The War of Paraguay began in December 1864, and it is considered the largest conflict ever to occur in South America to this day. At the time the war started, the Count d’Eu was in Europe and openly expressed his desire to participate in the conflict to Emperor Dom Pedro II. It was expected that upon his return to Brazil, he would immediately head to the front lines, as the emperor himself had appointed him as a general of the Brazilian army.
The emperor was haunted by several concerns, including: “In what way can I appoint the Count d’Eu, a marshal of the army and husband of Princess Isabel, other than as the supreme commander?” The second question was: “If I appoint him as the supreme commander, how can I do so without neglecting the career generals?” The third concern was related to the nationality of the count: “How can I appoint him without hurting the pride of Brazilian military personnel?” The participation of the Count d’Eu in the war was necessary for two reasons: his natural inclination towards military activities and his position as the prince consort of Brazil, which obligated him to fight for the nation.
The Strategy of Emperor Dom Pedro II
Pedro II’s sister, along with Prince de Joinville, corresponded with the emperor through various letters, urging that the Count d’Eu be sent to the front lines immediately. The Count d’Eu received confirmation from the emperor himself that the then Marquis of Caxias would be the commanding officer of the operational forces. The Count was well aware of his significance to both the emperor and the monarchy. Consequently, if Caxias held the position of commander-in-chief, the Count d’Eu knew he would have limited opportunities. However, the Count d’Eu unexpectedly learned that his brother was planning to get married, which prompted him to arrange an unplanned journey that was not in his immediate plans. Just as he had made the decision to go, Emperor Pedro II surprised him.
During an informal dinner at his residence in the São Cristóvão Palace, Emperor Pedro II beckoned the Count d’Eu to a corner and requested that he refrain from traveling. He asked the Conde to wait and postpone the journey, as the war had not yet ended and he might need him at any moment. The Count did not take it very seriously and remained skeptical, but the emperor added, “To replace Caxias, even.”
In 1869, Caxias wrote to the emperor, announcing the triumphant conquest of the city of Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, in a battle known as the December Campaign. The conquest marked the limit for Caxias. Although the city had been captured, the bloodthirsty Paraguayan dictator, Solano Lopez, was still on the run. Caxias declared an end to the war because, from his perspective, the capture and death of Lopez were not prerequisites. However, let’s be honest, it is peculiar that Caxias refused to participate in the “grand finale,” isn’t it? Moreover, Guilherme Xavier de Sousa, Caxias’s immediate substitute in command, also declined to take his place, which is rare in the army.
Prior to the war, Emperor Pedro II assisted Caxias in maintaining command due to an unprecedented crisis with the liberals that even put the throne at risk. As a result, Caxias did not abandon the emperor in such a situation. All these scenes were rehearsed, meticulously planned. If Caxias had left the war without any prior arrangement, he would have been considered a traitor to the nation, a deserter. Upon Caxias’s return, the emperor honored him with the title of Duke, the only one of its kind granted throughout the entire monarchy period in Brazil. Caxias’s actions led to questioning from individuals close to the emperor and also from the press.
Emperor Pedro II sends a letter to Petrópolis addressed to the Count d’Eu, summoning him for a meeting at the palace. Upon learning of these circumstances, the Count d’Eu enthusiastically accepts the request and departs for the front to assume command of the Brazilian army.
We can imagine how much effort Pedro II must have exerted to keep his secret plans and strategies within the confines of his São Cristóvão chambers, unable to confide in anyone, not even his closest relatives. Caxias was received at the palace and awarded the Campaign Medal. He requested that D. Tereza Cristina place it on the Marquis’s chest. Days later, the emperor elevated Caxias to the rank of Duke, bestowed upon him the Order of Pedro I (a title and decoration never before conferred upon any other Brazilian), and also granted him the Grand Cross of the Rose.
It is evident that Emperor Pedro II desired a change in command, strategically planned to enhance the role of the Count d’Eu. The change in command positioned the Count d’Eu as the protagonist of a highly significant and symbolically charged act. It was part of the process of creating the image of a hero who brought an end to the war. Pedro II aimed to place him in a position he had never achieved before, that is, to truly make him a Brazilian.
The Count d’Eu in the War of Paraguay
On December 6, 1868, the Battle of Itororó took place, marking Brazil’s first major victory against Paraguay. It was so significant that a popular lullaby was created with the lyrics “I went to Itororó to drink water but couldn’t find any…” On December 11, 1868, the Battle of Avaí occurred, followed by the Battle of Lomas Valentinas between December 21 and 27. On December 30, 1868, the Battle of Angostura took place. In early January 1869, Caxias finally captured Asunción. Despite this, the Paraguayan dictator, Lopez, refused to surrender, fueling the emperor’s determination to see him completely defeated. After Caxias’s resignation, Lopez enjoyed a temporary truce, hiding for approximately 460 days until the arrival of the Count d’Eu at the front.
The War of Paraguay came to an end with the Battle of Cerro Corá on March 10, 1870. Solano Lopez, surrounded by Brazilian troops, put up resistance but was ultimately killed by the Brazilian soldier José Francisco Lacerda, known as Chico Diabo. The news only reached Brazil on March 17, and the army commander, the Count d’Eu, received the information on April 29.
The arrival of the Count d’Eu was celebrated with a grand civic ceremony filled with patriotic fervor, as described by Andre Rebouças in his diary, “The celebration was indescribable. It was sheer ecstasy.” The entire imperial family paraded along Rua do Ouvidor to the Palace of São Cristóvão, located in the Quinta da Boa Vista. Later, at the Palace of Isabel in the Laranjeiras neighborhood, the official residence of the Count and Countess d’Eu in Rio de Janeiro, they received various delegations, speeches, parades, and more.
The Count d’Eu, the new national hero, did not play such a decisive role in the course of the war. On the contrary, he often wanted to desert his position as army commander and was strongly rebuked by the emperor. After receiving news of Lopez’s death, the Conde sent a letter to the emperor asking for forgiveness for his doubts and childish behavior. The Count d’Eu was well aware of the significance of his role in the war scenario, and it appears that everything had been prearranged between him and Pedro II.
The Count d’Eu’s main demand in order to return power to the Paraguayans and seal a peace treaty was precisely the complete and unconditional liberation of slaves in that country. This action demonstrates the progressive spirit that permeated the daily life of Princess Isabel as she prepared to assume the leading role in the Brazilian monarchy during the Third Reign.
It is evident that any action by the monarchy that aimed to bring about changes that would seriously threaten the interests of Brazilian landowners and slaveholders was entrusted to the Count d’Eu and Princess Isabel. They sought to connect the heirs to the throne with a new world, which the emperor directed the Third Reign towards and placed his bets on.
The Paraguayan War left me with some pleasant memories, but it intellectually devastated me. – Count d’Eu
Reference: COSTA, Marcos. O reino que não era deste mundo: Crônica de uma república não proclamada. Brazil: Valentina, 2015.
Matheus is an entrepreneur at Araujo Media, where he serves as CEO and Creative Director. He shares analyses on his personal blog "matheusaraujo.me" and is currently pursuing a degree in Advertising and Propaganda. Moreover, he has a passion for history, particularly that of Brazil, which led him to become the founder and editor of the Brazilian History portal.