Paraguay expedition

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Paraguay Expedition
The Paraguay Squadron.jpg
The Paraguay Squadron (Harper's Weekly, New York City, 16 October 1858).
Date17 October 1858 – 10 February 1859
(3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days)
Asunción, Paraguay

Expedition successful

  • Family of the USS Water Witch crewman indemnified
  • Supreme Court of the United States declared innocence of the Paraguayan Government
  • Commercial treaty granted to the United States
United States Paraguay
Commanders and leaders
William B. Shubrick Carlos Antonio López
Casualties and losses
None None

The Paraguay Expedition was a United States Naval mission sent to Asunción, Paraguay, in 1858 to demand indemnity and apology from the Paraguayan Government for 1 February 1855 firing on the U.S. Navy vessel USS Water Witch and for alleged insults against the United States and Paraguay Navigation Company. This was an example of U.S. gunboat diplomacy. Paraguayan President Carlos Antonio López agreed to indemnify the families of the crew.


The USS Water Witch was shelled, leading to the expedition.

In 1858, the US Congress authorized a naval squadron to be sent to Paraguay to seek redress from Paraguay for the shelling of the Water Witch in 1855, which had resulted in the death of the ship's helmsman. US President James Buchanan appointed former US Representative James B. Bowlin of Missouri as the American commissioner to conduct the negotiations.

To lend credibility and force to Bowlin's demands, Buchanan ordered the navy to establish a force that could compel compliance. However, only a couple of sailing ships were then assigned to the Brazil Squadron, and few light-draft naval steamers were available elsewhere. To meet the needs of the expedition, the Navy chartered seven steam-propelled merchant ships. The Sabine, which conveyed Commissioner Bowlin to Buenos Aires, was not considered part of the expedition fleet, "as she was not designed to act against Paraguay, not being able to ascend the river."[1]

The expedition was led by Flag Officer William B. Shubrick. The task force departed New York City on 17 October 1858, but for the most part, its 19 ships proceeded southward independently. The ships of the expedition formed up at Montevideo, Uruguay.

The slowest ship, USS M. W. Chapin, arrived on 29 December. All but two vessels of Shubrick's fleet got underway from Montevideo on 30 December and ascended the Río de la Plata and the Paraná and the Paraguay Rivers. Upon reaching Rosario, Water Witch and Fulton left their companions behind and continued on to Asunción with Bowlin and Shubrick. They arrived off Asunción on 25 January 1859.

Bowlin went ashore to conduct negotiations with Paraguayan President Carlos Antonio López that were completed in a fortnight. As a result of the expedition, Paraguay extended an apology to the US, indemnified the family of the slain Water Witch crewman, and granted the US a new and highly-advantageous commercial treaty.[2]

US ships[edit]


  1. ^ Expenses – Paraguay Expedition, House of Representatives, 36th Congress, 1st Session, Mis. Doc. No. 86 (11 May 1860), p. 142
  2. ^ On 30 April 1859, Harper's Weekly featured a cartoon about a U.S. military expedition to Paraguay –

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Naval History and Heritage Command. This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.