June 11: Anniversary of the Riachuelo Battle



June 11, is the anniversary of the Battle of Riachuelo. The battle is considered by historians as the turning point in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay (1865-1870) - the second largest military conflict in the Americas, only surpassed by the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Until that point, Paraguay had initiative in the war. In battle the alliance managed to reversed the situation, secured the blockade and use by Brazil of the rivers, which were the main arteries of the theater of war operations, and discouraged the possible adhesion of Argentine and Uruguayan sympathizers to the Paraguayan cause.

Soon after its independence, Paraguay tried to stay away from the frequent conflicts that occurred in the Silver Region. When Francisco Solano López took power in 1862, after the death of his father, Carlos Antônio López, he began to exercise a more active foreign policy, trying to make his presence stand out in the region.

Brazil was the first country to recognize the independence of Paraguay. This was in accordance with the foreign policy of the Empire not to be favorable to its annexation, several times desired, by the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata, future Argentina.

There were boundary issues between Brazil and Paraguay, but this was unlikely to lead to armed conflict. The Brazilian intervention in Uruguay in 1864, however, conflicted with Solano López's political plans and alliances. He considered that the invasion of Uruguay by Brazilian troops was an act of war by Brazil against the interests of Paraguay and initiated hostilities. As he was denied permission for his army to cross Argentine territory to attack Rio Grande do Sul, he invaded the Province of Corrientes, involving Argentina in the conflict.

Paraguay was mobilizing for a possible war since the beginning of 1864. Lopez thought he was stronger and believed that he would have the support of the Uruguayan White Party and the Argentine supporters of Justo José de Urquiza, who was in power in the Argentine province of Entre Rios . This did not happen. His defeat at Riachuelo ended the possibility of a quick victory. His possible allies did not join. He also overestimated Paraguay's economic and military power and underestimated Brazil's potential and willingness to fight.

Brazilian fleet
At the beginning of the Triple Alliance War, the Brazilian fleet had 45 armed ships. Of these, 33 were ships of mixed propulsion, sailing and steam, and 12 depended exclusively on the wind. The Arsenal de Marinha do Rio de Janeiro (Court Arsenal) had undergone a modernization in the mid-nineteenth century. Several of the ships from the beginning of the war were designed and built in the country. Later, Arsenal also built battleships for the theater of operation on the Paraguay River.

The Brazilian ships available before this war were suitable to operate at sea and not in the conditions of restricted and shallow waters that the theater of operations in the Rivers Paraná and Paraguay demanded; the possibility of running aground was an ever-present danger. In addition, these ships had wooden hulls, which made them very vulnerable to the land artillery, positioned on the banks.

Paraguayan fleet
The Paraguayan fleet owned 32 ships, including those they seized from Brazil and Argentina, of which 24 were mixed-propulsion, steam and sailing ships, and eight were exclusively sailing ships. All mixed-propulsion ships, except one, were made of wood, with wheels of blades. Although all of them were suitable for navigating the rivers, only the Taquari was a true warship.
The Paraguayans then developed the annoying cannon as a weapon of war. It was a flat-bottomed, unpowered boat with a six-inch-gauge cannon that was towed to the place of use where it was anchored. It carried only the cannon's garrison, and its rim was close to the water, revealing a very small target. Only the mouth of the cannon was seen above the surface of the water.

Background of the Battle
Fit to Admiral Joaquim Marques Lisbon, Viscount of Tamandaré, later Marquês de Tamandaré, the Commando of the Naval Forces of Brazil in Operations of War against the government of Paraguay. The Brazilian Navy represented practically all of the Naval Power present in the theater of operations. The General Command of the Allied Armies was exercised by the President of the Republic of Argentina, General Bartolomeu Miter. The Brazilian Naval Forces were not subordinate to it, in accordance with the Treaty of the Triple Alliance.

The naval strategy adopted by the allies was the blockade. The Paraná Rivers and Paraguay were the arteries of communication with Paraguay. The Brazilian Naval Forces were organized in three divisions - one remained in the Rio de la Plata and the other two went up the Paraná River to effect the blockade.

With the advance of the Paraguayan troops along the left bank of the Paraná, Tamandaré decided to appoint his Chief of Staff as the Chief of Staff Francisco Manuel Barroso da Silva, who commanded the Comodoro in other Marines, to command the Force Naval that was upriver. Barroso left Montevideo on April 28, 1865, on the Amazon Frigate, and joined the Naval Force in Bela Vista.

Barroso's first mission was an attack on the City of Corrientes, which was occupied by the Paraguayans. The landing came to a successful conclusion on May 25. It was not possible to keep possession of this city in the rearguard of the invading troops and it was necessary, soon after, to evacuate it. It was evident, however, that the presence of the Brazilian Naval Force would leave the invaders' flanks always very vulnerable. It was necessary to destroy it, and this motivated Solano López to plan the action that led to the Naval Battle of Riachuelo.

The Battle
The Brazilian Naval Force commanded by Barroso was based on the Paraná River near the City of Corrientes on the night of June 10 to 11, 1865.
The Paraguayan plan was to surprise Brazilian ships at the dawn of June 11, and, after the victory, to tow them to Humaita. To increase the firepower, the Paraguayan Naval Force, commanded by the Captain-of-Frigate Pedro Ignacio Mezza, towed six boring with cannons. In addition, the Ponta de Santa Catalina, near the mouth of the Riachuelo, was harnessed by the Paraguayans. There were also infantry troops stationed to shoot over the escaped Brazilian ships.

On June 11, at about 9 o'clock, the Brazilian Naval Force spotted enemy ships descending the river and prepared for combat. Mezza was late and gave up starting the battle with the approach. At 9 o'clock and 25 minutes, the first shots of artillery were fired. The Paraguayan Naval Force passed by the Brazilian, still immobilized, and went to shelter next to the mouth of the Riachuelo, where it was waiting.

After suspending, the Brazilian Naval Force went down the river, in persecution, and it saw the enemy ships standing near the mouth of the Riachuelo. Unaware that the shore was barricaded, Barroso stopped his flagship, the "Amazonas" Frigate, to cut possible escape from the Paraguayans. With their unexpected maneuver, some of the ships of their Force receded, and the "Jequitinhonha" ran aground in front of the batteries of Santa Catalina. The first ship of the line, the "Belmonte", passed Riachuelo separated from the others, suffering the enemy's concentrated fire and, afterwards, purposely aground, not to sink.

Correcting his maneuver, Barroso, with the "Amazonas", took the vanguard and made the crossing, fighting against the artillery of the shore, the ships and the boring, under the shooting of the troops that fired from the ravines.

The first phase of the Battle was thus completed at approximately 12 o'clock. Until then, the result was highly unsatisfactory for Brazil: the "Belmonte" out of action, the "Jequitinhonha" stranded forever and the "Parnaíba", with rudder failure, being approached and dominated by the enemy, despite the heroic resistance of the Brazilians like Greenhalgh and Marine Mariner Dias, who fought to the death. Then Barroso decided to return. He went down the river, made the return with the six remaining ships, and soon after, was again in Riachuelo.

Taking advantage of the size of the "Amazon", he used his ship to ram and cripple Paraguayan ships and win the Battle. Four enemy ships fled while pursued by the Brazilians.
Before sundown of June 11, the victory was Brazilian. The Paraguayan fleet had been virtually annihilated and would no longer have a relevant role in the conflict. It was also guaranteed the blockade that would prevent Paraguay from receiving weapons from abroad, including the battleships it had ordered in Europe.

It was the first great victory of the Triple Alliance in the war and for this, much celebrated. With the victory in Riachuelo, with the withdrawal of the Paraguayans from the left bank of Paraná and the surrender of the invaders in Uruguaiana, the opinion of the Allies was that the war would end soon. This, however, did not occur. Paraguay was a mobilized country and Humaitá was still an impregnable fortress for those wooden ships that won the Battle. The war was long, difficult and caused many deaths and sacrifices. It was in her that Brazilians from all regions of the country were mobilized, got to know each other better and worked together to defend the homeland. Thus, Brazilian nationality was consolidated.