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War of the Triple Alliance

 

 

First phase of the War 

 

During the first phase of the war Paraguay took the initiative. The armies of López dictated the location of initial battles — invading Mato Grosso in the north in December 1864, Rio Grande do Sul in the south in the first months of 1865 and the Argentine province of Corrientes.

 

Two bodies of Paraguayan troops invaded Mato Grosso simultaneously. Due to the numerical superiority of the invaders the province was captured quickly.

 

Five thousand men, transported in ten ships and commanded by the colonel Vicente Barrios, went up the Río Paraguay and attacked the fort of Nova Coimbra. The garrison of 155 men resisted for three days under the command of the lieutenant-colonel Hermenegildo de Albuquerque Porto Carrero, later baron of Fort Coimbra. When the munitions were exhausted the defenders abandoned the fort and withdrew up the river on board the gunship Anhambaí in direction of Corumbá. After they occupied the empty fort the Paraguayans advanced north taking the cities of Albuquerque and Corumbá in January 1865.

 

The second Paraguayan column, which was led by Colonel Francisco Isidoro Resquín and included four thousand men, penetrated a region south of Mato Grosso, and sent a detachment to attack the military frontier of Dourados. The detachment, led by Major Martín Urbieta, encountered tough resistance on December 29, 1864 from Lieutenant Antonio João Ribeiro and his 16 men, who died without yielding. The Paraguayans continued to Nioaque and Miranda, defeating the troops of the colonel José Dias da Silva. Coxim was taken in April 1865.

 

The Paraguayan forces, despite their victories, did not continue to Cuiabá, the capital of the province. Augusto Leverger had fortified the camp of Melgaço to protect Cuiabá. The main objective was to distract the attention of the Brazilian government to the north as the war would lead to the south, closer to the River Plate estuary. The invasion of Mato Grosso was a diversionary maneuver.

 

The invasion of Corrientes and of Rio Grande do Sul was the second phase of the Paraguayan offensive. To raise the support of the Uruguayan Blancos, the Paraguayan forces had to travel through Argentine territory. In March of 1865, López asked the Argentine government's permission for an army of 25,000 men (led by General Wenceslao Robles) to travel through the province of Corrientes. The president - Bartolomé Mitre, an ally of Brazil in the intervention in Uruguay - refused.

 

In the March 18, 1865, Paraguay declared war on Argentina. A Paraguayan squadron, coming down the Río Paraná, imprisoned Argentine ships in the port of Corrientes. Immediately, General Robles's troops took the city.

 

In invading Corrientes, López tried to obtain the support of the powerful Argentine caudillo Justo José de Urquiza, governor of the provinces of Corrientes and Entre Ríos, and the chief federalist hostile to Mitre and to the government of Buenos Aires.But Urquiza assumed an ambiguous attitude towards the Paraguayan troops—which would advance around 200 kilometers south before ultimately ending the offensive in failure.

 

Along with Robles's troops, a force of 10,000 men under the orders of the lieutenant-colonel Antonio de la Cruz Estigarriba crossed the Argentine border south of Encarnación, in May 1865, driving for Rio Grande do Sul. They traveled down Río Uruguay and took the town of São Borja on June 12. Uruguaiana, to the south, was taken on August 5 without any significant resistance. The Brazilian reaction was yet to come

 

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