Cisplatine War (1825–28)

Batalla de Sarandi  by Esteban Garino (1911-). Wars continued to rage unabated across the former colonies for decades. The battle of Sarandi, fought on October 12, 1825, was a key Uruguayan victory over the forces of Brazil during the Cisplatine War (1825-28).

Portuguese America went through a significantly different independence. Prince-Regent (after 1816, King) Joāo VI avoided the fate of his Spanish counterpart and escaped the French invaders, reaching Rio de Janeiro in 1808. There he established his capital, governing the entire Portuguese empire from this tropical court until 1821. The ambitions of his Spanish-born wife, Carlota Joaquina, to dominate Platine affairs coincided with the interests of southern Brazilian ranchers. This led to a full-scale Portuguese invasion of the Banda Oriental (modern-day Uruguay) in 1816 that displaced the nascent Federal League of José Gervasio Artigas. Soon Brazil incorporated the region as the Cisplatine Province.

JANUARY 22, 1820. Tacuarembo Chico. Some 2,000 Uruguayan patriots under General Latorre are annihilated on the western banks of the Tacuarembo River by 3,000 Portuguese troops under Gen. Gaspar de Sousa Filgueiras, effectively ending organized opposition to Brazil’s occupation of this country. (On July 18, 1821, Uruguay is annexed into the Portuguese empire as the “Cisplatine Province,” and remains so until 1825.)

The 1820 revolution in Porto, Portugal, prompted a reluctant Joāo to return to Lisbon; by 1822 his son had turned himself into Emperor Pedro I of Brazil. Relatively little fighting was required to expel troops loyal to Portugal (except in Bahia) or to ensure the loyalty of the far-flung provinces to the new government in Rio de Janeiro. Even the Cisplatine Province-loyal longer to Lisbon thanks to its large Portuguese garrison-eventually fell into line. By 1824 the empire was secure, with British and Portuguese recognition coming one year later.

Brazilian rhetoric that heralded the Rio de la Plata as the country’s natural southern frontier could not be sustained. In 1825 exiles led by Juan Lavalleja crossed onto the east bank of the Uruguay River, the Banda Oriental, and raised the standard of revolt against Brazil. Receiving strong backing from porteños, the rebellion soon attracted support from rural caudillos. Within six months the Brazilians controlled only Colonia do Sacramento and Montevideo. Brazil declared war against Buenos Aires, but the ensuing conflict, known as the Cisplatine War, ended in a stalemate. A British-mediated peace in 1828 led to the creation of the independent Republica Oriental del Uruguay the following year. Political instability in Brazil during the nine -year regency that followed Pedro I’s abdication in 1831 and the early years of Pedro II’s personal reign prompted a temporary Brazilian withdrawal from Platine affairs.


South America’s independence does not bring an end to the traditional Hispano-Portuguese rivalry regarding the disputed territory known as the Banda Oriental or “Eastern Shore” of the River Plate (modern Uruguay), seized eight years previously by the troops of Brazilian emperor Dom Pedro I. On April 19, 1825, 33 of the Banda’s exiled patriots under 40-year-old Juan Antonio Lavalleja set sail aboard two boats from San Isidro (Argentina), landing at Rincon de la Agraciada to raise a revolt against the occupiers of their homeland.

Many disaffected Uruguayan gauchos quickly rise up in Lavalleja’s support-especially the veteran patriot commander Fructuoso Rivera, popularly known as “Don Frutos”-therefore, the town of Soriano is overrun by April 24, Canelones is taken by May 2, and the main Brazilian garrison within Montevideo is invested six days later. The 18-gun Brazilian brigantine Caboclo (formerly the Maipu) of Lt. Francisco Pires de Carvalho carries reinforcements into Montevideo’s beleaguered garrison by June, while the emperor vainly files protests with the government at Buenos Aires, which is soon to be headed by its first constitutional president-Bernardino Rivadavia- recently returned from serving as a plenipotentiary minister in London, negotiating closer ties with various European governments.

Brazil’s protests are ignored, so Lavalleja’s movement is emboldened and besieges Colonia del Sacramento as of August 18, while the extemporized Uruguayan government votes to secede from the Brazilian empire and unite with Argentina one week later.

SEPTEMBER 4, 1825. At Aguila Creek southeast of Mercedes, Rivera is defeated when he attacks a column of 700-800 Brazilian troops sweeping into the Uruguayan interior under the 42-year-old colonel Bento Manuel Ribeiro.

SEPTEMBER 24, 1825. At dawn, having slipped across Vera Ford behind Ribeiro’s main force with 250 riders, Rivera surprises the Brazilian depot of colonels Jeronimo Gomes Jardim and José Luis Mena Barreto, established south of the confluence of the Negro and Uruguay rivers at a ranch called Rincon de las Gallinas or Rincon de Haedo (the latter the name of its civilian proprietor). Nearby, Brazilian units turn back to contest this seizure, but Rivera lures them piecemeal into the local bañados or “bogs,” inflicting some 100 fatalities-including Mena Barreto and his entire staff-before making off with 8,000 mounts and considerable matériel.

This reverse prompts the Brazilian theater commander headquartered at Montevideo-Lt. Gen. Carlos Frederico Lecor, Barao de Laguna and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Torre e Espada-to dispatch another 1,000-man column inland under Ribeiro, so as to unite with a similar-sized force moving southward from the Negro River under Gen. Bento Gonçalves da Silva. Lavalleja counter-sallies from his central Uruguayan base camp of Durazno to attempt to impede their juncture but is not successful.

OCTOBER 12, 1825.

Sarandi. Despite having failed to prevent the juncture of Gonçalves’s and Ribeiro’s 2,200 Brazilian troops, Lavalleja has amassed 2,000 Uruguayan irregulars at dawn to confront them on the shores of Sarandi Creek. His left cavalry wing under Rivera closes at 9:00 a. m. against the Brazilian right, which is comprised of 400 cavalrymen and 450 infantrymen under Gonçalves, dispersing them after a hard-fought clash.

Meanwhile, the 700 Uruguayan riders and single fieldpiece on the right under Pablo Zufriategui check the advance of the 300 infantrymen constituting the Brazilian left under Ribeiro, before successfully counterattacking. The assault by the Uruguayan center under Manuel Oribe is initially driven back by the 800 Brazilian infantrymen opposite under Col. Joaquim Antonio Alencastre, but Lavalleja responds by committing his reserves at this point, eventually collapsing Brazilian resolve by midday. They draw off after suffering 200 dead and 630 other casualties, compared to only 35 killed and 90 wounded among the Uruguayan ranks.

As a result of this defeat, occupied Uruguay is reduced to a few isolated Brazilian garrisons holding out along the River Plate coastline, as well as along the northeastern borderlands.

OCTOBER 24, 1825.

In the aftermath of the victory at Sarandi, the Argentine Congress recognizes Lavalleja’s request to incorporate Uruguay into their “United Provinces of the River Plate” under the name of the “Cisplatine Province,” duly advising Rio de Janeiro of this fact.

DECEMBER 31, 1825.

Uruguayan troops under Col. Leonardo Olivera seize Fort Santa Teresa on the northeastern frontier, effectively reducing the Brazilian occupation of their homeland to only Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento.

DECEMBER 28, 1826.

A combined Uruguayo-Argentine army departs Arroyo Grande for the Negro River valley in three units: I Corps under Lavalleja, consisting of the 9th Argentine Cavalry Regiment, plus a host of Colorado Uruguayan irregular riders and militiamen; II Corps under Alvear, consisting of 2,000 troopers of the 1st, 4th, 8th, and 16th Argentine Cavalry regiments, a squadron of cuirassiers, and militiamen from Colonia del Sacramento; and III Corps under Soler, comprising the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Argentine Infantry regiments, the 2nd and 3rd Argentine Cavalry regiments, a light-artillery regiment, and militia companies from Mercedes, guarding the artillery and supply trains. Its aim is to invade Bagé and the southern Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sul.

JANUARY 26, 1827.

The Brazilian town of Bagé is occupied without resistance by Lavalleja and Alvear. The local Brazilian theater commander- 44-year-old marshal Felisberto Caldeira Brant Pontes de Oliveira e Orta, Marques de Barbacena- falls back before the more numerous UruguayoArgentine cavalry formations, taking shelter in the Camacua Range until reinforcements can reach him from Rio Grande.

FEBRUARY 12, 1827.

Alvear and Lavalleja’s army enters Sao Gabriel (Brazil), but the next day on the western banks of the Vacacai River, the 4th Argentine Cavalry Regiment under 29-year-old colonel Juan Galo Lavalle Gonzalez skirmishes against 1,100 troopers of the 22nd and 23rd Brazilian Cavalry regiments under Gen. Bento Manuel Ribeiro. The latter suffer only 30-40 casualties, as opposed to 7 killed and 6 wounded among the Argentines and Uruguayans; however, intelligence gathered as to the invaders’ line of advance allows General Barbacena to begin marshalling his main body across their intended path.

On February 14, Alvear detaches Brig. Gen. Lucio Norberto Mansilla with 350 troopers to drive back Riveiro, who overtakes his opponent the next day while traversing the Ibicuy River at Ombu Ford. Again, the Brazilians suffer only some 40 casualties, as opposed to 10 Argentine dead and 12 wounded; yet by February 17, Barbacena’s army is taking up position near Rosario Ford on the Santa Maria River to contest Alvear’s passage. The invaders arrive by afternoon of February 19 and prepare for battle the next day north of Ituzaingo Creek.

Death of Federico de Brandsen during the battle.

FEBRUARY 20, 1827.

Ituzaingo. At 2:00 a. m. on this moonlit night, Barbacena orders his 2,300 Brazilian infantrymen, 3,700 cavalrymen, and 300 gunners with 12 fieldpieces to advance against the invaders’ vanguard under Olazabal. When Alvear perceives this movement at dawn, he in turn commands Olazabal’s 5th Battalion to hang on to its crucial forward height at all costs, while hastening his own army into action: 1,800 infantrymen, 5,400 troopers (including 2,000 Uruguayan gauchos), and 500 artillerymen manning 16 cannon. Brig. Gen. Julian Laguna’s cavalry are sent to hold the Argentine left. In the process, it collides with Brigadier General Brown’s onrushing Brazilian infantry, who after receiving three full cavalry charges, forms into squares.

Brown’s division is gradually pressed back, at which point Lavalleja’s irregular cavalry disperses Abreu’s Brazilian troopers on the southern flank, who take refuge behind their own 2nd Infantry Division. A second charge by Olavarria’s 16th and Zufriategui’s 18th Uruguayan Cavalry regiments force back the Brazilian left, while Lavalle’s 4th Argentine Cavalry Regiment and the Colorados do the same farther north. When Brown’s Brazilian infantry once more begins to advance, it is gradually halted by successive charges by Federico de Brandzen’s 1st Regiment, José Maria Paz’s 2nd Cavalry, and the Calado.

After six hours of confused fighting, Barbacena orders his army to retreat north toward Cacequi, having suffered 200 killed and 150 captured. Argentino-Uruguayan losses total 147 dead and 256 injured, and although they remain in possession of Rosario Ford, the bloodied invaders prefer to retrace their steps into Sao Gabriel by February 26.

MARCH 1, 1827.

Alvear and Lavalleja’s joint expeditionary force quits Sao Gabriel (Brazil) to return into Uruguay at Minas de Corrales, 50 miles south of Santana do Livramento.

APRIL 13, 1827.

Alvear’s 4,000 Argentine troops once more march north from Minas de Corrales- this time unaccompanied by their Uruguayan allies- to again invade the Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sul in a bid to wring better negotiating terms at the ongoing peace talks. After five days’ progression through steady rains, Bagé is reoccupied without opposition.

APRIL 23, 1827.

Camacua. Twenty miles north of Bagé, on the banks of the Camacua Chico River, 1,600 Brazilian troopers are almost surprised by a nocturnal descent by 2,500 Argentine cavalrymen under Lavalle. Instead, the former are able to make good their escape, suffering only 50 casualties.

MAY 7, 1827.

Alvear’s Argentine army quits Bagé, proceeding south to encamp two days later on the western banks of the Yaguaron River (spelled Jaguarao in Portuguese). On May 16, the general detaches Brigadier General Lavalle with the 4th and 6th Cavalry regiments to raid deeper into Brazil. The latter reaches Erval by May 21 and, four days later, turns to attack 400 Brazilian guerrillas under Chief Yuca Teodoro, who have been hounding his tracks.

Despite this token incursion, Alvear decides to take the rest of his demoralized army into barracks at Cerro Largo (modern Melo, Uruguay) on June 9, being relieved four days afterward and effectively ending all active campaigning for this year, as Argentina’s exhausted government teeters on the verge of collapse.

APRIL 15, 1828.

Las Cañas. Brazil’s Marshal Brown crosses the Yaguaron River with three infantry battalions and three cavalry regiments, surprising and utterly routing the Uruguayo-Argentine troops bivouacked north of Las Cañas Creek under Brigadier General Laguna.

AUGUST 24, 1828.

The Argentine privateer General Dorrego is captured by the Caboclo and other Brazilian warships.

Exhausted by their efforts, the Argentine and Brazilian governments sign a peace treaty at Rio de Janeiro on August 27, 1828, which is ratified the next month by a national convention at the Argentine city of Santa Fe.

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