Print Page | Close Window

War of the Triple Alliance

Printed From: History Community ~ All Empires
Category: Regional History or Period History
Forum Name: History of the Americas
Forum Discription: The Americas: History from pre-Colombian times to the present
Printed Date: 12-Aug-2022 at 01:11
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 9.56a -

Topic: War of the Triple Alliance
Posted By: oranphil
Subject: War of the Triple Alliance
Date Posted: 07-Feb-2016 at 21:51
In South America especially in Peru little is known about the Paraguayan War or sometimes known as the War of the Triple Alliance which started on the 12th October 1864 and ended on March 1st 1870 and can be considered to have the highest ratios of fatalities to combatants of any war in South America in modern history.

Click the image to open in full size.
Paraguay gained independence without a war in 1811 allowing the country to develop differently under the dictatorship of José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia (1813–1840), Paraguay achieved self-sufficient economic development this was achieved through rigid production and distribution, monopoly over international trade, the exportation of yerba mate and valuable wood products, the levying of high tariffs against imported foreign products and the rejection of loans from other countries. Also during this period José Gaspar imposed a high level of isolation from neighboring countries. 

In 1840 José Gaspar died and was replaced by Carlos Antonio López (1841–1862) who continued the same economic approach however, he lifted the isolation that had been imposed and started to interact with countries like Brazil and Argentina and ended slavery completely in 1844. Carlos López also worked on modernizing and expanding the military, developing the defensive systems like the Fortress of Humaitá, building new telegraph poles, railway lines, weapons and gunpowder industries with the help of foreign technicians. He also created the Ybycuí foundry in 1850 which manufactured cannons, mortars and bullets in addition to these warships were built along the Apa and Gran Chaco rivers. One reason for this was done in order to gain respect from the international community. 

This development was continued by Francisco Solano López (24 July 1827 – 1 March 1870) after the death of his father in 1862. Under Francisco Solano López the military continued to expand and on the 6th February 1862 military chiefs from all over the country gathered at the capital Asunción and it was deiced that more money would be put into the military and military mobilization was started, calling up all citizens between seventeen and forty years for military service. 

Click the image to open in full size.

Now, relations between neighboring countries (from Paraguay) Argentina and Brazil were strained over the hegemony in the Río de la Plata, this was also exacerbated over the loss of the Cisplatine in the Cisplatine War (December 10, 1825 to August 27, 1828) which gave Uruguay its independence. Argentina also had tension with Paraguay due to the fact that when the country became liberated from Spanish colonization Argentina sought to annex the newly liberated nation but underestimate the national population who rose up and defend their homeland. 

It is also known that Brazil contributed to the development of the Paraguayan army and was one of the first nations to recognize Paraguayan independence. Brazil helped with improvements to fortification structures and the sending of officials and technicians however, Brazil occasionally needed access to the Paraguay River (Río Paraguay) but was denied many times by the Paraguayan government. Argentina on the other hand was ruled by Juan Manuel Rosas (1829–1852) who saw Brazil and Paraguay both as a common enemy. 

As mentioned earlier the independence of Uruguay came with political strife as Argentina and Brazil inferred in the politics attempting to gain political influence over it. The second president of Uruguay, Manuel Ceferino Oribe y Viana (August 26, 1792 – November 12, 1857) supported Argentina and the president Juan Manuel Rosas and in turn Argentina supported Uruguay however, this would change. In attempts to gain influence Brazil attempted three political and military interventions, the first one was in 1851 against president Oribe, the second one in 1855 at the request of Venancio Flores Barrios (18 May 1808 – 19 February 1868) who was part of the political party Colorados which was traditionally supported by the Brazilian empire and finally in 1864 against the Uruguayan president Bernardo Prudencio Berro Larrañaga (Montevideo, 28 de abril de 1803 - 19 de febrero de 1868).

The intervention of 1864 would be one of the contributing factors that would eventually lead to the war, when Venancio Flores, at that time an officer of the Argentine army and leader of the Colorado Party of Uruguay revolted against Uruguayan president Berro and it is thought that that the government of Argentina supplied the rebels with arms, ammunition and 2,000 soldiers however, Argentina denied this claim. Flores invaded with the objective of overthrowing the Blanco (another political party) Government led by Berro which was now allied with Paraguay making it an enemy of Argentina. On the 6th of September 1863, president of Paraguay Francisco Solano López sent a demand to the Argentine government asking for an explanation however, Argentina denied all involvement. Brazil also started to provide help to Flores leading to a treaty of mutual assistance to be signed between Brazil and Argentina in 1864.

On August 4th, 1864, Brazil sent Minister Saraiva who demanded that the government of Uruguay to capitulated to the demands of Brazil or face retaliation. In response to this the Paraguayan government sent an ultimatum to Brazil stating that Paraguay would take action if Brazil tried any attempt of occupying Uruguay. Brazil responded on the 1st September 1854, stating that "they will never abandon the duty of protecting the lives and interests of Brazilian subjects", the Paraguayan government once again insisted if Brazil insisted on action then Paraguay would be forced to take action. 

Despite the attempts to reach an agreement, Brazilian troops under the command of Gen. João Propício Mena Barreto invaded Uruguay on the 12th October 1864. The first action Paraguay took was the capture of the Brazilian ship Marquês de Olinda which had been caught sailing up the River Paraguay. 

On the 28th January 1865, Venancio Flores seized power and overthrew the Blanco Government along with Aguirre which had supported and allied itself with Paraguay. Flores then proceeded to sign a formal alliance with Brazil against Paraguay. The Uruguayan conflict ended on the 20th February 1865.
A month after the Uruguayan conflict, on 18 March 1865, Paraguay declared war on Argentina when Paraguay tried to raise the support of the Uruguayan Blancos and wanted to attack southern Brazil however, Paraguay had to travel through Argentina. Pararguy tried the diplomatic route to gain access this was attempted in January 1865 when Solano López asked for Argentine government permission to move 20000 soldiers under the command of Gen. Wenceslao Robles through the region of Corrientes, Argentina. This request however was denied by the president of Argentina Bartolomé Mitre. With Venancio Flores ruling Uruguay he now aligned with Brazil and Argentina.

It is important to note the size of armies and population at this point of the war according to a paper written by Leslie Bethell of the University of London, she wrote:

“Considering the enormous disparity between the two sides in size, wealth and population (and therefore in real and potential human and material resources) the Paraguayan War would appear to have been an unequal struggle from the outset. Brazil (population almost 10 million), Argentina (population 1.5 million) and Uruguay (population 250-300,000) joined forces against Paraguay (population 300-400,000? - certainly much less than the 1 million or more still frequently cited). Militarily, however, the two sides were more evenly matched. In fact, at the beginning of the War, and for at least the first year, Paraguay probably had, at least numerically, a military superiority. Paraguay's standing army has been variously estimated at between 28,000 and 57,000 men plus reserves of between 20,000 and 28,000 - that is to say, virtually the entire adult male population was under arms. This should be compared with Argentina's army of 25-30,000 (only 10-15,000 of whom were available in the event of a foreign war, so delicate was Argentina's newly achieved internal unity and stability), Uruguay's of 5,000 (at most) and Brazil's of 17-20,000 (though Brazil also had its policia militar and a vast reserve of up to 200,000 men in the form of the National Guard). Paraguay's army was probably also better equipped and trained than the armies of its neighbors at the outset***.”

***Some historians dispute the fact that Paraguayan army were well equipped and well trained. 

Click the image to open in full size.

Paraguay took the initiative at the beginning of the war taking Mato Grosso in the north on 14 December 1864,Rio Grande do Sul in the south in early 1865 and the Argentine province of Corrientes.

The invasion of Mato Grosso was undertaken by two forces a total of 3248 troops, one under the leadership of Col. Vicente Barrios and a navel squadron under the command of Capitan de Fragata Pedro Ignacio Meza. Travelling to the town of Concepcion which led to the attack on Nova Coimbra fort on the on the 27th December where 154 Brazilian soldiers were stationed under the command of Lt. Col. Hermenegildo de Albuquerque Porto Carrero, the fort only resisted for three days and the soldiers who had exhausted their ammunition abandoned the fort and withdrew up river towards Corumbá on board the gunship Anhambaí. The fort was then taken over by the Paraguayan army and form this position advanced north, taking the cities of Albuquerque, Tage and Corumbá in January 1865. On the 29th December 1864, Solano López sent a military detachment led by Maj. Martín Urbieta to attack the frontier post of Dourados; here the Paraguayan soldiers faced fierce resistance from the Brazilian Lt. Antonio João Ribeiro and his sixteen soldiers who were all killed during the battle. The Paraguayan advance continued defeating Col. José Dias da Silva and taking Nioaque, Miranda and Coxim in April 1865. With 4650 soldiers led Col. Francisco Isidoro Resquín the Paraguayan second column broke through the Mato Grosso province. Although the Paraguayan forces won all these victoriesthey did not advance to the capital of the province, Cuiabá. One reason for this is because the Paraguayan forces wanted to capture the gold and diamond mines in the region. 

Brazil sent an expedition of 2780 soldiers led by Col. Manuel Pedro Drago who departed from the province of Minas Gerais in the East in April 1865 it was not until December 1865 that they reached the town of of Coxim, travelling more than 2000 kilometers (1200 miles) through four provinces however; the town of Coxim had been abandoned by December. Drago continued to march to the city of Miranda which he arrived in September 1866 however, once Paraguay had abandoned the place. In January 1867, Col. Carlos de Morais Camisão took control of the column, and with 1680 soldiers invaded Paraguayan territory and managed to get as far as Laguna. 
The Brazilian advance was quickly repelled by the Paraguayan cavalry who forced them to retreat however, due to Camisão and resistance the province of Corumbá was liberated in June 1867. The region of Mato Grosso still remained under Paraguayan control; Brazilian forces eventually withdrew from the region in April 1868 concentrating their efforts in Southern Paraguay. In the Río de la Plata basin roads were virtually nonexistence so the rivers were one of the most important ways of delivering messages and troops through the area, so Paraguay built fortifications on the banks of the lower end of the River of Paraguay. 

So on the 13 April 1865 a Paraguayan squad attacked two Argentine ships in the port of Corrientes and with a force of 3000 soldiers and 800 cavalry units under the command of Gen. Wenceslao Robles took the city. Robles left the city and headed up the eastern bank leaving behind 1500 soldiers.
The purpose of Solano´s invasion was also to gain the support of Justo José de Urquiza, governor of the provinces of Corrientes and Entre Ríos in Argentina, who was known to be the chief federalist hostile to Mitre and the government in Buenos Aires. The plan backfired when Urquiza gave his full support to the Argentine offensive which ultimately failed. 

A month later on the 1 May 1865, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay signed the Secret Treaty of the Triple Alliance in Buenos Aires. They named Bartolomé Mitre, president of Argentina, as supreme commander of the allied forces. The signatarios of the treaty were Rufino de Elizalde (Argentina), Octaviano de Almeida (Brazil) and Carlos de Castro (Uruguay). The Treaty stated that Paraguay was to be blamed on all the consequences of the conflict and had to pay all the debt of war and finally that Paraguay had to remain without any fortress and military force.

On June 11th 1865 Paraguay would lose a battle which would put Paraguay at a disadvantage the battle is known as Battle of Riachuelo which was a naval battle between Paraguay and Brazil. The Brazilian fleet was commanded by Adm. Francisco Manoel Barroso da Silva who won despite the fact the Paraguayan navy was stronger. This had a devastating outcome, not only did Paraguay lose control of Corrientes but Paraguay lost control of the Río de la Plata basin up to the entrance to Paraguay. 

This however did not deter Robles and Col. Antonio de la Cruz Estigarriba who marched across the Argentine border with a force of 12000 soldiers and travelled down the Río Uruguay, here they took the town of São Borja on June 12th 1865 and the town of Uruguaiana on August 6th of the same year and without much resistance. 

After the capture of these cities the province Rio Grande do Sul fell into chaos with local military commanders incapable of mounting an effective offensive against the Paraguayan army. However, on August 17, 1865 a Paraguayan force of 3200 under the command of Maj. Pedro Duarte was defeated by Flores while advancing through Uruguay at the bloody Battle of Jataí. At the same time Manuel Marques de Sousa, Count of Porto Alegre from Brazil headed to the town of Uruguaiana and with a combined force of Brazilian, Argentine and Uruguayan soldiers besieged the city on the 21st of August 1865. The Paraguayan forces surrendered on the 18th of September 1865.

Click the image to open in full size.

The Paraguayan president López tried to counter attack against the invading forces but was forced to retreat in small skirmishes at Itapirú and Isla Cabrita. The first major battle of the invasion of Paraguay came on the 2nd of May 1866 at the Battle of Estero Bellaco, which was the first major defeat for Paraguay losing 2300 lives; the Triple Alliance lost 1555 lives. 
López believed that if he could muster up a huge force he could repel the invading forces in one blow this would come to pass at the bloodiest battle in the entire Paraguayan 1War. López put together a force of 25,000 soldiers against 35,000 allied soldiers on 24 May 1866, the Battle of Tuyuti. The battle was fought ferociously on both sides however, Paraguayan forces were defeated and with a total number of casualties reaching 13000 (6,000 killed, 7,000 wounded) and with the Triple Alliance suffering with a total number of causalities reaching 3931 (996 killed, 2,935 wounded). The Paraguayan forces were decimated and those that survived quickly fled in disarray. 

Click the image to open in full size.

This did not stop López for recovering the remnants of his army and he ordered a counter attack on the 18th of July 1866 at the Battle of Sauce and Boquerón which was a victory for the Paraguayans however, the victory was short lived as the Brazilian Gen. Porto Alegre led an attack on a Paraguayan stronghold at the Battle of Curuzú which the Paraguayan forces were once again forced to retreat after heavy losses. 

López knew that he could not win the war thus on the 12th of September 1866, he invited Argentine president Mitre and the Uruguayan president Flores to a conference in Yatayty Cora. The talks failed due to the inflexibility of all side, Mitre wanted López to agree to all terms discussed in the secret Treaty of the Triple Alliance yet López refused as in Article 6 of the treaty stated that the peace was only possible with the removal or death of López. 

After the conference the Allied forces continued to march through Paraguayan territory however, allied forces due to the string of victories it had achieved believed that the next battle would be just as easy and on the 22nd of September 1866 the allied forces would lose the Battle of Curupayty. The Battle of Curupayty was one of the biggest victories for López ´s forces as they only had a force of 5000 under the command of Gen. José E. Díaz and the allied forces had a force of 11000 Brazilians and 9000 Argentine soldiers. The allied forces underestimated Díaz which led to over 4000 causalities on the allied side while Paraguayan only had a causality list of 250. 

This defeat caused disagreements with the leaders of the allied forces; each leader blamed one another on the failure at Curupayty. Gen. Venancio Flores abandoned the field and returned to Uruguay, he later would be assassinated on the 19th February 1868. Heavy criticism of Brazilian forces came from the Argentine president Mitre and on 10th October 1866 the Progressive cabinet appointed Brazilian Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, Duke of Caxias (25 August 1803 – 7 May 1880)as commander of the Brazilian forces operating in Paraguay. Alves would eventually be the commander of the allied forces in Paraguay when Mitre left the field in 1867. Under Alves the forces would experience a shakeup, retraining of the troops, new weapons and more investment of the health corps. From October 1866 until July 1867 all offensive operations were suspended however, there were a few skirmishes with the Paraguayan forces. López took advantage of the suspension and disorganization of the allied forces amassing a force concentered at the new stronghold of Humaitá. 

On the 22nd July 1867 with the 3rd Corps ready Alves sought to surround the stronghold of Humaitá, he also used observation balloons to gain information on unit positions. Alves wanted to avoid a full frontal assault on the stronghold by going around them and breaking the connection being the capital Asunción and Humaitá. On August 1st 1867 Mitre returned to the field and later that year on November 2nd the allied forces managed to cut all land connections to Humaitá by capturing Tayí. 

In order to break the siege López ordered an attack on November 3rd led by Gen. Bernardino Caballero who managed to break the allied lines and captured vital weapons and supplies however, allied troops under Porto Alegre managed to quickly recover and repel the attack. Both sides suffered around 2000 casualties. By December 1867 there were 45,791 Brazilians, 6,000 Argentinians and 500 Uruguayans were at the front. Mitre retired from the field of battle on January 14th, 1868 as the acting president of Argentina Marcos Paz (1813 – January 2, 1868) died from cholera.

On the 19th February 1868 allied forces broke through heavy fire and Brazilian ironclads travelled up the Paraguay River gaining full control over the river. Humaitá now was completely cut off from land and water and the troops at Humaitá finally surrendered to allied forces on 25th July 1868. López had already given permission to evacuate Humaitá on July 19th 1868.
Allied forces than continued to march to the capital Asunción but were stopped at the Piquissiri River, here López concreated 1200 soldiers who were well fortified with the support of the forts Angostura and Itá-Ibaté. Alves once again knew that a frontal assault would lead to massive casualties so what he did next became to be known as “ Piquissiri maneuver” which was a plan to attack the Paraguayan forces from the rear. He achieved this by using a small squadron to attack the fort of Angostura while ordering the rest of the squadron to cross the river and here they built a road 10.7 km long and headed to northeast. Alves bypassed the fortified front but instead of heading to the capital which by now was already evacuated he ordered his troops to move southwards in December 1868 attacking the Paraguayan forces from the rear. Alves continued to push through the Paraguayan defense however, suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Itororó but managed to recuperate and inflict huge causalities at the Battle of Avay and at the Battle of Lomas Valentinas where he captured the last stronghold of the Paraguayan Army in Angostura. 

On the 24th December 1868 Alves sent a letter to López asking him to surrender López refused and after the Battle of Lomas Valentinas López fled to Cerro Leon accompanied by Gen. Martin T. McMahon, American Minister Ambassador to Paraguay who supported Paraguay’s cause. 
On January 1st, 1869 Brazilian Gen. Juan da Souza da Fonseca Costa entered the capital and occupied it. Alves entered the city on the 5th of January 1869 here he asked to be relieved from his command, his wish was granted on the 12th and Prince Gaston, Count of Eu (28 April 1842 – 28 August 1922) was given command of allied forces in the final phase of the war. Brazil quickly installed Cirilo Antonio Rivarola who was an opponent of López as the president of the new provisional government. 

The war now turned into a guerilla conflict as López who had fled to the mountain range northeast of Asunción led a resistance force against a rebellion force of 21000 organized by Rivarola and backed by Brazil. The rebellion and resistance battles lasted for a year with the Battles of Piribebuy and of Acosta Ñu being the most important. Not only did over 5000 Paraguayans lose their lives in this campaign but in the Battle of Acosta Ñu children were used to fight for the Paraguayan side, on August 16th in Paraguay Children's Day is celebrated to commemorate the memory of the children who lost their lives in the Battle of Acosta Ñu.

Click the image to open in full size.

The pursuit for López continued and on the 1st March 1870 Gen. José Antônio Correia da Câmara with 4000 soldiers attacked the last Paraguayan camp at the Battle of Cerro Corá. Here López was wounded by Corporal José Francisco Lacerda who managed to stab him the abdomen with his lance. Evading capture two officers managed to take him Aquidabán-Niquil stream however, López was too weak to go any further so the officers left for reinforcements but allied solider quickly reached López, López not wanting to surrender tried to attack the allied soldiers with his saber but was shot and killed. López’s death marked the end of a conflict that claimed 300,000 soldiers and civilians on the Paraguayan side and 90,000 to 100,000 soldiers and civilians on the allied side. 

Click the image to open in full size.

The casualty rates are highly debated according to one study carried out by Thomas Whigham from the University of Georgia and Barbara Potthast (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", pre-war Paraguayan population in 1864 was approximately 420,000–450,000. 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. In total, 60%-70% of the population died as a result of the war. 

Paraguay also lost territory that was divided among Argentina and Brazil and was occupied by Brazil for six years; this in part was to deter Argentina who wished to annex more land. The allied forces ransacked many cities taking artifacts, literature and war trophies, one famous war trophy is known as “Cañón Cristiano" taken from the capital Asunción and was made from church bells. 

Argentina wanted to originally annex the entire country of Paraguay but Brazil wanted to keep Paraguay as a buffer. After many negotiations on February 3rd 1876 Argentina and Brazil agreed on what to divide yet would come into disagreements about the area between the Río Verde and the main branch of Río Pilcomayo. US President Rutherford B. Hayes was called in as a mediator who decided that the area should remain with Paraguay. 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. In 1943, Paraguay had nearly paid of its indemnity to Brazil however; under the government of Getúlio Vargas the remainder of debt was cancelled.

Click the image to open in full size.

Physical combat was not the only killer during the war but due to bad sanitation and the fact that antibiotics virtually nonexistent; diseases such as cholera killed thousands of troops and civilians alike. It is known that Brazilian troops at that time due to the food restrictions drank out of the rivers so cholera spread rapidly even wiping out entire battalions. According to a report written by Ian Read from the Soka University of America wrote of four outbreaks:

1. October 1867 – March 1868: Cholera is listed as the Brazilian Army’s most deadly disease, killing between 53 and 66 percent of all persons diagnosed.
2. September - January 1867: The Paraná and de la Plata Rivers are infected, with new deaths in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Cholera extends for the first time across the pampas and strikes Córdoba, killing several thousand in the city and surrounding towns.
3. October – December 1868: The chief of the Brazilian medical corp. reports that the cholera killed several hundred soldiers, a much lower rate than the earlier periods of epidemics.
4. December 1868: Several ships of the Brazilian Navy are struck, including the Barroso.

A conservative estimate of total Allied deaths from cholera is 15,000, but it may have been closer to 25,000.

Something else to consider during this war is British influence in a book written by Eric Hobsbawn in his work "The Age of Capital: 1848–1875" he stated that the Paraguayan War was caused by the pseudo-colonial influence of the British who needed a new source of cotton however, some historians dispute this claim as there is little evidence. It is known that the British engineer George Thompson (1839-1876) worked for the Paraguayan army during the war. 

Paraguay fell into an economic crisis that lasted years after, Brazil although the government ran a huge deficit between 1870 and 1880 managed to pay it back eventually, Argentina suffered many federalist revolts against the national government, economically it benefitted from supply sales to Brazil and finally Uruguay’s army was diminished which had suffered 5000 casualties. The effects of the war were felt for many years and the debt that was demanded by the allied forces slowed down economic development, Paraguay would see conflict again in 1932 with Bolivia.

Please check the following links for more info:


Posted By: Centrix Vigilis
Date Posted: 08-Feb-2016 at 15:39
Nice work...tho your references are far few in number. Given the size of your piece it's indicative of effort. Otoh, your illustrations, maps etc.. require additional footnoting to indicate origination and ownership.

And the bottom two links you provide appear to be broken... which requires you to either ensure their veracity or replace them.

And finally you indicate a dispute among historians reference the status of equipage by elements within the conflict....specifically you should identify 'who' and any of their counter argumentation. Not only for clarification...but for objectivity.

Keep working and best of luck.

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"

S. T. Friedman

Pilger's law: 'If it's been officially denied, then it's probably true'

Posted By: Centrix Vigilis
Date Posted: 10-Feb-2016 at 15:59
Failure to perform moderator guidance in repairing or substituting broken links.

thread locked.

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"

S. T. Friedman

Pilger's law: 'If it's been officially denied, then it's probably true'

Print Page | Close Window

Bulletin Board Software by Web Wiz Forums® version 9.56a -
Copyright ©2001-2009 Web Wiz -