Mr. Washburn to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Since the date of my last dispatch, No. 93, I have been as completely shut out from all communication with the outer world as though I had been in the mines of Siberia. I also know very little of what is going on in the Paraguayan army. I will, however, relate to the best of my knowledge what has transpired since my last dispatches were forwarded, now about two months.
The allies have been for a long time extending their lines around the Paraguayan camp, and by the first of November appear to have completely inclosed it on every side but that of the river. Numerous sallies were made by the Paraguayans against different points, but they always found the enemy in five times their number to oppose them, and were always repulsed, though the official paper here represents them all to have been tremendous victories, in which the Paraguayans, having slain each man his score or more, retired in good order. But on the 2d of November an event occurred that could not be passed over in that way. Three steamers of the little fleet now left to this country left Humaita, having on board some hundred of troops and several cannon. What they set out to do I do not know, but it seems probable that it was supposed a small force of the enemy were on the bank of the river, and this party was sent up to dislodge it. But when they got opposite the point where they supposed only a small body of cavalry was posted, they found a large army of cavalry, infantry, and artillery, that destroyed two of the steamers in a few moments, while the third only escaped riddled with balls and with the loss of most of her crew. The next day, however, a surprise was attempted by the Paraguayans at Tuyuti, formerly the main camp of the allies. This was claimed as a great victory, and from what I can learn I judge that the allies were heavily damaged. But we have only the Paraguay version, and according to that all battles are great victories.
When we learned that the allies were in so large force above Humaita as to cut off all communication by river, I concluded that a crisis was near at hand. Without supplies from outside, President Lopez could not long hold out. He must do one of four things: find a new road for his supplies to enter the camp; cut his own way out; attack and defeat the enemy, or capitulate. He did the first. The right or west bank of the river, which has been represented as an impassable jungle, so thick and impenetrable that it seems never to have penetrated the brilliant [Page 650] military heads of the allied generals that it was possible to get through. It now affords a safe and easy means of communication between the Paraguayan army and the country above where the allies are now posted. By this road thousands of cattle, after being first passed over the river at some point above the mouth of the Tebicuari, are driven down till nearly opposite Humaita, when they are passed back to the east side and are in the Paraguayan camp. Whether the allies will ever try and cut off this means of communication I cannot tell. Their system of warfare is to me utterly incomprehensible. It looks as though their policy was that the Paraguayan people should be exterminated, and that when the war ends there should not be left a shadow of a nation. There appears as yet no signs of giving way on the part of President Lopez. For a long time there has been much talk about arming the women, and the impression here is very general that this will be done if the war lasts much longer. The men must be pretty nearly exhausted already. I have been hoping that some foreign mediation or intervention might put a stop to a war conducted, as this seems to me, with a view to extermination, and a few days since it was reported that an English and an Italian gunboat had passed through the squadron and were just below Curupaiti. But the report in regard to the English gunboat is not confirmed, and the other one, it is said, has come up only to bring an Italian consul. So the prospect of peace appears no better than it did a year ago. And yet it may come very soon. I shall send this dispatch below in the hope it may be forwarded by the Italian war vessel.
The enormous squadron that the Brazilians have brought into the river has made no sign since passing Curupaiti some four or five months ago. All that it has yet done of injury to the Paraguayans could have been done as well by two wooden steamers. By passing Curupaiti and placing itself above the batteries there and below those of Humaita it put itself in a position where it is almost impossible for it to obtain supplies and is impotent for harm against the Paraguayans. Had it passed on immediately after passing Curupaiti it would have been in one hour above Humaita, as that point had been left nearly unprotected in order to strengthen Curupaiti and other points.
But now as the allies seem to be too weak to take the offensive either by land or water, we are exposed to the weary tedium of a siege that may last for months or years.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.