Mato Grosso Campaign

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Mato Grosso campaign
Part of the Paraguayan War
Paraguayan fortification
Paraguayan fortification
Date December 1864 - April 1868
Location Mato Grosso, Brazil
  • Initial Paraguayan conquest
  • Paraguayan withdrawal in 1868
Commanders and leaders
  • 9,000 men
  • 170 soldiers initially
  • 3,000 troops sent
  • unknown number of warriors Indians
Casualties and losses
large number of casualties large number of casualties

The Mato Grosso campaign was an early Paraguayan offensive in the Paraguayan War. Paraguay captured the Brazilian province of Mato Grosso, but it was a pyrrhic victory, since the attackers obtained little gain in it. The province of Mato Grosso was scarcely populated, with no more than two hundred soldiers and officers to defend it in 1864.

Paraguayan offensive[edit]

Two bodies of Paraguayan troops invaded Mato Grosso simultaneously. Due to the numerical superiority of the attackers, the province was invaded quickly.

Five thousand men, transported in ten ships and commanded by colonel Vicente Barrios, went up the Río Paraguay and attacked the fort of Nova Coimbra. The garrison of 155 men resisted for three days under the command of lieutenant-colonel Hermenegildo de Albuquerque Porto Carrero, later baron of Fort Coimbra. When the munitions were exhausted the defenders abandoned the fort and withdrew up the river towards Corumbá on board the gunship Anhambaí. After they occupied the empty fort the Paraguayans advanced north taking the cities of Albuquerque and Corumbá in January 1865.

The second Paraguayan column, which was led by Colonel Francisco Isidoro Resquín and included four thousand men, penetrated a region south of Mato Grosso, and sent a detachment to attack the military frontier of Dourados. The detachment, led by Major Martín Urbieta, encountered tough resistance on December 29, 1864 from Lieutenant Antonio João Ribeiro and his 16 men, who died without yielding. The Paraguayans continued to Nioaque and Miranda, defeating the troops of colonel José Dias da Silva.

The Paraguayan forces, despite their victories, did not continue to Cuiabá, the capital of the province. Augusto Leverger had fortified the camp of Melgaço to protect Cuiabá. The main objective was to distract the attention of the Brazilian government to the north as the war would lead to the south, closer to the Río de la Plata estuary. The invasion of Mato Grosso was a diversionary manoeuvre.

Brazilian counter-offensive[edit]

Brazil sent an expedition to fight the invaders in Mato Grosso. A column of 2,780 men led by Colonel Manuel Pedro Drago left Uberaba in Minas Gerais in April 1865, and arrived at Coxim in December after a difficult march of more than two thousand kilometers through four provinces. But Paraguay had abandoned Coxim by December. Drago arrived at Miranda in September 1866 – and Paraguay had left once again. In January 1867, Colonel Carlos de Morais Camisão assumed command of the column, now with only 1,680 men, and decided to invade Paraguayan territory, where he penetrated as far as Laguna. The expedition was forced to retreat by the Paraguayan cavalry.

Despite the efforts of Colonel Camisão's troops and the resistance in the region, which succeeded in liberating Corumbá in June 1867, Mato Grosso remained under the control of the Paraguayans. They finally withdrew in April 1868, moving their troops to the main theatre of operations, in the south of Paraguay.