First Cevallos expedition

First Cevallos expedition
Part of the Spanish-Portuguese War (1761-1763)

Portrait of Captain Melgarejo. The ships in the background on the left are the Lord Clive, in the moment she was blown up by the fire of the Spanish coastal batteries, and the HMS Ambuscade.
DateSeptember 1762 – April 1763
LocationColonia del Sacramento, Buenos Aires, Montevideo (present-day Uruguay) and Rio Grande do Sul (South Brazil)

Decisive Spanish victory[1][2]

Kingdom of Portugal
British East India Company
Spain Kingdom of Spain
Commanders and leaders
Vicente da Silva
Robert MacDouall  
Spain Pedro Antonio de Cevallos
1 frigate
1 private merchantman
3 dispatch vessels
12 gunboats
15 transports
700 infantry
200 Dragoons
1,800 militia
1,200 indians[2]
Casualties and losses
Unknown killed or wounded
2,355 prisoners (767 Portuguese defenders,[3] and several mostly British sailors)
87 artillery pieces taken
26 British commercial vessels taken
1 ship of the line destroyed[1]
(272 fatalities on board)
12 killed and 200 wounded[1]
1 frigate beached and scuttled

The First Cevallos expedition was a military action between September 1762 and April 1763, by the Spanish forces led by Don Pedro Antonio de Cevallos, Governor of Buenos Aires, against the Portuguese in the Banda Oriental on the aftermath of a massively defeated Spanish Invasion of Portugal (1762), as part of the Seven Years' War.

The Portuguese territories of Colonia do Sacramento and Rio Grande do Sul were conquered by the Spaniards. The Anglo-Portuguese forces were defeated and forced to surrender and retreat. The Colonia do Sacramento and the near territories were under Spanish control until the Treaty of Paris (1763), while Rio Grande do Sul would be reconquered by Portugal a few years later.

This expedition was the only Spanish victory in a long chain of heavy Spanish defeats at the hands of the British and Portuguese (Spanish invasion of Portugal, Philippines, Cuba, North and center Brazil).


In January 1762, Spain joined France against Great Britain in the Seven Years' War, in accordance with the Third Pacte de Famille. The plan was to attack Portugal, which had been neutral up to then, but which was an important economical ally of Great Britain. On May 5 Spain invaded European Portugal and also decided to attack Portugal in South America, and in particular to take the long disputed Colonia del Sacramento and the Portuguese territories beyond the right bank of Guaporé River, the nowadays Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

The expedition in 1762

In the first days of January 1762 the frigate Victoria commanded by Carlos José de Sarriá, sailed from Cadiz to Buenos Aires with orders for the Governor of Buenos Aires, Pedro Antonio de Cevallos, to attack and take Sacramento.

He started preparations and in September 1762 he had assembled enough men and ships to launch an attack. The fleet sailed across the Rio de la Plata, and disembarked on September 14. It was a powerful army of almost 4,000 men (including 1200 Indians since September 27).[4] The siege of the city started on October 5.

The relations between Cevallos, who commanded the army, and Sarria, who commanded the fleet, were very bad. After disembarking the army and without approval of Cevallos, Sarria sailed his fleet of 16 ships back to Buenos Aires.

Luckily for the Spanish, the Portuguese were ill prepared (they had only 400 infantry men plus 367 irregulars),[3] and on October 31, 1762, Vicente da Silva, the governor of the city, capitulated.

The sinking of the Lord Clive and the Victoria

Map of Colonia del Sacramento from 1762.

Great Britain, which was now officially at war with Spain, did not participate in these battles, but the East India Company had plans to conquer Spanish territory in South America and bought two old warships from the Admiralty. The biggest ship was HMS Kingston which was renamed Lord Clive (60-gun), the other ship was the Ambuscade (40-gun).

The small squadron, under the command of Robert MacDouall left Lisbon on August 30 and was joined in Rio de Janeiro by two Portuguese warships (among which was the frigate Glória, 38-gun) transporting 500 foot soldiers, and five storeships. On November 2, the squadron sailed from Rio de Janeiro towards the mouth of the Río de la Plata to attack Buenos Aires and Montevideo, but soon abandoned the project because Spanish defenders on both cities were fully alerted and well prepared.

On January 6, 1763, MacDouall decided to attack and retake Colonia do Sacramento also in Spanish hands. The HMS Lord Clive, the HMS Ambuscade and the Portuguese Gloria anchored near the city and started bombardment, but they received unexpected strong resistance from the city gun battery. After three hours of fire exchange, a fire erupted on the Lord Clive, it quickly extended and ship's santabarbara blew up, it sunk immediately . There were 272 fatalities on board, including the expedition's commander Captain Robert MacDouall. HMS Ambuscade and Gloria were badly damaged too, and retired from combat.

However, while the Portuguese did not lose any ship, the Spaniards lost their main ship, the frigate Victoria. As soon as the Anglo-Portuguese fleet arrived, the Spanish fleet fled without firing a shot, into the near island of São Gabriel (the Victoria, the Santa Cruz and the San Zenón). Here the Spaniards sank the Victoria, with all its artillery and gunpowder, to avoid capture. The naval officers were immediately arrested and later tried under the accusation of cowardice in a war council (1766), by Spanish authorities.[5]

The expedition in 1763

Still in control of Sacramento, Cevallos marched his army in the spring of 1763 to the east and took on April 19 the fort of Santa Teresa (with 400 defenders),[6][7] near the present-day city of Chuy on the Uruguay-Brazilian border and the little fort of San Miguel (with 30 defenders),[8] a few days later.

On April he also conquered most of the vast and rich territory of the so-called "S.Peter´s Continent" (the present day Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul), where the Portuguese had only up to 1,000 men (soldiers and militia).[9] São José do Norte and the capital S. Pedro do Sul- were abandoned and occupied without a fight. Here Cevallos learned that peace had been signed and that the war was over.

However the attempt to conquer the small territory still held by the Portuguese in Rio Grande (Rio Pardo and Viamão), ended with a Spanish defeat at the Battle of St. Barbara (January 1, 1763),[10] when a force of 230 Portuguese dragoons surprised a Spanish army of 500 Spaniards and 2,000 Indians,[11] coming from Misiones to support Cevallos: seven cannons,[12] 9,000 heads of cattle and 5,000 horses were captured.[13]


The victorious Cevallos expedition contrasted with a general framework of Spanish defeat in all other theaters of the Seven Year War. As Spanish historian Manuel Fernández Álvares put it:

"In January 1762, Spain opened hostilities with England [and against Portugal on 5 May 1762]. However, the effects were very different from those expected. (…)The outcome: the Loss of Havana and Manila [and most of the Rio Negro Valley in North Brazil] while our army engaged an unfortunate ground campaign against Portugal. Only the conquest of Colónia do Sacramento by Pedro Cevallos, from Uruguay, put a positive note on the Spanish side, but however, had no influence on subsequent agreements that ended the war."[14]
España Y Los Españoles En Los Tiempos Modernos

Actually, Colonia do Sacramento and the near territories were under Spanish control until the Treaty of Paris (1763), after which Sacramento was restored to the Portuguese while Rio Grande do Sul would be reconquered by Portugal a few years later (war of 1763-1777).[15][16][17][18] Only the forts of San Miguel and Santa Teresa, in present-day Uruguay, remained Spanish.

Linking the first and second Cevallos expeditions

After signing the Treaty of Paris, which imposed the Status quo ante bellum, Spain returned to Portugal Colonia del Sacramento, but not the huge territory of Rio Grande do Sul.

This way,[19] from 1763 onwards, there would be an unofficial war between the two Iberian countries (called the "silent war",[20] because of the secret orders given to the Portuguese, in this year, to engage an irregular warfare against the Spaniards in the Rio Grande territory). This territorial war (1763-1777),[21] ended with the Treaty of San Ildefonso, after the second Cevallos expedition (1777).[22]

Its final outcome was, on the one hand, the Portuguese military conquest of most of the current Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul (South Brazil, 282 000 km2) and Roraima (North Brazil, 224,000 km2),[23][24] in 1776, as well as the capture of the great Spanish ship St. Augustine (with a garrison of 550 men, in 1777);[25] and on the other hand, the (definitive) Spanish conquest of Colonia del Sacramento (a semi-circle with radius of 3 km, in Uruguay) and the tinny island of Santa Catarina (South Brazil, 424 km2) in 1777, both by Cevallos at the head of the largest Spanish military expedition ever sent to the New World.


  1. 1 2 3 Marley p. 296
  2. 1 2 Marley p.295
  3. 1 2 The 400 Portuguese infantry men, 40 troopers, 32 gunners, 230 militiamen ... are reinforced from Rio de Janeiro by a 10-ship convoy ... although conveying only 65 soldiers... ", in Marley, David- Wars of the Americas: a chronology of armed conflict in the New World, 1492 to the present, vol. II, ABC-CLIO, USA, 2008, p. 441–442.
  4. 700 regular infantry troops, 200 dragoons, 1,800 militiamen and 1200 Indians. See Marley, David- Wars of the Americas: a chronology of armed conflict in the New World, 1492 to the present, vol. II, ABC-CLIO, USA, 2008, p. 441.
  5. Gómez, Santiago- Guerras entre España y Portugal en la cuenca del Río de la Plata (in Spanish)
  6. " [Portuguese colonel] Osório built a small fort which he called Santa Teresa, where he took shelter with 400 men and little artillery (January 1763). Next April, Ceballos, who had gathered in Maldonado a well provisioned army of more than 3,000 men with much artillery, invested the Lusitanian position. After a weak resistance, Osório surrendered with the remaining 130 men. All the other had deserted." In Instituto Histórico e Geográfico do Rio Grande do Sul- Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico do Rio Grande do Sul, Edições 132-134, Brazil, 1998, p. 12.
  7. "...Osório , arrives at Castilhos on the shores of Merín Lagoon with 400 men of the Dragoon Regiment of rio Pardo, 10 small artillery pieces, plus a work column, to commence construction ... of a border keep to be called Fort Santa Tereza...", In Marley, David- Wars of the Americas: a chronology of armed conflict in the New World, 1492 to the present, vol. II, ABC-CLIO, USA, 2008, p. 441.
  8. "Four days later, the small fort of San Miguel fell into the hands of Cevallos, abandoned by the garrison of 30 men which stayed there under cap. João Teixeira.", In Instituto Histórico e Geográfico do Rio Grande do Sul- Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico do Rio Grande do Sul, Edições 132-134, Brazil, 1998, p. 12.
  9. "In the whole region of the Rio Grande, the Portuguese government did not have more than 1,000 soldiers, including regular and militia troops, spread over several trims." In Instituto Histórico e Geográfico do Rio Grande do Sul- Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico do Rio Grande do Sul, Edições 132-134, Brazil, 1998, p. 12.
  10. "(...). In this 'race for the Rio Grande [territory]', the border of Rio Pardo was the only one who resisted the Spanish invasion, thanks to Barreto Pereira Pinto courage and, above all, Francisco Pinto Bandeira, which shattered the army of captain Antonio Cattani on January 1, 1763. Pinto Bandeira, with only 230 dragoons and adventurers of St. Paul, fell like a hurricane over the 2,500 enemy soldiers. 'Never saw this territory such a stampede.' (...). Cattani’s troops disbanded in panic. The commander, no time to put on the uniform, fled in underwear." In Barbosa, Fidélis D. História do Rio Grande do Sul, Edições Est, 4th edition, Porto Alegre, 1976, p. 60.
  11. "While the Spanish army advanced along the coast, fully reaching their goals, another enemy column, consisting of five hundred militiamen from the Corrientes Province and about 2,000 Guaranis came from the Misiones Orientales against Rio Pardo, under lieutenant colonel Antonio Cattani and fortified next to the stream of Santa Barbara..." in Vellinho, Moysés- Fronteira, Editora Globo, 1975, p. 105.
  12. Branco, José- Obras do Barão do Rio Branco, vol. VI, Ministério das Relações exteriores, Brazil, p. 3.
  13. Flores, Moacyr- Dicionário de história do Brasil, Edipucrs, 2004, p. 80. ISBN 9788574302096
  14. In Álvarez, Manuel Fernàndez- España Y Los Españoles En Los Tiempos Modernos, Universidad Salamanca, Spain, 1979, p. 439.
  15. Marley, David- Wars of the Americas: a chronology of armed conflict in the New World, 1492 to the present, vol. II, ABC-CLIO, USA, 2008, p. 449 and p. 450
  16. Bento, Cláudio Moreira- Brasil, conflitos externos 1500-1945 (electronic version), Academia de História Militar Terrestre do Brasil, chapter 5: As guerras no Sul 1763-77.
  17. Ricardo Lesser- Las Orígenes de la Argentina, Editorial Biblos, 2003, see chapter El desastre", see pp. 63–72.
  18. Bento, Cláudio Moreira- Rafael Pinto Bandeira in O Tuiuti, nr. 95, Academia de Historia Militar Terrestre do Brasil, 2013, pp. 3-18.
  19. "During the brief war of 1762-3, Spain had made sweeping gains [in the region of the River de la Plata, while suffering defeats in North and west Brazil]. After 1763, Madrid would not restore them, despite promising to do so in the Peace of Paris. This naturally produced tension…" In Scott, Hamish- British Foreign Policy in the Age of the American Revolution, Clarendon Press, 1990, p. 212.
  20. "According to this policy, the [Portuguese Prime minister] gave orders to begin a silent war against the Spanish possessions of Rio Grande do Sul and Chiquitos, In the frontier with Mato Grosso. The 'Deaf War (1763-1778)'. In Rosa, José María- Historia Argentina, 2nd edition, vol. I, J. C. Granda,1965, p. 390
  21. "In America, hostilities were not circumscribed to Rio Grande do Sul: clashes occurred in disputed territories such as the western frontier in Mato Grosso, and even in the distant North region Rio Branco." In In Azevedo, J. Lúcio de – O Marquês de Pombal e a sua época (in Portuguese), 2nd edition, Annuário do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, p. 277.
  22. "… the later agreement of San Ildefonso in 1777 and 1778, confirming Portuguese territorial expansion at Spanish expense. This Portuguese expansionism…" In Harold Davis; Frederic Peck and John Finan- Latin American Diplomatic History, Louisiana State University Press, 1977, p. 80
  23. "Hard topographical facts pre-determined what were to be the spheres of influence of the three contending countries, but it took the Spaniards many years to recognise this fact, until the year 1776, when they were finally defeated in the Rio Branco by the Portuguese" in Baldwin, Richard E.- The Rupuni Record, British Guiana, 1946, p. 19.
  24. "It was on the Uraricá in 1773 that the Spaniard Sergeant Juan Marcos Zapata, with a small force of men, coming from Venezuela, founded the [fortified] settlements of Santa Rosa. Later that year he also founded San Juan Bautista on the Uraricoera … This Spanish venture into what is now Brazil was short lived. The Portuguese soon heard of it, and mounted an expedition which brought an end to the Spanish presence in 1776 (see Hemming, 'How Brazil Acquired Roraima, pp. 310-13'.(…)." In Rivière, Peter- The Guiana Travels of Robert Schomburgk, 1835-1844, published by Ashgate for the Hakluyt Society, series III, vol. I6, 2006, p. 327, ISBN 978-0-904180-86-2.
  25. "The 74 Gun Spanish Ship of the Line San Agustín of Capt. José N. Zapiáin and the smaller auxiliary Santa Ana … are captured near the mouth of the River Plate by Mac Dowell´s Portuguese squadron. In Marley, David- Wars of the Americas: a chronology of armed conflict in the New World, 1492 to the present, ABC-CLIO, USA, 1998, p. 301.


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