Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado | Naval War History

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Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado | History, Causes & Effects

Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado: Warlike confrontation between forces of the Argentine Confederation and an Anglo-French squad that tried to navigate the interior Argentine rivers.

Data
Date November 20, 1845
Place Waters of the Paraná River, San Pedro
Belligerents Forces of the Argentine Confederation vs. Anglo-French squad
Outcome Military victory of the Anglo-French squad and peace treaties

What was the Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado?

The battle of the Vuelta de Obligado was a warlike confrontation between the forces of the Argentine Confederation and an Anglo-French squad that tried to navigate the Argentine inland rivers.

It took place on November 20, 1845 on the waters of the Paraná River, near the Buenos Aires town of San Pedro and within the framework of the Anglo-French blockade of the Río de la Plata (1845-1850).

The battle takes this name because it took place in a place where the riverbed becomes narrower and rotates, forming a kind of S that forces the ships to slow down.

To further complicate the navigation of foreign ships, Argentine troops led by General Lucio N. Mansilla, placed 24 barges linked by 3 large chains that went from shore to shore. This allowed to cause serious damages to the European ships from 4 batteries installed on the ravines of the river. However, the invading fleet forced their way and succeeded in navigating upriver.

Historic Context of Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado

In the 1840s the Argentine national state was not yet constituted. The 14 provinces that existed at that time were united by the Federal Pact of 1831 and were part of the Argentine Confederation. This was a loose union in which there were neither laws nor common authorities, since each province was autonomous and governed itself.

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Juan Manuel de Rosas was governor of the province of Buenos Aires since 1835 and, by delegation from all the provinces, he was in charge of foreign relations for the Confederation. Rosas had prohibited the navigation of the Argentine inland rivers to foreign ships, which he wanted to force to anchor in the port of Buenos Aires and pay tariffs to the Buenos Aires customs.

This prohibition caused diplomatic friction with the governments of the France of Luis Felipe and Victorian  Great of Britain, who wanted to establish commercial relations with the provinces of Entre Ríos, Santa Fe and Corrientes, without passing through Buenos Aires or recognizing the authority of Rosas.

In addition, these frictions were enhanced by the confrontations between the Unitarians and the Federalists. Defeated in 1831, the Unitarians went into exile in Montevideo and Santiago de Chile, from where they urged foreign governments to intervene in the Río de la Plata to overthrow Rosas.

The first great conflict between Rosas and the European powers took place in 1838, when a French squadron blocked the port of Buenos Aires and occupied Martín García Island. The blockade continued until October 1840, when an agreement was signed between the French and the Rosas government.

Three years later, Rosas decided to intervene in the Uruguayan civil war that faced the Colorados of Fructuoso Rivera with the whites of Manuel Oribe. Supported by Rosas, Oribe besieged the city of Montevideo, generating a conflict that made commercial relations difficult in the Plata basin.

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In early 1845, forces from Entre Ríos commanded by an ally of RosasJusto José de Urquiza, invaded Uruguay and defeated Rivera’s forces in India Muerta. After this battle, which heralded the fall of Montevideo, Rosas received an ultimatum from France and Great Britain to withdraw his forces from Uruguay and allow free navigation of the rivers. Faced with the refusal of the Buenos Aires governor, the Anglo-French blockade of 1845 began.

Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado | Naval War History

Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado.


Causes, Effects and Consequences of the Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado

Causes of Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado

Among the causes of the battle of the Vuelta de Obligado, the following stand out:

  • The decision of the governments of France and Great Britain to establish direct commercial relations with the provinces of Santa Fe, Entre Ríos and Corrientes, without going through the port of Buenos Aires or paying customs duties.
  • The development of steam navigation which, in the context of the Industrial Revolution, allowed ships with cargo to go upstream against the current in relatively short times.
  • The requests for help from Fructuoso Rivera to France and Britain to intervene in their favor and the site of Montevideo was lifted.
  • The interference of the government of Brazil, which was an ally of Rivera and wanted to prevent Rosas from controlling both banks of the Río de la Plata.
  • The incitements of the Argentine Unitarians for France and Great Britain to help them overthrow Rosas.
  • The will of Rosas both to defend Argentine sovereignty and to preserve Buenos Aires interests with the validity of the single port policy, which was intended to make Buenos Aires an obligatory passage for all merchandise entering and leaving the country.

Consequences of the Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado

The main consequences of the Battle of the Vuelta de Obligado were the following:

  • France and Great Britain obtained a military victory that was not compensated by the economic advantages obtained, due to the high cost that the operation demanded and the scarce sales of their products in Entre Ríos, Santa Fe and Corrientes.
  • Rosas strengthened his position of power since he was able to present himself as a firm defender of Argentine sovereignty in the face of the abuses of the superpowers of that time.
  • The resistance put up by the Rosas government forced the invaders to accept the sovereignty of the Argentine Confederation over its inland rivers. The signing of the Arana-Southern treaties, in 1849, and Arana-Lepredur in 1850, put an end to the conflict with Great Britain and France. Both European governments ordered the withdrawal of their fleets from the Río de la Plata.
  • During the 1960s and 1970s, historical revisionism considered the battle of the Vuelta de Obligado as one of the most important milestones in the struggle for the recognition of the sovereignty of the new Latin American states.
  • In 2010, in Argentina, within the framework of the celebrations for the Bicentennial of the May Revolution, Executive Decree 1584/2010 established November 20, the anniversary of the battle of the Vuelta de Obligado, as the Day of the Argentine National Sovereignty.
  • The battle of the Vuelta de Obligado is remembered on the 20 Argentine peso bills, which on the front bear the portrait of Juan Manuel de Rosas and on the reverse an image of the battle of the Vuelta de Obligado.

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