Guararapes Battles

The Battles of the Guararapes constituted part of the so-called Restoration Wars of Independence of Portugal which were fought in the Brazilian Guararapes Hills of the former Pernambuco Captaincy, between the Republic of the Seven United Provinces (Netherlands) and the defenders of the Portuguese Empire under the command of General Francisco Barreto de Menezes.

These battles took place following the Dutch occupation in the northeast of the Portuguese colony of Brazil. Dutch occupation of Portuguese territories has occurred since the Kingdom of Portugal was ruled by the Kings of Spain (1580), after the death of King D. Sebastião (1578) and the ephemeral Reign of Cardinal D. Henrique. The Low Countries, of which Holland was the main province, were at war with Iberian domination.

One method the Dutch employed to attack the Spanish was to occupy the overseas territories of Spain and Portugal. To this end, the Netherlands created two internationally operating companies, the West and East India Companies. The first was responsible for the occupation of the Brazilian Northeast, an action that began in 1624 in Bahia, however, the Dutch stay there lasted only a year, as they were expelled in 1625. However, in 1630, the Dutch managed to occupy the captaincy of Pernambuco, extending over the years their dominance of the mouth of the São Francisco River (in Alagoas and Sergipe) to Ceará.

Besides the geo-political motivations of the reintegration of Pernambuco as an integral part of the Colony of Brazil and the Kingdom of Portugal, there were also religious motivations. The sentiment of Portuguese Catholics against the Dutch Protestants proved to be a powerful stimulus for combat.

In the first Battle on April 18 and 19, 1648, the Dutch tried to attack the Portuguese by land, heading south of Recife, where Guararapes Hill was located. To face them, General Francisco Barreto de Menezes had the support of some experienced Luso-Brazilian officers while obliged to engage in a tug-of-war: João Fernandes Vieira, André Vidal de Negreiros, Antonio Dias Cardoso, Filipe Camarão (Potiguar Indian converted to Catholicism, who led a force of Indians), and Henrique Dias (a freed slave who led a force of blacks).

1st Battle of Guararapes

The victory achieved by the Portuguese troops was prodigious, for even with an army of 7,400 men, the Flemings were not enough for the 2,200 men commanded by General Francisco Barreto de Menezes. At the end of this first battle, the battlefield would have 1,200 dead (180 officers and sergeants) and 700 wounded on the Dutch side, and 84 dead and 400 wounded on the Portuguese side.

The second battle would take place in the same place ten months later, on February 19, 1649. By the time the Portuguese army of 2,650 men arrived at the first hill of the Guararapes, the enemy of a contingent of 5,000 men was already occupying all the others and in the downtown área (boqueirão) where the nucleus of the previous battle had occurred. He sent General Francisco Barreto de Meneses high atop the hill and took counsel as to where to pursue the fight, whether from the front, from the rear, or from the sides. André Vidal de Negreiros advised that he should go ahead, but João Fernandes Vieira, who came with the bulk of the forces, gave the opposite opinion: that if the enemy were to look to the rear (as in the first battle) since they had no potable water, their troops would be able to camp with some comfort in the evening, leaving the Dutch enemy waiting.

2nd Battle of Guararapes

General Francisco Barreto de Meneses agreed with this last opinion, having them post their forces on a nearby mill where they laid and plotted the plan of attack, and agreed to initiate the action as soon as the enemy left their positions. In the early afternoon of the 19th, as soon as the Dutch were vacating the top of the hills to form a large squadron towards Recife, the Luso-Brazilian army began the approach.

Joao Fernandes Vieira with 800 of his men was the first to enter the fight, right in the middle of the area they called boqueirão, where the enemy had 6 squads and two artillery pieces. After about half an hour under intense enemy artillery fire, the Luso-Brazilian troops, after a last charge on the enemy’s forehead, attacked with the sword, and thus gained the mouth (despite the brave resistance of the Dutch spearmen).

By this time the entire Lusitanian contingent was already in battle, taking over the central mount and its 4 artillery pieces, as well as the tents of the Dutch commander Van den Brinck (who was killed at the time). The Portuguese pressed their enemies until their disassemblage and escape to Recife, and many who could flee to the bush were persecuted by the Luso-Brazilians, to whom many in despair surrendered begging for their lives.

As for the losses suffered by the Dutch at the hands of the Portuguese, there is a contemporary document in German published by an anonymous author in Vienna the same year of the battle (1649), translated into Castilian under the title Relación de la Victoria of the Portuguese of Pernambuco Reached of the Company of Brazil in the Garerapes 19 of February of 1649, where it affirms:

“The defeat was cruel and bloody, and the Portuguese, killing everyone they encountered, continued their victory through the space of two leagues, until Barreta, where General [Francisco Barreto de Menezes] left some companies to stop the fugitives. Everyone was tired, some from fleeing, some exhausted from triumphant combat. For the space of three days the Portuguese walked, giving death and captivating those who had retreated and hidden in those woods and mountains. ”

In this marvelous victory the Dutch suffered over 2,500 casualties including imprisoned men and almost every officer and corporal in their army; two Field Masters, a Sergeant Major, four Captains, 1,000 soldiers and about 500 injured escaped with their lives.

The double Portuguese victory in the Guararapes hills would end the Dutch invasions of Brazil and the so-called “Dutch Brazil”. The Dutch capitulation took place in Recife in 1654, from where the last Batavos ships left for Europe.