Great naval victory–The Battle of Humaita.
The cannon of the Brazilian iron-clads, as they forced the passage of Humaita, has re-echoed over this continent, and will reverberate through Europe. No event of equal importance has occurred in this part of the world during the present generation; and, to the high honor of the Brazilian flag, it must be said that the naval victory achieved is every way worthy to rank with Aboukir or Trafalgar.
Brazil may well be proud of her victory, for not only will it give her the complete command of the Paraguayan river, and crumble the greatest bulwark of Paraguayan strength, but it has given a birthday to her naval power which posterity will revere.
Party feeling and political rancor may seek to strip this great naval victory of its magnitude, and attribute the success less to the bravery of the Brazilian sailor than to the worn-out and exhausted condition of the enemy; but we have it on the best of authority that the guns of the fortress were fired with the most incessant rapidity, and that such was the terrific effect of this awful discharge of heavy artillery, that the earth shook at Itapiru, a distance of seven or eight miles from Humaita, and the river dashed in billows on its banks. This proves that the guns of Humaita were well manned, and that notwithstanding the immense delays the enemy was well prepared to dispute the pass. Experienced American and English and French naval officers, who had seen Humaita, inspected the position, and gone through the batteries, all unanimously agreed on its extreme strength. For three years the greatest squadron ever known in these waters has ridden at bay below range of the guns; the difficult navigation of the river, the constant bends in the channel, all tended to convince a doubting and possibly jealous public that Humaita would never be passed by a Brazilian fleet. But Brazil has at last vindicated her honor and established a naval reputation before which the rest of South America must bow.
The passage of Humaita is equally a triumph of science, and we commend it to the attention of our naval men at home, that three Brazilian iron-clads, all built in England, survived for forty-two minutes the combined fire of one hundred and eighty guns, and this for at least half the time within pistol-shot range. We have nothing previous in naval history to equal this; on the contrary, naval men, since the memorable battle of Lissa, lost faith in these iron-clads; but we hold that the battle of Humaita establishes forever their supremacy, and Europe may take a lesson from the engagement. No fight in North America, no engagement in the open seas, can be compared with this memorable battle. The ships had to double the projecting headlands to make the canal, when they at once came within range of a raking fire from the London battery. They had to push on under this fire and hug the very shore where the finest artillery in South America were splendidly mounted to riddle them; up almost to the very mouths of the guns they had to steer, all the while enfiladed by 140-pounders from the opposite bank. Doubling again a slight bend in the canal, they came where the chains lay in the river, and the chain batteries facing on the left bank. Iron plates have, indeed, asserted their supremacy, when, for the space of forty-two minutes, three monitors could live under such a fire. And let us take nothing from the bravery of the officers and men who dared almost certain death to carry their flag triumphant in such an hour. No, the Brazilian commander has proved the bravest of the brave, and he and his men merit the highest recompense their country can afford.
The fortress of Humaita is not of yesterday’s formation. If it took three years to humble, it took ten times that to erect. The earnings of a whole nation, the wealth of a country, aided by the best engineering talents Europe could afford, have all been brought into subserviency to render Humaita impregnable. None who have ever seen the place have questioned its strength. Old President Lopez had such implicit faith in its impregnability that he believed if even Xerxes attacked Paraguay he could not pass Humaita. The same implicit confidence in its strength was inculcated in the minds of the Paraguayan people. Their watchword was “Humaita!” and possibly to the exaggerated idea of its strength by the present Lopez may be traced the grave political errors which, step by step, led this unfortunate man from the cautious policy of his father to become the great champion of river Plata equilibrium.
Brazil, by this victory, has flung open the navigation of Paraguay to the world. Shall we question the importance of this engagement when such are the results? It may be that the hardy Paraguayans will still cling round the banner of their uncon-quered leader; it may be that on the hill-tops in their native country they will light watch-fires, and dispute inch by inch their native soil with the invader.
Already this extraordinary people have given proofs of courage and patriotism which wrings, even from their enemies, admiration and respect. But, in the interest of humanity, we now appeal for peace. The chief and great object of the war is at last at hand. Humaita, and not Lopez, was the real stumbling-block, in the way; the stupidity [Page 267]of South American politicians tolerated its erection; the blood of thousands has at last washed away its battlements.
The victory, in a political and in a moral light, is complete; and if this war has cost millions of treasure and torrents of blood, we trust that its results to the river Plate and Brazil will be commensurate.