I don’t care if you’re one of those balls-hating shut-in Unabomber sports-industrial-complex conspiracy theorists who believe that badass 360-degree behind-the-back tomahawk monster jams are merely a weapon used by shadow corporations to repress the Proletariat – there’s a zero percent chance that any person capable of firing up a web browser in the past two weeks hasn’t at least been made marginally aware that perhaps maybe there’s some kind of sporting event taking place either right now or some time in the very near future. You literally can’t check your email or slam “ultraviolent tentacle monster my little pony crossover slash porn” into a Google Search bar without being teabagged by an onslaught of big sweaty soccer balls coming at you from every direction.
As you probably guessed, like most Americans I have no idea what the hell is going on in international soccer, and I can’t name more than three English Premier League teams without spontaneously bleeding from the brain. But I do love sports, and any time a world-altering athletic event of this magnitude is going down I’m certainly not going to be one of those contrarian killjoy hater pretentious assholes who absolutely has to proudly tell everyone in the bar that I couldn’t care less about soccer if Vinnie Jones parachuted in through the skylight and bicycle kicked me in the nutsack with one of those big Frankenstein boots astronauts wear when they walk on the Moon.
It seems like every website on earth is doing something about Brazil, ranging from hard-hitting long-form journalism about corruption and income disparity to random photos of bananas sitting in a bowl in front of a concrete wall that looks like it was spray-painted by a rainbow tripping on LSD, yet aside most people outside downtown Rio can’t seem to mention the name of one prominent Brazilian historical figure.
Let’s fix that. Let’s set you up with a mind-blowingly badass paragon of Brazilian military might. A man who did for old-school Civil War Era asskicking what Pele did for soccer and Anderson Silva did for knee strikes to the gonads. A guy who you can name-drop to your smarmy jersey-wearing hipster/Euro friends the next time they start trying to recite the starting lineup of Real Madrid and blow their minds like they’d just stuck their skulls into a howitzer that shoots blender attachments.
I’m talking about Luis Alves de Lima e Silva, the Duke of Caxias. The Iron Duke. The Emperor’s finest. A man so excellent at utterly eliminating his enemies that he’s known as “The Peacemaker” – in the same way that the old-school Colt .45 revolver was known as the Peacemaker.
This is what comes up when you Google
Image Search his Portuguese title, “Duque de Caxias”.
Apparently any time you image search anything Brazilian,
Google is required to include the bare shoulders of a pretty girl.
Luis Alves de Lima e Silva was born in Rio in 1803, the firstborn son of a prominent Portuguese military commander who had kicked ass with honor and distinction in Brazilian wars for over two decades. General Dad had big plans for Luis Alves to follow in his footsteps, enrolling his son in literally military academy pre-school at the age of five. Luis Alves grew up This Is Sparta style, learning badass shit like swordfighting when most kids are learning how to not crap their pants, and when he turned 14 he dropped out of school and enlisted as a private in a well-known infantry regiment. By 15 he was already a Second Lieutenant.
The Brazilian War of Independence broke out in 1823, and Luis Alves was right there on the front lines beating asses and helping his country gain its freedom from the Kingdom of Portugal. Already well-known as one of the most stone-cold toughest motherfuckers in Brazil, the twenty year old infantryman was hand-selected to serve in the Emperor’s Bodyguard, an elite regiment dedicated to kicking ass wherever the future Emperor Pedro I of Brazil needed them. Luis Alves distinguished himself for heroism multiple times, including one attack in the Brazilian state of Bahia when Captain Alves personally led a badass full-strength bayonet charge uphill into the teeth of a brutal series of Portuguese cannons and fortifications and somehow overran the defenders by stabbing, shanking, and point-blank face-shooting anyone who happened to be standing in his way.
Brazil eventually wrested freedom from Portuguese rule, Dom Pedro became Emperor Pedro I, and Captain Alves was promoted to commander of the Emperor’s Bodyguard and appointed to be the personal swordfighting and horseback-riding trainer to the Emperor’s son, the future Emperor Pedro II. He was called into action to help stomp out dissent to Pedro’s rule, which he did to great effect, and he also fought in the Cisplatine War, when a strongly-pro-Portuguese region in southern Brazil split off from Emperor Pedro and became the country of Uruguay, which you may have heard of before.
Well, Emperor Pedro kind of sucked at his job, and a lot of folks – including Luis Alves’ own father – eventually decided there needed to be a military uprising against the Emperor and that Dom Pedro needed to be Dom Get the Fuck Out of Here. Ever the loyal soldier, Luis Alves refused to join the dissent, staying loyal to Pedro until the Emperor willingly abdicated his throne in 1831. In order to prevent total fucking anarchy from breaking out all over the country, Luis Alves personally stepped up and formed a military police force to maintain order while a new government was created.
Badass 19th-century Brazilian Army soldiers.
Everyone eventually decided that Pedro’s son should take over and rule as Emperor Pedro II. Luis Alves, basically the Barristan Selmy of Imperial Brazil, continued serving as the adjutant of the Emperor’s Bodyguard, and as the Will of the Emperor he fucking ran all around the country utterly beating the shit out of anyone who didn’t want to fall in line. In 1840 he was sent to Maranhao, a state that had fallen into complete anarchy and had been overrun by rebels and bandits. Luis Alves personally led the attack, re-captured the critical town of Caxias, and kicked their balls in such a badass manner that Emperor Pedro decided from that point on Luis Alves would be known as the fucking Baron of Caxias. Probably because Caxias sounds like it would be some weird one-word mash-up portmanteau for “kickin’ ass”.
But that was just the beginning. In 1842, Caxias went up against guys like Giuseppi Garibaldi in the so-called “Ragamuffin War”, fighting hardcore caballero guerilla warriors and other ragamuffin-like folks in places like Rio Grande de Sul, Sao Paolo, and somewhere called Minas Gerais that just makes me think of Baron Caxias as being like the Dark Lord Sauron drop-kicking Hobbits and plundering all the Elf babes in Minas Tirith. However, instead of brutally crushing out these rebellions with extreme violence, Caxias was actually surprisingly chill – he knew that curbstomping sedition would just breed more pissed-off rebels, so whenever possible he would seek to negotiate with the insurgency and offer favorable terms in exchange for peace and general submission to the rule of Dom Pedro.
(He also didn’t mind doing it the hard way, either.)
Shortly after leading his troops in a brutal war that successfully deposed the dictator of Argentina, Baron Caxias retired from the Army at the age of 52 and became Brazil’s Minister of War. For the next twelve years he served as War Minister, senator, and President of the Council of Ministers (twice), and as a politician he was known for being a champion of the Emperor yet still willing to compromise with his opponents.
In 1867, however, some really bad news went down, and the services of Baron Caxias were once again needed on the battlefield.
Despite being 64 years old and suffering from serious liver disease, the most decorated and well-known military hero in the war-torn history of Brazil didn’t hesitate to throw on his uniform, polish his saber, and ride to the aid of his people.
In 1864, the President of Paraguay, a guy named Francisco Solano Lopez, basically decided that his country was the fucking shit and he launched a balls-out invasion of Brazil in an effort to rip away some contested territory that he thought should belong to Paraguay. Lopez’s attack brought in Argentina and Uruguay on the side of Brazil, which seems like it would be a really unfair fight if you look at the size of those countries on a map, but Paraguay had a fucking badass army at this time and for the first three years of the fight they honestly beat the shit out of everything in their path. By 1867, things were bad. Real bad. Argentina basically had to call all their guys back home to deal with a rebellion, and the Brazilian Army was looking at something close to 20,000 soldiers laid out in hospital beds dealing with a Cholera epidemic. Meanwhile Paraguay was building an epic string of World War I-style trench fortifications so intense that any attempt to assault then would be utter suicide. The Brazilians were demoralized, had been defeated multiple times, and something like 50 guys a day were literally dying from diarrhea and excessive barfing.
Enter Baron Caxias. The lifelong warrior who has kicked ass up and down South America as the commander of his country’s most elite fighting force for over 50 years. A living goddamn legend and military demigod.
Caxias showed up, put a clampdown on the disease epidemic by bringing in a fuckton of doctors, organized his troops, and prepared to lead his men on an epic attack so hardcore it would simply be known to historians as “The Deed of December.”
Caxias’ primary objective was to not have to deal with all those bullshit cannon-infused trenches the Parguayans had set up all along their front. He did this by building a goddamn 8-mile-long road through the middle of the utterly-impenetrable Gran Chaco Swamp, crossing 31,000 soldiers over the Paraguay River on transports, and attacking the Paraguayan Army from the direction they least expected it.
It worked perfectly – leaving a small force to hold the Parguayans in place, he somehow stealth-engineered an impossible road through knee-deep waters and ultra-dense scrub brush, encircled the enemy flank, and lined them up in his sights.
His plan only hit one snag – the fighting spirit and huge balls of the Paraguan Army. Five thousand men of the Paraguan Rear Guard – outnumbered five-to-one by the massive might of the Brazilians – mounted a heroic resistance, somehow holding a bridge for several hours against repeated attacks. At one point the Paraguayans managed to send the Brazilian front lines into a full retreat, with panicked Brazilian troops crashing into the guys lined up behind them and threatening to derail the entire mission in one epic fail, but once again Baron Caxias stepped up his hero game and took charge of shit. Racing out on his horse, the Iron Duke drew his sword, cursed his men for cowardice, and shouted “Those who are true Brazilians, follow me!”
Then the 64 year-old ex-Minister of War for Brazil fucking cavalry charged the Paraguayan riflemen by himself, with just a sword and a pistol. Inspired by the heroism of their leader, the Brazilians turned back, attacked, and won the day. The Paraguayans fought to the last man.
Following this incredible attack, Baron Caxias completed “The Deed of December” by defeating the Paraguayan Army in three separate battles, utterly destroying their ability to fight, and capturing the Paraguayan capital of Ascuncion. Once that was done, he went back to being Minister of War, a post he held until 1878. Emperor Pedro was make him a Duke, and even though the Imperial regime isn’t universally loved, Caxias is still seen as a paragon of honor and duty and is revered as the Patron of the Brazilian Army to this day. Statues of him can be found everywhere, and there’s even a town in the greater Rio metro area named “Duque de Caxias” in his honor.
McCann, Frank D. Soldiers of the Patria. Stanford University Press, 2004.
Rauch, George V. Conflict in the Southern Cone. Greenwood Publishing, 1999.
Souza, Jesse and Valter Sinder. Imagining Brazil. Lexington, 2007.