The Greatest War Fought Between Nations in the Americas

Excerpted from Brazil, a novel by Errol Lincoln Uys

"Descriptions like those of the war with Paraguay, particularly the battle of Tuiuti, do not find in our literature any rival capable of surpassing them and evoke the great passages of War and Peace rather than best-sellers of current extraction. " -- Wilson Martins, Jornal do Brasil

NOVEMBER 1864 - JUNE 1865

The Voyage of the Marquês de Olinda

    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 Eliza 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, 19th century © Bibloteca Virtual Miguel Cervantes
The Port of Asunción, 19th century © Bibloteca Virtual Miguel Cervantes

Francisco Solano López Seizes the Moment

    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:

 A briefe relation of the voyage of The Hopewell, a ship of London in the service of the King of the Portugales against the Dutch at Pernambuco in the yeere 1640, wherein divers rare things are truely reported, with certaine notes on the towne of Bayha, by Master Will Tuttle.

     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  - Aurelio García (1846–1869
Francisco Solano López - Aurelio García (1846–1869


A Roar and a Flash from the Guns of the Tacuari

     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.

    "Yes, senhor."

    "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!"

    "Calma, Sabino."

    "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.

Tacuari, flagship of the Paraguayan Navy, 1864 was similar to this vessel
Tacuari, flagship of the Paraguayan Navy, 1864 was similar to this vessel

BRAZIL by Errol Lincoln Uys