Paraguayan War

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Paraguayan War
War of the Triple Alliance composite.jpg
Date 1864–1870
Location South America
Result Decisive Allied victory




Commanders and leaders
  • 150,000 Paraguayans (official troops)
  • 200,000 Brazilians
  • 30,000 Argentines
  • 5,583 Uruguayans
  • 240,000 Total
Casualties and losses
ca. 300,000 soldiers and civilians ~71,000 Brazilian soldiers
20,000 Argentine soldiers
3,200 Uruguayan soldiers
Total: ~100,000 soldiers and civilians
Part of a series on the
History of Paraguay
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Indigenous peoples
Spanish conquest
Viceroyalty of Peru
Jesuit period
Royalist period
War of Independence
Francia Era
Paraguayan War
Colorado Period
Liberal Period
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Alfredo Stroessner
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The Paraguayan War (Spanish: Guerra del Paraguay; Portuguese: Guerra do Paraguai), also known as the War of the Triple Alliance (Spanish: Guerra de la Triple Alianza; Portuguese: Guerra da Tríplice Aliança), and in Paraguay as the "Great War" (Spanish: Guerra Grande, Guarani: Ñorairõ Guazú),[1][2] was an international military conflict in South America fought from 1864 to 1870 between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. It caused approximately 400,000 deaths, the highest rate of fatalities related to the number of combatants of any war in modern history. It particularly devastated Paraguay, which suffered catastrophic losses in population and was forced to cede territory to Argentina and Brazil.

Scholars have several theories regarding the origins of the war. The traditional view emphasizes the aggressive policy of Paraguayan president Francisco Solano López towards gaining control in the Platine basin. Conversely, popular belief in Paraguay, and Argentine revisionism since the 1960s, gives a preponderant role to the influence by the British Empire, although the academic consensus is that there is little evidence for this theory.[3] The war began in late 1864 with combat operations between Brazil and Paraguay; from 1865 onwards, Argentina and Uruguay entered, and it became the "War of the Triple Alliance."

The war has also been attributed to the after-effects of colonialism in South America, the struggle for physical power among neighboring nations over the strategic Río de la Plata region, Brazilian and Argentine meddling in internal Uruguayan politics, Solano López's efforts to help allies in Uruguay (previously defeated by Brazilians), and Solano López's presumed expansionist ambitions.[4] Paraguay had recurring boundary disputes and tariff issues with Argentina and Brazil for many years; its aid to allies in Uruguay in the period before the war worsened its relations with those countries.

The outcome of the war was the utter defeat of Paraguay. After the Triple Alliance defeated Paraguay in conventional warfare, its people conducted a drawn-out guerrilla-style resistance that resulted in the destruction of the Paraguayan military and much of the civilian population. The guerrilla war lasted until López was killed by Brazilian forces on March 1, 1870. One estimate places total Paraguayan losses—through both war and disease—as high as 1.2 million people, or 90% of its pre-war population.[5][6]

A different estimate places Paraguayan deaths at approximately 300,000 people out of its 500,000 to 525,000 pre-war inhabitants.[7] According to Steven Pinker, the war resulted in the deaths of more than 60% of the population of Paraguay, making it proportionally the most destructive war in modern times.[8]

It took decades for Paraguay to recover from the chaos and demographic imbalance. In Brazil, the war helped bring about the end of slavery, moved the military into a key role in the public sphere, and caused a ruinous increase of public debt, which took a decade to pay off, seriously reducing the country's growth. It has been argued that the war played a key role in the consolidation of Argentina as a nation-state.[9] That country became South America's wealthiest nation, and one of the wealthiest in the world, by the early 20th century.[10][verification needed] It was the last time that Brazil and Argentina took such an interventionist role in Uruguay's internal politics.[11]


Map showing current borders, disputed territories, and location of the key battles.

Paraguay before the war[edit]

Francisco Solano López, Paraguayan president.

Historians have long concluded that Paraguay under José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia (1813–1840) and Carlos Antonio López (1841–1862) developed quite differently from other South American countries. These two leaders encouraged self-sufficient economic development in Paraguay by imposing a high level of isolation from neighboring countries.[12]

The regime of the López family was characterized by a harsh centralism in the production and distribution of everything. There was no distinction between the public and the private sphere, and the López family ruled the country as it would a large estate of land.[13]

The government exerted its control on all exports. The export of yerba mate and valuable wood products maintained the balance of commerce between Paraguay and the outside world.[14] The Paraguayan government was extremely protectionist, never accepting loans from abroad and, through high tariffs, refusing the importation of foreign products. This protectionism made the society self-sufficient. This also avoided the situation suffered by Argentina and Brazil which were in debt. Francisco Solano López, the son of Carlos Antonio López, replaced his father as the President-Dictator in 1862, and he generally continued the political policies of his father.

In the area of the military, Solano López modernized and expanded industry and the Paraguayan Army.[15] The government hired more than 200 foreign technicians, who installed telegraph lines and railroads to aid the expanding steel, textile, paper, and ink; and naval construction, weapons and gunpowder industries. The Ybycuí foundry, completed in 1850, manufactured cannons, mortars and bullets of all calibers. River warships were built in the shipyards of Asunción.

During the 1960s and 1970s, some historians claimed that the Paraguayan War was caused by pseudo-colonial influence of the British,[16][17] based on what the historians said was the need for a new source of cotton after the start of the American Civil War, as the South had been their main cotton supplier.[18] But, since 1990 several historians have disputed this claim of British influence, saying there is no documentary evidence for it.[19][3]

They note that although the British economy and commercial interests benefited from the war, the UK government opposed it from the start. It believed that war damaged international commerce, and disapproved of the secret clauses in the Treaty of the Triple Alliance. Britain already was increasing imports of Egyptian cotton and did not need Paraguayan product.[20] Sir Edward Thornton, the British Minister to the Argentine Republic, personally supported the Triple Alliance; he was present at the signing of a treaty of alliance between Brazil and Argentina on 18 June 1864 in Puntas del Rosario. Journalist Jose Antonio Saraiva later declared this to be the real start of the alliance, suggesting that the British interest catalyzed the other two nations to mobilize against Paraguay.[20][21] William Doria (the UK Chargé d'Affairs for Paraguay who briefly acted for Thornton) joined French and Italian diplomats in condemning Argentina's President Bartolomé Mitre's involvement in Uruguay. But when Thornton returned to the job in December 1863, he threw his full backing behind Mitre.[20]

Other historians say that Solano Lopez built up the Paraguayan army to fulfill his expansionist goals; he encouraged the development of war industries, mobilized a large number of men for the army (mandatory military service was already in effect in Paraguay), subjected them to intensive military training, and had fortifications built at the mouth of the Río Paraguay. He directed a program to build armed riverboats. Solano Lopez started the build up in this period, but there had been a history of armed conflicts with Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil.

Diplomatically, Solano López was allied with Uruguay's ruling Blanco Party. After 1864, the Colorado Party in Uruguay became allied with Brazil and Argentina.[22]

In 1864 President López thought that the balance of power was threatened when Brazil became involved in Uruguay's internal politics and the struggle for leadership. Some historians argue that this was the cause of his declaring war on Brazil, and not the expansionist intentions.[citation needed] Argentina initially stayed neutral. López doubted Argentina's neutrality since it had given Brazilian ships permission to navigate in the Argentine rivers in the Plate region, the same rights as to Paraguay, which shared the river. As Paraguay considered Argentina's neutrality to favor Brazil, it sent its forces to invade Corrientes Province of Argentina when Mitre rejected the request that Solano López be allowed to move his troops through Argentine territory to fight in Uruguay against Brazil. Argentina declared war after Solano López moved his troops into Corrientes province.

Politics of the Río de la Plata[edit]

Emperor Pedro II wearing a southern Brazilian traditional outfit during his visit to Uruguaiana in the province of Rio Grande do Sul, 1865.

Since Brazil and Argentina had become independent, the fight between Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro for hegemony in the Río de la Plata profoundly marked the diplomatic and political relations among the countries of the region.[23]

Brazil, under the rule of the Portuguese, was the first country to recognize the independence of Paraguay, in 1811. While Argentina was ruled by Juan Manuel Rosas (1829–1852), a common enemy of both Brazil and Paraguay, Brazil contributed to the improvement of the fortifications and development of the Paraguayan army, sending officials and technical help to Asunción. As no roads linked the province of Mato Grosso to Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian ships needed to travel through Paraguayan territory, going up the Río Paraguay to arrive at Cuiabá. Many times, however, Brazil had difficulty obtaining permission from the government in Asunción to sail those waterways.

Brazil carried out three political and military interventions in Uruguay: in 1851, against Manuel Oribe to fight Argentine influence in the country; in 1855, at the request of the Uruguayan government and Venancio Flores, leader of the Colorados, who were traditionally supported by the Brazilian empire; and in 1864, against Atanásio Aguirre. This last intervention would light the fuse for the Paraguayan War.

Intervention against Aguirre[edit]

In April 1864 Brazil sent a diplomatic mission to Uruguay, led by José Antônio Saraiva, to demand payment for the damages caused to gaucho farmers in border conflicts with Uruguayan farmers. Uruguayan president Atanásio Aguirre, of the National Party, refused the Brazilian demands.

Solano López offered himself as mediator, but was turned down by Brazil. López subsequently broke diplomatic relations with Brazil in August 1864 and declared that the occupation of Uruguay by Brazilian troops would be an attack on the equilibrium of the Río de la Plata region.

On October 12 Brazilian troops invaded Uruguay. The followers of Colorado party leader Venancio Flores, who had the support of Argentina, united with the Brazilian troops and deposed Aguirre.[24]

Course of the war[edit]

Conflict begins[edit]

A Brazilian corporal of the 1st Battalion of Fatherland Volunteer Corps, heavy infantry, 1865.

When attacked by Brazil, the Uruguayan Blancos asked for help from Paraguay. With the intention of showing his (Solano López's) disagreement with Brazilian actions against Uruguayan Blancos, on November 12, 1864, the Paraguayan ship Tacuarí captured the Brazilian ship Marquês de Olinda, which had sailed up the Río Paraguay to the province of Mato Grosso.[25] Paraguay declared war on Brazil on December 13 and on Argentina three months later, on March 18, 1865. Uruguay, already governed by Venancio Flores, aligned itself with Brazil and Argentina.

At the beginning of the war, the military force of the Triple Alliance was inferior to that of Paraguay, which included—according to some historians—more than 60,000 well-trained men—38,000 of whom were currently under arms—and a naval squadron of 23 steamboats (vapores) and five river-navigating ships, among them the Tacuarí, a gunboat.[26] Its artillery included about 400 cannons. However, recent studies have shown a different picture. Although the Paraguayan army had somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 men at the beginning of the conflict, they were badly equipped. Most of the infantry armaments consisted of inaccurate smooth-bore muskets and carbines, slow to reload and with short range. The artillery was similarly in bad shape. Military officers had no training or experience and there was no command system, as all decisions were made by López. Food, ammunition and armament were scarce and logistics and hospital care were deficient or nonexistent.[27]

The armies of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay were far smaller than the Paraguayan forces. Argentina had approximately 8,500 regular troops and a naval squadron of four vapores and one goleta. Uruguay entered the war with fewer than 2,000 men and no navy. Many of Brazil's 16,000 troops were located in its southern garrisons.[28] The Brazilian advantage, though, was in its navy, comprising 42 ships with 239 cannons and about 4,000 well-trained crew. A great part of the squadron had already met in the Rio de la Plata basin, where it had acted, under the Marquis of Tamandaré, in the intervention against Aguirre.

Brazil, however, was unprepared to fight a war. Its army was disorganized. The "troops" used in the interventions in Uruguay were composed merely of the armed contingents of gaucho politicians and some National Guard staff. Even though the Brazilian version of the war say that the infantry who fought in the Paraguayan War were not professional soldiers but volunteers, the so-called Voluntários da Pátria, the Argentinian revisionism and Paraguay version argue that the Brazilian infantry was composed mainly of slaves who received the promise of free land if they took part of the war. The army was heavily recruited from the landless, largely black, underclass.[29] The cavalry was formed from the National Guard of Rio Grande do Sul. From the end of 1864 to 1870 about 146,000 Brazilians fought in the war, while 18,000 members of the National Guard stayed behind in Brazilian territory to defend it. The Brazilian forces actively engaged in the war consisted of 10,025 army soldiers stationed in Uruguayan territory in 1864, 2,047 that were in the province of Mato Grosso, 55,985 Fatherland Volunteers, 60,009 National Guards, 8,570 ex-slaves who had been freed to be sent to war, and 9,177 navy personnel.[30]

Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay signed the secret Treaty of the Triple Alliance in Buenos Aires on May 1, 1865. They named Bartolomé Mitre, president of Argentina, as supreme commander of the allied forces.[31]

Paraguayan offensive[edit]

Brazilian officers posing with their weapons and gear in an improvised photographer´s studio very near the battlefront, between 1865 and 1870

During the first phase of the war Paraguay took the initiative. The armies of López dictated the location of initial battles—invading Mato Grosso in the north in December 1864, Rio Grande do Sul in the south in the first months of 1865, and the Argentine province of Corrientes. Two separate Paraguayan forces invaded Mato Grosso simultaneously. Five thousand troops, transported in ten ships and commanded by Col. Vicente Barrios, went up the Río Paraguay and attacked the fort of Nova Coimbra. The Brazilian garrison of 155 men resisted for three days under the command of Lt. Col. 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, led by Col. Francisco Isidoro Resquín and including 4000 men, penetrated a region south of Mato Grosso and sent a detachment to attack the military frontier post of Dourados. The detachment, led by Maj. Martín Urbieta, encountered tough resistance on December 29, 1864, from Lt. Antonio João Ribeiro and his 16 men, who were all eventually killed. The Paraguayans continued to Nioaque and Miranda, defeating the troops of Col. José Dias da Silva. Coxim was taken in April 1865.

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 tactic.

Brazilian soldiers (26th Fatherland Volunteer Corps) from the distant province of Ceará in guerrilla operations sometime between 1866 and 1868. Lt. Col. Joaquim Francisco Figueiredo (with beard) can be seen at the centre next to two buglers in white.

The invasion of Corrientes and Rio Grande do Sul was the second phase of the Paraguayan offensive. To raise the support of the Uruguayan Blancos, the Paraguayans had to travel through Argentine territory. In March 1865 López asked the Argentine government's permission for an army of 25,000 men (led by Gen. Wenceslao Robles) to travel through the province of Corrientes. Argentine President—Bartolomé Mitre refused, as he was a member of the Alliance and ally of Brazil in the intervention in Uruguay. On March 18, 1865, having seen that Argentina permitted Brazilian troops though its territory, Paraguay declared war against Mitre. A Paraguayan squadron coming down the Río Paraná trapped Argentine ships in the port of Corrientes. Immediately, Gen. Robles' troops took the city.

By invading Corrientes, López had hoped to gain the support of the powerful Argentine caudillo Justo José de Urquiza, governor of the provinces of Corrientes and Entre Ríos, who was known to be the chief federalist hostile to Mitre and to the government of Buenos Aires.[31] However, Urquiza remained ambivalent toward this effort and did not declare for Paraguay.[citation needed] The forces advanced approximately 200 kilometres (120 mi) south before ultimately ending the offensive in failure.

Along with Robles' troops, a force of 10,000 soldiers under Lt. Col. Antonio de la Cruz Estigarriba crossed the Argentine border south of Encarnación in May 1865, driving for Rio Grande do Sul. They traveled down Río Uruguay and took the town of São Borja on June 12. Uruguaiana, to the south, was taken on August 5 with little resistance. The Brazilian reaction was yet to come.

Reaction of Brazil[edit]

A Paraguayan cavalry unit (left) is attacked by that of the allies (right). After the first few years of the war, the Paraguayans had to eat their horses in order to survive. By the later years of the conflict, they also ran out of men (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 40, 1870).

Brazil sent an expedition to fight the invaders in Mato Grosso. A column of 2,780 men led by Col. Manuel Pedro Drago left Uberaba in Minas Gerais in April 1865, and arrived at Coxim in December after a difficult march of more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) through four provinces. However, Paraguay had abandoned Coxim by December. Drago arrived at Miranda in September 1866, and Paraguay had left once again. In January 1867 Col. Carlos de Morais Camisão assumed command of the column, now with only 1,680 men, and decided to invade Paraguayan territory, which he penetrated as far as Laguna. The Paraguayan cavalry forced the expedition to retreat.

Despite the efforts of Col. Camisão's troops and the resistance in the region, which succeeded in liberating Corumbá in June 1867, Mato Grosso remained under Paraguayan control. The Brazilians withdrew in April 1868, moving their troops to the main theatre of operations, in the south of Paraguay. Communications in the Río de la Plata basin were solely by river; few roads existed. Whoever controlled the rivers would win the war, so Paraguay had built fortifications on the banks of the lower end of Río Paraguay.

The naval battle of Riachuelo occurred on June 11, 1865. The Brazilian fleet commanded by Adm. Francisco Manoel Barroso da Silva won, destroying the powerful Paraguayan navy and preventing the Paraguayans from permanently occupying Argentine territory. Practically, the battle decided the outcome of the war in favour of the Triple Alliance. From that point on, it controlled the waters of the Río de la Plata basin up to the entrance to Paraguay.[32]

While López ordered the retreat of the forces that occupied Corrientes, the Paraguayan troops that invaded São Borja advanced, taking Itaqui and Uruguaiana. A separate division (3,200 men) that continued towards Uruguay, under the command of Maj. Pedro Duarte, was defeated by Flores in the bloody Battle of Jataí on the banks of the Río Uruguay.

The allied troops united under the command of Mitre in the camp of Concordia, in the Argentine province of Entre Ríos, with Field Marshal Manuel Luís Osório at the front of the Brazilian troops. Some of the troops, commanded by Lt. Gen. Manuel Marques de Sousa, baron of Porto Alegre, left to reinforce Uruguaiana. The Paraguayans yielded on September 18, 1865.

In the subsequent months, the Paraguayans were driven out of the cities of Corrientes and San Cosme, the only Argentine territory still in Paraguayan possession. By the end of 1865, the Triple Alliance was on the offensive. Its armies numbered more than 50,000 men and prepared to invade Paraguay.

On September 12, 1866, López invited Mitre to a conference in Yatayty Cora. He had realized that the war was lost and was ready to sign a peace treaty with the Allies.[33] No agreement was reached, though, since Mitre's conditions for signing the treaty were that every article of the secret Treaty of the Triple Alliance was to be carried out, a condition that López refused.[33] Article 6 of the treaty made truce or peace nearly impossible, as it stipulated that the war was to continue until the then government ceased to be, which meant the death or removal of López.

After the conference, the allies marched into Paraguayan territory, reaching the defensive line of Curupayty. Trusting in their numerical superiority and the possibility of attacking the flank of the defensive line through the Paraguay River by using the Brazilian ships, the Allies made a frontal assault on the defensive line, supported by the flank fire of the battleships. But the Paraguayans, commanded by general José E. Díaz, stood strong in their positions, set up for a defensive battle. They inflicted tremendous damage on the Allied troops. The Battle of Curupayty resulted in an almost catastrophic defeat for the Allied forces; they lost over 10,000 men in total casualties, including dead and wounded, against a few 100 losses by Paraguay. The Allied command was changed after this.

Caxias in command[edit]

Paraguayan artillery redoubts at the battle of Curuzu
Siege of Humaitá: Brazilian Navy forced to cross the fortified position under enemy bombardment

Assigned on October 10, 1866 to command the Brazilian forces, Marshal Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, Marquis and, later, Duke of Caxias, arrived in Paraguay in November, finding the Brazilian army practically paralyzed. The contingent of Argentines and Uruguayans, devastated by disease, were cut off from the rest of the allied army. Mitre and Flores returned to their respective countries because of difficult internal political conditions. Tamandaré was replaced in command by Admiral Joaquim José Inácio, future Viscount of Inhaúma. Osório organized a 5,000-strong third Corps of the Brazilian army in Rio Grande do Sul. In Mitre's absence, Caxias assumed general command and restructured the army.

Between November 1866 and July 1867, Caxias organized a health corps (to give aid to the endless number of injured soldiers and to fight the epidemic of cholera) and a system of supply of the troops. Military operations were limited to skirmishing with the Paraguayans and bombarding Curupaity. López took advantage of the disorganization of the enemy to reinforce his stronghold in Humaitá.

The march to outflank the left wing of the Paraguayan fortifications constituted the basis of Caxias's tactics. Caxias wanted to bypass the Paraguayan strongholds, cut the connections between Asunción and Humaitá, and finally encircle the Paraguayans. To this end, Caxias marched to Tuiu-Cuê. But Mitre, who had retaken command in August 1867, insisted on attacking the right wing, a strategy that had previously been disastrous in Curupaity. Under his orders the Brazilian squadron forced its way past Curupaity but was forced to stop at Humaitá. New splits in the high command arose: Mitre wanted to continue, but the Brazilians instead captured São Solano, Pike and Tayi, isolating Humaitá from Asunción. López reacted by attacking the rearguard of the allies in Tuyutí, but suffered further defeats.

With the removal of Mitre in January 1868, Caxias reassumed supreme command and decided to bypass Curupaity and Humaitá, carried out with success by the squadron commanded by Captain Delfim Carlos de Carvalho, later Baron of Passagem. Humaitá fell on 25 July after a long siege.

En route to Asunción, Caxias's army went 200 kilometres (120 mi) north to Palmas, stopping at the Piquissiri river. There López had concentrated 18,000 Paraguayans in a fortified line that exploited the terrain and supported the forts of Angostura and Itá-Ibaté. Resigned to frontal combat, Caxias ordered the so-called Piquissiri manoeuvre. While a squadron attacked Angostura, Caxias made the army cross to the west side of the river. He ordered the construction of a road in the swamps of the Chaco along which the troops advanced to the northeast. At Villeta, the army crossed the river again, between Asunción and Piquissiri, behind the fortified Paraguayan line. Instead of advancing to the capital, already evacuated and bombarded, Caxias went south and attacked the Paraguayans from the rear.

Caxias had won a series of victories in December 1868, when he went back south to take Piquissiri from the rear, capturing Itororó, Avaí, Lomas Valentinas and Angostura. On December 24 the three new commanders of the Triple Alliance (Caxias, the Argentine Juan Andrés Gelly y Obes, and the Uruguayan Enrique Castro) sent a note to Solano López asking for surrender, but López refused and fled to Cerro Leon.

Asunción was occupied on January 1, 1869 by commands of Colonel Hermes Ernesto da Fonseca, father of the future Marshal Hermes da Fonseca. On the fifth day, Caxias entered the city with the rest of the army, and 13 days later left his command.

End of the war[edit]

Command of Count d'Eu[edit]

A Paraguayan soldier late in the war on sentry duty at Francisco Solano López' headquarters was lucky to have a worn-out musket. As the war dragged on, some Paraguayan soldiers entered combat without weapons and were expected to arm themselves from those of fallen comrades (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 40, 1870).

The son-in-law of the Emperor Dom Pedro II, Luís Filipe Gastão de Orléans, Count d'Eu, was nominated to direct the final phase of the military operations in Paraguay. He sought not just a total rout of Paraguay, but also the strengthening of the Brazilian Empire. In August 1869, the Triple Alliance installed a provisional government in Asunción headed by Paraguayan Cirilo Antonio Rivarola.

Solano López organized the resistance in the mountain range northeast of Asunción. At the head of 21,000 men, Count d'Eu led the campaign against the Paraguayan resistance, the Campaign of the Mountain Range, which lasted over a year. The most important battles were the battles of Piribebuy and of Acosta Ñu, in which more than 5,000 Paraguayans died.

Death of López[edit]

Two detachments were sent in pursuit of Solano López, who was accompanied by 200 men in the forests in the north. On March 1, 1870, the troops of General José Antônio Correia da Câmara surprised the last Paraguayan camp in Cerro Corá. During the ensuing battle, López was wounded and separated from the remainder of his army. Too weak to walk, he was escorted by his aide and a pair of officers, who led him to the banks of the Aquidaban-nigui River. The officers left Lopez and his aide there while they looked for reinforcements. Before they returned, General Câmara arrived with a small number of soldiers. Though he offered to permit López to surrender and guaranteed his life, López refused. Shouting "¡Muero por mi patria!" ("I die for my homeland!"), he tried to attack Câmara with his sword. He was quickly killed by Câmara's men, bringing an end to the long conflict.[34]


Scene of the Battle of Tuyutí, by (Cándido López).

At the end of the war and with Paraguay suffering severe shortages of weapons and supplies, López reacted with draconian attempts to keep order, ordering troops to kill any combatant, including officers, who talked of surrender.[35] As a result, paranoia prevailed in the army, and soldiers fought to the bitter end in a resistance movement that resulted in more destruction in the country.[35] Paraguay suffered massive casualties, and the war's disruption, including disease, also cost civilian fatalities. Some historians estimate the nation lost the majority of its population by the end of the war.

The specific numbers of casualties are hotly disputed. It has been estimated that 300,000 Paraguayans, mostly civilians, died. According to one estimate, the prewar population was approximately 525,000 (a survey of 14 estimates varied between 300,000 and 1,337,000; see F. Chartrain : "L'Eglise et les partis dans la vie politique du Paraguay depuis l'Indépendance", Paris I University, "Doctorat d'Etat", 1972, pp. 134–135. Shaw's calculation, based on an 1879 census and the military forces, gives between 700,000 and 800,000 inhabitants). An 1871 census recorded 221,079 inhabitants, of which 106,254 were female, 86,079 were children, with no indication of sex or upper age limit; and 28,746 were male. Considering the local situation, such casualty figures are a very rough estimate; many men and boys fled during the war to the countryside and forests. Accurate casualty numbers may never be determined. It has been reported that up to 90% of the male population was killed, though Shaw notes this figure is without support.[35]

A 1999 study by Thomas Whigham from the University of Georgia, published in the Latin American Research Review under the title "The Paraguayan Rosetta Stone: New Evidence on the Demographics of the Paraguayan War, 1864–1870," and later expanded in the 2002 essay titled "Refining the Numbers: A Response to Reber and Kleinpenning," has a methodology to yield more accurate figures. Based on a census carried out after the war ended, in 1870-1871, Whigham concluded that 150,000–160,000 Paraguayan people had survived, of whom only 28,000 were adult males. This leaves a woman/man ratio of 4 to 1, while in the most devastated areas of the nation, the ratio was as high as 20 to 1.[36]

A Brazilian priest with Paraguayan refugees coming from San Pedro, 1869 or 1870.

To establish the population before the war, Whigham used an 1846 census and calculated, based on a population growth rate of 1.7% to 2.5% annually (which was the standard rate at that time), that the immediately pre-war Paraguayan population in 1864 was approximately 420,000–450,000. In total, 60% to 70% of the population died as a result of the war.[36]Steven Pinker noted the deaths of more than 60% of the population made the Paraguayan War proportionally the most destructive war in modern times.[8][page needed]

Of the approximately 123,000 Brazilians who fought in the Paraguayan War, the best estimates are that around 50,000 men died. Uruguay had about 5,600 men under arms (some of whom were foreigners), of whom about 3,100 died.

The high rates of mortality were not all due to armed conflict. As was common before antibiotics were developed, disease caused more deaths than did war wounds. Bad food and poor sanitation contributed to the outbreak of disease among troops and civilians. Many deaths are believed to have been caused by cholera. Among the Brazilians, two-thirds of the war dead died either in a hospital or on the march. At the beginning of the conflict, most of the Brazilian soldiers came from the north and northeast regions of their country; the change from a hot climate to a colder one, along with restricted food rations, may have contributed to weakening them and lowering their resistance. As entire battalions of Brazilians were recorded as dying after drinking water from rivers, historians believe that cholera, transmitted in the water, was the most likely chief cause of death during the war.[citation needed]

Consequences of the war[edit]

Preparations for the victory celebration in Brazil, 1870.

During the war the Brazilian army took complete control of Paraguayan territory and occupied the country for six years after the final defeat in 1870. In part this was to prevent the annexation of even more territory by Argentina, which had wanted to seize the entire Chaco region. During this time, Brazil and Argentina had strong tensions, with the threat of armed conflict between them.

During the wartime sacking of Asunción, Brazilian soldiers carried off war trophies. Among the spoils taken was the "Christian" cannon, named because it was cast from church bells of Asunción melted down for the war. In addition, officials ordered that the Paraguayan national archives be packed up and transferred to the National library in Rio de Janeiro. They have been held virtually unavailable to research by scholars.[37]


  • Paraguay suffered the downfall of its government, loss of territories, and huge population losses and property damage. These resulted in an economic crisis. For years after the war, Paraguayan development was slow. Some sources claim it lost nearly 69% of the population, but recent study claims it was nearer 30%.
  • In Brazil the war exposed the fragility of the Empire, and dissociated the monarchy with the army. The Brazilian army became a new and influential force in national life. It developed as a strong national institution that, with the war, gained tradition and internal cohesion. The Army would take a significant role in the later development of the history of the country. Nearly 50,000 deaths resulted, most by sickness and the harsh climate.

As in other countries, "wartime recruitment of slaves in the Americas rarely implied a complete rejection of slavery and usually acknowledged masters' rights over their property." [39] Brazil compensated owners who freed slaves for the purpose of fighting in the war, on the condition that the freedmen immediately enlist. It also impressed slaves from owners when needing manpower, and paid compensation. In areas near the conflict, slaves took advantage of wartime conditions to escape, and some fugitive slaves volunteered for the army. Together these effects undermined the institution of slavery. But, the military also upheld owners' property rights, as it returned at least 36 fugitive slaves to owners who could satisfy its requirement for legal proof. Significantly, slavery was not officially ended until the early 1880s.[39]

The economic depression and the strengthening of the army later played a large role in the deposition of the emperor Dom Pedro II and the republican proclamation in 1889. General Deodoro da Fonseca became the first Brazilian president.

Brazil spent close to 614 thousand réis (the Brazilian currency at the time), which were gained from the following sources:

réis, thousands source
49 Foreign loans
27 Domestic loans
102 Paper emission
171 Title emission
265 Taxes

Due to the war, Brazil ran a deficit between 1870 and 1880, which was finally paid off. At the time foreign loans were not significant sources of funds.[38]

  • Following the war, Argentina faced many federalist revolts against the national government. Economically it benefitted from having sold supplies to the Brazilian army, but the war overall decreased the national treasure. The national action contributed to the consolidaton of the centralized government after revolutions were put down, and the growth in influence of Army leadership. It resulted in nearly 30,000 deaths.
  • Uruguay had lesser effects, although it suffered the deaths of nearly 5,000 soldiers.

Interpretation of the causes of the war and its aftermath has been a controversial topic in the histories of participating countries, especially in Paraguay. There it has been considered either a fearless struggle for the rights of a smaller nation against the aggressions of more powerful neighbours, or a foolish attempt to fight an unwinnable war that almost destroyed the nation. People of Argentina have their own internal disputes over interpretations of the war: many Argentinians think the conflict was Mitre's war of conquest, and not a response to aggression. They note that Mitre used the Argentine Navy to deny access to the Río de la Plata to Brazilian ships in early 1865, thus starting the war. People in Argentina note that Solano López, mistakenly believing he would have Mitre's support, had seized the chance to attack Brazil at that time.[citation needed]

In Brazil, many have believed that the United Kingdom financed the allies against Paraguay, and that British imperialism was the catalyst for the war. The academic consensus is that no evidence supports this thesis. From 1863 to 1865, Brazil and the UK had an extended diplomatic crisis and, five months after the war started, cut off relations. In 1864, a British diplomat sent a letter to Solano Lopez asking him to avoid hostilities in the region. There is no evidence that Britain forced the allies to attack Paraguay.[citation needed]

In December 1975, after presidents Ernesto Geisel and Alfredo Stroessner signed a treaty of friendship and co-operation[40] in Asunción, the Brazilian government returned some of its spoils of war to Paraguay, but has kept others. In April 2013, Paraguay renewed demands for the return of the "Christian" cannon. Brasil has had this on display at the former military garrison, now used as the National History Museum, and says that it is part of its history as well.[37]

Territorial changes and treaties[edit]

Paraguayan borders from independence to the present time; in orange territories lost, while in green territories retained.

Following Paraguay's defeat in 1870, Argentina sought to enforce one of the secret clauses of the Triple Alliance Treaty, which would have permitted it to annex a large portion of the Gran Chaco region. This area was rich in quebracho wood (a product used in the tanning of leather). The Argentine negotiators proposed to Brazil that Paraguay should be divided in two, with each of the victors incorporating half into its territory. The Brazilian government, however, wanted to maintain Paraguay as a buffer with Argentina. Accordingly, it rejected the Argentine proposal to annex Paraguay in its entirety.

Eventually the post-war border between Paraguay and Argentina was resolved through long negotiations, completed February 3, 1876. This treaty granted Argentina roughly a third of the area it had originally desired. Argentina became the strongest of the River Plate countries. During the campaign, the provinces of Entre Rios and Corrientes had supplied Brazilian troops with cattle, foodstuffs and other products.

When the two parties could not reach consensus on the fate of the area between the Río Verde and the main branch of Río Pilcomayo, US President Rutherford B. Hayes was asked to arbitrate. He declared it should remain part of Paraguay. (The Paraguayan department Presidente Hayes was named for him as a result.)

Brazil signed a separate peace treaty with Paraguay on January 9, 1872, in which it obtained freedom of navigation on the Río Paraguay. Brazil also retained the borders it had claimed before the war.[41]

In total, Argentina and Brazil annexed about 140,000 square kilometers (54,054 sq mi) of Paraguayan territory: Argentina took much of the Misiones region and part of the Chaco between the Bermejo and Pilcomayo rivers, an area that today constitutes the province of Formosa. Brazil enlarged its Mato Grosso province by claiming territories whose control had been disputed with Paraguay before the war. Both demanded a large indemnity, which Paraguay paid for the next century. This hobbled its development. In 1943, after Paraguay had paid nearly all of the indemnity to Brazil, the latter's president Getúlio Vargas cancelled the remainder of the debt.

Meanwhile, the Colorados gained political control of Uruguay and retained it until 1958.

Effects on yerba mate industry[edit]

Since colonial times, yerba mate had been a major cash crop for Paraguay. Until the war, it had generated significant revenues for the country. The war caused a sharp drop in harvesting of yerba mate in Paraguay, reportedly by as much as 95% between 1865 and 1867.[42] Soldiers from all sides used yerba mate to diminish hunger pains and alleviate combat anxiety.[43]

After the war concluded in 1870, Paraguay was ruined economically and by population losses. Much of the 156,415 square kilometers (60,392 sq mi) lost by Paraguay to Argentina and Brazil was rich in yerba mate, so by the end of the 19th century, Brazil became the leading producer of the crop.[43] Foreign entrepreneurs entered the Paraguayan market and took control of its remaining yerba mate production and industry.[42]

Media depictions[edit]



See also[edit]



  1. ^ Testimonios de la Guerra Grande y Muerte del Mariscal López by Julio César Frutos
  2. ^ Ñorairõ Guasu, 1864 guive 1870 peve by Guido Rodríguez Alcalá. Secretaría Nacional de Cultura, 28 May 2011 (Spanish)
  3. ^ a b Kraay, Hendrik; Whigham, Thomas L. (2004). "I die with my country:" Perspectives on the Paraguayan War, 1864–1870. Dexter, Michigan: Thomson-Shore. ISBN 978-0-8032-2762-0, p. 16 Quote: "During the 1960s, revisionists influenced by both left-wing dependency theory and, paradoxically, an older, right-wing nationalism (especially in Argentina) focused on Britain’s role in the region. They saw the war as a plot hatched in London to open up a supposedly wealthy Paraguay to the international economy. With more enthusiasm than evidence revisionists presented the loans contracted in London by Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil as proof of the insidious role of foreign capital... Little evidence for these allegations about Britain’s role has emerged, and the one serious study to analyze this question has found nothing in the documentary base to confirm the revisionist claim."
  4. ^ Miguel Angel Centeno, Blood and Debt: War and the Nation-State in Latin America, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1957. Page 55.
  5. ^ Byron Farwell, The Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Land Warfare: An Illustrated World View, New York: WW Norton, 2001. p. 824.
  6. ^ An early 20th century estimate is that from the prewar population of 1,337,437, the population fell to 221,709 (28,746 men, 106,254 women, 86,079 children) by the end of the war (War and the Breed, David Starr Jordan, p. 164. Boston, 1915; Applied Genetics, Paul Popenoe, New York: Macmillan Company, 1918)
  7. ^ Jürg Meister, Francisco Solano López Nationalheld oder Kriegsverbrecher?, Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, 1987. 345, 355, 454–5. ISBN 3-7648-1491-8
  8. ^ a b Pinker, Steven (2011). Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-312201-2. 
  9. ^ Historia de las relaciones exteriores de la República Argentina (notes from CEMA University, in Spanish, and references therein)
  10. ^ Historical Statistics of the World Economy: 1-2008 AD by Angus Maddison
  11. ^ Scheina 2003, p. 331.
  12. ^ PJ O'Rourke, Give War a Chance, New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Page 47.
  13. ^ "Carlos Antonio López", Library of Congress Country Studies, December 1988. URL accessed December 30, 2005.
  14. ^ Page 630 from The Encyclopedia of World History Sixth Edition, Peter N. Stearns (general editor), © 2001 The Houghton Mifflin Company, at
  15. ^ Robert Cowley, The Reader's Encyclopedia to Military History. New York, New York: Houston Mifflin, 1996. Page 479.
  16. ^ Galeano, Eduardo. "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent," Monthly Review Press, 1997
  17. ^ Chiavenatto,Julio José. Genocídio Americano: A Guerra do Paraguai, Editora Brasiliense, SP. Brasil, 1979
  18. ^ Historia General de las relaciones internacionales de la República Argentina (Spanish)
  19. ^ Salles 2003, p. 14.
  20. ^ a b c Historia General de las relaciones internacionales de la República Argentina(Spanish)
  21. ^ "TRATADO DE LAS PUNTAS DEL ROSARIO (Guerra del Paraguay)", La Gazeta (Spanish)
  22. ^ Scheina 2003, pp. 313–4.
  23. ^ Whigham 2002, p. 118.
  24. ^ Scheina 2003, p. 314.
  25. ^ Scheina 2003, p. 313.
  26. ^ Scheina 2003, pp. 315–7.
  27. ^ Salles 2003, p. 18.
  28. ^ Scheina 2003, p. 318.
  29. ^ Wilson 2004, p. [page needed].
  30. ^ Salles 2003, p. 38.
  31. ^ a b Scheina 2003, p. 319.
  32. ^ Scheina 2003, p. 320.
  33. ^ a b Vasconsellos 1970, p. 108.
  34. ^ Bareiro, p. 90.
  35. ^ a b c Shaw 2005, p. 30.
  36. ^ a b "Holocausto paraguayo en Guerra del ’70". abc accessdate=2009-10-26. 
  37. ^ a b Isabel Fleck, "Paraguai exige do Brasil a volta do "Cristão", trazido como troféu de guerra" (Paraguay has demanded Brazil return the "Christian", taken as a war trophy), Folha de S. Paulo, 18 April 2013, accessed 1 July 2013
  38. ^ a b DORATIOTO, Francisco, Maldita Guerra, Companhia das Letras, 2002
  39. ^ a b Kraay, Hendrik (1996). "'The Shelter of the Uniform': The Brazilian Army and Runaway Slaves, 1800–1888". Journal of Social History 29 (3): 637–657. JSTOR 3788949. 
  40. ^ "Treaty of friendship and co-operation 4 December 1975". Retrieved 2013-05-10. 
  41. ^ Vasconsellos 1970, pp. 78, 110–114.
  42. ^ a b Blinn Reber, Vera. Yerba Mate in Nineteenth Century Paraguay, 1985.
  43. ^ a b Folch, Christine (2010). "Stimulating Consumption: Yerba Mate Myths, Markets, and Meanings from Conquest to Present". Comparative Studies in Society and History 52 (1): 6–36. doi:10.1017/S0010417509990314. 
  44. ^


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External links[edit]

Media related to Paraguayan War at Wikimedia Commons  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.