THE PARAGUAYAN WAR
"The Greatest War Fought Between Nations in the Americas"
Excerpt from Book Five, BRAZIL, Sons of the Empire
©2012 Errol Lincoln Uys
-- Wilson Martins, Jornal do Brasil
On November 12, 1864, after the midday meal, life aboard the packet Marquês de Olinda came to a standstill. The privileged among the passengers and crew retired to bunks and hammocks and wicker chairs; others sought a shaded patch of deck as the Marquês de Olinda steamed up the Rio Paraguay at a steady six knots. The first officer and helmsman were alert; the pilot, who they had taken on at Asunción, was gazing forward intently. Engineer's mate Manuel Pacheco was stripped to the waist standing watch over engines and steam gauges. Three firemen worked like automatons as they shoveled coal into the glowing innards of red-hot iron furnaces.
The five-hundred-ton Marquês de Olinda, a Brazilian merchantman, made eight round trips a year between Rio de Janeiro and Cuiabá, capital of Mato Grosso province, which remained inaccessible by overland trails.
Two days earlier, the Marquês de Olinda had dropped anchor at Asunción to take on coal. In this dry season, the capital of Paraguay lay thick with red dust that swirled up against one-storied houses, mud huts, and lean-tos. But construction gangs were busy at work throughout the city. Presidential palace, opera house, cathedral; shipyard, arsenal, iron foundry, telegraph office, railway - after centuries of colonial slumber, Paraguay was in the midst of an industrial revolution, attracting hundreds of skilled European engineers and craftsmen.
Aboard the Marquês de Olinda, as she now puffed along the Rio Paraguay, three passengers, taking their sesta in wicker chairs placed beneath an awning toward the ship's stern, spoke of the small republic's progress. They were Pedro Telles Brandão, a miner and rancher from Cuiabá; Coronel Frederico Carneiro de Campos, president-designate of Mato Grosso; and Sabino do Nascimento Pereira de Mendonça, a revenue inspector being sent to survey tax collection in Mato Grosso.
"I don't like it at all," Telles Brandão said. "I first made this passage nine years ago. Beyond Tres Bocas, there was nothing but Guarani and mosquitoes. At Asunción, wharves were sinking into the mud; plazas and houses looked as if they would follow, and good riddance, too. A rusty cannon here and there - not batteries of rifled pieces set to blow intruders to kingdom come! Soldiers were fewer than market women. Today the streets are filled with Guarani in uniform. I don't like the look of it."
"I agree," Mendonça said, his small brown eyes darting about. "War steamers, fortresses, guns." He leaned forward in his chair, peering at Carneiro de Campos. "What for, Coronel?"
"The Paraguayans see enemies everywhere," Carneiro de Campos replied.
"For defense?" Telles Brandão queried, tugging at his full black beard. "Or aggression?"
"Against whom?" Mendonça made an expressive whistling sound. "Brazil?" He gave a short, sharp laugh. "Never! El Presidente will not be foolish enough to ignore the lessons of history: Time and again, the Guarani have been soundly defeated by our armies."
Telles Brandão was staring off to port, where crimson flamingos, rosy spoonbills, dark-colored ibis, and white storks stood motionless on the mud flats as the ship passed them; caiman lay like logs on the sandbars, felled by the heat of early afternoon.
As Telles Brandão looked out toward the riverbank, he thought of a reception he had attended in the French Embassy at Asunción six years ago. He'd met several members of the most powerful family in Paraguay, from whose ranks had come two of three presidents since independence: Don Antonio López, known popularly as "The Citizen," whose dictatorial rule lasted eighteen years; and his son Francisco Solano López, who had taken over the reins in 1862. The young López had been at the reception, a stocky man with an attractive openness about him; but Telles Brandão remembered, he had felt uncomfortable in the presence of the future president.
"Perhaps Solano López has a purpose in building his war machine," Telles Brandão said, thinking aloud.
Mendonça looked up expectantly. Coronel Frederico's eyes were half open.
"Emperor López, the Napoleon of the Plata!" Telles Brandão added, with marked scorn.
"And a crown for his Irish princess?" Mendonça said, a glint in his beady eyes.
Telles Brandão smiled at this reference to Eliza Alicia Lynch, mistress of Solano López. "You jest, Sabino. There's talk at Buenos Aires that López has crown and scepter on order from Europe."
"An old story," interjected Coronel Frederico. "It originated at Rio de Janeiro, not Buenos Aires. López was said to have made an approach to the Braganças for a marriage with one of Pedro Segundo's daughters."
"The gall of it!" Telles Brandão exclaimed. "Europe's noblest sons beg an audience with our princesses!" At Rio de Janeiro, where he'd been on a visit, Telles Brandão had witnessed the celebrations to mark the October wedding of Princess Isabel and Prince Louis Gaston d'Orleans, comte d'Eu, and the marriage planned for December between Princess Leopoldina and Prince Louis Augustus, duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
"Emperor López and La Lynch!" Mendonça said. "A royal pair on the throne of Paraguay!"
Telles Brandão had met Madame Lynch at the reception in Asunción:
"What a beauty! Her skin is alabaster; her eyes are blue-green. La Lynch is tall, with a seductive figure. When she crosses a room, from her crown of reddish hair to her small feet - a goddess!"
Telles Brandão shared what he knew of Eliza Lynch's background: "She was nine when her father, a poor merchant from County Cork, fled Ireland for France in the great famine of 1845. At fifteen, she was given to Quatrefages, a French officer, who took her to Algiers. There's some question about whether or not they married, but within the year she was back in Paris. Some say she left him for a Russian noble; some, that Quatrefages deserted her. Whatever the truth, when López met her in Paris, Eliza Lynch was nineteen and rid of Quatrefages. La Lynch has given López five sons; but the word is he'll never marry her, not while he's so eager to infuse his line with royal blood."
Coronel Federico looked up suddenly. "My friends, there's more to Paraguay than gossip about El Presidente and La Lynch," he said. "Fourteen thousand Guarani are training at the main camp at Cerro León; tens of thousands more have already been drilled and posted to other bases. Today, El Presidente addresses his barefoot regiments and speaks of defending Paraguayan soil. Tomorrow? He'll tell them no country on this continent is so powerful or has such happy citizens. He'll say, 'If only it weren't for the macacos . . .' "
Inspector Mendonça scowled fiercely at Coronel Frederico's use of "monkeys" as an epithet for Brazilians, but he did not interrupt him.
"López lies to them. He says Brazil and Argentina are plotting to destroy Paraguayan independence. It's all nonsense, but if El Presidente orders them to battle, they'll follow him, to the last man and boy." He gazed upriver as if searching for something on the far bank. "Mato Grosso has a few hundred soldiers and some run-down forts along hundreds of miles of borderlands that Asunción and Rio de Janeiro were arguing over when my grandfather was alive. We are at López's mercy."
"Mato Grosso?" Mendonça said in a squeaky voice. "You expect an invasion, Coronel Frederico?"
"With Solano López, I would not discount it."
"A few hundred soldiers?"
"Yes, Sabino." Coronel Frederico saw the inspector's crestfallen look. "We carry a cargo of new weapons," he reminded Mendonça. "Let the Paraguayan devils come! They'll be met with fire!"
"Ai, Jesus, pray not. Our ambassador considers it possible?"
"He doesn't like the mood of the Paraguayans. Since he got to Asunción in August, he's been living on a powder keg."
"Dear God, the news we brought with the Marquês de Olinda," Telles Brandão said. "It may be all that's needed to light the powder."
"Exactly what Ambassador Viana de Lima feared most."
The news the Marquês de Olinda carried was explosive. In mid-October, the Brazilian imperial army had invaded Uruguay, independent ever since Brazil lost control of the old Banda Oriental in 1828. Two parties had dominated Uruguayan politics since independence - Blancos ("Whites") and Colorados ("Reds"). The latest bloodletting had started in April 1863, when a Colorado exile, General Venancio Flores, landed on Uruguayan soil from Argentina in rebellion against a Blanco government in power at the capital, Montevideo.
For a year, as the Uruguayan civil war raged, Dom Pedro Segundo and his ministers at Rio de Janeiro followed a policy of strict neutrality. But there were forty thousand Brazilian citizens in Uruguay, many of them descendants of settlers who'd stayed behind after Brazil surrendered the Banda Oriental. These expatriates had close ties with their countrymen in Rio Grande do Sul. By May 1864, the clamor from Rio Grande do Sul about murders and cattle rustling across its border with Uruguay, and the threat to the lives of Brazilians in Uruguay itself, prompted Rio de Janeiro to send one of its ablest diplomats, José Antônio Saraiva, to seek redress from the Blanco government at Montevideo. Imperial regiments were also concentrated in Rio Grande do Sul and a naval squadron sent to cruise the Rio de la Plata.
The Blancos had rejected Saraiva's ultimatum. In October 1864, advance guards of the imperial army had crossed into Uruguay. The Brazilian naval squadron had been ordered to steam up the Rio Uruguay from the Plata to blockade the Blanco-held port of Paysandu.
As the crisis worsened, however, Francisco Solano López offered his services as mediator between Uruguay's factions, but his offer had been rejected. Thereafter, Asunción's emissaries had warned that Paraguay would regard a threat to the sovereignty of Uruguay as imperiling the stability of all nations of the Plata basin.
Aboard the Marquês de Olinda, Telles Brandão took a sanguine view: "How many threats and counterthreats by Paraguay and Brazil have there been in the past? How many times did tempers cool before we came to blows? López's father, Don Carlos Antonio, saw that no argument over the limits of our territories - no patch of jungle or uncharted stream - was worth the sacrifice of their small nation's blood. Solano López will also accept this."
"López gazes far beyond a contested riverbank," Coronel Frederico interjected.
"He sees himself as arbiter of the Plata. Peacemaker, he tells the world. But monthby-month his army grows. And so, I believe, does the ambition of Francisco Solano López."
The Port of Asunción
When the Marquês de Olinda anchored at Asunción, bringing the news that the Brazilians had invaded Uruguay, President López had been at Cerro León, fifty miles to the southeast at the terminus of the railroad from Asunción. A special messenger had been sent by locomotive to the sprawling complex of thatched barracks and parade grounds where thousands of recruits between the ages of sixteen and sixty were in training.
The messenger had found El Presidente at ease in the camp headquarters, a low whitewashed building with a suite for His Excellency adjoining a conference room whose latticed windows opened upward, giving a view of the main parade ground. López personally had been drilling a platoon of recruits earlier that morning and wore the same uniform as his officers: scarlet military blouse with blue collar and facings, white trousers, and high black boots.
López had turned thirty-eight on July 24. His dark brown eyes were close set, slightly oblique, and rimmed with thick lashes, under prominent eyebrows - characteristic features of the purebred native. Among the Guarani and Guarani-descended mestizos, López spoke with pride of a Guarani great-grandmother, though there were malicious whispers that El Presidente's maternal forebear was from the savage Guaicuru. López's mercurial moods suggested this. The swift change from engaging charm to volcanic rage, from manic optimism to crushing despair, could be terrifying.
Among the officers with López in the conference room at Cerro León were three men of disparate background: Juan Bautista Noguera, better known to his comrades as "Cacambo," a venerable warrior of pure Guarani stock; Lieutenant Hadley B. Tuttle, an Englishman who had been at Asunción since 1859, when he joined the engineers and artisans recruited by J. & A. Blyth, London agents of the Paraguayan government; and Lucas Kruger, a U. S. citizen, who called himself an inventor and was as vague about his background as he was about the experiments he conducted in a shed at the Asunción arsenal.
General Noguera was seventy-seven, small and shriveled, with tiny hands and features ravaged by age. The general was proud of being called Cacambo, after the hero of O Uruguai, an epic poem celebrating Guarani resistance to the Portuguese-Spanish campaign against the seven missions. (The author of O Uruguai had himself taken "Cacambo" from Voltaire's Candide.) For Juan Bautista Noguera, the nickname had special meaning, for he was the grandson of the Guarani commander who had led the mission troops in the very battles celebrated in O Uruguai, and the general himself had fought the Brazilians in 1817 when they pillaged the reduction of San Carlos on the west bank of the Rio Uruguay. The Nogueras, who had got their Spanish family name in the distant past as part of the black robes' process of elevating the savages, had been forced to flee to Paraguay, where Juan Bautista had become political leader of seven former mission towns and of the few remaining groups of pure Guarani.
The Englishman, Hadley Baines Tuttle, was also a veteran of a great conflict, but rarely spoke of it. At the Crimea, he had stood at the brink of hell with the devil's laughter ringing in his ears at the stupidity and tragedy of it all, Her Majesty's starving, hollow-eyed troops as ready to fight one another as to do battle with the Russians - and for nothing more than a square of mildewed blanket or a canvas strip to wrap around their frostbitten limbs.
With the coming of winter, the single road between Balaklava and the British main forward camp opposite Sevastopol six miles away had become almost impassable, obstructing the shipment of supplies and the transport of the wounded. This disastrous condition had moved two of England's greatest railroad builders, Morton Pete and his rival Thomas Brassey, to offer to construct a railroad between the base and the camp at no profit. The first party of their voluntary corps had left Liverpool in December 1854, and nineteen-year-old
Hadley Tuttle had been with them, along with an older brother, Ainsley.
Hadley had been an engineering apprentice since the age of sixteen, and when Brassey approached his master, Armstrong Hogg, for the work at Balaklava, Hadley - Hogg's brightest and favorite technician - begged to be taken along. Inspired by his younger brother's patriotism, Ainsley also joined the ranks of navvies, gangers, masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, and engineers sailing to do battle with picks and shovels, cranes and pile drivers. The men of the Light Brigade were immortal, but for thousands at the Crimea that Russian winter, the heroes of the day were those who had built the Balaklava line.
In June 1859, Hadley had been contracted by J. & A. Blyth to work as engineer/surveyor on Paraguay's railroads. Tuttle and eight others had made the long voyage together, transferring from the crack steamer that took them to Buenos Aires to an ancient paddle wheeler owned and captained by Angelo Moretti, who swilled brandy and sang day and night as he conned his smoke-belching vessel along the Paraná-Paraguay rivers with a lack of concern that brought nine young Englishmen close to mutiny. The channels he knew by instinct, the ever-changing sandbanks did not confuse him, and neither aguardiente nor aria affected his powers of navigation.
Tuttle's five years in Paraguay had passed swiftly, and his initial contract was renewed for an additional one hundred pounds a year. Until May 1864 he had been involved with the construction of the railroad to Cerro León and surveys for branch lines to the north and south of a junction near the military camp. Six months ago, El Presidente had asked him to serve in the Paraguayan army. Lieutenant Hadley B. Tuttle was now an assistant to another Englishman, Colonel George E. Thompson, a former British army officer.
Their services had become essential to López because of the failing health of his chief engineering officer, yet another foreigner, Lieutenant-Colonel Baron von Wisner de Morgenstern, a Hungarian with nineteen years' residence in Paraguay; his pride and joy was the Bateria des Londres, on a level cliff at Humaitá overlooking the Rio Paraguay, twenty-five miles above Tres Bocas. "The Sevastopol of South America," von Wisner called the revetted fortification with its sixteen great guns, a description that troubled Hadley Tuttle, who still recalled the horrors behind the siege lines at the Russian redoubt.
Locks of the twenty-nine-year-old Tuttle's wavy, sand-colored hair fell across his forehead; he had blue eyes that, in their steady gaze, suggested a constancy of character, and a pugnacious jaw. His manner was one of deliberation, not unlike that of his ancestor Will Tuttle, a seventeenth-century seafarer who had finally settled in London, where he had served as a dockmaster in Blackwall. Hadley Tuttle had no knowledge of his forebear; but London's Hakluyt Society, founded in 1846 for printing accounts of voyages and travels, contained a journal that reported the following:
Hadley was genial and gregarious, though not involved, like some of the foreign contingent, in endless rounds of parties with their whores and their passion for Paraguayan cane brandy. The Englishman had developed a genuine feeling for Paraguay, and had given no thought to leaving Asunción as the crisis at the Plata mounted.
Besides, Hadley Tuttle was in love. Luisa Adelaida was the eighteen-year-old daughter of John "Scotty" MacPherson, who had come to Asunción at the same time as Baron von Wisner. MacPherson's wife, Dona Gabriel, was from a family of upper-class merchants, and she was practically a lady-in-waiting to Eliza Lynch. John MacPherson, a senior engineer at the arsenal, had befriended Hadley soon after his arrival. A year ago, Hadley became enamored of Luisa Adelaida, who had her mother's dark hair and hazel eyes and a complexion as fair and fresh as the loveliest Highland maid. By this month of November 1864, he was resolved to take the lovely woman as wife, and had Scotty MacPherson's full blessing.
The other foreigner at Cerro León headquarters when Solano López was handed the dispatch from Asunción was the mysterious Lucas Kruger. "Luke," as he was known, was short and dumpy with a big nose, puckering lips, and a permanent scowl. He alone wore no uniform and was shabbily dressed in dirty cotton trousers, a frayed shirt, and upon his head, a battered straw hat that he never removed, not even in El Presidente's presence and, some suggested, not even when he retired. Luke's age was difficult to discern: He appeared to be in his early forties, but when he emerged from the shed where he worked, sullen, ill tempered, and worn-out, he seemed much older.
"Get Luke" was the call when some piece of machinery had defeated the efforts of others to fix it. He was respected not only for this ability to repair anything from a broken watch to the engine of La Golconda, Capitán Angelo Moretti's antique paddle wheeler, but also for his linguistic prowess: Luke spoke seven languages - an eighth, if his growing mastery of Guarani was included.
Though born in Pittsburgh, Kruger had gone to New York as a youth and spoke of it as his home. How he had come to Paraguay was a tale even the secretive Luke could not suppress. At Shanghai, in 1862, Kruger met Silas J. Petrie, formerly of New Haven, Connecticut. Petrie was on his way from Rangoon to Callao, on the west coast of South America, with a strange cargo: four elephants, which he intended to use as the center attraction for a traveling circus in Peru. Luke sailed with Petrie and his pachyderms. Eighteen months later, the circus venture had failed - in La Paz, Bolivia, which Kruger and Petrie finally reached after leading the four great beasts on an epic plod over the Andes. Petrie then went to Lima, with a scheme to export llamas to Asia; Kruger, hearing that technicians were in demand in Paraguay, traveled south, reaching Asunción in February 1864.
Luke had found work at the arsenal, where his mechanical aptitude was quickly recognized. Six months after his arrival, he had proposed to Baron von Wisner, chief military engineer, that even more effective, as well as less costly, than cannon-borne shells to detain the enemy were water-borne explosive devices. Given the go-ahead to experiment, Kruger had successfully demonstrated a stationary torpedo, the explosion of which was witnessed by President López; but the inventor's main efforts were directed toward developing a self-propelled weapon. López had summoned Kruger to Cerro León to report on his progress. "How much longer?" El Presidente had asked. "As long as it takes," Luke Kruger had replied laconically. "My torpedo will be a weapon against your enemies, General" - Kruger eschewed the grander addresses - "not your friends."
On November 10, 1864, at Cerro León, watched by Kruger, Tuttle, the venerable Cacambo, and other Paraguayan officers, President López had read the dispatch from Asunción with a deliberate calm, sharing aloud confirmation of the Brazilian invasion of Uruguay.
"I tried to keep the peace, God knows," López said. "Every appeal by Asunción has been dismissed with contempt."
"The macacos will not respect Paraguay until we show our teeth!" Cacambo exclaimed.
López responded directly to Cacambo: "And if the voice of Paraguay is not heard now, what nation on earth will respect us?"
"Least of all the Brazilians." The remark came from one of the Paraguayan officers, José Diaz Barbosa Vera, former chief of police of Asunción and now commander of the Fortieth Battalion, a crack unit drawn from the citizens of the capital. "They are in Uruguay for one objective: to extend the empire's influence to the Plata." Then José Diaz said portentously, "Excellency, the future of South America is in your hands."
Cacambo drew his four-foot eleven-inch frame to rigid attention. "El Libertador!" he saluted López. "El Libertador de la Plata!"
El Presidente's voice shook with emotion: "Thank God we foresaw a day of testing, that when the provocation of Brazil became too great to bear, Paraguay would be ready!"
Lieutenant Hadley Tuttle was unmoved by this combative rhetoric. He did not doubt that the Paraguayans could defend their country against attack, but he was skeptical of an offensive. There were 44,000 soldiers, three times the number in the standing Brazilian army, and perhaps sixteen thousand effectives could be added. The Paraguayans were rigorously trained: Colonel George Thompson said he knew of no soldiers subjected to and willing to accept such brutal discipline, and they would make a formidable foe. But what would they fight with? Tuttle wondered.
Three elite battalions were equipped with new breech-loading carbines, but thousands carried flintlock Brown Besses and old German muskets. Modern rifled cannon were being cast at the arsenal, but the artillery park consisted mostly of pieces the likes of which, in England served splendidly as pillars and posts art military bar racks. Even Humaitá's revetted batteries, of which Baron von Wisner was justifiably proud, mounted antiquated ordnance alongside new weapons.
Lieutenant Tuttle had inspected most of Paraguay's southern defenses with Colonel Thompson, and his knowledge of the limited and outdated equipment made him fear the consequences of a military adventure by López. Tuttle looked at Lucas Kruger, whom he knew only casually, hoping that Kruger, who had a reputation for bluntness with López, might introduce a cautionary note. But Luke had just stood there, with his straw hat askew and an impatient expression suggesting that he was mainly concerned about returning to his shed and his ideas.
And then came Francisco Solano López's next pronouncement:
"We asked for peace. We have their answer: war!" El Presidente's eyes bulged. "We must seize this moment or we shall have to fight at a less advantageous time in the future. My comrades! Paraguayans! We must strike now!"
Francisco Solano López
At 2:00 P.M. on November 12, 1864, the Marquês de Olinda was churning upriver, black smoke pouring from her single stack, water cascading off her side paddle wheels. Engineer's mate Manuel Pacheco came topside for a brief escape from the inferno below. The Marquês de Olinda had navigated three bends and was heading toward the fourth, which she now rode, when Manuel Pacheco and a lookout on duty in the bow to watch for snags and sawyers spotted a black plume rising above the low tree cover, but neither they nor others reacted instantaneously: Pacheco's first thought was that the forest was being burnt for a clearing. No other vessel was due to sail north from Asunción for two weeks. But after a few moments Pacheco knew that another vessel was closing in on the Marquês de Olinda. "A ship!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "A ship coming up behind us!"
Coronel Frederico Carneiro de Campos and his companions had ended their speculation about López shortly before Pacheco gave the alarm. The coronel had fallen asleep. Telles Brandão was smoking a thin cigar and looking at the riverbank near them with an expression of utter boredom. Mendonça was dozing lightly, with his mouth hanging open. A sailor resting on the deck at their feet lifted his head at Pacheco's first cry; then he sat up, looking at the three senhores as if they could explain the presence of the other vessel.
"Coronel Frederico?" Telles Brandão stood up. "Coronel?"
Carneiro de Campos was slow to respond.
"What ship?" The question came from Mendonça and was directed at the
sailor, who did not answer.
Coronel Frederico stood up groggily. "Where?"
The awning was slung aft, where the first-class accommodation was located. This area was considered safer should one of the ship's boilers explode, a not infrequent disaster, especially on steamers like the Marquês de Olinda, which was approaching her twentieth year of service.
As soon as he saw it, Coronel Frederico rushed off in search of the captain, whom he met hurrying up from his quarters. Together they went to the pilothouse, where the talk was swift and urgent: Clearly, the vessel riding their wake was in pursuit of the Marquês de Olinda.
"Why?" Mendonça asked, where he stood with Telles Brandão and the sailor.
Telles Brandão's features were fixed in a dark frown. "We'll know soon enough," he said. He looked at the smoke. "One of López's fast gunboats?" The question was addressed to the sailor.
"Can we outrun her?"
The sailor shook his head gravely. "No, senhor. Not the old Marquês de Olinda."
"Why must we run from the Paraguayan?" Mendonça was indignant.
"Why do they send a warship after us?" Telles Brandão asked in response. "It can only mean trouble."
"But, why?" Mendonça persisted. "If there was an objection to our passage, surely they'd have detained us at Asunción."
They were interrupted by the commands of an officer, moving swiftly along the deck, calling every sailor to duty and demanding that people step away from the port bulwarks: The Marquês de Olinda carried more than one hundred passengers, and so many had crowded to one side that the ship was listing. Telles Brandão and Mendonça ignored the order to move back.
The sailor hesitated momentarily, then pointed out the chief engineer and Manuel Pacheco hurrying to the engine-room hatchway. "The captain has ordered more steam, more coal." He sauntered off, muttering an inaudible profanity.
The Marquês de Olinda was on a heading almost due west as she came round the fourth bend of the Rio Paraguay to enter a two-mile reach where the river narrowed to five hundred feet, with its main channel close to one bank, and shallows and sandbars lying toward the other. Low hills rising in the distance indicated another bend up ahead to the north. When the Marquês de Olinda entered the reach and raced toward the bend to the north, she was doing seven and a half knots. A fire roared in her furnaces, steam hissed from her safety valves, and a shower of burning embers rained on her deck. Still, the telltale smoke now behind the low bank opposite showed that the other vessel was gaining on them.
"Tie down the safety valves!" was the order, as the Marquês de Olinda neared the end of the reach. With her steam pressure raised to screaming pitch and her fireboxes overheating, the Marquês de Olinda left the narrows and swung north; the Rio Paraguay widened dramatically, its banks soon almost a mile apart, the surface of the river glasslike.
The Marquês de Olinda was doing nine knots across the slack water, her maximum speed with her safety valves closed, and standing every risk of a boiler explosion - a catastrophe in itself enough to break her back in the middle of the Rio Paraguay, but likely to be much worse with the munitions she carried.
"O Mother of God!" Mendonça cried. "There! There! There!" Three times he jabbed his fingers in the air to indicate the ship coming out of the narrows and speeding toward them. She was the Tacuari, the pride of Francisco Solano López's river-borne navy. Built for peacetime use, the Tacuari had nevertheless been designed for rapid conversion to a warship; this had been done some time ago, and she now carried six guns, with a swivel cannon mounted on her poop deck.
"Mother of God!" Mendonça cried again. "What are we to do, Telles Brandão?"
"If they catch us - "
"If? They're upon us!"
"They have no right - "
"Right? Guns! They have guns!"
"They can blow us out of the water," Mendonça whimpered.
"They dare not fire upon a Brazilian vessel." "What if they do?"
"God help them. One shot and they'll have all Brazil to answer!"
The Marquês de Olinda was losing headway, with a crack in a pipe carrying water to a boiler. Foot by foot the Tacuari began to overtake her quarry, keeping about one hundred yards off to port. Her uniformed crew stood smartly at their stations, with several men gathered at two of the steamer's guns.
On the deck of the Marquês de Olinda, all was in chaos. Amid the flying embers and a rain of soot, a few defiant passengers stood shaking their fists and screaming curses at the Tacuari. Begrimed sailors emerged from the machine room, staggering up top for air after a stint of helping the Marquês de Olinda's firemen feed the blazing furnaces. A few marinheiros hung around at her stern and looked sharp to leap the instant her boilers blew. At her pilothouse, Coronel Frederico and the captain and officers of the Marquês de Olinda watched grimly as the Tacuari overhauled them, and they hoped for a miracle.
It did not come. The Tacuari ran up signal flags ordering them to stop immediately. The Marquês de Olinda ignored the command. And then, without warning, there was a roar and a flash, and the cannon on her poop deck threw a shell across the bows of the Marquês de Olinda.
Instantaneously, aboard the Marquês de Olinda, the order was given to shut off power. Two of her officers stood beside the pilothouse waving frantically at the Tacuari, whose men greeted this act of submission with a resounding cheer.
On the first Saturday in February 1865, colored lanterns illuminated the gardens of the Fazenda de Itatinga and the moon silvered the Rio Tietê beyond. From within the mansion came the music of quadrille, waltz, and polka danced by the guests of the baron and baroness of Itatinga.
The seventy-five-year-old Ulisses Tavares da Silva, immaculate in black tailcoat and trousers with white waistcoat, shirt, cravat, and collar, moved through the figures of a quadrille with a lively step and with a twinkle in his eye for the baronesa. Teodora Rita had lost her youthful plumpness. Her slender waistline was pulled in tight above an immense oval-shaped skirt, with her corset rising high under her breasts and lifting them slightly.
The baronesa confounded those who had scoffed at Ulisses Tavares's infatuation with a twelve-year-old, for, growing to womanhood at his side, she had become a faithful, loving wife. And a mother, too; the barão had known a virile renewal with Teodora Rita, and they had been blessed with a son five years ago and a daughter the next year.
When the quadrille ended and Ulisses Tavares bowed gracefully to Teodora Rita, spontaneous applause for the couple filled the ballroom, on this night of a grand ball, to which 140 couples had been invited to celebrate Teodora Rita's twenty-second birthday.
Few celebrations at Itatinga had been as carefully planned as this party for Teodora Rita or so clearly marked the shift of prosperity from the engenhos of the north to the fazendas of the southern coffee growers. At Itatinga, the barão could ride for hours between endless rows of half a million coffee trees, their fragrance as strong and heady as the prospect of the fortune to be collected from branches heavy with small reddish-brown berries.
Ulisses Tavares had seven surviving children from his previous marriage, two of whom lived at Itatinga with their families: a daughter, Adélia, and Eusébio Magalhães, father of Firmino Dantas. (The baron's firstborn son, Silvestre, named for Ulisses Tavares's own father, had drowned when the ship carrying him from Lisbon after five years' study and travel in Europe was lost near the Azores.) Eusébio Magalhães, the second-born son, already in his fiftieth year, was a silent, tense man with pale eyes. He had a prodigious memory and a tendency toward obsequiousness in the presence of Ulisses Tavares. "The Bookkeeper," the baron called this son, intending praise, for Eusébio Magalhães was a wizard with figures and an excellent administrator of Itatinga.
Eusébio Magalhães and his wife, Feliciana, a matronly, mild-mannered woman, had taken a long time to adjust to Teodora Rita, whose early impudence toward Dona Feliciana had moved Ulisses Tavares himself to admonish his child bride to show consideration for his daughter-in-law. But now, as she watched the baron and his young wife pick up again and glide gracefully past her, Dona Feliciana gave them a broad smile, for perplexed as she had been and still was by her father-in-law's romance, she did not begrudge Teodora Rita admiration for the happiness the girl had brought the old man.
Ulisses Tavares and Teodora Rita had been at the top of the line of couples for the quadrille; Firmino Dantas and his partner had been at the bottom. Twenty-five years old, Firmino Dantas da Silva held a law degree from the school at São Paulo and a baccalaureate from the University of Paris. He was scholarly and serious but not pedantic, and his gray-green eyes sometimes held a restless, dreamy look. Of medium build and slender, Firmino Dantas had long, dark lashes, a straight, perfectly shaped nose, sensual lips, and a dimpled chin, which he kept shaved. The eyes of many young ladies drifted toward Firmino Dantas this night, but he was beyond reach of all save one, to whom he had been betrothed this past December.
Firmino Dantas's fiancee was nineteen, a lively, lovable girl, petite and dark-haired, with a strong face and a determined look that said something of her ambition to be Firmino's wife, a cause in which she was now certain of triumph. But then, Carlinda da Cunha Mendes had had powerful support in winning the affections of Dantas da Silva: She was the sister of Teodora Rita.
Carlinda had been a regular visitor to Itatinga before Firmino Dantas left for Paris; but, upon his return eleven months ago, the baronesa energetically set about promoting a match between them, with the support of Ulisses Tavares, whose encouragement often had the ring of command behind it. As a suitor, Firmino Dantas was absentminded and reticent. With Carlinda Mendes, he had been kept on track by the baronesa and Ulisses Tavares, who continued to coax him toward this promising and sensible union. Not that he needed coaxing; he had a genuine affection for Carlinda - and she an intense passion for him.
These past eleven months, Firmino Dantas had spent most of his time at Itatinga, and appeared reluctant to follow the practice of law, for which he had studied so long and diligently. His father, Eusébio Magalhães, had spoken with him about this, urged on by an impatient Ulisses Tavares eager for his grandson to begin a career that offered so much to the bright young men of the empire. Dom Pedro Segundo esteemed cap and gown and frock coat, and regarded the senhores académicos as the new pioneers who would spread law and justice through his backward and rustic realm.
"You will be leaving for São Paulo soon?" Eusébio Magalhães had suggested to Firmino one day the previous June.
"I've thought about it, Pai."
"Good." Eusébio Magalhães had looked at his son expectantly. Father and son were not close. Eusébio Magalhães and Dona Feliciana had three daughters, all married. Firmino was their only son. But they had lost him, in a way, even when he was still a boy, for he had been the favorite grandchild of Ulisses Tavares, who had involved himself in every aspect of Firmino Dantas's upbringing. The barão had never said as much, but the attention he gave this grandson was not unrelated to the loss of his own firstborn, Silvestre, for whom he had entertained high hopes.
"The barão himself is anxious to see you established."
"I understand, Pai. I won't disappoint Grandfather."
"Of course - Doutor Firmino Dantas." Lawyer, medical doctor, scientist, intellectual - all sons of the empire who had graduated from university earned the respectful address of "Doctor."
Suddenly, Firmino had said, "Pai! Please, come outside!"
The harvesting of mature coffee trees had begun in May, the first of the cool, dry months. From dawn until dark, 220 adult slaves and 190 agregados - tenants, sanctioned squatters, sharecroppers - worked at stripping the branches of 400,000 trees, the harvest of coffee beans expected to reach six hundred tons.
Firmino Dantas had taken his father toward the fazenda's smithy and work shops, past the terreiro, an acre-sized terrace of slate where picked berries were spread out to dry in the sun. When the skins of the fleshy berries were shriveled, hard, almost black, they were ready for processing in a water-driven mill near the terreiro.
Firmino Dantas had stopped at the mill. "Maravilhoso!" he had shouted sardonically above the stamp of four huge metal-shod pestles. "We live in the age of steam and invention, and here - a medieval monstrosity!"
They had watched as slave women expertly tossed the pounded berries on screens to separate them from the broken outer covering. The two beans in each berry were still sealed in a double membrane: The pounding process had to be repeated, with hand-driven ventiladores blowing away the chaff, and the blasts of fine dust swirling around the coughing, spitting workers.
"Six hundred tons to be fed to this monster!" Firmino Dantas had exclaimed, throwing up his hands. "Father! There has to be a better way!" And he had moved off, beckoning Eusébio Magalhães to follow him as he crossed to the fazenda's workshops.
Eusébio Magalhães and Ulisses Tavares had become aware, from Firmino Dantas's letters from Paris, that the philosophical studies intended to broaden the young lawyer's horizons had taken second place to a fascination with science and technology. They had not expected, however, that upon his return to Itatinga, after a month of brooding over the "monster" the barão regarded as one of the finest mills for a hundred miles, Firmino Dantas would suddenly be seized with the idea of building a machine to shell and clean the harvest. Ulisses Tavares had initially been indulgent, and had even encouraged the scheme by approving the purchase of a small steam engine from Rio de Janeiro, believing that Doutor Firmino Dantas's flirtation with the role of mechanic would pass quickly and was but a healthy diversion after eight long years of study.
But Firmino Dantas had remained dedicated to "The Invention," as the family called it. Repeatedly the contraption had rattled and shaken itself apart, and it lay dismantled in a sad heap, like a cast-off suit of armor. Firmino Dantas had reassembled it patiently, piece by piece, and though his invention continued to break down and spew coffee beans in every direction, he had shown no sign of abandoning the project.
The senhor barão had become impatient and not a little vexed to see his grand son laboring beside tradesmen. On this night of the ball, several times already, Ulisses Tavares had steered his grandson into the company of a district judge and a lawyer - the latter, the present incumbent of the seat Ulisses Tavares had held in the provincial assembly - in the hope that contact with these homems bons would remind Firmino Dantas of the high calling for which he had been trained.
The quadrille had been followed by a long interval during which several couples hovered impatiently beside the dance floor before the orchestra signaled they were ready to play a waltz. Three skilled musicians had been engaged from São Paulo and nine local bandsmen belonging to the Guarda Nacional of Tiberica; four Itatinga slaves, three who played fiddles, one a flute, joined them. This disparate group had been brought into harmony in only two days of practice led by M. Armand Beauchamp, master of music and dance.
Seated at an English grand piano, Professor Beauchamp played a few opening bars to alert the dancers and then paused for some moments, casting a sidelong glance at the couples and smoothing down his thick black mustache. M. Armand took pains with the upkeep of his mustache; he believed that a good mustache improved the tone of the voice, acting as a resonator and helping to conceal any distortion of the mouth in singing.
Firmino Dantas and Carlinda were first on the floor for the waltz, followed by Teodora Rita on the arm of a lieutenant of the Guarda Nacional. Ulisses Tavares stood with a smile at the sight of his bride swept along by the young officer. But after a while the barão said wistfully to a man next to him, "Oh, Clóvis, God grant that I were ten years younger this night."
Clóvis Lima da Silva was the third son of the Tiberica merchant José Inocêncio da Silva and the grandson of André Vaz, who had perished in exile in Africa. Together, Clóvis's dark eyes and slightly coppery skin hinted at his native ancestry: Through the family of André Vaz, the thirty-six-year-old Clóvis was descended from Trajano, the bastard son whom Amador Flôres da Silva had executed on his seven-year odyssey in search of emeralds. At nineteen, Clóvis had gone to the Escola Militar at Rio de Janeiro, where he had trained as an artilleryman. He had served with the army ever since and now held the rank of captain.
Clóvis da Silva knew that Ulisses Tavares's remark had nothing to do with envy of Teodora Rita's dancing partner. "Senhor Barão, in your day few served their king with as much valor," he said.
"I did my duty, Clóvis."
"Much more, Senhor Ulisses. Much more. The barão's deeds are remembered."
"Today, Clóvis . . . if only I could ride with the army today! To triumph, as in King João's day, in lands that were ours until Pedro I surrendered them." His voice rose sharply: "How many times, Clóvis, must the cost of that defeat be borne by Brazil - and paid for with the blood of our nation's sons?"
Ulisses Tavares's anguished appeal caused several heads to turn in their direction and seemed out of place in that romantic setting. But half the men waltzing their sweethearts round the ballroom were in the dress uniforms of the imperial army and Guarda Nacional, for amid the music and laughter, there was talk of war - three conflicts, in fact: one drawing to a close, one of uncertain outcome, and one that had begun four months ago and to which the barão de Itatinga but for his age would have marched posthaste.
Reports from North America suggested the imminent collapse of the Confederacy. Brazil had maintained an official policy of neutrality throughout the Civil War, though her recognition of the South's belligerent position had been the cause of acrimonious exchanges between Dom Pedro's officials and envoys of the Lincoln government at Rio de Janeiro, especially when raiders like the Alabama and the Florida put in for provisions in Brazilian ports.
The second conflict exciting interest among the guests at Itatinga this night was in Mexico, where more than 35,000 soldiers of Napoleon III had secured the Crown for Ferdinand Maximilian, brother of Franz Josef of Austria.
The third conflict involved Brazil on two far-flung fronts. After firing her shot across the bow of the Marquês de Olinda, the Paraguayan steamer Tacuari had escorted the Brazilian packet back to Asunción, where her cargo of munitions and strongboxes were seized and all Brazilians aboard, including Mato Grosso's president-designate, Carneiro de Campos, interned. Rio de Janeiro's minister at Asunción, Viana de Lima, had been handed his passports and ordered out of Paraguay. When news of these events reached Rio de Janeiro in late November 1864, war fervor had quickly spread.
The bulk of Brazil's sixteen-thousand-man army was already engaged in Uruguay, fighting in support of the Colorado faction against the Blancos in power at Montevideo. The Guarda Nacional was prohibited from foreign service, a law for which numerous colonels and their local militia showed a sudden respect: It was one thing to parade around the local square and maintain the peace of the colonel's district; quite another to go up against the Guarani horde of Paraguay. To meet this contingency, the imperial government had issued a decree for volunteers for battalions of 830 men between the ages of eighteen and fifty.
Response to the call for voluntários da patria was brisk, for the decree had immediately followed reports of a Brazilian victory in Uruguay. On January 2, 1865, after a month's blockade and a fifty-two-hour bombardment by ships of the imperial navy, the Blanco port of Paysandu on the Rio Uruguay, one of the Blancos' last strongholds outside Montevideo, had surrendered to the Brazilians and Colorados. But there was much more than this to spur the Brazilians to act against their newer foe, Paraguay.
"Thousands of Paraguayans defiling Brazilian soil! Our brave defenders slaughtered!" Ulisses Tavares said to Clóvis. "Men, women, and children driven into captivity. Others cast into the sertão upon the mercy of savages. Oh, dear God, Clóvis: Mato Grosso invaded by López!"
On December 27, 1864, a Paraguayan naval squadron with three thousand troops and a land force of 2,500 cavalry and infantry had attacked Fort Coimbra, southernmost defense works of Mato Grosso, which had surrendered after a thirty-six-hour resistance.
The barão and Captain Clóvis da Silva left the dance floor and went outside, walking slowly across the paving between the two ells.
"What terrors they must be enduring there," Ulisses Tavares said, looking up at the sky. "Beneath these stars."
"López struck where we're weakest, Senhor Ulisses. He - "
"Rejoices!" Ulisses Tavares interrupted. "López pirates our Marquês de Olinda. He violates a frontier where the forts are few and falling to pieces. These are his victories over Brazil, this despot who dreams of being emperor and stirs his Guarani regiments with talk of glory."
"The Paraguayan will realize his mistake," Clóvis said, breaking his silence, "but it may take longer than we think to bring him to his senses."
"The Guarani soldier, Senhor Ulisses. He's been taught absolute obedience to his dictator."
"They will be matched, Clóvis, man for man, by the voluntários."
Ulisses Tavares was too old for the battlefields of Paraguay, but he was doing all within his power to recruit a company of volunteers to be sent from Tiberica. As he walked with Clóvis da Silva, holding his arm again, he steered him toward an open doorway, through which they saw Firmino Dantas and Carlinda waltzing across the ballroom.
"In two weeks, Lieutenant Firmino Dantas and the voluntários of Tiberica leave for the Plata," Ulisses Tavares said. "Three months, Clóvis, and I believe they'll march into Asunción."
Firmino smiled at Carlinda, but his thoughts were far away. He had no argument with Brazil's cause, especially since the invasion of Mato Grosso, though he recognized López as provocateur and felt no particular hatred toward the Paraguayan people. And he was not without experience of the parade ground, having served with Tiberica's Guarda Nacional. But the prospect of combat sickened him.
The day word of the decree calling for voluntários da patria reached Itatinga, Ulisses Tavares had come to the fazenda's workshop in search of Firmino, whom he found standing on a platform at the second level of bins and ventilators of the coffee engenho. When Firmino waved a greeting to his grandfather, a slave misinterpreted the signal and flung open a valve to power the engine. With a tremendous clatter and grinding, the engenho came alive, making the barão jump back in fright. Shouting for the mill to be shut off, Firmino quickly scrambled down the platform.
One glance at the expression on the baron's face told Firmino that the old man's patience was exhausted, and he understood why: He had only to look at his own hands, ingrained with dirt, his knuckles grazed, his fingers cut and scratched. Ulisses Tavares's generation (and not a few senhores acadêmicos, too) was blinded by love of the past and faithful to ideas compatible with those of the lord donatários who had come to Terra de Santa Cruz in the sixteenth century: Progress was the extent of lands they owned; honor was the degree of royal approval they earned; dignity was the scorn of all useful labor.
Firmino lamented Brazil's backwardness compared with what he had seen in Europe. During those three years, 1860-1863, Firmino had found Paris being rebuilt to the grand designs of Emperor Napoleon III and his master planner, Georges Haussmann. "The broad boulevards, underground sewers, parks - gigantic works giving the city a new face! Glorious open vistas of air and light! Paris is in the midst of a revolution as dramatic a break with the past as the upheaval of 1789!" Firmino had enthused back at Itatinga.
He had also crossed the Channel to England, where he had marveled at the 22,000-ton Great Eastern: At Liverpool, he had roamed through the cavernous ship and stood in silent awe before engines capable of eleven thousand horsepower. How could he not consider positively medieval four iron-shod pestles serving to process six hundred tons of coffee beans!
He wondered if his grandfather would ever understand. But that day in the workshop, Ulisses Tavares had said nothing about Firmino's invention.
"Grandfather? There's something you wish me to do?" he had asked as he followed the old man outside.
"Yes, Firmino," Ulisses Tavares had replied gravely. "Francisco Solano López must be taught respect for the empire. A decree from the Corte asks for volunteers to crush the tyrant and his Guarani rabble." And then Ulisses Tavares had seized Firmino's hands: "My son" - his voice broke - "may God grant a swift, bold campaign." His grip on Firmino's hands tightened. "You will lead the voluntários of Tiberica, Firmino Dantas!"
Firmino knew that he would obey Ulisses Tavares, though he wanted nothing more than to continue the work on the coffee engenho. Three years away from Itatinga should have strengthened his independence, but back at the fazenda, he was one of several hundred people, slave and free, over whom the barão exercised absolute control.
In the ballroom at Itatinga, as Firmino danced past the barão and Captain Clóvis da Silva, his smile belied the deep concern he felt over his impending departure for Paraguay. Firmino had not shared his fears with Carlinda - perhaps because it was his mind and not his heart that guided him in accepting his coming marriage with this charming girl. This lack of ardor on her fiancee's part was not something Carlinda hadn't noticed. In fact, she had expressed some concern to her sister.
"My dear, be prudent and patient," Teodora Rita had counseled when Carlinda expressed dismay at Firmino's preoccupation with his invention. "The poor thing doesn't know love. An inventor. Be especially careful, Carlinda. Say not a word against his obsession with this machine. Your love is a prisoner in another shrine - the temple of learning. Show understanding. Keep him in good humor. He will bless the day he chose you!"
Restrained and chaste at the age of twenty-five, Firmino had not given those coaxing him into Carlinda's arms the slightest cause for doubting the success of their mission. Not until this night of the grand ball.
As midnight approached, Firmino remained on the dance floor under close scrutiny from his family, and especially Teodora Rita. Her pretty face was placid, but her dark, fiery eyes followed Firmino Dantas and the partner with whom he was dancing. The elation evident on Firmino's face made the baronesa regret having invited this girl and her father, August Laubner.
Laubner was a Swiss, a big, quiet man with drooping whiskers in the English "Piccadilly Weeper" style. He and his family had emigrated to the province of São Paulo from Graubünden, the easternmost canton, nine years ago with a group of two hundred people desperate to escape the hard, cold winters and the harder bite of poverty in the lonely valley of the Prätigau.
August Laubner had been a foundling. An apothecary, Jeremias Laubner, had found the infant in his barn, or so he said; rumor had it that Laubner had agreed to care for the bastard of a member of a family of old nobility who lived beyond Davos. August had been raised by the Laubners, who had one child, Matthäus, five years older than August.
From his fourteenth year, August had worked in the apothecary's shop. The Laubners had treated him kindly, if not with the love they were able to give only their own flesh and blood. Ultimately, he married and had two children. Then, in the winter of 1854, tragedy struck. Jeremias Laubner froze to death in a snowdrift into which he'd been thrown by his horse while riding back to Klosters from neighboring Davos, and six weeks later, Jeremias's wife had died of pneumonia.
Matthäus and his wife, as mean-spirited as her husband and expecting her first child, had given notice to August, who occupied two rooms at the back of the house with his family, demanding that they leave. "Find your own place, August, and find it soon," Matthäus had said, "for my wife's time is near, and there isn't room enough for two families."
At the time Matthäus ordered August to leave the house, recruiting agents for a group of Paulista fazendeiros had been active in the Prätigau valley seeking indentured workers for the coffee plantations, a free-labor alternative prompted by the ending of the slave trade from Africa to Brazil in 1850. At his brother-in-law's house, August had attended a meeting addressed by one of these agents, who offered passage money, transport from Santos to the north of São Paulo province, a subsistence allowance for the first year.
That same night, August Laubner decided to seek a new life for himself and his family in Brazil. A few harvests and his family would be free of debt. As soon as he had the means, he would establish himself as an apothecary.
After the long voyage from Europe and the trek over the Serra do Mar, August had come to a crude wattle-and-daub hut, with holes for windows and a thatched roof. Such was the home offered his family and five others whose contracts had been assigned to Alfredo Pontes, a fazendeiro who could scarcely distinguish between his colonos, as the share-wage earners were known, and his sixty slaves.
The colonos discovered that if Senhor Pontes was dissatisfied with their work, he could cancel their contracts and demand immediate payment of all monies due him. Failure to reimburse him resulted in two years in jail with hard labor or the same period at public works.
Senhor Pontes was, of course, only striving to instill in his colonos those virtues of obedience and subservience that fazendeiros expected from their agregados, the associates they permitted to live on their land under varying conditions of tenure. But the Swiss did not understand. After the first harvest, they complained that the prices quoted by their fazendeiros were far below market value for coffee beans at Santos, and many went on strike.
This confrontation had led to an investigation by a Swiss commissioner from the consulate at Rio de Janeiro, and the grievances of the colonos had mostly been confirmed. The imperial government had also sought to mollify the colonos, for the Corte was eager to attract European settlers. Several thousand German colonists were established on Crown lands in Rio Grande do Sul and prospering; the São Paulo indentured labor experiment with Portuguese, Germans, and Swiss was a private venture. Though both sides had calmed down and relations had improved, the effect of the "uprising," as Senhor Pontes and others saw it, was disastrous for Brazil: When the complaints of the colonos became known in Europe, Prussia forbade the recruiting of further migrants, and the Swiss cantons discouraged their poor from leaving for Brazil.
Senhor Alfredo Pontes had sold the contracts of the Laubner family and the others to another coffee grower, whose fazenda was twenty-four miles from Tiberica. This new employer, a Mineiro from Vila Rica, was scrupulously honest. Within three years, August and his family had paid off what they owed for their passage and subsistence allowance; at the beginning of 1862, August had been released from his contract and had come to Tiberica with his wife, Heloise, and two children, a boy and a girl, then aged eleven and fifteen. In March that year, in the front room of a small house, August Laubner had opened his apothecary shop, the first at Tiberica.
The barão de Itatinga himself was a customer of apothecary Laubner, and regularly used his dyspepsia powders for heartburn, and a tonic of beef extract, iron, and sherry as a flesh builder and blood purifier. Ulisses Tavares had heard only good reports about the Swiss and his family. Still, Ulisses Tavares had been disturbed when Teodora Rita told him that she had asked Senhor Laubner, his wife, and daughter to the ball.
"He will be uncomfortable among our friends," the barão had suggested. "They seek his professional help, yes. They value his advice, but they wouldn't want to see him in our ballroom."
"It's true, Senhor Barão," Teodora Rita had agreed. "Then, why did you invite him?"
"Forgive me, Barão, but there were several who asked."
"What, my girl?"
"The senhor barão, my love, has eyes only for Teodora Rita. He doesn't see that Tiberica's bachelors, young men of our best families, besiege the house of August Laubner."
"Ah, yes, indeed!" the barão said as it dawned on him. "Such a lovely girl!"
"Three hearts" - she had mentioned the names of three young men - "beating with one purpose: Oh, Senhor Barão, could I reject their lovelorn appeals that she be present at our ball?"
Renata Laubner was eighteen, a long-limbed girl with round blue eyes and a crown of blond hair parted in the center and pulled back to side ringlets, the golden tresses on the right adorned with small blue flowers. Renata's dress was a delicate blue, quite plain compared with the elaborate gowns of Teodora Rita and the others, but perfectly suited to her fair features. This girl who was so different from the sultry maidens of the tropics smote the bachelors of Tiberica who saw the flash of gold in her hair and the glorious blue of her eyes.
Firmino Dantas had met Renata Laubner for the first time this night. The apothecary had settled in Tiberica when Firmino was in Paris. After being introduced to August Laubner and Renata, Firmino had listened to the apothecary tell of a recent field trip to contact a group of semi-wild Tupi whose medicines August wanted to investigate.
"Truly, senhorita, you went with them into the sertão?" Firmino declared when August Laubner had finished his account.
"Why ever not, Senhor Firmino?" A smile, with a hint of impudence.
"Renata has a mind of her own, Doutor Firmino," Laubner said, looking fondly at his daughter.
wasn't afraid, Senhor Firmino," Renata said. "It was a wonderful journey.
had a feeling that this senhorita who so daringly walked beside her
But Firmino had shown characteristic restraint, pursuing serious topics of con versation for quite a while before asking permission for a dance. And then, when he'd taken Renata in his arms, he felt an exhilarating nervousness. He had had to wait almost an hour before he could politely approach her for a second dance, and had seen the three young men of Tiberica take turns throwing themselves at the feet of their idol.
When Firmino had been granted another dance, he was unable to hide his pleasure. He clasped Renata tightly round the waist as they glided swiftly along the floor.
When Firmino had escorted Renata back to her seat, Teodora Rita took her future brother-in-law aside. "The Swiss is lively," she said. "Such a fragile beauty blazing through the polka!"
Firmino at first did not sense the baronesa's concern. "Fragile, Teodora Rita?"
He laughed. "A girl who spent ten days in the sertão on a journey with her father?"
Teodora Rita looked shocked. "Whatever for?"
"Apothecary Laubner wanted to study the old remedies of the pagés. Senhorita
Renata went with him. Wasn't it marvelous?"
"It was silly," Teodora Rita said. "The girl belongs at home with her mother."
"Ah, but, Baronesa, Renata Laubner is different."
"Different?" Teodora Rita raised one eyebrow.
Firmino hesitated, becoming aware of the baronesa's irritation. But then he smiled. "Don't worry, Teodora Rita. Firmino Dantas hasn't lost his head in a Swiss cloud."
"I hope not, Firmino Dantas," the baronesa said, eyes blazing. She saw Ulisses Tavares coming toward them. "The barão, too." She nodded to herself. "He wouldn't like it, Firmino."
Brazilian Naval Archives
Early morning on June 11, 1865, nine Brazilian warships were anchored ten miles below Tres Bocas, the junction of the Paraná and Paraguay rivers, lying along a great bend of the Paraná - six hundred yards wide here - with the Riachuelo, a stream, flowing into it from the east. The squadron had a total firepower of fifty-nine guns, including Whitworth-rifled 120- and 150-pounders. The flagship was the Amazonas, a 195-foot, 370-ton wooden frigate, the only paddle wheeler among the nine ships. The others were screw-driven for greater maneuverability in the swift Paraná. Flying the blue naval ensign with stars at her mainmast, the green and gold flag of the empire at her mizzen, the black-hulled Amazonas carried a heavy ram at her bows, and strong and lofty nettings stretched above her bulwarks to protect against boarders.
This Sunday morning, the day of the Blessed Trinity, squadron commander Vice-Admiral Francisco Manoel Barroso, his officers, and 2,200 men, including 1,174 infantry of the Ninth Battalion, were turned out in dress uniform for sacred Mass, and their devotions were conducted with little concern for the enemy ashore. But, peaceful as the scene was, with the war steamers riding comfortably at anchor under a cloudless sky and the voices of men raised fervently with sacred song, on the east bank of the Paraná, just beyond range of their position, two thousand Paraguayans were encamped with a battery of twenty-two guns and Congreve rockets.
Brazilian Naval Archives
Clearly the optimism of men like the barão de Itatinga, who had predicted in February 1865 that Asunción would fall within three months, had not been justified. More than six months after the Tacuari lobbed her shot across the bows of the Marquês de Olinda, Brazilian soldiers had yet to set foot on Paraguayan soil. Worse, the war had widened: Argentina had joined in a triple alliance against Paraguay with Brazil and the victorious Colorado faction of Uruguay. This had come about after Francisco Solano López asked Buenos Aires to permit his army to cross Argentinian territory between the Upper Paraná and Uruguay rivers so that the Paraguayans could engage the Brazilians in Uruguay and drive eastward to Rio Grande do Sul. When Bartolomé Mitre, president of Argentina, refused this request, President López had gone ahead anyway, sending ten thousand men into the old Misiones district. In mid-March 1865, the Paraguayan congress had declared war against Argentina; on April 14, the Paraguayan navy had landed a force of three thousand men to capture Corrientes, a river port in the Argentine province of the same name. Corrientes had fallen without resistance, and within weeks, 25,000 Paraguayans had invaded the province with the objective of pressing south to Buenos Aires itself.
At the end of May 1865, the Brazilian squadron, under Vice-Admiral Barroso, had steamed up the Paraná carrying four thousand men to assault the Paraguayan occupiers of Corrientes. The attack had been successful, but after twenty-four hours, the Allies had reembarked their force, fearing a counterattack by units of 24,000 Paraguayans deployed within a few days' march of Corrientes. Since then, the Brazilian squadron had taken up position six miles from Corrientes in the river bend near the mouth of the Riachuelo to blockade the Paraná and prevent its navigation by the Paraguayan fleet.
By 9:00 A.M. on June 11, the two chaplains with the Brazilian ships had completed holy services. Less than a fortnight after the squadron had begun its blockade, the men already knew the monotony of a twenty-four-hour watch, day after day, with nothing to challenge but a few small riverboats and canoes, whose crews sometimes came upon the anchorage from backwaters where even the rumor of war was still unheard. Innocently, they would ride the swift current into the great bend, where first they encountered the lead ship Belmonte, then the flagship Amazonas , the corvettes Jequitinhonha and Beberibe, four gunboats - Parnaíba, Iguatemi, Mearim, and Ipiranga - and finally the rear guardship, the Aruguari, a gunboat with 32- and 68-pounders. Most impressive to the startled rivermen was the towering size of the black-hulled Amazonas , with her high paddle boxes and great ram, which lay menacingly in the channel between sandbanks and reed-clogged islands.
Aboard the Mearim this morning, the bell was rung for 9:00 A.M., the second hour of the forenoon watch. The Mearim was astern of the Belmonte but anchored so that her lookouts had a good view upriver. The notes of the Mearim's bell had no sooner died than there was a call from aloft: "Ship ahead!" And very soon, as a second and third vessel were seen: "Enemy squadron in sight!"
Riding down with the three-knot current were fourteen Paraguayan vessels - eight steamers and six flat-bottomed barges towed by the ships and each mounting an eight-inch gun. The total firepower of the Paraguayans was forty-seven guns, and like the Brazilians, more than one thousand soldiers augmented their crews. The lead vessel was the Paraguarí, a modern iron-plated warship with eight guns. Rear guard was the Tacuari, flagship, with fleet commander Pedro Ignacio Meza. And just ahead of the Tacuari rode the Marquês de Olinda, her Brazilian colors struck months ago (and made into a floor rug for El Presidente's office at Asunción), her old decks bristling with eight pieces ready to blast the ships of her former owners.
The Brazilians began to clear for action, their engineers and firemen hastening to get steam up, but they had less than fifteen minutes between the alarm given by the Mearim and the first cannonade from the Paraguayans as they passed their anchorage. The Paraguayans made their run down a channel close to the west bank. The range between their vessels and the Brazilian warships was too wide to permit an effective bombardment, but the sound and smoke of their guns was invitation enough to combat. On the Brazilians' decks, drummer boys who but an hour ago had served at the altar in cassock and surplice stood boldly at their posts beating the rataplan. Whistles blew as men ran to quarters, with gun crews loading immediately, and soldiers were mustered on their decks in readiness to repel boarders.
Vice-Admiral Barroso had been on the Parnaíba and was rowed back to his flagship. Aboard the Amazonas, he and his officers soon saw the lead Paraguayan ship start to make her turn. Barroso, sixty-one years old this day, was Portuguese-born but had served in the navy of his country of adoption. He had thinning gray hair and a full white beard, but his eyebrows were dark, and beneath them were eyes as commanding as the rest of his features. To get a better view of the enemy, Barroso had climbed up onto one of the Amazonas's paddle boxes. As he stood there, he passed on an order to a midshipman: "Make this signal to the squadron."
Barroso glanced swiftly along the line of his ships. Then he addressed the midshipman with orders for signal flags to be flown with two commands: "Bater o inimigo que estiver mais próximo!" and "O Brasil espera que cada um cumpra o seu dever!"
The first command was for the ships to engage the enemy at close quarters. The second was inspired by the glory of Admiral Horatio Nelson's triumph at Trafalgar sixty years ago: "Brazil expects that every man will do his duty!"
As the Paraguayan fleet completed its turn and started back upriver, the Brazilian ships maneuvered into position in the channels between the sandbanks and islands and opened fire: One of the Paraguayan steamers, the Jejuí, took a shot through her boiler and drifted out of action; the remaining seven and the six barges closed for battle, breaking their squadron line, with groups of ships and gun barges making for specific targets. The Brazilian corvette Jequitinhonha was battered by three Paraguayans firing ball and grapeshot and by their musketeers raking the corvette's decks. The gunboat Parnaíba also found herself under attack by three ships, including the iron-plated Tacuari and Paraguarí, which fired round after round as they steamed up to the Brazilian with the intention of boarding her.
Within the great bend of the river, as the twenty-one ships and gun barges blazed away at one another, the air rapidly grew thick with the acrid yellow smoke of battle drifting past the fiery mouths of cannon and mingling with the soot and ashes spewed from ships' funnels. The opening stages of the Battle of the Riachuelo went badly for the Brazilians, for no sooner had they given challenge to the Paraguayans than they faced an additional threat: The twenty-two guns and Congreve rockets of the Paraguayan shore battery just north of the mouth of the Riachuelo opened up in support of their squadron.
The small crews of the chatas, one-gun barges eighteen feet long, concentrated their fire on the wooden hulls of the Brazilian ships, seeking to blast through planking to pierce a boiler or detonate a magazine. For the crew of one chata, the fervor was short-lived when a shot from a 68-pounder on the Amazonas struck the barge, igniting its explosives and blowing it to bits. This did not daunt the Paraguayans as they prepared to board their adversaries.
Battle of Riachuelo
But here in the rising heat of battle as the Tacuari, Paraguarí, and the small Salto converged on the Parnaíba, and the boarding parties made ready to leap upon the foe with cutlass and machete, they made a terrible discovery: Those now waiting at the port of Asunción for news of a great victory had neglected to place aboard the war steamers the only indispensable items for the impending action: grappling irons.
"Damn them! Oh, damn them!" a sergeant aboard the Salto raged.
His soldier comrades near him, their breath fiery with shots of cana swigged before the battle, blazed forth with even greater curses.
"Damn the stupid bastards!" the sergeant screamed again, watching the Tacuari attempt to close with the Parnaíba. Two men made a desperate leap for the Brazilians' bulwarks, jumping from the Tacuari's paddle boxes; but, as the vessels were not grappled, the Tacuari could not keep beside the enemy long enough for others to follow. When the Tacuari stood off, the pair of boarders leapt back to her deck, lucky to escape the Brazilian rifle fire.
The Salto was screw-driven, and her helmsman was able to maneuver her into position and pass slowly alongside the enemy gunboat; in minutes the sergeant and twenty-nine others had boarded the Parnaíba, their battle cries drowning the screams of one Paraguayan who lost his footing and was crushed between the two ships.
The hail of bullets from Brazilian riflemen felled four Paraguayans, but the remaining twenty-five stormed across the Parnaíba 's decks. Supported by small-arms fire from marksmen aloft in the three vessels harassing the Parnaíba, the boarding party began to overwhelm those Brazilians on deck. Many Brazilians had already been driven to take refuge below during the repeated bombardments by the Paraguayans.
The Paraguayans won the fight on the decks: Within fifteen minutes they had control of the Parnaíba, the first prize taken for El Presidente this day.
The sergeant who had been in the thick of the fight was exultant. He spied the body of a drummer boy on the deck near the Parnaíba's funnel, and with his cutlass, he slashed the straps holding the boy's instrument. Jubilantly, he took up the drum and sticks he had pried loose from the boy's fingers and strutted along the deck, raising cheers from his comrades as he beat a triumphant roll.
And then, steaming through the swirl of smoke, riding the swift current, the Amazonas came down upon this scene of battle. She held her fire until the last moment, when her starboard guns blazed at the two nearest Paraguayan vessels, Tacuari and Salto. The port guns of the Amazonas were loaded with grape: With a flash and a roar, they raked the deck of the Parnaíba with a merciless tornado of shot that instantly downed three out of every four Paraguayans.
Brazilian Naval Archives
For four and a half hours the battle raged along the bend of the Rio Paraná. With their towering size and greater firepower, the Brazilians slowly began to prevail: The Jejuí was sunk; the Salto was beached; the Marquês de Olinda, the very sight of which spurred the Brazilian gunners, also took a shot in her boiler house and ran aground on a sandbank.
The Paraguayans lost three ships and two chatas, but still the battle was undecided, for the Brazilians were also mauled: The Belmonte was holed at the waterline and aground; the Jequitinhonha was stuck fast on a sandbank; the Parnaíba, too, was effectively out of action.
After going to the rescue of the Parnaíba, the flagship Amazonas steamed slowly up the channel exchanging shots with the enemy, though these cannonades were secondary to another objective of Vice-Admiral Barroso and his men. About a mile upstream, the Amazonas turned. Then, full steam ahead, her great paddle wheels churning the water, the Amazonas came down before the three-knot current. On and on she rode, belching black smoke from her stack and red flame from the mouths of her cannon, steaming directly for the Paraguarí, the newest vessel in President López's fleet.
She struck the Paraguarí amidships, her ram buckling iron plates, smashing through the enemy's bulwarks. The Amazonas's steam whistle shrieked, her decks vibrated violently, her engines raced at full power with a mighty force that shoved the Paraguayan steamer sideways through the water and onto a sandbank.
"Viva Dom Pedro Segundo! Viva Brasil!" the Amazonas's men cheered, as the frigate backed away from the crippled vessel.
Some Paraguayans had been hurled off the gunboat by the impact; some had abandoned her to swim to the west bank. But a dozen or so shouted back abuse at the macacos and hurried to clear the debris around a 12-pounder. It was a desperate defiance: They were enraged at the destruction of their ship, and afire with the knowledge that generations of Guarani before them had been called to stand fast against this enemy of enemies.
With the grounding of the Paraguarí and damage to a fifth gunboat, which was limping along with a hole in her boiler, the Paraguayan flagship, Tacuari, signaled: "Break off action!" Aboard the Tacuari, the squadron commander, Pedro Ignacio Meza, lay mortally wounded, one of a thousand Paraguayans killed or wounded this day, triple the number of Brazilian casualties. With the Tacuari holding their rear, the three remaining vessels steamed off and were pursued for a distance by two Brazilians, until they, too, dropped back, their crews so exhausted and equipment so damaged that they dared not risk a chase to the Rio Paraguay, where they would come under fire from the enemy's river fortresses. For the Brazilians, it was enough to know that with the destruction of Paraguay's fleet, Francisco Solano López was denied access to the Paraná.
But the guns at the Riachuelo were not yet silent, and for one Brazilian warship, the hell that had begun more than four hours ago was not over. The corvette Jequitinhonha had run aground on a sandbank within range of the twenty-two guns and the Congreve rockets of the Paraguayan shore battery. The corvette had come under so murderous a fire that of her crew of 138, fifty were killed or grievously wounded.
Twice during this brutal afternoon, two of the Jequitinhonha's sister ships came in under the enemy's barrage to attempt to tow her off the sandbank, but they had failed. Respite came almost seven hours after the commencement of battle when, bombarded by the Amazonas and other vessels, the Paraguayan shore batteries finally withdrew. With that ceasefire, some of the Jequitinhonha's crew sat down on her splintered deck and wept.
Below deck, in a stern section of the Jequitinhonha, were two men who had remained at their posts these seven deadly hours with no thought for their own safety. There had been no need for them to go on deck to fix in their minds the awful scene, for it was all around them - the broken arms and legs, the mutilated trunks, the ripped-open faces.
The older of the two men was Manuel Batista Valadão, lieutenant-surgeon of the Jequitinhonha. His assistant, twenty-seven years old, was Second-Lieutenant Fábio Alves Cavalcanti, and this was his trial by fire. The suffering around him was beyond his imagination. Four lamps lighted the cabin, their yellow glare increasing the hellishness of the scene visible to men waiting their turn on the operating table; the deck stained darker with blood and the surgeons themselves besmeared. A pungent smell pervaded the cabin, but for this the wounded thanked Almighty God: it was ether, which had not been long in use and would spare them excruciating pain.
At times during those seven bloody hours, Fábio Alves Cavalcanti had been numbed by the horror: He would look at Manuel Valadão, who worked quietly, steadily, and gain the strength to ignore the battle beyond. Sometimes Fábio would be suturing a tear in a man's flesh, part of him far away, at Engenho Santo Tomás, which had belonged to his family for generations. "O God, my Father, allow me to return there," he once prayed aloud, unaware that surgeon Valadão overheard him.
For Fábio Alves Cavalcanti, a grandson of Carlos Maria, the child who had been left fatherless when Paulo Cavalcanti was murdered by Black Peter and his band of runaway slaves, the flashes of memory in this cabin where men looked at him with eyes that craved death were immensely soothing. He saw the Casa Grande where he had spent his childhood; a grand old house built more than a century ago and filled with mystery for him. He associated Santo Tomás with his youth, for he had not lived there permanently for a decade: His father, Guilherme Cavalcanti, spent most of the year at their town house at Olinda, and he himself had attended school there, later matriculating at the medical school at the Bahia, until he had entered the imperial navy eighteen months ago. Now, as he stood in this place steeped with blood and with suffering men all around him, Fábio wondered about that decision and felt a longing for that valley of the Cavalcantis so distant from this carnage.
Fábio Cavalcanti's doubt was short-lived. When the shore battery's bombardment ceased, Lieutenant Valadão told his assistant to go topside and find out if the battle had truly ended. Fábio started off slowly along a passageway, his shoulders bent with fatigue.
"Tenente . . ."
The call came from a gunner lying on the mess deck. The man had been one of the first to be injured. He had been brought to the surgeons with multiple lacerations and both legs broken by the blast when one of the Jequitinhonha's 68-pounders had been put out of action by a Paraguayan shell.
"What is it, sailor?" Fábio asked, bending down toward the man.
The gunner reached out and with his unbandaged hand gripped the hand of the young surgeon. "Thank you, my friend."
Fábio Alves Cavalcanti felt his own surge of gratitude for the privilege of being there - amid the hell that had raged at the Riachuelo, where men as brave as this broken gunner needed him.
Battle of Riachuelo
April 1866 — March 1870
©2013 Errol Lincoln Uys