Battle of the Riachuelo

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Battle of the Riachuelo
Part of Paraguayan War
Palácio Pedro Ernesto - Batalha do Riachuelo - cópia.jpg
The Battle of Riachuelo by Victor Meirelles
DateJune 11, 1865
Riachuelo stream, Corrientes Province, Argentina
Result Brazilian victory
Commanders and leaders
Paraguay Pedro Ignacio Meza (WIA) Empire of Brazil Baron of Amazonas[1]
Casualties and losses
  • 750 casualties[2]:36
  • 4 steamers sunk
  • 7 barges sunk
  • 104 killed, 123 wounded, 20 missing[2]:36
  • 1 corvette sunk

The Battle of the Riachuelo was a large and decisive naval battle of the Paraguayan War between Paraguay and the Empire of Brazil. By late 1864, Paraguay had scored a series of victories in the war, but on June 11, 1865, its naval defeat by the Brazilians on the Paraná River began to turn the tide in favor of the allies.[3]

This was the largest naval battle fought between two South American countries.


Paraguay's fleet was a fraction of the size of Brazil's, even before the battle, and arrived at the Fortress of Humaitá on the morning of June 9. The Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López prepared to attack the ships supporting allied land troops at Riachuelo. Nine ships and seven cannon-carrying barges, totaling 44 guns,[4] as well as 22 guns and two Congreve rocket batteries from river bank located troops, attacked the Brazilian squadron, nine ships with a total of 68 guns.[4]

The Paraguayans had planned a surprise attack before sunrise since they were fully aware that most Brazilian troops would offboard their steamers to sleep on land, and they would leave only a small garrison of men to guard and watch their fleet.

The original plan had been that under the dark of the night, the Paraguayan steamers would sneak up to the docked Brazilian vessels and board them outright.[5][4] No confrontation other than the one carried out by the boarding party had been planned, and the Paraguayan steamers were there only to provide cover from the inland battling forces.


Brazilian steamers crushing the Paraguayan Navy.
Battle of Riachuelo, stage 1. a) The Brazilian fleet goes downstream to meet the Paraguayan fleet. b) Amazonas goes out of the fleet for some reason and is followed by Jequitinhonha. Then, Amazonas returns to the fleet, and Jequitinhonha is heavily attacked by the infantry and the artillery on the cliff. c)The absence of Amazonas and Jequitinhonha makes Belmonte' become an easy target, heavily attacked, and drift downstream. d) The Brazilian fleet then turns around (keeping upstream in order to maintain the vessels' stability) while Panaiba comes to the aid of Jequitinhonha.

The Paraguayan fleet left the fortress of Humaitá on the night of June 10, 1865 and headed to the port of Corrientes. López had given specific orders to approach the docked Brazilian steamers stealthily before sunrise and to board them. That would leave the Brazilian ground forces bereft of their navy early on in the war.[5]

López sent nine steamers: Tacuarí, Ygureí, Marqués de Olinda, Paraguarí, Salto Guairá, Rio Apa, Yporá, Pirabebé, and Yberá; under the command of Captain Meza, who was aboard the Tacuarí.[5] However, some two leagues after leaving Humaitá, it reached a point known as Nuatá-pytá, where the engine of the Yberá broke down.[6][7] After hours were lost in an attempt to fix it, a decision was made to continue with only the eight remaining steamers.[1]

The fleet arrived at Corrientes after sunrise, but because of a dense fog, the plan was still executable since most, if not all, Brazilian forces were still on land.[6] However, not following López's orders, Meza decided that instead of approaching and boarding the docked steamers, the fleet was to continue down the river and fire at the camp and docked vessels as they passed by.[6][3] The Paraguayans opened fire at 9:25 am.[4]

Battle of Riachuelo
Battle of Riachuelo, Stage 2
Battle of Riachuelo
Battle of Riachuelo, Stage 3

The Paraguayans passed in a line parallel to the Brazilian fleet and continued downstream. Ordered by Meza, the entire fleet opened fire on the docked Brazilian steamers.[6] The land troops, realizing that they were under attack, hastily boarded their own ships and began to return fire. One of the Paraguayan steamers was hit in the boiler, and one of the "chatas" (barges) was damaged as well.[1] Once out of range, they turned upstream and anchored the barges, which formed a line in a very narrow part of the river. That was intended to trap the Brazilian fleet.[1]

Admiral Barroso noticed the Paraguayan tactic and turned down the stream to go after the Paraguayans, but they started to fire from the shore into the lead ship, Belmonte. The second ship in the line, Jequitinhonha, mistakenly turned upstream and was followed by the whole fleet.[3] That leaving Belmonte alone to receive the full firepower of the Paraguayan fleet, which soon put it out of action. Jequitinhonha ran aground after and so became an easy prey for the Paraguayans.[4]

Battle of Riachuelo. The Brazilian corvette Amazonas rams and sinks the Paraguayan Jejuy.

Admiral Barroso, on board the steamer Amazonas, tried to avoid chaos and to reorganize the Brazilian fleet and so he decided to lead the fleet downstream again and to fight the Paraguayans to prevent their escape, rather than to save Amazonas. Four steamers (Beberibe, Iguatemi, Mearim, and Araguari) followed Amazonas. Meza left his position and attacked the Brazilian line, which sent three ships after Araguari. Parnaíba remained near Jequitinhonha, and he was also attacked by three ships that were trying to board it. The Brazilian line was effectively cut into two. In Parnaíba, a ferocious battle took place when Marquez de Olinda joined the attackers.

Barroso, now heading upstream, decided to turn the tide of the battle with a desperate measure. The first ship to face Amazonas was the Paraguarí which was rammed and put out of action.[8][4] Then, he rammed Marquez de Olinda and Salto, and sank a "chata".[1] Paraguari was already out of action and so the Paraguayans tried to disengage. Beberibe and Araguari pursued the Paraguayans and heavily damaged Tacuary and Pirabebé, but nightfall prevented the sinking of those ships.

Jequitinhonha had to be put afire by Paraguari and Marquez de Olinda. In the end, the Paraguayans lost four steamers and all of their "chatas", but the Brazilians lost only the Jequitinhonha, coincidentally the ship responsible for the confusion.


After the battle, the eight remaining Brazilian steamers sailed down river.[9] President López ordered Major José Maria Brúguez with his batteries to quickly move inland to the south to wait for and attack the passing Brazilian fleet. The fleet then had to run the gauntlet. On August 12, Brúguez attacked the fleet from the high cliffs at Cuevas. Each Brazilian ship was hit, and 21 men were killed.[10]

Battle of Cuevas

The Paraguarí, which had been rammed by the Amazonas, was set ablaze by the Brazilians, but the ship had a metal hull. A few months later, López ordered the Yporá to retrieve the hull, tow it to the Jejui River and sink it there.[8] Also, under orders from López, one month after the battle, the Yporá returned to the scene and, again under the cover of night and using stealth to avoid alarming another Brazilian steamer nearby, boarded the remains of the Jequitinhonha and stole one of its cannons.[8]

Meza was wounded by a gunshot to the chest on June 11 during the battle.[1] He left the battle alive but would die eight days later from the wound at the Humaitá hospital. López, upon learning of Meza's death, said, Si no hubiera muerto con una bala, debia morir con cuatro[8] ("Had he not died from one gunshot, he would have to die from four"). He gave orders for no officers to attend Meza's funeral.

Manuel Trujillo, one of the Paraguayan soldiers who took part in the battle, recalled, "When we sailed down river on full steam, passing all the Brazilian steamers on the morning of the eleventh, we were all shocked since we knew that all we had to do was approach the steamers and go 'all aboard!'"[8] He also recalled that during the battle, the land troops who had been taken on the steamers to board the Brazilian fleet, shouted, "Let's approach the steamers! We came in order to board them and not to be killed on deck!"[8]

Barroso had turned the tables by creatively ramming the enemy ships. The Brazilian Navy had won a decisive battle. General Robles had effectively been stopped in Rio Santa Lúcia. The threat to Argentina had been neutralized.

Order of battle[edit]


Unit[4][7] Type Tonnage Horsepower Firepower Notes
Amazonas Frigate 1050 300 1 70 lb and 5 68 lb Flagship – paddle steamer
Belmonte Corvette 602 120 1 70 lb, 3 68 lb and 4 32 lb
Jequitinhonha Corvette 647 130 2 68 lb and 5 32 lb
Beberibe Corvette 637 130 1 68 lb and 6 32 lb
Parnaíba Corvette 602 120 1 70 Lb, 2 68 lb and 4 32 lb
Ipiranga Gunboat 325 70 7 30 lb
Araguari Gunboat 415 80 2 68 lb and 2 32 lb
Iguatemi Gunboat 406 80 3 68 lb and 2 32 lb
Mearim Gunboat 415 100 3 68 lb and 4 32 lb


Unit[1][4][11] Type Tonnage Horsepower Firepower Notes
Tacuarí Corvette 620 120 2 68 lb and 6 32 lb
Ygureí Steamboat 650 130 3 68 lb and 4 32 lb
Marquez de Olinda Steamboat 300 80 4 18 lb Captured from Brazil earlier in the war
Salto Guairá Steamboat 300 70 4 18 lb
Paraguarí Corvette 730 130 2 68 lb and 6 32 lb
Yporá Steamboat 300 80 4 guns Gun rates unavailable. Scuttled in the River Yhaguy after the battle. Boiler, crankshaft and paddle wheel on display
Yberá Steamboat 300 4 guns
Pirabebé Steamboat 150 60 1 18 lb Scuttled in the River Yhaguy after the battle. Wreckage restored and today on public display
Rio Apa
2 Chatas 40 1 80 lb gun each Barges – Towed
5 Chatas 35 1 68 lb each Barges – Towed
Shore troops 22 32 lb and two congreve batteries Shore troops




  1. ^ a b c d e f g Charles Ames Washburn (1871). The History of Paraguay: With Notes of Personal Observations, and Reminiscences of Diplomacy Under Difficulties. Lee & Shepard. pp. 66-73.
  2. ^ a b Hooker, T.D., 2008, The Paraguayan War, Nottingham: Foundry Books, ISBN 1901543153
  3. ^ a b c R. G. Grant (2017-10-24). 1001 Battles That Changed the Course of History. Book Sales. pp. 641–. ISBN 978-0-7858-3553-0.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Thomas Whigham (2002). The Paraguayan War: Causes and early conduct. U of Nebraska Press. pp. 308–326. ISBN 0-8032-4786-9.
  5. ^ a b c Bareiro Saguier & Villagra Marsal 2007, p. 69.
  6. ^ a b c d Bareiro Saguier & Villagra Marsal 2007, p. 70.
  7. ^ a b James Hamilton Tomb (2005). Engineer in Gray: Memoirs of Chief Engineer James H. Tomb, CSN. McFarland. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-7864-1991-3.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Bareiro Saguier & Villagra Marsal 2007, p. 71.
  9. ^ Bareiro Saguier & Villagra Marsal 2007, p. 72.
  10. ^ Leuchars, Chris, To the Bitter End: Paraguay and the War of Triple Alliance, Greenwood Press, 2002, p.86
  11. ^ Hernâni Donato (1996). Dicionário das batalhas brasileiras. IBRASA. pp. 440–. ISBN 978-85-348-0034-1. Different sources provide different names for the Paraguayan ships


  • Bareiro Saguier, Ruben; Villagra Marsal, Carlos (2007). Testimonios de la Guerra Grande. Muerte del Mariscal López. Tomo II. Asuncion, Paraguay: Editorial Servilibro.
  • "Riachuelo". The South American Military History Webpage. Archived from the original on 2005-03-28. Retrieved December 15, 2005. – by Ulysses Narciso
  • Fragoso, Augusto Tasso. História da Guerra entre a Tríplice Aliança e o Paraguai, Vol II. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa do Estado Maior do Exército, 1934.
  • Schneider, L. A guerra da tríplice Aliança, Tomo I. São Paulo: Edições Cultura, 1945.

Coordinates: 27°33′44″S 58°50′21″W / 27.56222°S 58.83917°W / -27.56222; -58.83917