TODAY newspaper | In the footsteps of James Manlove: The corsair who dreamed of changing Paraguay’s fortunes in the Great War

For Gonzalo Cáceres – Journalist (@gonzatepes)

Manlove is one of those characters who generates passions in whoever discovers him, to the level of starring in « Diagonal de Sangre » by Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto, perhaps the most brilliant of Paraguayan historical novels.

A thick mantle of theories surrounds the figure of this southern officer who – judging by the sources that survived – tried to recover the honor that was taken from him on the battlefields.

Perhaps for money, or possibly just for the thirst for adventure, he may even planned to get rich off pillage; but, without a doubt, the intrepid Major Manlove embraced the Paraguayan cause so much as to outwit the shooters at the front, get caught by a Paraguayan patrol, and accept certain death, in an effort to appear before Marshal Francisco Solano López himself.

This is his story…


The testimonies about the life and adventures of James Manlove, as well as his stay in South America, are murky and so scarce that it would not pass from urban legend if it were not for the memoirs of Charles A. Washburn (representative of the United States in Paraguay, 1861 -1868) with whom he met in 1865 in Rio de Janeiro and crossed paths again in Buenos Aires and Asunción.

History, or legend, says that Manlove would have been born in Maryland in the early 1830s, although other versions indicate that in May 1833 in Schuyler County, Illinois. According to Washburn, Manlove was trained in the most prestigious military academies and – he estimates – came from a wealthy southern family, most likely plantation owners and slaves.

Manlove spoke with pride of his service in the Army of the Confederacy in the Civil War (1861-1865), a long and bloody contest that began when the states of the South declared their independence and marched against the North in order to sustain the system. slave (the stronghold of the southern economy was in the fields and slave labor).


Manlove’s alleged mentor, General Nathan Bedford Forrest, made history as a prominent strategist and as a founding member of the notorious Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist organization that terrorized the African-American population of the southern United States in the decades that followed. to the conflict.

As an official of the Union Government, Washburn carefully analyzes this aspect of Manlove’s personal history as – if he did indeed serve Bedford Forrest, it is highly likely that he was involved in the Fort Pillow massacre, a controversial episode where the forces under Forrest they put arms (it is even mentioned that they were burned alive) to the African American soldiers of the Union who had surrendered. This incident was questionable enough to tarnish Forrest’s military career, who ended the war with the rank of lieutenant general.

The US minister described Manlove as « a six-foot-strong, battle-scarred, with all the characteristics of a veteran. » Existing documentation in the Washburn-Norlands Library speaks of a professional soldier « supremely confident in himself and loyal to the southern cause, even in defeat. »

Washburn mentions in his notes that Manlove denied the Fort Pillow. His role in the case and his relationship with Forrest remained in the nebula, although Washburn endorsed his participation in the Civil War.


Manlove originally came to Washburn as a tourist. He was passing through Uruguay and Brazil (where he had his first encounter with Washburn) and was eager to continue « discovering the region. » A rumor spread in Montevideo that Manlove would have offered the Chilean minister a « plan » to increase the war potential of his country’s fleet, without further repercussion.


Apparently, the ideas of Manlove and his partners did not remain in South America. As the drama grew between Paraguay and the combined forces of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, the Southerners sought to contact the López government.

The secretary of the Paraguayan legation in Paris, Gregorio Benites (1834-1910), recorded that on May 7, 1866, the charge d’affaires Cándido Bareiro (1833-1880) received a visit from a delegation of American military personnel, all from the defeated side. of the Confederation, who told him about a “plan” (yes, that same one) to offer Marshal López, who at that time was running rivers of ink to locals and foreigners in the main European newspapers in defense of the national cause.

For sure, in those years a significant number of Southwestern veterans had taken refuge in Europe, with leftover war material from the American war at their disposal.

Regarding the meeting, Benítes reported: “They committed themselves by a contract that they signed with the official representative of Paraguay, to organize on their behalf a flotilla of six vapors of the lightest and most heavily armed, which had served them in the long War of Secession (…) ”.

Benítes explains that the men affirmed that this fleet « would be provided with the necessary crew and armaments to carry out, with certain success, the maritime war (…) » and without trying « a penny, a single man, or anything ».

The Southerners requested, for this purpose, that the Paraguayan Government issue the marque certificate and provide them with the flag and the corresponding documents « that officially prove the nature of the projected naval expedition. »

Basically, a privateer was a pirate in the service of a nation (a practice widely used by the British to combat Spanish expansionism on the high seas), with the difference that the actions of the pirates lacked legality and those of the privateer were endorsed by the contractor . So it is not surprising that the Southerners have not asked for money, since their raids could bring huge profits from the assault, looting and kidnapping of entire populations.

Although Benítes does not individualize the identity of the men, Washburn’s memoirs refer to this meeting in Paris and his exchange of opinions with Manlove in Rio de Janeiro. “He (Manlove) said that he had agreements with several owners of blockade force vessels and had letters from some of them (…) although for reasons of prudence they did not contain anything about the business in question. His plan was to go to Paraguay to obtain a privateering license from President López (…) to return to the United States and use several idle blockade forcing agents to hunt Brazilian transport and merchant ships ”.


The North American corsairs prowled the Paraguayan legation for about « 10 or 12 days », without finding a favorable response from Minister Bareiro, who was not encouraged (some versions indicate that Bareiro would have turned a blind eye on purpose, but that is another story ) to issue the patents without first consulting Marshal López, although Paraguay did not sign the Declaration of Paris (1856) and, according to all of the law, it could hire privateers.


Word spread and the matter of the corsairs was no longer a secret from Benítes and Bareiro. The Argentine newspaper ‘La Tribuna’ (of May 10, 1867) echoed: “Our power of river warfare, materially considered, is null, and if by chance a Paraguayan corsair fell into our waters, it would offend our towns and coasts with impunity ”.

Washburn knew that Manlove’s plan would only get him in trouble and could compromise the US government with France, Spain, and Britain, if Lopez accepted this proposal. So the minister did what a politician would do in such a situation: he tried to dissuade Manlove, who by now was in Buenos Aires.


However, in August 1866, and after months without knowing from Washburn, the good Major Manlove, having previously ingratiated himself with Bartolomé Miter and the Argentine officers in Tuyutí, went one morning alone to hunt ducks. He hid in the grasslands north of the Triple Alliance encampment and sneaked through the line, being captured by a Paraguayan Army patrol.

The American was jailed in Paso Pucú. He tried to explain himself and asked to speak to the Marshal. The soldiers examined his belongings and, « since there was nothing in them that showed that he was supported by a responsible party, López, as usual, came to the conclusion that he was a spy or murderer, and his first impulse was to shoot him » (a Buenos Aires newspaper spread the word that he was an “expert shooter at the service of the Argentines, with the mission of killing Paraguayan officers”).

But, luckily for Manlove, Solano López gave up and instead put him in the custody of the dreaded General Staff Colonel Luis Caminos, whom Washburn considered an « inquisitor. »

Manlove insisted and insisted on the veracity of his proposal (his repeated notes to López and the Minister of War survive to this day in the National Archive of Asunción). In the custody of the Paraguayan Army, he continued to deny the espionage charges against him.


Manlove’s situation improved somewhat with his release from the dungeons of Paso Pucú and transfer to Asunción, but his corsair project had been stranded for months.

The southerner met with Washburn in the Paraguayan capital and, although he was technically a prisoner, the diplomat asked Mariscal López for an allowance since Manlove was practically destitute.

And things got complicated. In 1868, Washburn asylum in his legation people accused of conspiring against López and the Paraguayan government accused him of being a leader. After his resignation, Washburn requested that the United States Congress investigate his management in Paraguay and his relationship with López was irretrievably broken, eventually ingratiating himself with diplomats from the Triple Alliance.

Time passed and Manlove got no more attention from the General Staff. At that point, Solano López focused on total war against the invading forces.


It is at this point that Manlove’s trail is diluted … and lost.

Some versions indicate that the disillusioned man was released by the Brazilian forces that came to occupy and sack Asunción. It is said that he was later sent to the Court of Pedro II in Rio, that he was later seen in Buenos Aires and Montevideo and that some time later he returned to the United States, where no further details of his life or his death (would have died in Golden, Illinois, in 1888).

Other versions indicate that Manlove may have been returned to the Paraguayan Army camp by order of Marshal López (there is nothing written about this), subjected to the military processes that began in October 1868 in San Fernando and executed by order of the Courts of Blood.

The truth remains in debt.


However, and if you, dear reader, allow a ‘exception’, in “Diagonal de Sangre” the great Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto fantasizes about a romantic idea, perhaps looking for a worthy ending for such a seductive character.

Rivarola Matto imagines the end of Manlove in the words of Colonel Juan Crisóstomo Centurión, as he tells it: “At the moment when (Bernardino) Caballero launched himself into the last charge of the battle of Ytá Ybaté, a half-naked giant suddenly appeared, mounted in a Moor with a tail, from Rio Grande do Sul, brandishing a huge saber. He rushed into the interveal, made a terrible havoc, and when the enemy had been put to flight, he moved a bit away, reared his horse, saluted the amazed Paraguayan horsemen in triumph, and galloped off, lost in the distance towards the estuaries from Ypecuá. And that’s all that could be learned from James Manlove.  »


Although the General Staff of Francisco Solano López always distrusted Manlove, his eccentric project could have worked.

The blockade breakers, of whom he constantly spoke in his letters, had destroyed millions of dollars in trade traffic from the Northern States during the Civil War.

If Marshal López had granted Manlove the marque, the conflict with the Triple Alliance could have become more complex (considering, also, that he would have reached the United States in time) and, perhaps, with a more favorable international character .

The letters show that Manlove planned to lash the coasts of Brazil, on his way to Rio de Janeiro and destroy there with a clean cannon, with landing and looting, thus the Imperial Fleet would be forced to disrupt the blockade imposed on the Paraguayan rivers in help from your own capital.

Undoubtedly, a privateer fleet flying the Paraguayan flag to the surprise attack on the Brazilian coast would have attracted the attention of the world press and urged the intervention of the powers (moved by the interest of the banks).

But Lopez apparently never seriously considered this option. No documents are known to show that he at least discussed it with his General Staff. The truth is that it did not happen, it did not.

The end and its consequences are known about the course of the Great War.


Thomas L. Whigham. « The War of the Triple Alliance (the Triumph of Violence; the Failure of Peace) » (2011).

Charles A. Washburn. « The History of Paraguay with Notes of Personal Observations and Reminiscences of Diplomacy under Difficulties » (1871).

George Frederick Masterman. « Seven Eventful Years in Paraguay » (1869).

Claudio Velázquez Llano. “Total War. The technological leap and the evolution of war in the 19th century ”(2020).

Manuel Peña Villamil, « The southern corsairs in the war of the Triple Alliance » (1966).