery yelled to his troops “They are not going through here!” and directed his artillery to unleash constant fire.
Paraguayan corpses piled upon each other, not a single one closer than 50 meters to the Allied line.
The surviving cavalry tried to turn to the right to avoid the guns and assist the floundering infantry assault.
Both were annihilated the Allied centre had little time to celebrate, as Paraguayan troops continued to pour in on them, the slaughter apparently not stopping them from charging.
The smoke from the guns made it near impossible for the rest of the battlefield to see what was happening there.
War of the Triple Alliance Paraguay – The fight descended into a series of charges
The fight descended into a series of charges. As Paraguayan soldiers hopelessly attempted to run through a hail of artillery fire, screaming in Guarani, they were met with an immovable Uruguayan and Brazilian defence.
Casualties on both sides were high. The Paraguayan elite 40th Division suffered nearly an 80% loss and the Brazilian General leading his men on that line was shot off his horse 3 times during the chaos.
Far off from the chaotic centre in the Allied left rear lay the Brazilian Light Brigade. These men, tasked with guarding the rear were astonished to see Paraguayan cavalry suddenly burst out of the thick bushes in front of them.
In the confusion the Light Brigade was pushed back and was on the brink of annihilation when the 2 Brazilian volunteer forces arrived and managed to halt the Paraguayan advance.
The cavalry refused to give up and continued fighting. Two more Brazilian divisions arrived to try and push them back. As more Paraguayans poured out of the bushes more Brazilians arrived to meet them.
The unoccupied Brazilian artillery was then pushed to this new front. They took aim at the few narrow exits from the bushes and mowed down the Paraguayans as they tried to emerge through them.
Within half an hour entire Paraguayan regiments ceased to exist. The assault on the Allied rear had been stopped in its tracks. On the Allied right, the Paraguayan forces under Resquin had finally arrived.
Resquin, with his mostly cavalry-based force, continuously charged the Argentine lines, but without seriously committing. He was looking for some sort of weakness or a battalion that could be easily routed.
He managed to poke some holes in the Argentine 1st Division and began swarming in and bypassing it.
War of the Triple Alliance Paraguay – The Argentine infantry quickly formed
The Argentine infantry quickly formed squares and stuck out their bayonets to defend against the cavalry pouring down on them.
All 4 divisions did their best to remain in tight bayonet spiked formations while the Argentine artillery further back fired into the Paraguayan cavalry.
The cavalry suffered extreme casualties and whole regiment was wiped out. The Paraguayan cavalry made another attempt to charge the line and destroy the Argentine artillery but was again repulsed.
In a last ditch thrust to try and break the line the 5 cavalry regiments and 2 battalions made another fierce charge. But the divisions held in reserve by Mitre were able to move up and assist the beleaguered line, halting the Paraguayan advance. By 4:30PM the fighting had ended.
Tuyuti had been transformed into a swamp of blood filled with mountains made of corpses. Of the 27,000 Paraguayans involved in the battle, 7000 lay dead, another 8,000 wounded and most of those would die in the following days. The allies lost around 1000 men with another 2000 wounded.
The elite of the Paraguayan army lay dead in that swamp. From now on Lopez would have to fill his ranks with children and elderly men.
He would never again mount a major offensive. The war continued for another 4 years, as the Allied troops pushed further and further into Paraguay. Refusing to surrender, Lopez initiated a brutal guerrilla campaign until on March 17th 1870 he was shot dead by Brazilian troops.
With his death the Treaty of the Triple alliance was enacted and harsh terms were brought to bear on Paraguay.
War of the Triple Alliance Paraguay – Brazilian troops would remain in the country for years
Brazilian troops would remain in the country for years. Brazil also gained disputed territories north of the Apa River while Argentina took huge amounts of land, including the disputed Misiones Province and all the disputed lands south of the Pilcomayo River.
Paraguay lost more than ¼ of its pre-war territory and was forced to pay war reparations. Up to 60% of its population was gone, and 90% of its men were dead. Its economy was devastated and would never truly recover. Paraguay ceased to be a regional power.
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