views updated


Humaitá, a strategic point on the left bank of the Paraguay River some 20 miles north of its confluence with the Paraná. At this spot the Paraguayans constructed a fortress that prevented the advance of the Brazilians and Argentines during the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870). A guardpost had been established near Humaitá in the late colonial era to discourage smuggling. Yet, it was only during the 1850s, when Brazilian vessels began to freely transit the river to Mato Grosso, that the government of Carlos Antonio López decided to build a solid structure with the help of British military engineers. This "Sevastopol of South America" eventually grew to massive size and boasted some 380 cannons of various calibers.

During the war, Humaitá provided Paraguay with its principal defensive bastion; it warded off a thirteen-month Allied siege that started in June 1867. During this period a series of bloody engagements was fought along the periphery of the fort, leaving perhaps as many as 100,000 dead. The Allied navies regularly pounded the earthworks, leaving the defenders with little hope of relief. They, nonetheless, held on until July 1868, when the last starving remnants of the garrison evacuated the fort. This capitulation left open the way to the Paraguayan capital of Asunción, enabling the Allies to move in that direction a few months later. Today, the ruins of Humaitá, especially those of the small church at its center, have been partially restored as a national monument.

See alsoWar of the Triple Alliance .


George Thompson, The War in Paraguay (1869).

Charles J. Kolinski, Independence or Death! The Story of the Paraguayan War (1965).

Additional Bibliography

Bethell, Leslie. The Paraguayan War (1864–1870). London: Institute of Latin American Studies, 1996.

Leuchars, Chris. To the Bitter End: Paraguay and the War of the Triple Alliance. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Marco, Miguel Angel de. La guerra del Paraguay. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1995.

Whigham, Thomas. The Paraguayan War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

                              Thomas L. Whigham

About this article


Updated About content Print Article