The war in the north.
Gentlemen: On the 13th I left Itapiru in one of Mr. Lanuz’s steam transports, loaded with commissariat stores, bound to Curuzu. The recent heavy cannonade heard in that direction impelled me to the undertaking. In due time we arrived at La Guardia Cerrito, where a short stay was made in order to land cargo. Here were four Brazilian gun-boats, a bomb vessel, five pontoons, six sea-going sailing vessels, (mostly Dutch,) seven transport steamers, besides a number of river craft. Here is also an arsenal well supplied with all the paraphernalia necessary to promote the rapid progress of civilization and the swift onward march of intellect. Guns, mortars, large piles of cannon-balls, and shells, explosive shot of every description, iron, timber, and heaps of coals, containing many thousands of tons, and an extensive machine shop; in fine, the Ports-mouth [Page 269]of the naval forces stationed in Paraguayan waters. Also may be seen a neat, decent chapel, hotels, billiard tables, not forgetting a photograph concern, a hundred or more stores of sutlers, who have been driven out of their shanties by the freshet, and have taken refuse upon a strip of high ground near at hand, which is overrun with snakes, lizards, rats, toads, spiders, scorpions, ants, and every other species of horrible vermin near at hand. Judging from the numbers of empty brandy casks, the smashed demijohns, and bottles seen in all parts, the consumption of alcoholic drinks must be very large, particularly of Hamburg gin, English ale, or “vin ordinaire.” The place is under strict military rule.
Proceeding on the voyage, we pass a gunboat anchored at the entrance to the Laguna Piris. Shortly after, we passed the Brazilian transport Donna Francisco, which has lately been sunk in consequence of having come in collision with an iron-clad. The transport has since been got afloat, and is now moored to a clump of willow trees upon the coast of an island, in company with a gunboat.
Six leagues distance from La Guardia Cerrito we reach the fleet of gun-boats at anchor in the stream, abreast of the abandoned works of Curuzu, and go alongside of the commodore’s ship for orders. Here were eight gun-boats, two bomb-sketches, four sea-going vessels, a floating battery, seven pontoons, and a few river craft.
Opposite the fleet, upon the Chaco side, is the entrance to the arroyo, (Anglice “dirty creek,” and a very objectionable place to remain at, even for a short time,) which we enter; it is scarcely twenty yards wide at its mouth, and has the same breadth for five miles, which was as far as we navigated. It inclines to the westward, following a serpentine course. The current is scarcely perceptible; the water is very black, has an offensive smell, brackish, and highly insalubrious. Infamous as are the bogs and fens of the Estero Bellaco, yet there it is a paradise in comparison. At the mouth of the arroyo, upon the left bank, is the starting point of the railroad which goes close to the brink of the creek, following all its sinuosities. For a distance of three miles from the starting place there is not a trace visible of the railway, other than pieces of floating timber; all else appertaining to the road is deeply submerged, the land on all sides, far and near, covered with stagnant water, a perfect hotbed of pestilence, abounding with tormenting insects. At a league’s distance from the mainstream the ground is higher, where the rails are in places discernible. Here are numerous abandoned ranchos, (the huts that served the Brazilian soldiers as quarters,) and earthworks partly under water, the garrison of which has been ejected by the creciente, and have taken a new position upon higher ground further inland, where they are fortifying themselves again, and building new huts with all possible expedition. We perceived two shining bright brass guns in the abandoned works, the water reaching up to their muzzles, a sad proof of the deficiency of mother wit. However, the new works are amply supplied with efficient artillery; still, it would be well to remember the fate of the Whitworth gun, that, since its capture, has caused much mischief to the allies.
From where the rail way becomes visible, it leaves the creek, taking a northerly course; hence to where the iron-clads are the distance is two miles; in places the ground is miry, the rails sunk in the mud; of course, as a means of transportation the railway is of no avail.
In the mean time the necessaries requisite for the beleaguered iron-clads have to be carried upon the backs of mules, or in tumble-down carts, which are continually sticking fast in the pantanos. I must not omit to mention that the sleepers of the track are of hard Brazil wood, a foot broad, of a suitable thickness, and are placed a vara asunder, to which the rails are permanently fixed; a telegraphic line accompanies the track. The Brazilians have explored the arroyo forty leagues inland, and found it to be navigable thus far, flowing through a well-timbered country, inhabited by a few families of filthy Guaycuru Indians, whose sole shelter from the inclemency of the weather is the branches of trees, being too lazy to build huts; as for planting, they never do it, living upon carpinchos, ostrich eggs, and wild honey. Like all other barbarians, they are exceedingly fond of strong drinks and tobacco.
Upon the right bank of the arroyo, at a mile’s distance from its mouth, and a little way in the interior, are seen the vestiges of the ancient “Mission” of San Fernando, where the Jesuit Dobrizhoffer labored twenty years, and here composed a Latin history of the Alipone Indians, a work which long since has been translated into every European language; quoted by Southey, Sir Woodbine Parish, Commodore Page, and others. Late in the evening of the 13th, the three monitors passed Curupaita. As soon as perceived, the battery opened a furious cannonade. The only damage done by it was striking the hindmost monitor twice, doing no injury whatever, while the gunboats sent a very storm of shot and shell at the enemy’s works, probably without causing much effect. On the 16th one of the Newcome monitors, under the command of Señor Ioquim, passed the obstruction at Humaita, and returned in triumph. Yesterday there was a report of an encounter at the Tuyu-Cué; that Pipo, the commandant of the foreign legion, and one hundred of his men, had been killed. We do not vouch for the truth of the statement; still there was much firing in that quarter at the time, and subsequently the distant vessels were seen with colors at half-mast.
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