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Francisco Selano López versus Luís Manuel Osório and Bartolomé Mitre: A Paraguayan army under López fails to achieve surprise before attacking an Allied army under Osório and Mitre. Can Osório and Mitre repel López’ frenzied frontal assault and deep double envelopment? Also known as the Battle of Tuiuti and Paso de Patria.
This battle possesses two characters, one of myth and one of reality. The myth of the battle should not be read as falsehood but as events of remarkable nature. The battle has been described as “a series of charges and counter-charges, a Latin American version of Waterloo” (Williams, 2000: 61), an incredible compliment. The Paraguayans had fought so bravely despite all their disadvantages “to the extent that the story ran around the allied armies that they had been fed brandy laced with gunpowder” (Leuchars, 2002: 134). Even Osório admitted the Paraguayan attack was in fact “magnificent” (Williams, 2000: 61). Numerous stories of heroism on both sides are well-documented and engrained within accounts of the battle.
The harsher reality is that the battle was still a battle, a violent collision of two deadly forces. For all the stories of heroism, many are quite gruesome, such as the image of Paraguayan soldiers “casually munching biscuits while their legs were being amputated” (Leuchars, 2002: 127). Williams relays eyewitness accounts of a “swamp of blood” and that months later, “the stench of death was still almost suffocating” (2000: 64).
There is considerable debate regarding the consequences of the war from the Paraguayan point of view. The more well-known argument is that there was no purpose for Paraguay to instigate a war and that López was a megalomaniac dictator. The other argument is that the war actually did benefit Paraguay, eventually at least, and that López was a hero. Leuchars makes an argument for this lesser-known claim:
Paraguay ended the war with the loss of some 55,000 square miles, or a quarter of its national territory. Yet, however bad this might seem, it was still less than Argentina and Brazil had been trying to extract from it in peaceful negotiations in the first half of the century, and if the Treaty of the Triple Alliance did represent the long-term aims of those countries, then López’s resistance might be said to have counted for something. Nor did it eventually cost them anything in reparations, for each of the Allies subsequently canceled its war debt.
These are not idle considerations. Judging by the turmoil in the Plate region in the early 1860s, it seems unlikely that Paraguay could have resisted for long the ambitions of its neighbors; sooner or later, it would have had to part with territory – and probably lots of it. It could be argued that the mutual rivalry between Argentina and Brazil would have limited this, but these two did seem to be cooperating alarmingly well at the start, and they seemed determined enough during the war to pursue their stated ends. It may not be too far-fetched to suggest that despite the huge losses of land and of people, López had in fact defended relatively successfully the independence of his country. (2002: 235-236)
López’ decision to instigate the battle by attacking was the first of many mistakes he made that day. He attacked the Allies to spoil their apparent plans for an attack of their own but how it was preferable to be the attacker rather than the defender in this context is not known. It can be argued that time was not on López’ side and that a decisive victory was needed (Leuchars, 2002: 126) but the plan and execution of the attack are unpardonable. López planned to stealthily advance his assault columns through the dense brush and assault at dawn. The plan depended on surprise and timing (Williams, 2000: 58), neither of which were achieved.
Throughout May, nearly every night featured some sort of exchange of fire including an attack on May 2 and the Allies had not fully nestled into the positions they occupied days before the Paraguayan attack: “For his moment of attack, López had probably chosen one when the Allies were best prepared for it” (Leuchars, 2002: 119). López also failed to properly reconnoiter the terrain his columns would pass through; the varying difficulty they would face negotiating the thorny brush not only meant the assault was not launched until noon, instead dawn, but the assault columns did not attack simultaneously. While López could not even see the battle from the rear, Osório, Mitre and their subordinates tirelessly encouraged and directed their troops.
López did not bring his entire force to the battle and senselessly left 6,000 soldiers in reserve to the north, seemingly in case of the need to retreat, completely contradictory to his decision that a decisive battle must be fought and won. López would have been better served by focusing his attack on the Allied right. The terrain on the Allied right was better suited for a breakthrough attack while demonstrations against other sections of the Allied line would have been effective given the concealment they would enjoy.
After the disappointingly vague animation for Ayacucho, I was determined to impress my South American viewers who, despite poor representation in battles thus far, show a keen interest in the site. I used as many sources as I could get a hold of researching this battle and owe many thanks to a kind Brazilian historian who helped me overcome a few vague aspects of my own research with his own non-English sources. The majority of detail for this battle is derived from Hoyt’s “Swamp of Blood,” which was readily accessible. I hope this animation is satisfactory and gives this magnificent battle the attention it deserves.
– Jonathan Webb
Doratioto, Francisco. Maldita Guerra: Nova história da Guerra do Paraguai. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2002.
Dupuy, Trevor N. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 BC to the Present, Fourth Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Kolinski, Charles J. Independence or Death: The Story of the Paraguayan War. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1965.
Leuchars, Chris. To the Bitter End: Paraguay and the War of the Triple Alliance. London: Greenwood, 2002.
Murad, Abid. A Batalha de Tuiuti e Uma Licao de Civismo. Rio de Janeiro, Biblioteca do Exercito, 1957
Thompson, George. The War in Paraguay. London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1869.
Scheina, Robert L. Latin America’s Wars Vol. 1: The Age of the Caudillo, 1791-1899. New York: Potomac, 2003.
Williams, John Hoyt. “A Swamp of Blood: The Battle of Tuyuti.” Military History 17.1 (2000): 58-64.
Allied soldiers: http://img80.imageshack.us/img80/2761/brvol6570.jpg
Bartolomé Mitre: http://www.portalplanetasedna.com.ar/mitre.htm
Francisco Selano López: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_Solano_L%C3%B3pez
Luís Manuel Osório: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_Lu%C3%ADs_Os%C3%B3rio,_Marquis_of_Erval
Map of Central South America: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraguayan_War
Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections
Paraguyan soldiers: http://www.erroluys.com/Kindle/KindleIllustratedGuide2.htm#Brazilians
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