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Rio Grande do Sul Revolt - 1893-1894

In Rio Grande do Sul the spirit of revolt spread rapidly, the insurgent leader Gumercindo Saraiva being a man with a genius for organization and guerilla warfare. A small store of munitions of war was obtained through agents in Uruguay, a larger amount was captured from the Government troops, and the President was compelled to despatch strong reinforcements for the southern garrisons, these and other military operations involving a heavy drain upon the national exchequer. A rising in Rio de Janeiro was talked of in June, but no movement was attempted. In the following month, however, Admiral Wandenkolk, with a handful of men, seized the Brazilian coasting steamer Jupiter, and entered Rio Grande to aid the insurrection there; but the move proved abortive, for the city did not respond, and Government reinforcements were promptly brought from the interior. Admiral Wandenkolk, finding himself powerless against superior forces, then left Rio Grande for the north; but when off Santa Catharina, his vessel was captured, and all the conspirators brought to Rio de Janeiro as prisoners.

The plan of campaign proposed by the Provisional Government was for the Rio Grande forces to march through the central districts of Santa Catharina, cross into Parana, and advance on the city of Curityba by way of Lapa. Simultaneously, Admiral de Mello was to proceed with the cruiser Republica and the armed transports Uranus and Pallas to Paranagua. A railway connects Curityba with the seaport, and the possession of the two points meant control of the State of Parana. The armed transports were to be utilized to convey troops locally recruited in Santa Catharina to occupy Paranagua and the adjacent country. This plan was accepted by Saraiva, and by the middle of January, 1894, word was received from him that his march northwards had met little opposition. Where fighting had occurred, he had been successful.

On the occupation of Curityba, the warlike stores captured included two Krupp batteries of 6 guns each, 3 Nordenfelt machine guns, a supply of artillery ammunition, and 150,000 rounds of Mannlicher rifle ball cartridge. Two Italian regiments were now recruited from colonists settled in Parana, and the total available insurgent forces in February raised to more than 6000 men, fairly well equipped. It was proposed to advance to Sao Paulo, but Saraiva decided that his men and horses needed rest after their long marches from the south, influenced in this decision by the knowledge that to the northward lay the yellow fever region.

01 March 1894 was the date of the presidential election, and Dr Prudente de Moraes Barros was declared elected; but the insurgents insisted that the proceedings were invalid, on the ground that no voting had taken place in the States of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catharina, and Parana. That these three States did not participate in the election was due to the disturbed conditions in southern Brazil. To Dr Prudente de Moraes Barros personally the rebels had no cause for objection.

It was not until March 15 that news of the collapse of the revolt in Rio de Janeiro reached Curityba. Mello and Saraiva were in the city when the telegram announcing the surrender of Saldanha da Gama was received. To Mello the disaster could not have been unexpected, to Saraiva it was an absolute surprise, and in Curityba, Paranagua, and Desterro the effect was consternation and panic. Civilians who had lent active assistance to the insurgents made arrangements to leave the country, and on all sides the situation was regarded with most gloomy forebodings. General Saraiva called a meeting of his senior officers to discuss the situation, and all expressed the wish to return to Rio Grande do Sul.

A new plan of campaign was then drawn up. Saraiva with his forces was to march towards the northwestern districts of Rio Grande, and Mello was to proceed to Desterro, there to organize a squadron and embark a body of troops from Santa Catharina and attempt the capture of the city of Rio Grande. Early in April Saraiva evacuated Curityba, leaving only the local levies recruited after the capture of the district in January, but these rapidly melted away, and by the middle of April there was no insurgent organization to check the advance of troops from Sao Paulo.

The Federal capital being now in no further danger, President Peixoto prepared an army to restore the representatives of his Administration to office in the southern States. A division of 5000 troops was concentrated at Sao Paulo, but the march to Curityba was long and tedious, and it was not until the end of April that the army approached the city, where no resistance was offered. The officials nominated by the insurgents fled or secreted themselves as best they could, and in the course of a few days the Government was in full possession of the whole State. Thus the collapse of the rebel cause was complete, and it only remained to assert the Federal authority in Santa Catharina, for which purpose a naval force was organized.

The expedition under Admiral de Mello, consisting of the cruiser Republica and three armed transports, the latter conveying 1400 men commanded by Colonel Salgado, left Desterro early in April, and reached the harbor of Rio Grande safely on April 10, when a demand was sent to the authorities for the surrender of the garrison. The city was threatened with immediate bombardment unless it capitulated. Only a weak garrison was available for its defense, the majority of the troops having been sent into the interior of the country to attack scattered groups of insurgents. After lingering in the vicinity, the insurgent vessels put to sea, and two days later were sighted off Uruguay. There Colonel Salgado and his men disembarked, and were immediately disarmed by the Uruguayan authorities. Mello took the ships to the River Plate, and anchored off the port of Ensenada, whence he sent a despatch stating that he wished to surrender to the Argentine Government. The crews were then landed, and Argentine officials took charge of the cruiser and transports, which were at once put at the disposal of the Brazilian Government and in due course handed over.

This fiasco removed another difficulty from the path of President Peixoto, but there was still the problem of Desterro to be solved. The Aquidaban and several small vessels were at that port, and would have to be reckoned with. Peixoto ordered the flotilla to advance and take possession of the insurgent headquarters at Desterro. No resistance was offered. Colonel Moreira Caesar was appointed military commandant, and by orders of the President the members of the Provisional Government were arrested on a charge of sedition. A similar fate overtook all naval and military officers and civilians who had participated directly or indirectly in the insurrection.

No time was lost in bringing the prisoners before a specially appointed military tribunal. In nearly every instance death sentences were passed, approved by Peixoto, and executed forthwith. Captain Lorena, the President of the Provisional Government, and his fellow-prisoners were shot. It was a scene of wholesale slaughter carried out under direction of the military. The revolution was crushed after eight months of a civil war in which thousands of lives had been sacrificed, the public exchequer loaded with additional indebtedness, and social and economic unity thoroughly disordered.

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Page last modified: 15-04-2013 12:06:05 ZULU