Mr. Washburn to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Since closing my last dispatch of the 13th instant, I have been advised by the minister of foreign affairs, Señor Berges, of the death of General Bartolomé Mitre, president of the Argentine Republic and commander-in-chief of the allied armies. Of this event you will probably have been advised for some weeks before the receipt of this dispatch. It had been reported here, previously, that President Mitre had left the army by reason of his infirm state of health and gone to Europe. It appears now, however, that he died in the camp. On the day of his funeral, I am informed by Señor Berges that President Lopez gave orders that not a shot should be fired from the Paraguayan camp. This act of courtesy and magnanimity, I have learned indirectly, was but illy responded to by the Brazilians, who through the whole day kept up an incessant cannonading on Humaita.
I am utterly unable to conjecture what may be the effect of this important event on this long protracted war. The opinion of Señor Berges, and I think of this government, is that it will be favorable to Paraguay; that his death will be followed by serious disturbances and revolutions in the Argentine Republic, which may compel the withdrawal of all the Argentine troops from the army and break up the “triple alliance.” This result may follow from President Mitre’s death, but I have great doubts in the matter. But whether it does or not, I do not see how it will have any effect towards bringing the war to a close. Brazil will still have her immense squadron in the river, that can be maintained at little more expense where it is than it would cost in the harbor of Rio de Janeiro. Besides that, one-half of the squadron is now so placed between the batteries of Curupaiti and Humaita that I doubt if it could get away without the permission of the Paraguayans, and as the river is now falling it is not likely their condition will be improved. They must stay there and defend themselves, or else make a more ignominious retreat than ever was known, abandoning ironclads and other vessels that have cost many, many millions of dollars—more than all Paraguay would sell for in quarter sections. This I do not believe they will do, and therefore the war must last till there is neither Paraguay nation, nor people, nor government left. The longer the war lasts, the more I am convinced that this people will never be conquered. They may be exterminated, but, as I have frequently had occasion to say before, it will be only when there are neither men nor women left that the terms of the “triple alliance” will be enforced. Whether other nations may interfere to put a stop to a war carried on not for purposes of conquest only, but with the deliberate view of exterminating a nation whose existence mars the symmetry of a neighboring empire, is a question on which it is not for [Page 654] me to pronounce. But this I do say, that so complete is the organization of this country, and so entirely are all its elements absolutely at the command of President Lopez, to be devoted to repelling the allies and to maintaining the established government, that to all appearance the war may be prolonged for many months, and if from sheer exhaustion this country must fall, its conquerors will find little but a desert.
To avert so sad a climax is it not possible that neutral powers may intervene, may declare to both parties that this miserable war must stop and impose their terms of peace, saying to whichever party may refuse to accept them that it must thenceforward reckon all the governments whose good offices have been rejected as enemies that will afterwards enforce harder terms than those rejected?
I know not if anything of this kind is feasible. But I know this miserable war ought to end, and I see no other way for it.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.