Paraguay expedition

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The Paraguay Squadron according to Harper's Weekly, 26 October 1858.

The Paraguay expedition (1858–1859) was an American diplomatic mission and nineteen-ship squadron ordered by President James Buchanan to South America to demand redress for certain wrongs alleged to have been done by Paraguay, and seize its capital Asunción if it was refused. The expedition was sent without an adequate investigation of the facts; most modern scholars have considered Buchanan's complaints were probably unjustified. The real cause of the misunderstandings was that neither country had employed a competent diplomatic service. Buchanan may have had an ulterior motive, such as to distract public opinion from the domestic concerns that afflicted his presidency, and other sinister explanations were put forward; but possibly Buchanan may have meant to emulate the success of the earlier Perry Expedition, which had "opened up" isolated Japan.

At the time it was the largest naval squadron ever sent from the United States, and it caused a great impression in the Platine basin. Even so, had it come to war, the strategic position of Paraguay in the heart of South America was strong. Further, owing to shore-based administrative incompetence, the squadron had serious deficiencies. Hence the expedition has been described as "woefully inadequate" for the job and "a military bluff carried off with commendable skill". However, because of the conciliatory attitude of the U.S. diplomatic representative Judge James B. Bowlin — who to get an equitable resolution deviated from his instructions — and to the fact that Paraguay needed international friends, normal relations between the two countries were restored. Until that happened, only one ship entered Paraguayan waters, by mutual agreement.

In financial terms, the expedition cost perhaps $3 million for which Paraguay paid $9,412 for the sake of peace and quiet. Nevertheless Buchanan claimed a foreign policy success. There was disinformation, some of whose effects persist to this day.

President Buchanan's complaints[edit]

James Buchanan in 1859. His presidency was troubled by dissolving national cohesion, seceding States.

In Buchanan's own words,[1] the government of Paraguay had:-

  1. "[S]eized and appropriated the property of American citizens residing in Paraguay, in a violent and arbitrary manner";
  2. "upon frivolous and even insulting pretexts, refused to ratify the treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation";
  3. "fired upon the United States steamer Water Witch ... and killed the sailor at the helm, while she was peacefully employed in surveying the Parana river".

The honor, as well as the interest of the United States, concluded Buchanan, demanded satisfaction.[2][3] In his first annual message to Congress (8 December 1857) he said he would make a demand for redress, "in a firm but conciliatory manner", but backed up by force if necessary.

On 2 June 1858 a joint resolution of Congress authorized the President to obtain satisfaction, using force if necessary.[4]

The antecedents[edit]

The adventures of Edward A. Hopkins[edit]

Edward Augustus Hopkins was an adventurer who caused trouble with the government of Paraguay. As will appear, insofar as a single person could be to blame for the Paraguayan debacle, that person was Hopkins.

A former midshipman in the U.S. Navy who had been court-martialled three times and dismissed from his squadron,[5] he has been described as "undisciplined, imprudent, arrogant, aggressive",[6] "unruly, quarrelsome, pugnacious, and arrogant",[7] and "swaggering, bullying and tyranical".[8] According to yet another scholar,

Edward A. Hopkins was an unusual man and therein lay his difficulties. His outstanding characteristics were presumptuousness, egotism and marvellously bad judgment. These characteristics were combined with a lively imagination that Hopkins resorted to whenever reality became too cumbersome — which was most of the time! Hopkins managed to combine these characteristics in such an unusual manner that he antagonized everyone who had the misfortune of dealing with him.[9]

His first appointment to Paraguay[edit]

In 1845 James Buchanan, at that time Secretary of State, needed to appoint a confidential agent to visit Paraguay, so he could determine whether it was worth granting diplomatic recognition. The man Buchanan chose for the job was the 22-year old[5] Edward A. Hopkins. Despite his unpromising record, Hopkins got himself appointed, through family influence.[7]

Hopkins had no diplomatic status. His sole functions were to communicate American goodwill and to report the facts on the ground to the U.S. government. He soon exceeded his remit, not only trying to mediate a longstanding dispute between Paraguay and Buenos Aires dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas — falsely claiming he had U.S. authorization to do it — but making wild and intemperate proposals.[10] When Rosas paid no attention, Hopkins wrote him a letter that was so insulting the United States felt constrained to apologize. Hopkins was recalled.[11][12][13]

His second appointment, and his rejection by Paraguay[edit]

Carlos Antonio López, President of Paraguay. An irascible dictator, nevertheless he is known as the Great Builder of his country.

Hopkins was a persuasive optimist.[7] He persuaded prominent Rhode Island investors, including Governor Samuel G. Arnold, that Paraguay was an excellent business opportunity.[14] They incorporated the United States and Paraguay Navigation Company. With a capital of $100,000, it would build and sail ships on the rivers of South America as well as conduct other business. Hopkins had himself appointed U.S. Consul in Paraguay, a diplomatic post he secured despite his calamitous record: he was the only applicant.[15] He assumed office in June 1853. He was also the general agent of the Rhode Island company in Paraguay.[8]

The business venture of the United States and Paraguay Navigation Company was a failure. Its main asset, a steamship loaded with machinery and merchandise, was shipwrecked well before it could get to Paraguay.[15] (According to a pro-Paraguayan source, not necessarily reliable, the shipwreck was intentional, the object being to use the insurance payout to fund the venture.)[16]

Salvaging the cargo as best as he could, Hopkins arrived in Paraguay and borrowed 11,500 pesos[17] from its president, Carlos Antonio López.[18] Hopkins started a sawmill and a cigar factory which — thanks to López — were allowed to operate on favorable terms, e.g. they were manned by cheap conscript labor. The commercial viability of the venture entirely depended on the goodwill of López.[19]

President López was an irascible, corpulent dictator;[20][21] furthermore, a micromanager.[22] Even so, he is now acknowledged as one of Paraguay's better rulers — a modernizer.[23][24][25] López was gradually bringing Paraguay out of its long period of isolation. Because their country had an insecure history, Paraguayans were said to be xenophobic and touchy. In colonial times Paraguay had had to struggle against endemic Indian and Portuguese raids;[26] after its independence, with Brazilian[27] and Buenos Aires[28] bullying.

19th century Asunción (José Ignacio Garmendia, Museo Roca). Paraguay was emerging from isolation.

Dealing with López called for diplomatic tact and patience;[29] yet the man entrusted with the task was Edward A. Hopkins, whose arrogance began to irritate the President.[17] Hopkins "made no secret of his mission to 'civilize' Paraguay".[8] Thus, according to John Hoyt Williams, he asked to be made an admiral in the Paraguayan navy. He would build a ship to his own design. He and a crew of Americans would sail the ship to Buenos Aires and kidnap dictator Rosas. "All he needed was 100,000 pesos." López was not impressed.[30]

Rural tradition (tupanói). Paraguayans showed respect for elders by asking their blessing. (José Ignacio Garmendia, Museo Roca)

Ill-feeling had been brewing for some time[31] when an incident brought it to a head. One day Hopkins' brother and the wife of the French consul[32] were out riding in the countryside when they encountered three Paraguayan soldiers herding cattle. The soldier in charge ordered the couple to move aside so as not to frighten the animals, but he was ignored and the cattle stampeded. Enraged, the soldier struck Hopkins' brother with the flat of his sword. Whereupon, wrote Professor Ynsfran

Consul Hopkins, instead of lodging a reasonable complaint with the police on behalf of his brother, presented himself in riding boots and flourishing a whip in the hand at the government house, where he was admitted as usual with every consideration, and confronted the president with a shower of vituperations and threats. The flabbergasted ruler was for the moment speechless. After a few minutes he recovered his calm and dismissed Hopkins with the admonition that if he had any remonstrances he should present them through the proper channel. Hopkins had conjured up his own Nemesis. President López, incensed at this gross conduct, withdrew Hopkins' exequatur, and the latter had no alternative but to leave the country. This meant the shattering of the inchoate emporium of the Rhode Island company.[33]

A different source found that Hopkins boasted that he "forcibly entered the audience chamber of President López, in his riding dress, whip in hand, despite the remonstrance of the guard".[34]

Hopkins made it worse. According to one source, though López had ordered the soldier to receive 300 lashes for exceeding his authority,[35] Hopkins demanded that Paraguay apologise in its official newspaper.[36] Another source — a resident Spanish journalist — wrote that Hopkins had demanded that the soldier be shot, but he was only sentenced to a spell in jail.[37]

Hopkins possessed certain documents which he was supposed to deliver up before leaving the country. He refused, and in defiance of López was conveyed out of Paraguay aboard a visiting American vessel USS Water Witch. An infuriated López banned all foreign warships from entering Paraguayan waters. This incident, and the role of Water Witch in further exacerbating American-Paraguayan relations, will be described later.

The claims of the Rhode Island company[edit]

López according to Hopkins. Hopkins' company induced the U.S. government to send the Paraguay expedition.

Back in the United States the company that Hopkins represented got up a claim against Paraguay. This claim was afterwards adjudicated, see below, by a two-person international commission comprising an American and a Paraguayan arbitrator. The arbitrators agreed that the Rhode Island company's claim was worthless. However, this was not determined until August 1860. Meantime, the Rhode Island company started a campaign. It asserted that it had been wronged and damaged by the Republic of Paraguay to an amount in excess of a million dollars. It was in reference to this claim that President Buchanan said Paraguay had "seized and appropriated the property of American citizens residing in Paraguay, in a violent and arbitrary manner".

The company lobbied to get the Paraguay expedition, spending a lot of money to get the joint resolution through Congress, where there was strong opposition.[38]


The claim by the Rhode Island company that they were arbitrarily ruined by the Paraguayan government, later adjudicated as worthless, was, therefore, one of the three official causes for sending the Paraguay expedition.

Refusing to ratify the friendship treaty[edit]

Paraguay had a history of feeling disrespected by its larger neighbors Brazil[27][39] and Argentina[40][41]` and welcomed recognition by third countries.[5] Recently, in 1853, Paraguay had negotiated treaties of friendship, commerce and navigation with Great Britain, France, Sardinia[42] and the United States,[43] and looked forward to the ratification of the latter by the U.S. Senate. These four treaties were almost word-for-word the same,[44][45] and contained most favored nation clauses.

Owing to the carelessness of a visiting American diplomat, many formal mistakes got into the wording of the U.S.-Paraguay treaty, e.g. the U.S.A. was referred to as "United States of North America"; so the U.S. Senate required these be corrected. A corrected version was prepared for Paraguay to ratify.[44] By the time the document arrived in South America consul Hopkins had departed, and no American diplomat was available to formally present it to the Paraguayan government. So the responsibility was given to Lieutenant Thomas Jefferson Page, commander of USS Water Witch[46][47][44][48]

Following the Hopkins incident in which he was conveyed out of Paraguay by USS Water Witch (September 1854), an angry President López was in no mood to ratify, and Water Witch had been banned from Paraguayan waters. Lieutenant Page sent an officer to Asunción by commercial steamer to hand-deliver the corrected version of the treaty. However, an upset Paraguayan government refused to receive it because it was not in Spanish.[49]


Buchanan complained Paraguay refused to ratify the treaty "on frivolous and even insulting pretexts". But strictly speaking Paraguay was not bound to ratify a document not in its national language; more to the point, it was not bound to ratify a treaty of friendship at all; still less, if there was not friendship enough. The upshot, however, was that while France, Great Britain and Sardinia had gained commercial and navigation advantages, the United States had yet to do so.

That, then, was another of the three reasons Buchanan gave for sending the Paraguay expedition.

USS Water Witch[edit]

USS Water Witch, explorer of the rivers of the Platine basin

Water Witch was a ship of the United States Navy that explored the rivers of the River Plate basin. These rivers drain an area of land equal to one-fourth of the surface of South America. Amongst the most important are the Paraná River and the Paraguay River. They are accessible through Argentine territory.

In 1852 dictator Rosas — who used to block access to them — was overthrown and his successor Justo José de Urquiza opened the rivers of Argentina to free navigation by the ships of all nations. The United States therefore decided to send Water Witch on an expedition of scientific exploration, intended to encourage commerce and enhance American prestige.[50]

USS Water Witch was the best vessel for this role. Launched in 1852, she had a wooden hull 150 foot long, a 22-foot beam, and drew only 7 feet 10 inches, important for navigating rivers that were liable to shoal. She carried an experimental propulsion system (Morgan eccentric feathering paddle wheels).[51] Rigged as a topsail schooner, she was armed with three small bronze howitzers.[52]

She was commanded by Lieutenant Thomas Jefferson Page USN, who afterward wrote an accessible account of her voyages.[53] Born into one of the First Families of Virginia, his grandfather had signed the Declaration of Independence. However, Page was wanting in tact,[54] and was no diplomat.[55] In touchy Paraguay misunderstandings could occur, yet according to the southern gentleman honor code, insult literally could not be tolerated.[56]

President López welcomes USS Water Witch[edit]

Lieutenant Thomas Jefferson Page USN, commander of USS Water Witch

Water Witch arrived at Asunción in October 1853. At this time consul Hopkins had only been in Paraguay a few months and was still on good terms with President López.

Lieutenant Page wrote that López received them very well, concluding[57]

the reception of the expedition in his waters, and his entire course towards us, until his outbreak with [consul Edward Hopkins], was characterized throughout by generous hospitality.

Since Paraguay sought American friendship, it was understandable.

First dent in American-Paraguayan relations[edit]

Page wanted to take Water Witch up the Paraguay River into the Mato Grosso, owned by Brazil, and applied to López for permission. However, there was a highly sensitive political situation that Page did not fully understand:

Paraguay had a tense relationship with the Empire of Brazil; the two countries had a 300-year old, shifting boundary dispute going back deep into colonial times.[27] Where Paraguay ended and Brazil began was strongly disputed, and had led to firefights.[58][59] Paraguay considered that Brazilian settlers from the Mato Grosso were continually encroaching into and appropriating Paraguayan territory,[60] yet López could not persuade Brazil to sign a definitive boundary agreement.[61] He felt very bitter about this.[62] López feared to make a precedent whereby Brazil would demand the right to navigate via the River Paraguay into the Mato Grosso.

What was really at issue was Lopez's fears that free navigation would lead to an enormous Brazilian buildup in the Mato Grosso which would threaten Paraguay militarily, and, through its commercial impact on the North, would especially increase smuggling. It would seem that López had an almost morbid premonition that formal war with Brazil was on the cards.[63]

Accordingly, López issued Lieutenant Page with a passport to explore the Paraguay River up to a certain point which he considered Paraguayan territory;[64] but no further.[65][66][67] When Water Witch arrived there, however, Page persuaded himself he could ignore López's prohibition and he pushed on deep into Brazilian territory. Scientifically, this was interesting; politically, reckless. Page established his 450 ton ship could steam up to Corumbá in the Mato Grosso, 1,870 miles (3,010 km) from Buenos Aires, further than had ever been done before; his achievement opened up the Mato Grosso to steam navigation (far and away the best means of access to the province);[68][69] but he upset López. Although López tried to be polite about it, it was a dent in American-Paraguayan relations. López no longer trusted Page.[70][71][72][73]

Opening up the Mato Grosso
1. Corumbá, 1853, arrival of USS Water Witch
2. Corumbá today viewed by drone
  1. Water Witch proved a steamship could reach Corumbá, nearly 2,000 miles from the sea. Brazil was keen to encourage immigration into the region. This was a security worry for Paraguay, however.
  2. Water Witch's achievement opened up the Mato Grosso to steam navigation, greatly developing the remote region.

Edward Hopkins again; Water Witch trains her guns on the presidential palace[edit]

In September 1854 President López informed Lieutenant Page that Edward Hopkins was no longer accepted as U.S. Consul in Paraguay. The Rhode Island company could send another representative and that would be fine, but Paraguay would have no more dealings with Hopkins. [74]

As mentioned, Hopkins had in his possession certain papers he was supposed to deliver up and López refused to let him leave the country until he did so. Lieutenant Page, although he had a very poor opinion of Hopkins (the contempt was mutual),[75] decided he ought to help a fellow American, and applied for the necessary permits. However, the Paraguayan government and Page got into a prickly dispute about the paperwork, the government insisting all applications had to be made in Spanish, which language Page refused to use.[36] So Page defied López and removed Hopkins from Paraguay anyway in USS Water Witch. This raised López's animosity, since the implication was that Water Witch, a guest of Paraguay, was prepared to fight its way out of the country to remove a person defying the Paraguayan government. It seems that each side thought the other might be planning on violence,[76][77] and Water Witch trained her guns on the presidential palace.[78][79][80] A furious López responded by banning all foreign vessels of war from Paraguayan waters. (It was why he refused to ratify the U.S.-Paraguay treaty of friendship, above).[48][81]

Fort Itapirú fires on USS Water Witch[edit]

Fort Itapirú on the Upper Paraná river, and the Canal Privado behind Carayá island (Thompson, 1869)
Lt. William Jeffers, who defied Fort Itapirú
Itapirú fort today, Upper Paraná. The remains of the old brick fort, destroyed in the War of the Triple Alliance, can just be discerned under the flagstaff.
USS Water Witch incident

USS Water Witch is fired on by Fort Itapirú for trespassing in Paraguayan territorial waters (1 February 1855)
Date1 February 1855
Result Paraguay expedition
 United States  Paraguay
Commanders and leaders
Lieutenant William Nicholson Jeffers Vicente Duarte[82]
1 steamer 1 fort
Casualties and losses
1 killed
1 steamer disabled

In January 1855, while Water Witch was in Argentine waters, Lieutenant Page led off a small expedition to explore an Argentine river, leaving his executive officer, Lieutenant William Nicholson Jeffers,[83] in charge of the ship, with orders to explore the Upper Paraná river.[82]

The Upper Paraná flows west until it encounters the Paraguay River, when it turns south and is called the Lower Paraná.[65] The Upper Paraná — which Jeffers was to explore — was (and is) is the international boundary between Argentina and Paraguay, and at that time was at least two miles wide.[84]

A few miles upstream the Upper Paraná there was[85] a long island called Carayá[86] that divided the river into two channels. The southern channel was international, but so far as Paraguay was concerned the northern channel, called the Canal Privado[87] was in Paraguayan territorial waters, was indeed a sensitive military zone. The reason was that, mostly, the Paraguayan coast was swampy and not easily invaded, but an exception occurred around the village of Paso de Patria,[88] where there was a firm beach where a landing could be made.[89] This vulnerable spot was defended by a military camp at Paso de Patria, and the entrance to the channel was protected by a Paraguayan fort called Itapirú.[90][91][82][92] The map, drawn by colonel George Thompson of the Paraguayan army just few years later for another purpose, shows the scene.

Itapirú was only a small semicircular brick fort, but it had six large cannon,[93] and its gunners were accurate.[94][95] Ten years later, in the War of the Triple Alliance, the fort[96] defied a strong Brazilian naval force for 40 days.[92]

On 1 February 1855 USS Water Witch, Lieutenant Jeffers, carrying an Argentine pilot,[94] approached Fort Itapirú where it guarded the Canal Privado. He must have known he was risking confrontation, because he moved the starboard gun to the port side, cleared for action, and ordered forty shrapnel, twelve regular shells, and thirty stand of grape prepared.[94] He knew López had banned foreign warships from Paraguayan waters — with Water Witch in mind — and he was carrying a pilot who knew the river. His excuse was that he had tried to go through the main channel but had run on a sandbar. One source says the move was probably a calculated insult to López.[97] It was, at least, bad timing, because there was a tense political situation: Paraguay was expecting an invasion by a large Brazilian fleet.[98]

At about 1:20 pm the fort sent a Paraguayan canoe alongside and a man offered Jeffers a copy of López's decree banning foreign vessels. Jeffers refused to accept it on the ground that it was in Spanish.[94][99] Jeffers did this, not because there was nobody on board who knew Spanish — there was [100] — but in retaliation for Paraguay's earlier refusal to receive the friendship treaty in English.[94] Thus Jeffers was navigating in waters claimed by Paraguay while refusing to communicate with its officials. When within 300 yards of the fort Jeffers received a hail in Spanish. "Not understanding", he continued.[101][94][102]

According to Jeffers, the fort then fired two blank shots, followed by a live round. The live shot killed the helmsman, Samuel Chaney. Water Witch retaliated with her three howitzers. His way ahead uncertain because of a risk of grounding, Jeffers reversed course and ran the gauntlet again. The fort hulled Water Witch ten times, destroyed two boats and damaged a paddle wheel. Water Witch limped into an Argentine port.[94]

When Lieutenant Page found out about it he went downriver and tried to persuade Commodore William D. Salter, commander of the U.S. squadron in South America, to give him orders to attack the fort. Salter refused, and referred it to Washington.[103][104]

According to the official Paraguayan military report, published in the country's newspaper, the fort sent an officer to warn Water Witch she was not allowed to enter the Canal Privado, handing her commander a copy of López's decree; but he rudely threw it back, saying he had nothing to do with any Paraguayan, and was going to go ahead anyway. Further, that three warning blank shots were fired, but the ship's crew laughed loudly, ridiculing the fort's gunnery;[105] nor did they respond to three verbal hails.[106]


Back in the U.S., Lieutenant Page claimed the Paraguayan fort had fired at Water Witch without provocation while she was in international waters. Lieutenant Jeffers claimed he was never in the Canal Privado. Modern scholars have not been persuaded,[107][99][108][109][110] and neither was Secretary of State William L. Marcy, who found Page and Jeffers directly responsible for the Water Witch incident.[111][112][113] (In late 1856 the U.S. sent special agent Richard Fitzpatrick to Paraguay to try to get the friendship treaty ratified, without even mentioning Water Witch; he was rebuffed).[113]

In any case, the incident was provoked by a junior naval officer who should have known he was risking armed confrontation with a fort under orders to interdict foreign vessels, and with which he refused to parley. President Buchanan claimed that López's navigation prohibition did not apply to USS Water Witch because she was not a vessel of war, just a scientific research vessel,[114] ignoring that USS Water Witch came to the fort stripped for action with her ammunition on deck.


That the Paraguayan fort had fired on Water Witch without justification may seem improbable in light of the above. This, then, was the other of the three official causes for sending the Paraguay expedition.

Incompetent diplomacy[edit]

In less than six months an accumulation of diplomatic altercations had produced a full-fledged dispute that would almost to lead to war.[115] In summary, the sequence of mistakes leading to the breakdown in relations was: (1) a diplomat failing to proof-read an international treaty; (2) while a guest of Paraguay and in defiance of its government, insensitively steaming into Brazil; (3) the inappropriate behavior of consul Hopkins; (4) defiantly taking Hopkins and documents away in an U.S. warship; (5) using Lieutenant Page in the sensitive matter of the unratified treaty; (6) defying Fort Itapirú. These things might have been avoided if both sides had had a competent diplomatic service to untangle misunderstandings in good time, but they did not.[115][116]


López has been described as "an egotist who refused to maintain an adequate diplomatic service".[117] Paraguay had a minister of foreign relations in Asunción, but he was a mere figurehead: López did not even allow his foreign ministers to open diplomatic correspondence.[29] López had no representatives abroad "and did not care to get information about the outside world".[118]

At various times López was troubled by foreign envoys (e.g. Hopkins) who were exceeding their instructions. He did not know to take the elementary precaution of requiring them to produce their diplomatic credentials.[119]

United States[edit]

At that time there was no professional Foreign Service.[120] Congress begrudged the cost of the diplomatic establishment.[121] Until 1856, appointments in the American diplomatic and consular services were unsalaried; therefore, the financial incentive to apply for a post (if any) was the opportunity to make money in a foreign country.[122] Diplomatic and consular appointments were made on the spoils system; too often, the quality was poor.[123][124] In Latin America the U.S. was represented in some countries, not in others. [125]

Edward A. Hopkins' memorial to President Buchanan (1858). Hopkins often found reality "too cumbersome" to bear.

Until consul Hopkins arrived the United States did not have any kind of representation in Asunción. When it had needed to, it sent a diplomat from Buenos Aires. The quality of this part-time representation could be poor. The mistakes that got into the U.S.-Paraguay treaty of friendship did so because of the carelessness of one of those visitors, who cannot have proof-read the document.[126] Hopkins, the first U.S. consul, got the post because nobody else applied. After he left the job of representing America was given to Lieutenant Page, effectively a persona non grata in Paraguay, who was anyway a junior naval officer with no diplomatic aptitude. In one assessment, "The dispatch of a strong American task force to bring Paraguay to book was the culmination of fifteen years of diplomatic futility".[6]

President Buchanan's motives[edit]

Towns, rivers and forts mentioned in this article

There was no public pressure for action against Paraguay; newspaper coverage was sparse and, if anything, adverse to Hopkins and Page.[127] The Water Witch incident was almost forgotten in public consciousness when, three years later, it was suddenly revived by President Buchanan in his first annual message to Congress.[118]

It is not certain that Buchanan himself believed his complaints were valid. He personally knew something about Hopkins' track record; he presumably knew that Secretary of State Marcy had thought Lieutenant Jeffers was probably to blame for the Fort Itapirú incident;[128] and it could be guessed why President López might be unwilling to ratify a treaty of friendship.[113] Yet the Paraguay expedition was despatched "without bothering about a real investigation of the rather complicated antecedents of the trouble".[129][130] Several authors have thought Buchanan had an ulterior motive. "The reason for the sending of the expedition plainly lies outside the scope of American-Paraguayan relations".[127]

Ulterior motive theories[edit]

One theory is that Buchanan sent the Paraguay expedition to distract American public opinion from the domestic problems that plagued his presidency. "Stymied on the domestic front, Buchanan looked to the foreign policy area... President Buchanan hoped to restore national unity by sending a large fleet to Paraguay to gain redress for alleged wrongs done to American honor. That did not occur and the nation ultimately descended into a brutal civil war. [131] Another interpretation is that Buchanan wanted to demonstrate that "the United States had the will and the power to enforce the Monroe Doctrine".[132] Still another is that the expedition was sent for a wider purpose, the protection of American commerce in that part of the world.[133]

The United States House Select Committee to Investigate Alleged Corruptions in Government claimed that "Mr Buchanan's war on Paraguay was not for glory, but to furnish means of corruption". They said the Paraguay expedition was an opportunity to dispense political patronage; several examples were given.[134] A more sinister theory held that Buchanan was a dupe of Southern conspirators who meant to weaken the United States by "withdrawing from the forts and arsenals of the North all the munitions of war, thus leaving them unprovided with arms whenever the plans for the Great Rebellion should be matured".[135][136]


The Water Witch expedition to South America was one of several in which units of the Navy had been ordered to explore and open up parts of the world to intercourse with the United States. The most famous of these today is the Perry Expedition (1852-3 and 1854-5) which, under the presidencies of Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce, had "opened up" Japan, until then a country which had kept itself in strict isolation.[137] The Perry Expedition had threatened force in 1853 and the divided Japanese leadership had decided to accept America's demands. Paraguay, thanks to its traditional isolation, had a reputation as an "inland Japan";[138][115] but Hopkins, the Rhode Island company and Page publicised the theory that Paraguay had more to offer than Japan.[139] Buchanan may have wanted to emulate the achievement of his predecessors. (One of the vessels of the Perry Expedition, the Supply, was used on the Paraguay expedition.)

The expedition[edit]

The Paraguay expedition consisted of two functions: the naval force, and an accompanying diplomatic mission.

The naval arm[edit]

William B. Shubrick, the expedition's commodore. He told López Paraguay needed a good lawyer — and recommended one.
USS Fulton, the vessel that entered Paraguayan waters to negotiate

Up to that time it was the largest naval expedition ever to leave the United States.[140][21] It accounted for 25% of the Navy's personnel and operational vessels.[141]

US Ship Type Commander Remarks
Sabine Frigate Captain H.A. Adams Flag Officer W.B. Shubrick
St Lawrence Frigate Captain J.B Hull Flag Officer F. Forrest
Falmouth Sloop-of-war Commander E. Farrand
Preble Sloop-of-war Commander T.E. Jenkins
Dolphin Brig Commander Charles Steedman
Bainbridge Brig Lt. Commanding F.B Renshaw
Perry Brig Lt. Commanding R.I. Tilghman
Memphis Steamer* Commander J.B. Marchand Renamed USS Mystic
Atlanta Steamer* Commander D.B. Ridgely Renamed USS Sumpter
Caledonia Steamer* Commander A.L. Case Renamed USS Mohawk
Southern Star Steamer* Commander A.M. Pennock Renamed USS Crusader
Westernport Steamer* Commander T.T. Hunter Renamed US Wyandotte
Fulton Steamer Lt. Commanding J.J. Almy Subsequently, the flagship
Water Witch Steamer Lt. Commanding R.B. Pegram
M.W. Chapin Steamer* Lt. Commanding William Ronckendorff Renamed USS Anacostia
Metacomet Steamer* Lt. Commanding W.H. Macomb Renamed USS Pulaski
Harriet Lane Revenue steamer Captain John Faunce
Supply Armed store ship Lt. Commanding F. Stanly
Release Armed store ship Lt. Commanding W.A. Parker

These ships carried 200 guns and 2,500 men.[142]

Diplomat James B. Bowlin. Realizing that Paraguay had been wronged, his conciliatory attitude resolved the difficulties.

Most of the American fleet drew too much water to ascend the rivers.[143] Therefore, the United States chartered seven commercial steamers and adapted them as naval vessels. The charters gave the United States the option to buy them outright, which it did.[144] In the table they are denoted by an asterisk.

The diplomatic arm, and its instructions[edit]

President Buchanan appointed a diplomat to accompany the expedition. He was Judge James Butler Bowlin, a prominent and well-respected St Louis politician with "a reputation as a forceful, no-nonsense diplomat".[140]

Bowlin was instructed to demand:

  • "an apology for the attack upon the Water Witch" ;
  • "an apology for the rude and offensive manner in which Commander Page's proposition for an exchange of the ratifications of the Treaty was received, and for the rejection of that of Mr Fitzpatrick upon the grounds alleged";
  • "an indemnification of not less than five thousand dollars to be paid to the representatives of the seaman who was killed upon the occasion"; and
  • "a suitable indemnification in behalf of the United States and Paraguay Company for their losses and damages in consequence of the treatment of the servants of that Company by the Paraguayan government".[145]

As to the last point, Bowlin was not to accept less than $500,000. If, however, Paraguay would not pay even that, the claim was to go to international arbitration. "An indispensable preliminary, however, to this adjustment, will, of course, be an acknowledgment on the part of the Paraguayan government of its liability to the Company".[145] In other words, the arbitrators were to assume Paraguay was liable; their sole function was to determine the monetary amount.[146]

The military challenge[edit]

Asunción in the heart of South America. The satellite images reveal the river valleys.

Should Bowlin be unable to achieve an agreement with Paraguay on these issues, he was to turn matters over to Commodore Shubrick. Then Shubrick was to:-

Shubrick could have blockaded Paraguay,[148] but the rest of his orders may not have been feasible for any naval force of the wooden-warship era.

Paraguay lay in the heart of South America and had to be approached — and if necessary, fought — through tricky rivers,[149] requiring the skills of a brown-water navy. Fulton alone ran aground four times on her ascent to Asunción, once being stuck for four days.[150] There were strong currents; the sailing warships, if they could have ascended at all, would have been practically useless. The steamships chartered by the expedition were defective (see below); the New York Tribune called them "canal boats" and claimed they were ridiculed everywhere.[151]

It was by no means easy to capture and destroy the Fortress of Humaitá.[152] "A hard nut to crack",[153] it was afterwards known as the Gibraltar of South America.[154][155] Shubrick himself called it "formidable".[156] Its batteries had furnaces for making cannonballs red hot.[157] While not an exact parallel, in the subsequent War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870) it took a combined Brazilian-Argentine force more than two years, incurring major casualties;[158] and, unlike Commodore Shubrick, the allies had ironclad warships and a large siege army with logistical support.

For hostile vessels, even the river approach to Humaitá was dangerous.[159]

Shubrick had only 291 marines and with such a small force land operations were out of the question;[149]

There is no indication in the sources that Buchanan had been apprised of these difficulties. One scholarly assessment is that Shubrick's warlike resources were "woefully inadequate" for the job.[160] Another is that "it is highly unlikely that López was not aware of the weakness of the United States force".[161]

As for capturing Asunción, the allies in the War of the Triple Alliance were to do it in January 1869, but they had large armies and incurred very large casualties.[162] The Paraguayans fought fanatically, losing (on a cautious estimate) between one fourth and one half of their population.

If Shubrick had blockaded Paraguay, it would have been financially inconvenient for that country, but not disastrous, because Paraguay was self-sufficient.[147] Previously, Paraguay had for years defied dictator Manuel de Rosas of Buenos Aires (1835-1852) when he had tried to do the same.[163]

Approach to Asunción[edit]

Units of the expedition began arriving in Montevideo, Uruguay in December 1858. It caused intense alarm in the region.[164][165][166]

Judge Bowlin, however, appreciated it was essential to convey America's peaceful intentions. To do that, he wrote, the diplomatic mission intended to go up to Paraguay in USS Fulton alone, other U.S. vessels to go no further than Corrientes, Argentina. Maybe Paraguay would object to Fulton entering its territorial waters, in which case they would travel on a Paraguayan steamer, for "I am resolved to have no controversy with them on so immaterial a point".[167]

Justo José de Urquiza, President of the Argentine Confederation, was more than keen to promote a settlement between López and the U.S.A.

The larger ships remained in Montevideo while the lighter vessels went up the Paraná River, where all of them ran aground more than once and had to be extricated by the revenue cutter Harriet Lane,[168] on loan from New York Harbor, and named after Buchanan's niece.[169] Some stopped at Rosario, Argentina,[170] while others steamed up to the town of Paraná. At that time the small town was capital of the Argentine Confederation, because the State of Buenos Aires had seceded. There they met Justo José de Urquiza, president of the Argentine Confederation.[164][171]

General Urquiza had major problems of his own. His cash-strapped[172] Argentine Confederation was struggling with the State of Buenos Aires, which had successfully bribed his navy to defect.[173][174][175] He had good relations with López of Paraguay, and wanted to keep it that way, because he hoped for an alliance against Buenos Aires.[176][164] Conversely, Buenos Aires hated López, so American aggression would suit them well, wrote Bowlin.[177] Urquiza decided to try his utmost to persuade López to come to a friendly settlement with Commissioner Bowlin, and went to Asunción himself, preceding the Americans.[178] Afterwards, it was credibly alleged that Urquiza had managed to get hold of a copy of Bowlin's secret instructions, hence knew the American negotiating hand; he did not fail to divulge it to López.[179]

As Judge Bowlin got nearer to the Paraguayan capital his sense of fairness and deepening knowledge led to him to become increasingly skeptical about the Rhode Island company's claim,[129][153] which he called "swaggering boasting".[180]

As planned, no American vessels went further than Corrientes, Argentina, except USS Fulton, which steamed on to Paraguay.[153][181][170][182] Fulton carried Commodore Shubrick, Commissioner Bowlin, and secretary and interpreter Sam Ward.[170] (After the parties came to terms, Water Witch was invited up to Asunción.)[183]

The Londres Battery of the Humaitá fortifications, here partly dismantled, but normally protected by layers of heaped earth. No wooden warships ever tried to force their way past Humaitá.

The Fortress of Humaitá was a few miles up the mouth of the Paraguay River, and Fulton approached it with caution. They came to the Londres battery. According to one account,

Sixteen ominous apertures pointed their gloom, and whatever else they may contain, upon us; and, like the eyes of the figure in the picture, seemed to follow the vessel’s motion, with a precision that is not always agreeable under similar circumstances. These apertures are those of the casemate battery, constructed of brick, but very deep, and defended by the very formidable battery of sixteen eight-inch guns... To the left of the casemate we discovered a more substantial structure, viz.: twenty-five gun battery of thirty-two and twenty-four pounders, besides two eight-inch. Spacious barracks showed that no mean force defended the place, and though there was neither the disturbance nor the disorder of men rushing to their guns, or forming battalions, I occasionally caught a glimpse of the mass that awaited in the rear the ordeal through which we were passing. None of the batteries were manned except the casemate, whose large guns were prepared for the destruction they might well occasion.[184]

To a hail from the shore, the USS Fulton came to anchor, and despatched a boat saying she was Fulton, an American naval vessel bound to Asunción with a United States Commissioner on board. They asked if there was any objection to the Fulton proceeding on her course. A pacific answer was shortly received. Fulton arrived at the Paraguayan capital on 24 January 1859, 1,300 miles (2,100 km) from the sea.[185]


Sam Ward, secretary to the diplomatic mission, was bribed by President López. (An older Ward, 1880.)

By now López understood the Americans came in a conciliatory spirit, and they were received respectfully. While López knew a blockade would cause Paraguay some financial loss, he thought it could not last for long because America was about to descend into civil war. He was not intimidated.[186] However, López had his troubles with Brazil,[187] and did not need another enemy. If he could do it with dignity, he wanted a treaty of friendship with America, and Bowlin was offering him one. A form of words could be found — and was found — to save face over the Water Witch incident.

The stumbling block was the claim by the Rhode Island company. López was prepared to pay up to $250,000 to get rid of it, but Bowlin's instructions did not allow him to settle for under $500,000. However, by now Bowlin was convinced the claim was worthless, and he persuaded López that, if he went to arbitration, Paraguay would do well. He offered to testify for Paraguay in person.[188] Commodore Shubrick even gave López the name of a top American lawyer.[189]

Bowlin's secretary and translator was Sam Ward, a brother of poet Julia Ward Howe. Sam, an accomplished bon viveur,[190] was later famous as the "King of the Lobby". At that time Ward was in straitened financial circumstances, but he soon changed all that by making a private deal with President López.[191] Ward was to lobby in Washington to get the treaty ratified, and he was to get himself appointed secretary to the arbitration commission and use his influence to get its award as far as possible below $500,000. For the first service Ward was to get a lump sum; for the second, a 2% commission on any amount Paraguay saved.[192] A later scholar wrote that the Rhode Island company figured out Ward had been bribed, and tried to outbribe him. However, the corruption of Sam Ward probably made little difference in the end.[193]

There was a serious last-minute snag in the negotiations which, however, was smoothed over, possibly with a little creative bending of Bowlin's mandate.[194]

The settlement[edit]

Settlement (cartoon in Harper's Weekly, 30 April 1859)

Commissioner Bowling and President López came to a settlement,[195] as follows.

  • A form of words was found to save face over the incident of Water Watch and the fort. The government of Paraguay did not admit it was to blame, saying the fort was only obeying standing orders, there being no intent to insult the American flag. However Paraguay deplored the incident had happened because it was open to misinterpretation.[196]
  • Paraguay quietly[197] sent a draft for 10,000 pesos[198] for the helmsman's family.[199]
  • Paraguay said that, in refusing to ratify the friendship treaty, it had nothing to apologize for. It had wanted a treaty with America all along. The mistakes that prevented Paraguay from ratifying were the fault of American representatives.[200]
  • A virtually identical treaty — in English and Spanish — was signed, ratified by Paraguay promptly, and sent to Washington for ratification.[201]
  • The Rhode Island company's claim was to be adjudicated by an international commission comprising two arbitrators, one American, the other Paraguayan. If the arbitrators could not agree, a neutral[202] umpire was to decide it.[203]
  • The arbitrators were to have a free hand: they could award any sum, including nothing at all. (This was not stated explicitly, but subtle language in the Arbitration Convention allowed it.)[204]

In agreeing this settlement, particularly the last point, Bowlin undoubtedly deviated from his instructions. One scholar wrote that since Bowlin was a lawyer he must have known what he was doing,[205] but it is not necessarily so.[206]

USS Fulton left Asunción on 13 February 1859.[207]


Military assessment[edit]

11" Dahlgren gun (center). This formidable weapon could not be used without its carriage.

The Paraguay expedition revealed worrying deficiencies in the antebellum Navy, not because of the officers and men, but owing to incompetent shore-based administration, fueled by inadequate naval budgets.[208] Wrote one scholar:

It was fortunate indeed that the American legation accomplished an acceptable settlement with the swiftness that they did. The serious vulnerability of the Squadron did not become known to the Paraguayans; and the military bluff of the Commodore and Commissioner was carried off with commendable skill. The Squadron was not faced with a test of its offensive power; in the event military action had become necessary, it is unlikely that the naval force could have accomplished its mission with much success.[209]


Southern Star, "an accursed ship",[210] one of seven defective steamers sold to the U.S. government in what was said to be a scam

There was a critical shortage of munitions and ordnance: they would have supported a 7-hour bombardment, but not more. There were not enough small arms cartridges. The largest siege weapon — the 11-inch Dahlgren gun — could not have been used for its carriage had not arrived.[211] In one assessment, the Paraguay expedition, if the negotiations had failed "would not have [had] any blockade or other military capability".[212]

There were serious problems in the supply of coal for the steamers.[213]

Seven merchant steamers were chartered, repaired at Navy yards and converted into naval vessels, with an option to buy them (which was exercised). In use, they were assessed unfit as war vessels:

Vessel Assessment (by her commanding officer or Commodore's investigating commission)[214] Page
Atlanta Unfitted for a war vessel 85
Westernport Totally unsuited for a man-of-war 91
Memphis For a man-of-war cruiser I deem her totally unfit and unsafe 95
Caledonia The vessel is very unmanageable under canvas ... I do not like to think what our fate would be if caught on a lee shore with the engine stopped, a thing very likely to occur [since in] twenty-two days, it has given out five times 97
Southern Star I beg to express a decided opinion that she is entirely unfit for purposes of war 102
Metacomet Even if put in the best order we do not consider her a sea-worthy vessel as, in our opinion, a heavy gale of wind would be fatal to her[215] 110
M.W. Chapin (a) The Chapin can do nothing without steam ... and with it alone can make little or no progress against a moderate wind and sea
(b) The steaming, sailing, and weatherly qualities of the Chapin proved so bad that, in order to reach the United States within a reasonable time, I deemed it proper that she should be helped along by a hawser from one of the other two steamers
112; 95

The flagship USS Sabine was nearly lost in a bad storm, being on her beam ends for five hours. Shubrick blamed a badly repaired tiller and substandard gun ports which had splintered.[216]

The international arbitration: zero damages[edit]

For the international arbitral commission Paraguay hired James Mandeville Carlisle, a clever and distinguished lawyer[217] who argued more cases before the Supreme Court than any other counsel of his time.[218] He had been recommended to President López by Commodore Shubrick himself, which suggests Shubrick wanted Paraguay to win.[189]

President Buchanan appointed his old friend Judge Cave Johnson of Tennessee as one arbitrator, and President López appointed José Berges as the other. José Berges knew that Sam Ward, the commission's secretary, was on the Paraguayan payroll, for they had traveled to London together where he had paid Ward with his own hands.[219]

  1. Judge Cave Johnson. Formerly a Postmaster General, he had introduced the postage stamp.
  2. José Berges. Paraguay's minister of Foreign Affairs, he was later shot for treason.
  3. James Mandeville Carlisle, possibly the best lawyer of the day, represented Paraguay.

The theory for the claimants was that they were doing well in Paraguay until López became jealous of their success and decided to ruin them. The arbitrators rejected this as absurd. It was the arrogant behavior of Hopkins that was their ruin, neither were they doing very well. Their award (13 August 1860) was as follows:

That the said claimants,"The United States and Paraguay Navigation Company", have not proved or established any right to damages upon their said claim against the Government of the Republic of Paraguay; and that, upon the [evidence], the said government is not responsible to the said company in any damages or pecuniary compensation whatever, in all the premises.

In his detailed reasons Cave Johnson alluded to the "enormous, if not criminal exaggeration of the demands of this company".[220] Hence the company, which could have got $250,000 if Bowlin had had a free hand, received nothing.

The New York Times said "the fishiness of the claim has been most satisfactorily proven. The Administration fears ridicule, for never did so big a mountain produce so small a mouse".[221]

Cost of the expedition[edit]

The Paraguay expedition cost perhaps $3 million.[222][223] The cost of chartering and refitting the steamers and supplying them with coal and stores alone amounted to $486,256.57.[223]


In his memoirs President Buchanan said his administration's foreign policy met with "great and uncommon success", instancing the Paraguay expedition. Exaggerating the extent to which U.S. ships approached Asunción, he claimed Paraguay issued "ample apologies", even though Paraguay had not apologized at all. He mentioned that Paraguay paid $10,000 for the deceased helmsman, but not that his administration had demanded $500,000 minimum for the Rhode Island company, which got nothing.[224] As for the costs of the expedition,

It is a remarkable fact in our history, that its entire expenses were defrayed out of the ordinary appropriations for the naval service. Not a dollar was appropriated by Congress for this purpose, unless we may except the sum of $289,000 for the purchase of seven small steamers of light draft, worth more than their cost, and which were afterwards usefully employed in the ordinary naval service.[225]

That naval officers reported them unfit for purpose was not mentioned. The Republican Congressional Committee riposted that "The expense of the naval service of Mr. Buchanan's past two years is almost twenty-seven millions, doubling that of Mr. Madison's naval expenses during the war with Great Britain, when the glory of our flag of stars illuminated the ocean".[226]

Some elements of the disinformation of the time innocently got into mainstream works, even surviving to the present day.[227]

The fate of José Berges[edit]

The ultimate fate of José Berges, Paraguay's arbitrator and briber of Sam Ward, was not a happy one. In the War of Paraguay against the Triple Alliance (1865–70) the country was governed by López's son, Francisco Solano. When the war was going badly for Paraguay, José Berges, like many other prominent Paraguayans, was accused of treason. They were arrested, brought to the town of San Fernando, severely tortured (Berges was "reduced to groveling idiocy"), forced to confess to a conspiracy that probably never existed, and shot; this event was called the San Fernando massacre.[228]


Buchanan refused to accept the arbitrators' award, arguing that they had no power to award no damages at all. In 1861, President Lincoln sent Charles Ames Washburn to Asunción to revive the claim, but the Paraguayan government declined to reopen it. Paraguay was ruined in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870) and its archives were dispersed. Still Hopkins did not give up. In 1885, the U.S. government revived the claim. In 1887 (when corruption in Paraguayan politics "was taken for granted"),[229] a minister signed a document agreeing to settle the claim for $90,000 in gold "with the previous consent and complete approval of Mr Edward A. Hopkins". Although ratified by one house of the Paraguayan legislature, it failed to pass the other.[230]

The treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation between Paraguay and the United States was still in force as of January 1, 1948.[231]


  1. ^ The order of the complaints has been modified to the restore the events to their correct sequence.
  2. ^ Buchanan 1863, pp. 264–5.
  3. ^ In Buchanan's first annual message to Congress, he put it thus:-

    It being desirable to ascertain the fitness of the river La Plata and its tributaries for navigation by steam, the United States steamer Water Witch was sent thither for that purpose in 1853. This was successfully carried on until February 1855, when, whilst in the peaceful prosecution of her voyage up the Parana River, the steamer was fired upon by a Paraguayan fort. The fire was returned, but as the Water Witch was of small force and not designed for offensive operations, she retired from the conflict.

    The pretext upon which the attack was made was a decree of the President of Paraguay of October 1854, prohibiting foreign vessels of war from navigating the rivers of that State. As Paraguay, however, was the owner of but one bank of the river of that name, the other belonging to Corientes, a State of the Argentine Confederation, the right of its Government to expect that such a decree would be obeyed can not be acknowledged. But the Water Witch was not, properly speaking, a vessel of war. She was a small steamer engaged in a scientific enterprise intended for the advantage of commercial states generally. Under these circumstances I am constrained to consider the attack upon her as unjustifiable and as calling for satisfaction from the Paraguayan Government.

    Citizens of the United States also who were established in business in Paraguay have had their property seized and taken from them, and have otherwise been treated by the authorities in an insulting and arbitrary manner, which requires redress: Buchanan 1917, pp. 1780–1

  4. ^ "[T]o adopt such measures, and use such force as, in his judgement, may be necessary and advisable, in the event of a refusal of just satisfaction by the Government of Paraguay... in connection with the attack on the United States steamer Water Witch, and with other matters mentioned in the annual message": Buchanan 1863, p. 265
  5. ^ a b c Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 274.
  6. ^ a b Peterson 1955, p. 416.
  7. ^ a b c Ynsfran 1954, p. 316.
  8. ^ a b c Mora & Cooney 2007, p. 12.
  9. ^ Flickema 1968, p. 52.
  10. ^ Hopkins proposed, among other things, that Argentina declare war on France and Great Britain: Mora & Cooney 2007, p. 9.
  11. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 275.
  12. ^ Peterson 1942, p. 250.
  13. ^ Mora & Cooney 2007, pp. 7–10.
  14. ^ Peterson 1942, p. 255.
  15. ^ a b Williams 1979, p. 163.
  16. ^ Calvo 1864, p. 15.
  17. ^ a b Williams 1979, p. 164.
  18. ^ Ynsfran 1954, p. 317.
  19. ^ Commission Under the Convention Between the United States & Paraguay 1860, pp. 107, 130–131.
  20. ^ Williams 1979, p. 110.
  21. ^ a b Flickema 1968, p. 50.
  22. ^ A resident Spanish journalist described how López did all the work of government himself, treating his subordinates as blundering incompetents: Bermejo 1873, pp. 218–245, 167–183.
  23. ^ Whigham 2018a, p. 68.
  24. ^ Warren & Warren 1985, p. 3.
  25. ^ "There is no doubt that [by the end of his presidency] he ruled a nation both unified, debt-free, and technologically advanced in relation to other countries of the continent": Williams 1977, p. 256.
  26. ^ Williams 1975, p. 76.
  27. ^ a b c Williams 1980.
  28. ^ "In an attempt to coerce Paraguay economically and bring it to its knees, Buenos Aires only stiffened Paraguayan nationalism and produced a voluntary, xenophobic isolation of the breakaway province." (Williams 1972, p. 343)
  29. ^ a b Flickema 1968, p. 51.
  30. ^ Williams 1979, p. 149.
  31. ^ Flickema 1966, p. 144.
  32. ^ The relationship between the two was said to be scandalous and shocking to the people of the country: Flickema 1966, p. 147-8.
  33. ^ Ynsfran 1954, p. 318.
  34. ^ Commission Under the Convention Between the United States & Paraguay 1860, p. 125.
  35. ^ Commission Under the Convention Between the United States & Paraguay 1860, p. 122.
  36. ^ a b McKanna 1971, p. 12.
  37. ^ Bermejo 1873, pp. 36–7.
  38. ^ Flickema 1966, p. 198.
  39. ^ Whigham 2018a, pp. 79–88.
  40. ^ Williams 1972, p. 343.
  41. ^ Whigham 2018a, pp. 96–101, 103–106.
  42. ^ Williams 1979, p. 168.
  43. ^ Mora & Cooney 2007, p. 11.
  44. ^ a b c Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 280.
  45. ^ Bowlin 1938, p. 40.
  46. ^ Corriston 1983, p. 11.
  47. ^ McKanna 1971, p. 13.
  48. ^ a b Flickema 1968, p. 53.
  49. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, pp. 280–1.
  50. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 273.
  51. ^ "Feathering paddle wheels improve steaming efficiency by rotating the blades of the paddle wheel, known as 'buckets', so they are always perpendicular to the water’s surface": Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 271.
  52. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 271.
  53. ^ Page 1859.
  54. ^ McKanna 1971, pp. 8–0.
  55. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 276.
  56. ^ Ayers 2009, p. 134.
  57. ^ Page 1859, pp. 116–118, 127, 131–2.
  58. ^ Williams 1980, pp. 27, 30.
  59. ^ Whigham 2018a, pp. 78–88.
  60. ^ Williams 1980, pp. 19–27, 29..
  61. ^ Williams 1980, p. 29.
  62. ^ "López wants the old question of boundary ... settled, and complains that [Brazil] is crowding upon him all the time and will not come to a settlement, as by delay it is continually appropriating his territory. He has a bitter hatred of the Brazilians and a contempt of them as soldiers, and in speaking of them usually calls them macacos (monkeys): Whigham 2018a, p. 91.
  63. ^ Williams 1980, p. 32.
  64. ^ Bahía Negra.
  65. ^ a b Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 278.
  66. ^ Bowlin 1938, p. 114.
  67. ^ McKanna 1971, p. 10.
  68. ^ Williams 1979, p. 158.
  69. ^ Burton 1870, p. 295.
  70. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 279.
  71. ^ McKanna 1971, p. 11.
  72. ^ Page 1859, p. 199.
  73. ^ Corumbá was anyway a painful spot in Paraguay's consciousness. Originally founded by the Spanish empire, encroaching Portuguese-speaking settlers had made it de facto Brazilian: precisely an instance of what made Paraguay insecure and distressed López.
  74. ^ Page 1859, p. 271.
  75. ^ Flickema 1966, pp. 158–9.
  76. ^ Calvo 1864, p. 18. Calvo, stating the Paraguayan position, wrote that the Americans meant to send marines "armed to the teeth" to seize the documents, and that a firefire was avoided only because of the efforts of the French consul.
  77. ^ Page 1859, pp. 275–9. Page admitted that if they did not get the documents he meant to retaliate by seizing Paraguayan warships.
  78. ^ Mora & Cooney 2007, p. 15.
  79. ^ McKanna 1971, pp. 12–13.
  80. ^ In his memoirs Page did not deny it, but said it was only a precaution in case Water Witch came under attack: Page 1859, pp. 276–9.
  81. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, pp. 279–281.
  82. ^ a b c Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 281.
  83. ^ Still 1988, pp. 37–9.
  84. ^ Thompson 1869, Plate I.
  85. ^ Note: current maps cannot be used to understand the topography of 1855, which has changed owing to silting up and the formation of more islands.
  86. ^ Or Isla Grande.
  87. ^ Or Canal Particular; both words mean "private".
  88. ^ Not to be confused with Paso de la Patria, an Argentine village across the river.
  89. ^ Kennedy 1869, pp. 93–4.
  90. ^ Whigham 2018a, p. 409.
  91. ^ Kennedy 1869, p. 94.
  92. ^ a b Burton 1870, p. 300.
  93. ^ McKanna 1971, p. 7.
  94. ^ a b c d e f g Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 283.
  95. ^ Hutchinson 1868, p. 317.
  96. ^ Albeit assisted by two chatas (towable barges mounting a single gun).
  97. ^ Williams 1979, p. 166.
  98. ^ Flickema 1966, p. 172.
  99. ^ a b Ynsfran 1954, p. 319.
  100. ^ Mora & Cooney 2007, p. 16.
  101. ^ Moore 1898, p. 1488.
  102. ^ Page 1859, p. 595. "I did not understand the import of the hail" (Jeffers' report to Lt. Page, February 2, 1855).
  103. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 284.
  104. ^ Corriston 1983, pp. 10–13.
  105. ^ Flickema 1966, p. 170.
  106. ^ Robles 1855, p. 4.
  107. ^ Flickema 1968, p. 54.
  108. ^ Corriston 1983, pp. 10–12.
  109. ^ McKanna 1971, pp. 14–17.
  110. ^ Still 1988, pp. 38–9.
  111. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 285.
  112. ^ Mora & Cooney 2007, p. 17.
  113. ^ a b c Flickema 1968, p. 55.
  114. ^ Buchanan 1917, p. 1780.
  115. ^ a b c Corriston 1983, p. 15.
  116. ^ McKanna 1971, pp. 17–18.
  117. ^ Warren 1959, p. 287.
  118. ^ a b Ynsfran 1954, p. 320.
  119. ^ Flickema 1966, pp. 50, 125.
  120. ^ Barnes & Morgan 1961, p. 154.
  121. ^ Barnes & Morgan 1961, pp. 70–72.
  122. ^ Carr 1907, pp. 897–901.
  123. ^ Stampp 1990, pp. 72–3.
  124. ^ Barnes & Morgan 1961, p. 68.
  125. ^ Barnes & Morgan 1961, p. 70.
  126. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 280 n.23.
  127. ^ a b Flickema 1968, p. 56.
  128. ^ Marcy did not even remonstrate with the Paraguayan government that Water Witch had been fired on.
  129. ^ a b Mörner 1959, pp. 416–9.
  130. ^ Also Ynsfran 1954, p. 320
  131. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, pp. 287–290.
  132. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 289.
  133. ^ Flickema 1968, pp. 56–7.
  134. ^ Seven steamships were purchased to strengthen the expedition (see below). Coal had to be purchased to fuel the steamers, meaning patronage for mine owners. The owners of the steamers "in selling out their old ships were set to build more, and were thus put in control of a multitude of voters". The steamers themselves were in a deplorable condition, requiring expensive repairs, but that was the point. "Those acquainted with the abuses in the navy yards know that the worthlessness of these vessels were their recommendation".Republican Congressional Committee 1860, pp. 22–3.
  135. ^ This theory was believed by Charles Ames Washburn, President Lincoln's later envoy to Paraguay: "It has been charged that the controlling members of the administration had other objects in view in fitting out this expedition ... Certain it is that the same high officials who approved of the expedition were soon after found fighting against the flag which had been so outraged by Lopez that the national honor required satisfaction. And it is equally certain that the sailing of this expedition was made a pretext for withdrawing from the forts and arsenals of the North all the munitions of war, thus leaving them unprovided with arms whenever the plans for the Great Rebellion should be matured". (Washburn 1871, p. 378)
  136. ^ Flickema 1966, p. 191.
  137. ^ Littlehales 1899, pp. 123, 133–7, 144-6 and passim.
  138. ^ Whigham 1988, p. 279.
  139. ^ Harrison 1955, p. 199.
  140. ^ a b Mora & Cooney 2007, p. 18.
  141. ^ Corriston 1983, p. 85.
  142. ^ Secretary of the Navy 1860a, p. 1137.
  143. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, p. 286.
  144. ^ Secretary of the Navy 1860b, pp. 1–143.
  145. ^ a b Bowlin 1938, pp. 44–5.
  146. ^ Mora & Cooney 2007, pp. 18–19.
  147. ^ a b Mora & Cooney 2007, p. 19.
  148. ^ But only for a short time (see below) for he was short of ammunition.
  149. ^ a b Flickema 1966, p. 242.
  150. ^ Flickema 1966, p. 221.
  151. ^ Flickema 1966, pp. 243, 244–5.
  152. ^ Whigham 2018a, pp. 185–6.
  153. ^ a b c Mora & Cooney 2007, p. 20.
  154. ^ Warren 1949, p. 237.
  155. ^ However, it may be the Humaitá chain boom had yet been installed: Corriston 1983, p. 60.
  156. ^ Flickema 1966, p. 221n.
  157. ^ Benítes 1904, pp. 24–5.
  158. ^ In the Battle of Curupaity alone, Argentine and Brazilian casualties were larger than Shubrick's entire force.
  159. ^ Ten years later, Commander Kennedy RN of the British Navy (whose gunboat had gone to Humaitá to observe the War of the Triple Alliance) wrote: "It is difficult to conceive a more formidable obstacle to an advancing squadron than this small portion of the river between Tres Bocas and Humaitá. The water is shallow, and most uncertain in its depth; the turnings in the channel are sharp and frequent, and every available point was bristling with guns of heavy calibre ...": Kennedy 1869, pp. 103–104 More daunting than the guns, wrote Kennedy, were the improvised contact mines that could be released into the confined, shallow and unchartered navigable channel of the River Paraguay: Kennedy 1869, pp. 180–183, 104.
  160. ^ Warren 1959, p. 286.
  161. ^ Flickema 1966, p. 246.
  162. ^ Brazil lost, on the lowest estimate, 10 times the manpower available to Commodore Shubrick.
  163. ^ Williams 1977, pp. 233–4.
  164. ^ a b c Ynsfran 1954, p. 322.
  165. ^ Corriston 1983, pp. 51–2.
  166. ^ Flickema 1968, p. 49.
  167. ^ Bowlin 1938, p. 184.
  168. ^ Yanaway 1976, p. 181.
  169. ^ Because Buchanan was a bachelor, "the vivacious, audacious, flirtatious and beautiful" Harriet Lane acted as First Lady: Yanaway 1976, p. 178.
  170. ^ a b c Denison 1862, p. 332.
  171. ^ Bowlin 1938, p. 195.
  172. ^ Garavaglia 2010, pp. 223, 226–8, 235, 248.
  173. ^ Box 1930, p. 77.
  174. ^ Page 1859, pp. 43–44.
  175. ^ Espil 1953, pp. 152, 161–2, 163 n.46, 164.
  176. ^ Flickema 1968, p. 61.
  177. ^ "Mr Ward my secretary has also visited Buenos Ayres, where they ... most cordially hate Lopes... Nothing ... would suit the interest of the Buenos Ayreans more than to see us reduced to the necessity of punishing their antient foe": Bowlin 1938, p. 186.
  178. ^ Bowlin 1938, p. 198.
  179. ^ According to Charles Ames Washburn, President Lincoln's envoy to Paraguay, Urquiza's secretary admitted it to him in person: Washburn 1871, pp. 382.
  180. ^ Flickema 1966, p. 224.
  181. ^ Flickema 1968, p. 63.
  182. ^ Corriston 1983, p. 57.
  183. ^ Steedman 1912, p. 207.
  184. ^ Denison 1862, p. 333.
  185. ^ Denison 1862, p. 334.
  186. ^ Flickema 1968, p. 59.
  187. ^ In 1855 a Brazilian flotilla had threatened Paraguay, although the ships had not gone past Humaitá. In January 1858 Brazil had sent its top diplomat to threaten war, causing López to sign an unsatisfactory treaty. In effect, the treaty gave a green light to Brazilian settlement of lands in the Mato Grosso claimed by Paraguay. (Williams 1979, pp. 158–160.
  188. ^ Smith & Bartlett 2009, pp. 286–7.
  189. ^ a b Ynsfran 1954, p. 325.
  190. ^ "He spoke French, German, Spanish, and Italian fluently, and read Latin and Greek as easily as his native English. He could recite by memory entire cantos of Dante. His reputation as a cook was such that various dishes 'a la Sam Ward' were still in vogue at the opening of the twentieth century." (Ynsfran 1954, p. 314
  191. ^ In 1954 Pablo Max Ynsfrán of the University of Texas found documents in the Paraguayan archives proving that López bribed Sam Ward. "The partners in the conspiracy agreed on two pseudonyms to conceal their identities. In their correspondence, López would sign Nicolás Pérez, and Sam Ward would use the alias Pedro Fernández"". Professor Ynsfrán realized who they really were after recognizing Ward's handwriting: Ynsfran 1954, pp. 313–315, 322–3
  192. ^ Ynsfran 1954, pp. 323–4.
  193. ^ Flickema 1970, pp. 539–542.
  194. ^ The settlement was agreed on 4 February 1859; but next day López changed his mind, saying "That paper is worth nothing... [instead of arbitration] "I propose to pay, in gold, 250,000 pesos". Because the points of honor had already been resolved, it meant that if the United States did go to war, it would be over the Rhode Island company's claim alone: a mercenary item, regarded as preposterous in that part of the world. It put Bowlin in a serious dilemma. However, Sam Ward revealed to López the American mission was not allowed to settle for less than $500,000, and Bowlin and Urquiza's aide General Guido persuaded López he would be better off going to arbitration. The documents were not signed and sealed until February 9, but were backdated to February 4. There is a hint the wording of the arbitration treaty was subtly changed. (Miller 1948, pp. 251–5)
  195. ^ Miller 1948, p. 245.
  196. ^ "The conflict with the Water Witch took place on a frontier of the Republic far from the direct action of the Supreme Government, which could not foresee the events nor prevent their course; it was the result of the fidelity with which a military commander fulfilled his strict duty, executing a general order issued without intent of hostility or offense toward a friendly flag. The general character of that provision, the anterior date of its issuance, and the strictness of military discipline sufficiently explain the act. The Supreme Government was the first to deplore it, foreseeing the diverse interpretations that might be placed on the occurrence." (Miller 1948, p. 245
  197. ^ The payment was not mentioned in the diplomatic summary nor in Paraguay's only newspaper.
  198. ^ $9,412 U.S.
  199. ^ Miller 1948, pp. 244, 246.
  200. ^ "[T]he non-acceptance of the communications of Mr. Page resulted from his insistence upon continuing his relations with this Ministry in a language which was not then accepted in the Chancellery of Paraguay... In regard to the non-acceptance of the exchange of ratifications of the said treaty with the amendments referred to, which were communicated through the respected Mr. Fitzpatrick, they did not alter any of the liberal stipulations mutually established therein and must be attributed entirely to the negligence of the representative of the United States of America and not to the representative of the Republic of Paraguay..."(Miller 1948, pp. 244–5)
  201. ^ Miller 1948, p. 189.
  202. ^ To be chosen by Russia and Prussia.
  203. ^ Miller 1948, pp. 259–264.
  204. ^ Flickema 1968, p. 64.
  205. ^ Flickema 1968, p. 65.
  206. ^ Bowlin simply may have failed to notice a 'mistake' smuggled into the draft convention by the bilingual Sam Ward. See Miller 1948, p. 254 ("suppressing a few words, by mutual agreement"). It is possible the classically educated Judge Bowlin had some sort of reading disorder. A single Bowlin letter — to the Secretary of State — contains the spelling mistakes "Bolevea", "definative", "explination", "resinding", "percieve" (twice), "herralded", "Asunsion" and "metamorphesis": Bowlin 1938, pp. 208–211.
  207. ^ Ynsfran 1954, p. 324.
  208. ^ Corriston 1983, pp. 69, 72, 86.
  209. ^ Corriston 1983, p. 75.
  210. ^ Parramore 1965, p. 335.
  211. ^ Corriston 1983, p. 51.
  212. ^ Corriston 1983, p. 69.
  213. ^ Corriston 1983, pp. 73–4.
  214. ^ Secretary of the Navy 1860b, pp. 83–113.
  215. ^ Metacomet did not return to the U.S.
  216. ^ Corriston 1983, pp. 46–7, 70–1.
  217. ^ Ynsfran 1954, p. 329.
  218. ^ Pacheco 2010, p. 147.
  219. ^ Ynsfran 1954, pp. 327, 329.
  220. ^ Commission Under the Convention Between the United States & Paraguay 1860, pp. 138, 137.
  221. ^ Flickema 1966, p. 278.
  222. ^ Mora & Cooney 2007, p. 22.
  223. ^ a b Moore 1898, p. 1538.
  224. ^ Buchanan 1863, pp. 258, 264–6.
  225. ^ Buchanan 1863, pp. 266–7.
  226. ^ Republican Congressional Committee 1860, p. 22.
  227. ^ For example: "On January 25, 1859, Captain William Branford Shubrick arrived at Asuncion, Paraguay, with a fleet of nineteen vessels, carrying two hundred guns and twenty-live hundred men, to take decisive measures against the people of that country for firing on the United States steamer Water Witch the preceding year. Hostilities were averted only by the prompt apology and payment of indemnity by the Paraguayan Government": McClay 1898, p. 156. Or: "As a result of that expedition, Paraguay extended a satisfactory apology to the United States, indemnified the family of the slain Water Witch crewman, and granted the United States a new and highly advantageous commercial treaty": Naval History and Heritage Command 2015.
  228. ^ Whigham 2018b, pp. 325–6, 327, 331–3, 337, 339–342, 344, 347n.
  229. ^ Warren & Warren 1985, p. 35.
  230. ^ Moore 1898, pp. 1538–1545.
  231. ^ Miller 1948, p. 257.


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