March 1st 1870 (exactly 150 years ago today) saw the end of the Paraguayan War with the death of the Paraguayan leader Francisco Solano Lopez. The war between Paraguay on one side and the Triple Alliance on the other (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay) had been going on since the end of 1864 and led to the deaths of a significant proportion of the Paraguayan population (estimates of the numbers vary). On that fateful March day, Brazilian and Argentine troops finally caught up with the last remnants of the Paraguayan army, Lopez being killed after refusing to surrender.
Those of you following my blog will know that the Paraguayan War has been one of my recent wargames projects, so it won’t come as a surprise that I arranged to have some sort of anniversary game. Whereas all my troops are 20mm scale, Perry Miniatures have recently introduced a Paraguayan War range in 28mm scale, so maybe we’ll see more Paraguayan War actions being fought in miniature. Their new figures look very nice (but that’s to be expected) and although I won’t be getting any, they do some nice downloadable unit flags (and a uniform guide) that I can no doubt re-size and use!
Rather than base a wargame around that final action of the Paraguayan War, I opted to represent an encounter more typical of the conflict. Since Paraguay was effectively blockaded by the Allies, Paraguayan columns frequently had to be dispatched to raid and capture supplies and these ranged from small affairs to full blown battles. So, I assigned a force of four infantry battalions, two cavalry regiments and a rocket battery to capture supplies from an Allied storage depot and escort them back to the safety of Paraguayan lines.
At the start of the game, the Paraguayans had already captured the supplies and were just about ready to head for home. The picture above shows them ready to depart, supplies being in the ox cart and the larger, two-horse covered wagon. The rules I use (Neil Thomas’ 19th Century European Wargames set) mean only buildings, hills, woods, roads and rivers have major effects, so I used the Cigar Box Battlemat I had for the battlefield – fields are not really right for this conflict, but it looks OK and it’s a nice surface to play on. The Paraguayans have to travel out of the right of the picture, led by their cavalry, with an infantry battalion formed up in line as a rearguard in the bottom left of the photo.
The picture above shows the cavalry ready to move out and below you can see the infantry and supply transport.
The picture below shows the Paraguayan rearguard supported by a rocket battery.
The Allies arrived on the battlefield just as the Paraguayans were preparing to move off.
The picture above (in addition to being mostly fields!) shows three Brazilian infantry battalions and an artillery battery at the top of the picture advancing against the Paraguayan rearguard (just off picture top right), whilst the Uruguayan Florida battalion advances on a parallel road (bottom left).
Much further away, at the other end of the battlefield, an Argentine force (above) was moving to head off the Paraguayans.
An Argentine cavalry regiment led this force (above), followed by the Legion Militar (in zouave uniforms) and a national guard battalion following (below).
The Allies only slightly outnumbered the Paraguayans, so it was difficult to know how this might turn out, the Allied objective being to prevent the supplies from getting away. Allied infantry were better armed (except the Argentine national guard unit) but the Paraguayans were more determined (normally with these rules infantry units can only charge to close combat if they outnumber the enemy, but this restriction does not apply to the Paraguayans).
The Paraguayan plan was to screen the road with cavalry to hold the Argentines at bay so that the supply units could get away, while the rearguard held off the Brazilians. This left two Paraguayan battalions to cover the road in the centre and fend off the Uruguayans if they got too close (the Uruguayan Florida battalion was rated as elite and therefore the best of the Allied units).
And that’s pretty much how it all went! The Paraguayan advance guard did a good job keeping the Argentines back, with all of the cavalry in the thick of the action. The Argentines almost broke through to the road, forcing the Paraguayan infantry to advance against them (see picture above – the supply wagons are now going from right to left), and the combat see-sawed about as Paraguayan infantry charged in to keep the Argentines in check.
On the other side of the battlefield (shown above), the Paraguayan rearguard soon got tired of taking casualties from long range fire and charged the Brazilians (on the left side of the picture above), being supported by the last infantry battalion (centre) and the rocket battery.
The Brazilians got pushed back and the Paraguayans almost broke through to the artillery battery (picture above), but the situation stabilised as the Florida battalion joined the fray and weight of numbers crushed the Paraguayan rearguard.
After that, the Allies made all haste to get across and support the Argentine troops, who were still trying to battle their way through to the road and stop the convoy. In the end, only the remnants of the Paraguayan cavalry were still in action, but they managed to hold off the Allies and the supply column got safely away! The Paraguayan rocket battery managed to escape Allied attention for most of the action and in the end was preparing to withdraw past the supply dumps in the opposite direction!
So the game probably went as expected, with the Paraguayans screening the Allied forces at each end of the battlefield while the latter tried to cut across the centre to intercept the supplies (in the picture above, the supply column is just about to leave the board top right, while the Florida battalion has got all the way across the board to threaten the Paraguayan cavalry). More Allied cavalry would no doubt have helped. In the end, it was judged a Pyrrhic victory for the Paraguayans, who’d got the supplies away but had lost most of their force – all four Paraguayan infantry battalions were destroyed and the cavalry were on their last legs. The Allies fared much better, not losing any units but with three of the infantry battalions and the Argentine cavalry all badly mauled.
We’d set the game up first and then just diced for sides – I was the Paraguayans, meaning I won! But it was a good game, plenty of action and a definite result, although it wasn’t clear how it would turn out until right at the end. As far as my armies go for this conflict I got my two newest units into action (the Brazilian zouaves and one of the Paraguayan cavalry units) and I’ve still got more to do! More games will be planned!