Mr. Washburn to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Your dispatches, from No. 64 to No. 71, inclusive, were all received by me yesterday. They were brought by a French gunboat which has come up to Curupaiti from Buenos Ayres for the purpose of bringing up the new consul and taking away Mr. Laurent Cochelet, who for the last four years has been the French consul here, and who some eight months ago was named as consul to Richmond, Virginia, but has been unable to leave until now, as the person named as his successor seems to have been disinclined to enter Paraguay, lest he should get into a trap from which it would not be easy to extricate himself. This delay has caused the tardy successor to be retired by his government and another man has been sent to relieve M. Cochelet, whose situation here for the last two years has been as disagreeable as it is easy to conceive. He will leave here to-morrow, and I will take the opportunity to send through my dispatches by him.
The situation in a military point of view is, so far as I can learn, about the same as at the date of my last dispatch. There has been some fighting since then, but no decided advantage seems to have been gained by either party. It is very hard to get any accurate information here as to the true state of the Paraguay army, as every skirmish is represented as a great victory. The Paraguayan army seems to be nearly surrounded, but yet not entirely so, for the telegraph from this place to Humaita is most of the time in working order, and the steamers continue to run to near Humaita. There is a space of some five miles from the advanced lines of the allies to the river that is still open, though it is said that the Paraguayans find it very difficult to pass any cattle through that way.
The allies have once occupied Pilar, a town some seven leagues above Humaita, and there have been reports that skirmishing parties have been seen at a considerable distance this side of there. As any town or district seems to be threatened the inhabitants are required to move away to the north. As no people are left but women and children it is a great hardship, but in this war hardships to the people are not counted. It is believed here that the inhabitants have been compelled to leave the country for a long distance above Pilar, and it has been reported that Villa Franca, which is about half-way between this place and Humaita, has also been evacuated. If this be so, then it is pretty certain that the allied troops are moving up by land at some distance from the river, and there is great fear among the people here that they will be compelled to evacuate this place. In fact it is evident that the government is preparing for such an emergency. The nearest relations of the President have already left for the interior and taken away their most valuable movable property, and other families which it is supposed are highest in favor are constantly moving out of town. Others are in great dread that an order will be issued for everybody else to leave the town; [Page 648] so that the enemy, if they come here, will find neither people nor food. Some even fear that the town may be razed, but that is preposterous, as the best part of it is owned by the Lopez family, who have been building some and buying largely within the last year. It is also whispered here (reports are not permitted) that the government archives and the government property in the custom-house have all been sent into the interior. The departure of so many families cannot escape notice, and the reason given for it is that they have left from the fear of the cholera. But as nobody seems to have any fear of the cholera, it is believed that the favored families are advised to do in time, and at their convenience, what the multitude will be ordered to do in a hurry. Naturally there is great alarm and anxiety here among both natives and foreigners, and I am often asked what I shall do in case the threatened evils come upon them. I tell them all that I shall stay at my post until I am ordered to leave it by my government. If the enemy come and bombard the town they can bombard my house, but I shall keep my flag flying and shall not leave it; and if they or anybody else shall blow up the town they can blow me up with it, for I shall not leave my post except I am carried away a prisoner and by force. This determination seems to have given great confidence to people who think many evils may be averted by my remaining here. A good many, mostly foreigners, have brought their money and other valuables to my house for safe-keeping, as I tell all that whatever protection my house and flag can give to my own property will be given to theirs, but that I take no responsibility and give no receipts; so that if the town is sacked, and my house with others, neither I nor my government will be in any way liable for the damage done or the property taken.
Should the evacuation of the town be ordered—and I believe it will be if the war lasts much longer—it is uncertain whether the foreigners will or will not be permitted to remain. If they are not, I apprehend many will ask admission to my premises and request protection, which it would be hard to refuse and might be embarrassing to grant. As against the enemy, however, I have not hesitated to say that this legation will give whatever protection it can to whomsoever, save notorious criminals, may resort to it in time of danger. I am unable to see that any advantage can result to the cause of President Lopez by the evacuation of the capital, for if once the enemy should get possession of it his cause would be irretrievably lost. And yet the conviction is universal here that if the war is not soon over the evacuation will be enforced. Such an act must cause great misery, and probably it would not be carried out towards foreigners if the English, French, and Italian ministers in Buenos Ayres would make strong protests against it, and send up each a gunboat to await results. I could not expect an American gunboat to come up, as there are very few Americans here, and I do not suppose those few would be molested.
In your dispatch of May 20, No. 66, in reply to mine of March 11 and March 12, Nos. 81 and 82, in which I expressed a wish to be recalled, you remark that the President would be pleased if I would remain at my post, but that if I shall make my resignation absolute, it will be accepted.
In my dispatch No. 82 I made no conditions in regard to my resignation; but I did express a wish that my successor might arrive before I left, as if I, the only foreign minister here, were to leave, and no one were to come to take my place, the people here would think they were abandoned by the civilized world and left to be exterminated. I also said that it would be hardly possible for me to leave the country with my family unless some means were provided by the government for my [Page 649] departure; but as no successor has been appointed, it is clearly my duty to remain until the war is over, or until the dangers that now threaten are past. I fear gloomy times, but I am satisfied I can be of much service to many, even if the worst shall happen, and am well aware that should an opportunity arise for initiating terms of peace, my efforts in the matter would be more acceptable to this government than those of any other person whatsoever.
Very respectfully, I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.