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War of the Triple Alliance
Composite war triple alliance.JPG
Date 1864-1870
Location South America
Result Allied victory
Flag of Paraguay 1842.png Paraguay Flag of Uruguay.svg Uruguay,
Flag of Argentina.svg Argentina,
Flag of the Second Empire of Brazil.svg Empire of Brazil
Flag of Paraguay 1842.png Francisco Solano López  
Flag of Paraguay 1842.png José E. Díaz  
Flag of Uruguay.svg Venancio Flores
Flag of Argentina.svg Bartolomé Mitre
Flag of the Second Empire of Brazil.svg Pedro II of Brazil
Flag of the Second Empire of Brazil.svg Duke of Caxias
Flag of the Second Empire of Brazil.svg Count of Eu
150,000 Paraguayans 164,173 Brazilians,
30,000 Argentines,
5,583 Uruguayans
199,756 men
Casualties and losses
ca. 300,000 soldiers and civilians 91,000-100,000 soldiers and civilians

The War of the Triple Alliance, also known as the Paraguayan War, and in Paraguay as the Great War, was fought from 1864 to 1870 between Paraguay and the allied countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. It caused more deaths than any other South American war and particularly devastated Paraguay, killing most of its male population.

Several theories exist regarding the origins of the war. In essence, Argentine revisionism and the Paraguayan traditional view give a preponderant role to the interests of the British Empire. The alternative view emphasizes the aggressive policy of marshal Solano Lopez with respect to the residents of the River Plate region. The war began in late 1864 with combat operations between Brazil and Paraguay; by 1865 it was already being referred to as the “War of the Triple Alliance”.



The start of the war has been widely attributed to causes as varied as the after-effects of colonialism in Latin America, the struggle for physical power over the strategic Río de la Plata region, Brazilian and Argentine meddling in internal Uruguayan politics, British economic interests in the region, and the expansionist ambitions of Paraguayan president Francisco Solano López.[1] Paraguay had had boundary disputes and tariff issues with Argentina and Brazil for many years.

The outcome of the war was the utter defeat of Paraguay. After the Triple Alliance defeated Paraguay in conventional warfare, the conflict turned into a drawn-out guerrilla-style resistance that devastated the Paraguayan military and civilian population. The guerilla war lasted until López was killed on March 1, 1870. One estimate places total Paraguayan losses — through both war and disease — as high as 1.2 million people, or 90% of its pre-war population.[2][3] A different estimate places Paraguayan deaths at approximately 300,000 people out of its 500,000 to 525,000 prewar inhabitants.[4]

It took decades for Paraguay to recover from the chaos and demographic imbalance in which it had been placed. What had been by name one of the first South American republics, Paraguay only chose its first democratically-elected president in 1993. In Brazil, the war helped bring about the end of slavery, moved the military into a key role in the public sphere, and caused a ruinous increase of public debt, which took decades to pay, seriously reducing the country's growth. It has been argued that the war played a key role in the consolidation of Argentina as a nation-state. [5] After the war, that country became Latin America's second wealthiest nation (Brazil being the first).[6] For Uruguay, it was the last time that Brazil and Argentina would take such an interventionist role in its internal politics.[7]


Paraguay before the war

Francisco Solano López, Paraguayan president.

Historians have long considered that Paraguay under José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia (1813–1840) and Carlos Antonio López (1841–1862) developed quite differently from other South American countries. The aim of Rodríguez de Francia and Carlos López was to encourage self-sufficient economic development in Paraguay by imposing a high level of isolation from neighboring countries.[8] But historiography is ever-changing: during the 1960s and 1970s, many historians claimed that the War of the Triple Alliance was caused by pseudo-colonial influence of the British [9][10], who were in need of a new source of cotton due to the Civil War in the United States. [6] However, this claim is inconsistent with the results of other historical research [11]; the claim of British influences has been disputed by several works of history that have been published since 1990.[11]

The regime of the López family was characterized by a harsh centralism without any room for the creation of a true civil society. There was no distinction between the public and the private sphere, and the López family ruled the country as it would a large estate of land.[12]

The Paraguayan government exerted its control on all exports. The export of yerba mate and valuable wood products maintained the balance of commerce between Paraguay and the outside world.[13] The Paraguayan government was extremely protectionist, never accepting loans from the outside and, through high tariffs, refusing the importation of foreign products. Francisco Solano López, the son of Carlos Antonio López, replaced his father as the President-Dictator in 1862, and he generally continued the political policies of his father.

In the area of the military, however, Solano López modernized and expanded industry and the Paraguayan Army in ways that would lead to war in the long run.[14] The Paraguayan government hired more than 200 foreign technicians, who installed telegraph lines and railroads to aid the expanding steel, textile, paper, ink, naval construction, weapons, and gunpowder industries. The Ybycuí foundry, completed in 1850, manufactured cannons, mortars, and bullets of all calibers. River warships were built in the shipyards of Asunción.

This industrial and military growth required some contact with the international market, but Paraguay is and was a landlocked country. Its ports were river ports, and Paraguayan and other ships had to travel down the Río Paraguay and the Río Paraná to reach the estuary of the Río de la Plata (shared by Argentina and Uruguay) and the Atlantic Ocean. Presidente Solano López conceived of a project to obtain ports on the Atlantic Ocean: he probably intended to create a "Greater Paraguay" by capturing a slice of Brazilian territory that would link Paraguay to the Atlantic coast.[15]

To set about on his expansionist intentions, López began to prepare for Paraguay a large army. He encouraged the development of war industries, mobilized a large quantity of men for the Army (mandatory military service had already existed in Paraguay), submitted them to intensive military training, and built fortifications at the mouth of the Río Paraguay. He also set about building riverboats of war.

Diplomatically, Solano López wanted to ally himself with Uruguay's ruling Blanco Party. The Colorado party was connected to Brazil and Argentina.[16]

In 1864, Presidente López thought that the balance of power was threatened when Brazil got involved in Uruguay's internal politics and the struggle for leadership. This was the spark that lead López to declare war on Brazil. Argentina stayed neutral in this, and that country only declared war on Paraguay when it invaded the Corrientes Province of Argentina. This occurred when Mitre rejected the request that Solano made to use Argentinean territory to move his troops to fight in Uruguay against Brazil.

Politics of the Río de la Plata

Emperor Pedro II wearing a southern Brazilian traditional outfit during his visit to Uruguaiana in the province of Rio Grande do Sul, 1865.

Since Brazil and Argentina had become independent, the fight between the governments of Buenos Aires and of Rio de Janeiro for hegemony in the Río de la Plata profoundly marked the diplomatic and political relations between the countries of the region.[17] Brazil almost entered into war with Argentina twice. [see Argentina–Brazil War]

The government of Buenos Aires intended to reconstruct the territory of the old Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata[citation needed], enclosing Paraguay and Uruguay. It carried out diverse attempts[citation needed] to do so during the first half of the 19th century, without success — many times due to Brazilian intervention[citation needed]. Fearing excessive Argentine control, Brazil favored a balance of power in the region, helping Paraguay and Uruguay retain their sovereignty.

Brazil, under the rule of the Portuguese, was the first country to recognize the independence of Paraguay in 1811. While Argentina was ruled by Juan Manuel Rosas (1829–1852), a common enemy of both Brazil and Paraguay, Brazil contributed to the improvement of the fortifications and development of the Paraguayan army, sending officials and technical help to Asunción. As no roads linked the province of Mato Grosso to Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian ships needed to travel through Paraguayan territory, going up the Río Paraguay to arrive at Cuiabá. Many times, however, Brazil had difficulty obtaining permission to sail from the government in Asunción.

Brazil carried out three political and military interventions in Uruguay — in 1851, against Manuel Oribe to fight Argentine influence in the country; in 1855, at the request of the Uruguayan government and Venancio Flores, leader of the Colorados, who were traditionally supported by the Brazilian empire; and in 1864, against Atanásio Aguirre. This last intervention would be the fuse of the War of the Triple Alliance.

Intervention against Aguirre

In April 1864, Brazil sent a diplomatic mission to Uruguay led by José Antônio Saraiva to demand payment for the damages caused to gaucho farmers in border conflicts with Uruguayan farmers. The Uruguayan president Atanásio Aguirre, of the National Party, refused the Brazilian demands.

Solano López offered himself as mediator, but was turned down by Brazil. López subsequently broke diplomatic relations with Brazil — in August 1864 — and declared that the occupation of Uruguay by Brazilian troops would be an attack on the equilibrium of the Río de la Plata region.

On October 12, Brazilian troops invaded Uruguay. The followers of the Colorado Venancio Flores, who had the support of Argentina, united with the Brazilian troops and deposed Aguirre.[18]

The War

The war begins

A Brazilian corporal of the 1st Battalion of Fatherland Volunteer Corps, heavy infantry, 1865.

When attacked by Brazil, the Uruguayan Blancos asked for help from Solano López, but Paraguay did not directly come to their ally's aid. Instead, on November 12, 1864, the Paraguayan ship Tacuari captured the Brazilian ship Marquês de Olinda which had sailed up the Río Paraguay to the province of Mato Grosso.[19] Paraguay declared war on Brazil on December 13 and on Argentina three months later, on March 18, 1865. Uruguay, already governed by Venancio Flores, aligned itself with Brazil and Argentina.

At the beginning of the war, the military force of the Triple Alliance was inferior to that of Paraguay, which included, according to revisionist historians, more than 60,000 well-trained men—38,000 of whom were immediately under arms—and a naval squadron of twenty-three steamboats (vapores) and five river-navigating ships, based around the Tacuari, a gunboat.[20] Its artillery included about 400 cannons. However, recent studies have shown a different picture. Although the Paraguayan army had somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 men at the beginning of the conflict, they were badly equipped. Most of the infantry armament consisted of inaccurate smooth-bore muskets and carbines, slow to reload and with short range. The same applied to the artillery. The officers had no training or experience and there was no command system, as all decisions were made by López. Food, ammunition and armament were scarce and logistics and hospital care were deficient, if existent at all.[21]

The armies of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay were a fraction of the total size of the Paraguayan army. Argentina had approximately 8,500 regular troops and a naval squadron of four vapores and one goleta. Uruguay entered the war with fewer than 2,000 men and no navy. Many of Brazil's 16,000 troops were initially located in its southern garrisons.[22] The Brazilian advantage, though, was in its navy: 42 ships with 239 cannon and about 4,000 well-trained crew. A great part of the squadron had already met in the Río de la Plata basin, where it had acted, under the Marquis of Tamandaré, in the intervention against Aguirre.

Brazil, however, was unprepared to fight a war. Its army was unorganized. The troops used in the interventions in Uruguay were composed merely of the armed contingents of gaucho politicians and some National Guard staff. The Brazilian infantry who fought in the War of the Triple Alliance were not professional soldiers but volunteers, the so-called Voluntários da Pátria. The army was heavily recruited from the landless, largely black, underclass.[23] The cavalry was formed from the National Guard of Rio Grande Do Sul. From the end of 1864 to 1870 about 146,000 Brazilians fought in the war while 18,000 members of the National Guard stayed behind in Brazilian territory to defend it. The 146,000 soldiers were: 10,025 army soldiers stationed in Uruguayan territory in 1864, 2,047 that were in the province of Mato Grosso, 55,985 Fatherland Volunteers, 60,009 National Guards, 8,570 ex-slaves who had been freed to be sent to war, and 9,177 navy personnel.[24]

Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay signed the Treaty of the Triple Alliance in Buenos Aires on May 1, 1865, allying the three Río de la Plata countries against Paraguay. They named Bartolomé Mitre, president of Argentina, as supreme commander of the allied troops.[25]

Paraguayan offensive

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.

Brazilian troops in front of a Church in Nova Palmira located in the province of Rio Grande do Sul, November 1865.
Brazilian officers posing with their weapons and gear in a photographer´s improvised studio very near the battlefront, between 1865 and 1870.

Two bodies of Paraguayan troops invaded Mato Grosso simultaneously. Due to the numerical superiority of the attackers, the province was invaded 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 towards Corumbá on board the gunship Anhambaí. 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 Río de la Plata estuary. The invasion of Mato Grosso was a diversionary maneuver.

Brazilian soldiers (26º Fatherland Volunteer Corps) from the distant province of Ceará in guerrilla operations sometime between 1866 and 1868. Lieutenant-colonel Joaquim Francisco Figuereido (with beard) can be seen at the center next to two buglers in white.

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 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.

On 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.

By 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.[25] But Urquiza assumed an ambiguous attitude towards the Paraguayan troops[citation needed]. They advanced 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 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.

Brazil reacts

A Paraguayan cavalry unit (left) is attacked by that of the allies (right). After the first few years of the war, the Paraguayans had to eat their horses in order to survive. By the late years of the conflict they also ran out of men (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 40, 1870).

Brazil sent an expedition to fight the invaders in Mato Grosso. A column of 2,780 men led by Colonel Manuel Pedro Drago left Uberaba in Minas Gerais in April 1865, and arrived at Coxim in December after a difficult march of more than two thousand kilometers through four provinces. But Paraguay had abandoned Coxim by December. Drago arrived at Miranda in September 1866 - and Paraguay had left once again. In January 1867, Colonel Carlos de Morais Camisão assumed command of the column, now with only 1,680 men, and decided to invade Paraguayan territory, where he penetrated as far as Laguna. The expedition was forced to retreat by the Paraguayan cavalry.

Despite the efforts of Colonel Camisão's troops and the resistance in the region, which succeeded in liberating Corumbá in June 1867, Mato Grosso remained under the control of the Paraguayans. They finally withdrew in April 1868, moving their troops to the main theatre of operations, in the south of Paraguay.

Communications in the Río de la Plata basin was solely by river; few roads existed. Whoever controlled the rivers would win the war, so the Paraguayan fortifications had been built on the edges of the lower end of Río Paraguay.

The naval battle of Riachuelo occurred on June 11, 1865. The Brazilian fleet commanded by Francisco Manoel Barroso da Silva won, destroying the powerful Paraguayan navy and preventing the Paraguayans from permanently occupying Argentine territory. The battle practically decided the outcome of the war in favour of the Triple Alliance, which controlled, from that point on, the rivers of the Río de la Plata basin up to the entrance to Paraguay.[26]

While López ordered the retreat of the forces that occupied Corrientes, the Paraguayan troops that invaded São Borja advanced, taking Itaqui and Uruguaiana. A separate division (3,200 men) that continued towards Uruguay, under the command of the major Pedro Duarte, was defeated by Flores in the bloody battle of Jataí on the banks of the Río Uruguay.

The allied troops united under the command of Mitre in the camp of Concordia, in the Argentine province of Entre Ríos, with the field-marshal Manuel Luís Osório at the front of the Brazilian troops. Part of the troops, commanded by the lieutenant-general Manuel Marques de Sousa, baron of Porto Alegre, left to reinforce Uruguaiana. The Paraguayans yielded on September 18, 1865.

In the subsequent months the Paraguayans were driven out of the cities of Corrientes and San Cosme, the only Argentine territory still in Paraguayan possession. By the end of 1865, the Triple Alliance was on the offensive. Their armies numbered more than 50,000 men and were prepared to invade Paraguay.

In September 12, 1866, López invited Mitre to a conference in Yatayty Cora. López had realized that the war was lost and was ready to sign a peace treaty with the Allies[27]. No agreement was reached though since Mitre's conditions for rendition were that every article of the Secret Treaty of the Triple Alliance was still to be carried out, a condition to which López refused[28] Despite López'es refusal, article 6 of the treaty not only rendered any possibility of truce or peace nearly impossible but also stipulated that the war was to continue until the current government ceased to be, which meant the death of López.

Caxias in command

A view of the Lambaré market, left side of the Humaitá fortress after its conquest by the allies, 1868. The flag of the Empire of Brazil is on the right.
A Paraguayan soldier late in the war on sentry duty at López' headquarters was lucky to have a worn-out musket. As the war dragged on, some Paraguayan soldiers entered combat without weapons and were expected to arm themselves from those of fallen comrades (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 40, 1870).

Assigned on October 10, 1866 to command the Brazilian forces, Marshal Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, Marquis and, later, Duke of Caxias, arrived in Paraguay in November, finding the Brazilian army practically paralyzed. The contingent of Argentines and Uruguayans, devastated by disease, were cut off from the rest of the allied army. Mitre and Flores returned to their respective countries due to questions of internal politics. Tamandaré was replaced in command by the Admiral Joaquim José Inácio, future Viscount of Inhaúma. Osório organized a 5,000-strong third Corps of the Brazilian army in Rio Grande do Sul. In Mitre's absence, Caxias assumed the general command and restructured the army.

Between November 1866 and July 1867, Caxias organized a health corps (to give aid to the endless number of injured soldiers and to fight the epidemic of cholera) and a system of supplying of the troops. In that period military operations were limited to skirmishes with the Paraguayans and to bombarding Curupaity. López took advantage of the disorganization of the enemy to reinforce his stronghold in Humaitá.

The march to flank the left wing of the Paraguayan fortifications constituted the basis of Caxias's tactics. Caxias wanted to bypass the Paraguayan strongholds, cut the connections between Asunción and Humaitá, and finally encircle the Paraguayans. To this end, Caxias marched to Tuiu-Cuê. But Mitre, who had retaken command in August 1867, insisted on attacking the right wing, a strategy that had previously been disastrous in Curupaity. Under his orders the Brazilian squadron forced its way past Curupaity but was forced to stop at Humaitá. New splits in the high command arose: Mitre wanted to continue, but the Brazilians instead captured São Solano, Pike and Tayi, isolating Humaitá from Asunción. López reacted by attacking the rearguard of the allies in Tuiuti, but suffered new defeats.

With the removal of Mitre in January 1868, Caxias reassumed supreme command and decided to bypass Curupaity and Humaitá, carried out with success by the squadron commanded by Captain Delfim Carlos de Carvalho, later Baron of Passagem. Humaitá fell on 25 July after a long siege.

Brazilian soldiers kneeling before the statue of Our Lady of Conception during a procession in May 30, 1868.

En route to Asunción, Caxias's army went 200 kilometers to Palmas, stopping at the Piquissiri river. There López had concentrated 18,000 Paraguayans in a fortified line that exploited the terrain and supported the forts of Angostura and Itá-Ibaté. Resigned to frontal combat, Caxias ordered the so-called Piquissiri maneuver. While a squadron attacked Angostura, Caxias made the army cross on the right side of the river. He ordered the construction of a road in the swamps of the Chaco along which the troops advanced to the northeast. At Villeta, the army crossed the river again, between Asunción and Piquissiri, behind the fortified Paraguayan line. Instead of advancing to the capital, already evacuated and bombarded, Caxias went south and attacked the Paraguayans from behind.

Caxias had won a series of victories in December 1868, when he went back south to take Piquissiri from the rear, capturing Itororó, Avaí, Lomas Valentinas and Angostura. On December 24 the three new commanders of the Triple Alliance (Caxias, the Argentine Juan Andrés Gelly y Obes, and the Uruguayan Enrique Castro) sent a note to Solano López asking for surrender, but López refused and fled for Cerro Leon.

Asunción was occupied on January 1, 1869 by commands of Colonel Hermes Ernesto da Fonseca, father of the future Marshal Hermes da Fonseca. On the fifth day, Caxias entered the city with the rest of the army, and 13 days later left his command.

The end of the war

Command of Count d'Eu

Count d´Eu reviewing Brazilian troops in an open field, ca. 1869.

The son-in-law of the emperor Dom Pedro II, Luís Filipe Gastão de Orléans, Count d'Eu, was nominated to direct the final phase of the military operations in Paraguay. He sought not just a total rout of Paraguay, but also the strengthening of the Brazilian Empire. In August 1869, the Triple Alliance installed a provisional government in Asunción headed by Paraguayan Cirilo Antonio Rivarola.

Solano López organized the resistance in the mountain range northeast of Asunción. At the head of 21,000 men, Count d'Eu led the campaign against the Paraguayan resistance, the Campaign of the Mountain Range, which lasted over a year. The most important battles were the battles of Piribebuy and of Acosta Ñu, in which more than 5,000 Paraguayans died.

Death of López

Two detachments were sent in pursuit of Solano López, who was accompanied by 200 men in the forests in the north. On March 1, 1870, the troops of General José Antônio Correia da Câmara surprised the last Paraguayan camp in Cerro Corá. During the battle that ensued, López was separated from the remainder of his army and was accompaigned only by his aide and a couple of officers. He had been wounded with a spear in the stomach and hit with a sword in the side of his head and so was too weak to walk by himself.[29] They led him to the Aquidabangui stream. There the officers left López with the pretext of getting reinforcements. While alone with his aide, General Câmara arrived along with six soldiers and approached López offering him to surrender and guaranteeing his life. López refused and shouting “Muero con mi patria!” (I die with my nation) [30] tried to attack Câmara with his sword. Câmara ordered López to be disarmed, but López died during the struggle with the soldiers who were trying to disarm him.[31]. This marked the end of the war of the Triple Alliance.


The Paraguayan people had been drastically scared, since López ordered them to kill anybody including officers, who would show signs of cowardice.[32] As a result paranoia prevailed in the army and soldiers fought to the point of dissolution.[32] Paraguay suffered massive casualties, losing perhaps the majority of its population. The war left it utterly prostrate.

A Brazilian priest with Paraguayan refugees coming from San Pedro, 1869 or 1870.

The specific numbers of casualties are hotly disputed, but it has been estimated that 300,000 Paraguayans, mostly civilians, died; up to 90% of the male population may have been killed.[32] According to one numerical estimation, the prewar population of approximately 525,000 Paraguayans was reduced to about 221,000 in 1871, of which only about 28,000 were men. Definitively accurate casualty numbers will probably never be determined.

A study carried out Dr. Thomas Whigham from the University of Georgia in 1999, which was 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" and later expanded in the essay titled "Refining the Numbers: A Response to Reber and Kleinpenning" in the year 2002, portray somewhat more accurate figures. Based on a census which was carried after the war ended in the years 1870 and 1871, and after some corrections such as calculating omissions common to the time, Dr. Whigham came up with a much lower figure of 150,000-160,000 Paraguayan people left, of which only 28,000 were adult males. This figures leaves a woman/man ratio of 4 to 1 while in some more devastated areas of the nation the ratio rose up to 20 to 1.[33]

Regarding the population before the war, Dr. Whigham used a census carried out in the year 1846 in order to calculate, based on a population growth rate of 1.7 to 2.5 percent annually (which was the standard rate in the time and again the aforementioned omissions), that the immediate pre-war population in 1864 was of approximately 420,000-450,000 Paraguayans. This represents a loss of 60 to 70 percent of the population.[33]

Of the around 123,000 Brazilians that fought in the War of the Triple Alliance, the best estimates say that around 50,000 died. Uruguayan forces counted barely 5,600 men (some of whom were foreigners),[citation needed], of whom about 3,100 died. Argentina lost around 18,000 of its 30,000 combatants.

The high rates of mortality, however, were not the result of the armed conflict in itself. Bad food and very bad hygiene caused most of the deaths. Among the Brazilians, two-thirds of the killed died in hospitals and marching prior to facing the enemy. In the beginning of the conflict, most of the Brazilian soldiers came from the north and northeast regions of the country; the changes from a hot to cold climate, and the amount of food available to them, were abrupt. Drinking river water was sometimes fatal to entire battalions of Brazilians. Cholera was perhaps the main cause of death during the war.

Consequences of the war

The internal political vacuum in Paraguay was at first dominated by survivors of the Paraguayan Legion. This group of exiles, based in Buenos Aires, had regarded Solano López as a mad tyrant and fought for the allies during the war. The group set up a provisional government in 1869 mainly under Brazilian auspices and signed the 1870 peace accords, which guaranteed Paraguay's independence and free river navigation. A constitution was also promulgated in the same year, but it proved ineffective because of the foreign origin of its liberal, democratic tenets.

Preparations for the victory celebration in Brazil, 1870.

A standstill began, and the Brazilian army, which was in complete control of the Paraguayan territory, remained in the country for six years after the final defeat of Paraguay in 1870, only leaving in 1876 in order to ensure the continued existence of Paraguay. During this time, the possibility of an armed conflict with Argentina for control over Paraguay became increasingly real, as Argentina wanted to seize the Chaco region, but was barred by the Brazilian Army.

The Paraguayan villages destroyed by the war were abandoned and the peasant survivors migrated to the outskirts of Asunción, dedicating themselves to subsistence agriculture in the central region of the country. Other lands were sold to foreigners, mainly Argentines, and turned into estates. Paraguayan industry fell apart. The Paraguayan market opened itself to British products and the country was forced for the first time to obtain outside loans, totalling a million British pounds. In fact, Britain can be seen as the power that most benefited from the war: whilst the war ended the Paraguayan threat to her interests, Brazil and Argentina fell into massive debt, establishing a pattern that continues to this day. (Brazil had repaid all British loans by the Getúlio Vargas era.)

Brazil paid a high price for victory. The war was financed by the Bank of London, and by Baring Brothers and N M Rothschild & Sons. During the five years of war, Brazilian expenditure reached twice its receipts, causing a financial crisis.

Slavery was undermined in Brazil as slaves were freed to serve in the war.[34] The Brazilian army became a new and expressive force in national life. It transformed itself into a strong institution that, with the war, gained tradition and internal cohesion, and would take a significant role in the later development of the history of the country.

The war took its biggest toll on the Brazilian emperor. The economic depression and the strengthening of the army later played a big role in the deposition of the emperor Dom Pedro II and the republican proclamation in 1889. General Deodoro da Fonseca became the first Brazilian president.

In December 1975, when presidents Ernesto Geisel and Alfredo Stroessner signed a treaty of friendship and co-operation[35] in Asunción, the Brazilian government returned its spoils of war to Paraguay, except the Paraguayan national archives which were removed during the ransacking of Asuncion and taken to the National library in Rio de Janeiro.

The war still remains a controversial topic - especially in Paraguay, where it is considered either a fearless struggle for the rights of a smaller nation against the aggressions of more powerful neighbours, or a foolish attempt to fight an unwinnable war that almost destroyed a whole nation. In Argentina, as the war wore on, many Argentines saw the conflict as Mitre's war of conquest, and not as a response to aggression. They remembered that Solano López, believing he would have Mitre's support, seized the opportunity to attack Brazil created by Mitre when he used the Argentinian Navy to deny access to the Río de la Plata to Brazilian ships in early 1865, thus starting the war.

Territorial changes and treaties

Current map of Paraguay with the former disputed lands shaded in green.

Following Paraguay's final defeat in 1870, Argentina sought to enforce one of the secret clauses of the Triple Alliance Treaty, according to which Argentina would receive a large part of the Gran Chaco, a Paraguayan region rich in quebracho wood (a product used in the tanning of leather). The Argentinian negotiators proposed to Brazil that Paraguay should be divided in two, with each of the victors incorporating a half into its territory. For the Brazilian government, however, the complete dismemberment of Paraguay was not a desirable outcome - for one thing Brazil needed to maintain a good trading relationship with Britain and the British were not about to countenance the disappearance of a country that owed them such a large sum of money; in addition the Brazilians could see that Paraguay served as a buffer between the Brazilian Empire and Argentina.

No single overall peace treaty was signed. The post-war border between Paraguay and Argentina was resolved through long negotiations, finalized in a treaty that defined the frontier between the two countries signed on February 3, 1876 and which granted Argentina roughly a third of the area it had intended to incorporate originally. The only region about which no consensus was reached — the area between the Río Verde and the main branch of Río Pilcomayo — was arbitrated by U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, who declared it Paraguayan. (The Paraguayan department Presidente Hayes was named after Hayes due to his arbitration decision.) Brazil signed a separate peace treaty with Paraguay on January 9, 1872, obtaining freedom of navigation on the Río Paraguay. Brazil received the borders it had claimed before the war[36]. The treaty also stipulated a war debt to the imperial government of Brazil that was eventually pardoned in 1943 by Getúlio Vargas in reply to a similar Argentine initiative.

Argentina annexed part of Paraguayan territory and became the strongest of the River Plate countries. During the campaign, the provinces of Entre Rios and Corrientes had supplied Brazilian troops with cattle, foodstuffs and other products.

In total, Argentina and Brazil annexed about 140,000 km² (55,000 square miles) of Paraguayan territory: Argentina took much of the Misiones region and part of the Chaco between the Bermejo and Pilcomayo rivers, an area which today constitutes the province of Formosa; Brazil enlarged its Mato Grosso province by claiming territories that had been disputed with Paraguay before the war. Both demanded a large indemnity (which was never paid) and occupied Paraguay until 1876. Meanwhile, the Colorados had gained political control of Uruguay, which they retained until 1958.

Media depictions


  • Carlos de Oliveira Gomes, A Solidão Segundo Solano López, Civilização Brasileira, 1980;[37] Círculo do Livro, 1982.
  • Joseph Eskenazi Pernidji and Mauricio Eskenazi e Pernidji. Homens e Mulheres na Guerra do Paraguai. Imago, 2003.
  • Lily Tuck. The News From Paraguay. Harper Perennial, 2004.


  • Argentino hasta la muerte, by Fernando Ayala, Argentina (1971).
  • Cerro Cora, by Guillermo Vera, Paraguay (1978).
  • Netto perde sua alma, by Beto Souza and Tabajara Ruas, Brazil (2001).
  • Cándido López - Los campos de batalla, documentary by José Luis García, Argentina (2005).
  • The Paraguayan War, documentary by Denis Wright, Brazil (2009).

See also


  1. ^ Miguel Angel Centeno, Blood and Debt: War and the Nation-State in Latin America, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1957. Page 55.
  2. ^ Byron Farwell, The Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Land Warfare: An Illustrated World View, New York: WW Norton, 2001. Page 824.
  3. ^ Another estimate is that from the prewar population of 1,337,437, the population fell to 221,709 (28,746 men, 106,254 women, 86,079 children) by the end of the war (War and the Breed, David Starr Jordan, p. 164. Boston, 1915; Applied Genetics, Paul Popenoe, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1918)
  4. ^ Jurg Meister, Francisco Solano López Nationalheld oder Kriegsverbrecher?, Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, 1987. 345, 355, 454-5.
  5. ^ Historia de las relaciones exteriores de la República Argentina (notes from CEMA University, in spanish, and references therein) [1]
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ Scheina, 331.
  8. ^ PJ O'Rourke, Give War a Chance. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Page 47.
  9. ^ Galeano, Eduardo. "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent". Monthly Review Press.1997
  10. ^ Chiavenatto,Julio José. "Genocídio Americano: A Guerra do Paraguai". Editora Brasiliense, SP. Brasil.1979
  11. ^ a b SALLES, Ricardo. Guerra do Paraguai: Memórias & Imagens. Rio de Janeiro: Bibilioteca Nacional, 2003, pg.14
  12. ^ Library of Congress Country Studies, "Carlos Antonio López." December 1988. [3] URL accessed December 30, 2005.
  13. ^ Page 630 from The Encyclopedia of World History Sixth Edition, Peter N. Stearns (general editor), © 2001 The Houghton Mifflin Company, at
  14. ^ Robert Cowley, The Reader's Encyclopedia to Military History. New York, New York: Houston Mifflin, 1996. Page 479.
  15. ^ Brandon Valeriano, "A Classification of Interstate War: Typologies and Rivalry." Article based on talk given March 17–20, 2004 to the International Studies Association in Montreal. File available at [4], accessed December 30, 2005.
  16. ^ Scheina, 313-4.
  17. ^ Whigwham, 118.
  18. ^ Scheina, 314.
  19. ^ Scheina, 313.
  20. ^ Scheina, 315-7.
  21. ^ SALLES, Ricardo. Guerra do Paraguai: Memórias & Imagens. Rio de Janeiro: Bibilioteca Nacional, 2003, pg.18
  22. ^ Scheina, 318.
  23. ^ Wilson.
  24. ^ SALLES, Ricardo. Guerra do Paraguai: Memórias & Imagens. Rio de Janeiro: Bibilioteca Nacional, 2003, pg.38
  25. ^ a b Scheina, 319.
  26. ^ Scheina, 320.
  27. ^ Vasconsellos, Victor N. Resumen de Historia del Paraguay. Delimitaciones Territoriales’’, Industria Grafica Comuneros S.A. Asuncion, Paraguay, 1970. Page 108
  28. ^ Vasconsellos. Page 108.
  29. ^ Bareiro. Page 68, 80.
  30. ^ Bareiro. Page 70, 82, 98.
  31. ^ Bareiro. Page 90.
  32. ^ a b c Shaw, Karl (2005) [2004] (in Czech). Power Mad! [Šílenství mocných]. Praha: Metafora. p. 30. ISBN 80-7359-002-6. 
  33. ^ a b "Holocausto paraguayo en Guerra del ’70". Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  34. ^ Hendrik Kraay, Journal of Social History, "'The shelter of the uniform': the Brazilian army and runaway slaves, 1800-1888" Spring 1996.[5]
  35. ^ "Treaty of friendship and co-operation". Retrieved 2009-03-14. 
  36. ^ Vasconsellos. Page 78, 110-114.
  37. ^
  • Diego Abente, "The War of the Triple Alliance", Latin American Research Review, 1987, Vol. 22, No. 2, 47-69
  • Osgood Hardy, "South American Alliances: Some Political and Geographical Considerations", Geographical Review, Oct. 1919, Vol. 8, No. 4/5, 259-265
  • Jose Alfredo Fornos Penalba, "Draft Dodgers, War Resisters, Turbulent Gauchos: The War of the Triple Alliance againist Paraguay", The Americas, April 1982, Vol. 38 No. 4, 463-479


  • Robert Scheina, Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Caudillo, 1791-1899, Dulles, Virginia: Brassey's, 2003.
  • Chris Leuchars. To the Bitter End: Paraguay and the War of the Triple Alliance, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002.
  • Thomas Whigham. The Paraguayan War, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
  • Jose Alfredo Fornos Penalba, Draft Dodgers, War Resisters and Turbulent Gauchos: The War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay, The Americas, Vol.38, No.4. (Apr., 1982), pp. 463–479.
  • John Hoyt Williams, The Battle of Tuyuti, Military History; April 2000, Vol.17 Issue 1, p58.
  • Peter Wilson, Latin America's Total War, History Today, 00182753, May 2004, Vol. 54, Issue 5.
  •  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.

Encyclopedia Britannica.

External links

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