Charles A. (Charles Ames) Washburn.

The history of Paraguay, with notes of personal observations, and reminiscences of diplomacy under difficulties (Volume 2) online

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armies then proceeded down the river on opposite sides, and,
on the loth of June, Estigarribia took possession of San
Borja after a slight skirmish. On the 26th of June a part of
his force, while on their march, fell in with a considerable
force of the Brazilians at Arroyo Mbutuy, and a battle ensued
which both parties claimed as a victory. On the 5th of
August, Estigarribia with his army occupied the important
Brazilian town of Uruguayana. Though the Brazilians along
the frontiers of the invaded province had two or three times
the number of troops under Estigarribia, they made little or
no effort to impede his march, as they saw that the farther he
got away from his own country the more complete and disas-
trous must be his ultimate overthrow. Meanwhile Duarte,
with his army of twenty-five hundred men, occupied the town
of Yatai, on the Argentine or opposite side of the Uruguay.
The combined forces of the two armies amounted to about
ten thousand men, about two thousand having been lost
on the route since they had crossed the Parana. By this
time the allies began to gather around them in great force,
and indeed in such overwhelming numbers that it was
evident that without generalship peculiarly Brazilian the
whole Paraguayan army would be destroyed or taken pris-
oners. Six hundred men under General Flores were ap-
proaching the camp of Duarte, who sent to Estigarribia for
reinforcements. He received for a reply the insulting answer
that, if he was afraid, some one else should be sent to command


in his stead. Hoping that General Robles, who had been de-
spatched in the same general direction, might be near, he also
wrote to him, advising him of the desperate strait he was in.
In this letter, which was captured by General Paunero, Duarte
says that his orders from Lopez were to kill all the prisoners
he took. This letter, it should be noted, was written early in
the war, and before Lopez had been rendered desperate by the
reverses that subsequently overtook him, and proves how little
value is to be attached to the professions made by him before
the commencement of hostilities, that he should carry on
the war with the strictest regard to the laws of nations, and
with such respect for the dictates of humanity, that his con-
duct in this war should offer a striking contrast to that which
had generally been the practice of the sanguinary caudillos,
whose exploits had disgraced almost every page of South
American history.

Flores's forces had increased so rapidly that on the iyth of
August they numbered more than thirteen thousand men.
He at once sent a summons to Duarte to surrender, which
the latter refused to do, saying, as was almost invariably said
at that time by every Paraguayan, when summoned to sur-
render, that he had no orders to do so from "El Supremo."
An attack was then ordered, and in the battle which followed
the Paraguayans fought with a valor never surpassed, not even
at Thermopylae. But the superiority of numbers was so over-
whelmingly against them that their valor was of no avail.
They all refused to surrender, but fought until they were
killed, and of the whole twenty-five hundred only between
two and three hundred of those who were not engaged in the
immediate contest were taken prisoners. In this battle, as in
many others, it would not unfrequently occur that one Para-
guayan would be surrounded by a dozen of the enemy, all
calling on him to surrender, to which he would make no
response, but fight on until he was killed ; or if by chance
he was disarmed during the unequal contest and forcibly
made a prisoner, he would take the first opportunity when
his hands were free to seize a musket or bludgeon of any

VOL. II. 6


kind, and kill as many as possible, until he was himself
knocked senseless.

In this action the allies lost a number fully equal to the
whole force of the Paraguayans, so that on the average every
Paraguayan had killed his man. The allies now turned their
attention to Estigarribia and his larger army, who were on the
other side of the river, engaged in fortifying their position.
As he saw that the troops of the enemy which were gathering
around him were far in excess of his own, he commenced a
retreat, which had he continued he might probably have
saved himself and a part of his army. But he knew the
character of his master too well to venture to retreat without
orders, and therefore returned to Uruguayana to await in-
structions or reinforcements. Meanwhile four gunboats had
been sent up the river by Admiral Tamandare, which took a
position so that their guns commanded the town. The ques-
tion with the allies now was, whether Estigarribia would fight,
as Duarte had done, until all his men were killed. Were he
to do so, they might count on a loss equal to all, or nearly all,
the Paraguayan army, and the moral effect of such another
Thermopylae could not but be disastrous to the allied cause.
They therefore sent a note to the Paraguayan commander,
proposing that he should surrender, and promising that he
and his men should be permitted to retire with all the honors
of war. Estigarribia replied to this note in a long letter,
declining to entertain any such proposition. The allies soon
after sent him a second letter, in which they represented that
their troops greatly outnumbered his, and they had such su-
periority of artillery that he was completely invested by land,
while he was exposed to the heavy guns of the squadron which
was lying near by in the river. For him to make resistance
under such circumstances, when victory was impossible and
defeat inevitable, would be to sacrifice his entire army to cer-
tain destruction. It has been said, that, at the time this letter
was sent, another communication of a different character was
also forwarded, in which Estigarribia was promised ample re-
wards if he would not subject the allies to the losses and


inconvenience of a battle, and that an arrangement was then
made, according to which he was to answer scornfully the
proposal that he should capitulate, and keep up the appear-
ance of defiance, till the Emperor, who was then on his way,
should have time to come up and be present at the surrender.
To the summons to surrender, Estigarribia replied, on the
5th of September, in a letter the terms of which are so
grandiloquent and inflated as to create the impression that
at the time it was sent he was already resolved on capitu-
lation.* This letter was not written by Estigarribia, but by
a priest who accompanied him to write his letters and act as
chaplain. Estigarribia was a man of little ability and no
education, and would never have been selected for this im-
portant command had Lopez been either a good judge of men
or of the qualities essential in the commander of so desperate
an enterprise. He had been known in Asuncion as belonging


"CAMP AT URUGUAYANA, Septembers, 1865.

" The Commander-in-Chief of the Division in Operation on the River Uruguay, to
the Representatives of the Vanguard of the Allied Army.

" The undersigned, Commander-in-Chief of the Paraguayan division in opera-
tion on the river Uruguay, has the honor to reply to the note which your Excel-
lencies addressed to him on the 2d instant, proposing the basis of an arrangement.

"Before entering upon the principal part of your Excellencies' note, I may be
allowed to refute, with the decency and dignity of a soldier of honor, all those
statements in said note which are injurious to the supreme government of the
undersigned. With the permission of your Excellencies, such statements place
that note on the same level as the newspapers of Buenos Aires, which for some
years have done nothing else and have had no other object than grossly and
severely to blacken the government of Paraguay, throwing out at the same time
rude calumnies against the people, who have replied to them by honestly labor-
ing for their domestic happiness, their greatest delight being in maintaining
internal peace, which is the fundamental base of the preponderance of a nation.

" As your Excellencies show so much zeal in giving the Paraguayan nation its
liberty, according to your own expressions, why have you not begun by freeing the
unhappy negroes of Brazil, who form the greater part of its population, and who
groan under the hardest and most terrible slavery to enrich and keep in idleness
a few hundreds of the grandees of the Empire ? Since when has a nation, which
by its own spontaneous and free will elects the government which presides over
its destinies, been called a nation of slaves ? Doubtless, since Brazil has under-
taken the affairs of the river Plata, with the decided desire of subjugating and


to the staff of Lopez, and as being one of the most ready and
willing to commit any barbarity or enforce without mercy any
tyrannical order that his master might command. His fam-
ily was of the lowest class in Asuncion, and he had no other
stake in the country, and was altogether such a man as, hav-
ing nothing to lose, would be open to propositions from any

These brave words were not followed up by corresponding
actions ; for no sooner were they written than he began to
stipulate for terms to himself, in case that he would sur-
render his whole army. But the allies, not knowing, or at
least pretending not to know, what his ulterior purposes were,
began to make active preparations for assaulting the place.
They had four times the number of troops that he had, besides
their gunboats ; they had also forty-two rifled cannon of longer
range than those possessed by Estigarribia, so that they could

enslaving the sister Republics of Paraguay, and perhaps even Paraguay itself, had
it not counted on a patriotic and foreseeing government.

" Your Excellencies will allow me these digressions, since you have provoked
them by insulting the government of my fatherland in your note.

" I am not of the same opinion with your Excellencies, that a military man of
honor and a true patriot should limit himself to fight only when he has a proba-
bility of conquering.

" If your Excellencies open any History, you will learn, from the records of that
great book of humanity, that the great captains whom the world still remembers
with pride counted neither the number of their enemies nor the elements they
disposed of, but conquered or died in the name of their country. Recollect that
Leonidas, when he was keeping the Pass of Thermopylae with three hundred
Spartans, would not listen to the propositions of the King of Persia; and when a
soldier told him that his enemies were so numerous that their arrows darkened
the sun, he answered, " So much the better, we will fight in the shade." Like
the Spartan captain, I cannot listen to the propositions made by the enemy ; for
I have been sent, with my companions, to fight in defence of the rights of Para-
guay ; and as its soldier I must answer your Excellencies when you enumerate
to me the number of your forces and the amount of artillery at your disposal,
4 So much the better ; the smoke of the cannon shall be our shade.'

" If fortune should decree us a tomb in this city of Uruguayana, our fellow-citi-
zens will preserve the remembrance of those Paraguayans who died fighting for
the cause of their country, and who, while they lived, did not surrender to the
enemy the sacred ensign of the liberty of their nation.

44 God preserve your Excellencies many years !



knock down the town and destroy every Paraguayan in it with-
out exposing themselves to any danger. It was a situation
well calculated to display Brazilian courage in all its perfection,
as no braver troops were ever known than they are when be-
yond the reach of danger. But while the allies were getting
ready to make this attack, the provisions in the camp of Esti-
garribia were getting very low. The army had eaten up all the
horned cattle, and had commenced upon the horses, and Esti-
garribia saw that, unless he could escape from the trap into
which he had fallen, he must either surrender, or else his troops
must all perish either in battle or from hunger. He therefore
sent another note to General Mitre, proposing to treat for
terms. Mitre, however, seeing that he had him completely in
his power, did not reply to his letter, reserving that task until
he should be ready for a general assault, when his answer
would be a summons to an unconditional surrender. This was
done on the i8th of September, the whole allied army being in
position for an attack. Mitre now sent a summons to Estigar-
ribia to surrender within four hours. The latter replied, offer-
ing to surrender on condition that the rank and file should be
treated as prisoners of war ; that the officers should be allowed
to keep their swords and go wherever they liked, even to Para-
guay ; and that the Orientals in his army should be prisoners
to Brazil. These terms were accepted, with the exception" that
the officers were to give up their swords, and might reside
wherever they pleased, except that they should not return to
Paraguay. The formal surrender was then made, and the
whole army, consisting of nearly six thousand men (some two
thousand having died from disease or want, or been killed in
the occasional skirmishes that had taken place), were marched
out as prisoners of war.

The treatment of these prisoners by the allies was not only
a violation of all the laws of war, but was in every respect
treacherous, dishonest, and disgraceful. They were drafted
into the allied armies and compelled to fight against their
own countrymen, brothers in arms. This act was not only a
crime, but it was a great mistake. The Paraguayans, when


they left their country on this invading expedition, believed
that they were going to fight an enemy who had come to
make war upon their country and carry them away, to dis-
tribute their women among the soldiers and carry off the
men as slaves to Brazil ; and they had been trained to such
implicit obedience, and were so thoroughly subject to the
orders of their superiors, that with this fear before them they
could be made to fight in a manner more desperate and fear-
less than was ever known before. It was long after they had
been taken prisoners before they became disabused of the
idea that they were finally to be taken to Brazil as slaves, and
that they were never to see their homes, their wives and
children again, unless by deserting they could make their way
back to their own country. Many of them did so desert,
and found their way back to the camp of Lopez, where, for a
while, they were received as true men, who had been betrayed
into the hands of the enemy by their commander. As they
had not been long enough in the Brazilian army to lose their
hatred of the Brazilians, or to become disabused of the idea
that they were going to be made slaves of, they were nearly
L_all again drafted into the army.

It is asserted that Estigarribia had, previous to his surren-
der, made terms with the Brazilians, by which he was to
receive a very large sum of money in case he would lay down
his arms without forcing the allies to the extremity of a
battle. It is certain that he was treated by the Brazilians
with great consideration ; that he went to Rio de Janeiro,
where he was treated with great distinction ; and that he
had the means to support himself in a style such as he had
never known before. His annual salary under Lopez had not
been as much as were his daily expenses in Rio de Janeiro
after his surrender. No one but Lopez could blame him for
having surrendered as he did, for had he held out as did
Duarte his army must have shared the fate of his subordi-
nate. Yet Lopez had been well pleased with the battle of
Yatai ; for he thought that, though the whole army had
been destroyed, it would show the allies that the people


whom they were to encounter were resolved to perish to
the last man sooner than be conquered. Should Estigarribia
imitate Duarte and his army, and make as good a report
of himself as they did, then the allies would hesitate long
before venturing to encounter another Paraguayan army.
But when the news of Estigarribia's surrender reached him,
he saw that he had not only lost his army, but that he had
shown a great want of generalship by sending so large a force
away from his base and leaving it to be cut off and captured,
and he had lost all the moral advantages that had been gained
by the army of Duarte. The news of this surrender, coming
so soon after the defeat at Riachuelo, rendered Lopez for a
time as savage and furious as he afterwards became in his
general character. He had lost a great part of his fleet that
was to have swept the river and brought the cities of Monte-
video, Buenos Aires, Rosario, and Parana as supplicants to
his feet ; and he had lost the whole army that he had intended
should carry fire and sword through the Brazilian camp, and
even bring the Emperor to sue for terms. His rage on this
occasion has been described as having been very undignified
for the chief magistrate of a nation. Gathering all his prin-
cipal officers, he broke forth in curses and maledictions of
Estigarribia as a traitor, a purchased knave, whose name and
memory were deserving of universal execration. He then
turned upon those present, and in terms of the most bitter
invective told them that they were all traitors to a great ex-
tent ; that none of them had his cause and his person so much
at heart as they ought to have it ; that he should watch them
more sharply than he had ever done before ; and that they
might count that at the least defection, the least sign of diso-
bedience or disinclination to carry out his orders to the fullest
extent, they should feel his heavy hand upon them in such a
way that they could never fear it a second time.

The wrath of Lopez against Estagarribia was greatly aggra-
vated by the fact that he had escaped from his power, and
was then rioting on the rewards of his disobedience. He had
not even the poor consolation of inflicting vicarious punish-


r ment on his family, for he had no family but a wife that he
cared nothing about, and who was low and abandoned. Not-
withstanding this, however, she both renounced and denounced
him, and petitioned the government for leave to change her
name, and not be longer known or called by one that her
husband had made infamous. Having done this, she was
allowed to remain at large, while the families of others who
had deserted or proved recreant, if they had the misfortune
to be respectable and possessed of property, were stripped
of all they possessed and sent into exile in remote and desti-
tute places of the interior.

In regard to the treason of Robles, Lopez was for a long
time in doubt. The whole Corrientes expedition had proved
a miserable disastrous failure, and, as Estigarribia had escaped,
Robles must suffer for the shortcomings of both. His fidelity
was suspected, and yet nothing could be proved against him.
This fact Lopez confessed more than a year after, under the
following circumstances. The writer of this work had just
returned from the camp of the allies, where he had several
interviews with their commander-in-chief, the Marques de
Caxias. On these occasions the Marques was very free in boast-
ing of his great resources and of his ability to ride over and
destroy the army of Lopez whenever be should choose to do
so. He evidently wished all he said to be repeated to Lopez,
with the object of convincing him that he was irretrievably
lost. He boasted that he knew the position of every gun
in Lopez's camp and the number of troops at each point, and
directed his principal engineer, a Pole, who had been in the
American war on the staff of General Grant, to give me a
plan of Lopez's camp, with its defences and connections, so
that on showing it to Lopez he would see that Caxias was not
speaking at random. He also boasted that he found no diffi-
culty in obtaining information from within the Paraguayan
lines, and said that he had numerous spies and informers
there. He stated that the disastrous attack on the island near
Paso de la Patria had been all arranged previously by Mitre
and the Paraguayan commander, Romero, by which the lat-


ter was to be taken prisoner and all his command also taken
or killed. He declared that if Robles had not been arrested
for two or three days longer, he and his whole army would
have been taken at as cheap a rate as had previously that
of Estigarribia. It struck me at the time as very singular
that the commander-in -chief of an army should speak thus
openly and boastingly of the means he employed to corrupt
his enemies and induce them to turn traitors. There was,
however, probably, an object in it. He did not affect to
tell me anything in confidence, but, on the contrary, said
that I might tell Lopez everything; his object as I sup-
posed being to impress upon him that his cause was lost, and
he had better give up the contest without further bloodshed.

When I related to Lopez what Caxias had said of the
treachery of Robles, I had no suspicion that he had exe-
cuted him while in doubt of his guilt. But in his reply he
admitted that such was the fact. He said he was greatly re-
lieved and gratified by what I had told him, as it was the first
information of a positive character he had ever received that
Robles was a traitor. Caxias had, however, denied that Esli-
garribia was a traitor. He said that he had only surrendered
under such circumstances as would have justified any military
man in surrendering, and that it would have been folly, mad-
ness, and crime for him to have resisted against odds so over-
whelming ; that his army must have been entirely destroyed in
case it had not capitulated. Lopez still refused to admit that
Estigarribia was not a traitor equally guilty and base with
Robles. It was his idea that it was the duty of every soldier
of his army to fight with all his men until every one was
killed rather than to surrender, for by doing this they could
inflict injury on the allies, and thereby help his cause; and
so that his cause was aided, Lopez did not consider that a
general or soldier had any right whatever to consider his own
life or that of his fellow-soldiers as worthy of a thought.

The news of the surrender of Estigarribia, when it reached
Asuncion, caused great dismay, and public meetings were
held to denounce his treachery and cowardice. But while


the escaped traitor was denounced and stigmatized by every
possible epithet that could be found either in Spanish or Gua-
rani, those who reviled him felt it incumbent upon them, or
at least prudent, to praise the great strategy of Lopez, who
had sent him on the expedition with a large army that must
inevitably be lost if his orders were obeyed. In the Seina-
iiario he was likened to as many of the heroes of ancient
times as the editors had ever heard of; and when the Ameri-
can, Mr. Bliss, suggested that the name of Cincinnatus should
be added to the others, it was done, though probably not one of
the readers, Paraguayans, had ever heard of Cincinnatus, and,
if they had, would certainly have found it difficult to trace the
similarity between him and Lopez.

After these two great disasters, Lopez saw that he could
no longer maintain an aggressive war on foreign territory.
If he would not have his whole forces destroyed, he must re-
call them within the limits of Paraguay and then fight on the
defensive. He accordingly ordered the evacuation of Corri-
entes, and withdrew his troops. They had during the time of
occupation descended along the banks of the river as far as the
important town of Goya, which, with Bella Vista, Empedrado,
and other places of less note, they had sacked, and had taken
away everything that they could carry which would be of use
to them in their own country. The chief wealth of the province
of Corrientes, however, was the cattle ; and General Barrios,
who was in command after the arrest of Robles, deployed his
army into a long line from the river, and, marching to the
north, swept before him all the cattle and horses that could
be found until they came to the Parana, where they were fer-
ried over in steamers and lighters to the Paraguayan shore.
While this was going on the Brazilian squadron was lying idle
in the river, and doing nothing to prevent the Paraguayans

Online LibraryCharles A. (Charles Ames) WashburnThe history of Paraguay, with notes of personal observations, and reminiscences of diplomacy under difficulties (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 58)