The mailman had a very pleasant surprise for me today. The newly released Osprey Men at Arms on the Great Paraguayan War. If you have managed to keep up with my anarchic list of projects in the last month you may have spotted that this is well-advanced on my to do list. I have accumulated a good 90% of the figures that I need, and hope to have acquired the rest in the next couple of months.
The appeal of this conflict is hard to explain. It starts while the North American Civil War is raging, but that conflict leaves me a bit cold for some reason I can't explain. It reaches its height in 1866, the year of Koniggratz - a campaign I have much more interest in but which is a huge conflict of massed armies. It sputters out with the death of the dictator Solano in 1870 - the year that the Franco-Prussian War breaks out - another of the conflicts that I find of particular interest. Yet this little known dust up in South America is the one that has captured my imagination. Why?
I studied a paper in Latin American history at University, and I think it was here that I first read a snippet about this war. The 70% death rate amongst the Paraguayan population was probably the first thing that caught my attention. Following on from that Military History Magazine had an article on the Battle of Tuyuti. For some reason I was hooked. Add into the mix the gauchos from the Empire of Brazil (yes, it used to be ruled by an Emperor), the 'mad' dictator of Paraguay, Solano Lopez, and the stoic Paraguayan infantryman in his kilt, and the mix is there for an enthralling period in history.
There isn't a huge amount of information on this war out there in English. I have Terry Hooker's book produced by Foundry which is very good, but I was really looking forward to it getting the Osprey treatment. I'm pleased to say that I'm not disappointed.
Gabriele Esposito has written an excellent introduction to the war. It is in the style of my favourite MAA books, where the war as a whole is given coverage and then details of the armies are gone into. There is an introdution, an outline of the road to war and then a chronology of the war. A little more depth is given for the campaigns of the war year by year with some good maps and an order of battle for First Tuyuti. This is followed by information on the organisation of the Paraguayan, Brazilian, Argentinian and Uruguayan armies. As an introduction to the war it does its job well, however details of uniforms are left to the plate commentaries and is quite thin. I wish that the book had been an Elite rather than a Men at Arms, as I think that the additional space could easily have been filled up with additional information on uniforms in particular. Having said that, there are black and white line drawings throughout the book with descriptions of uniform colours that supplement the plates.
On the subject of the plates I have to say that I am really impressed. I'm one of those that hasn't always found Giuseppe Rava's art easy on the eye, particularly in regards to ancient subjects. I think he has excelled himself in this book, the plates are absolutely stunning.
On balance I'd say that this book is a must if you have even a passing interest in the era or you just want to find out a little more about something you know nothing about. I think there are missed opportunities by making it a Men at Arms rather than a larger Elite title, but that doesn't mean that what is there is not worth purchasing. It is certainly making me contemplate bringing forward my 15mm War of the Triple Alliance project.