This is the last part of a five part series on the Revolt of the Fifth of
July, 1922. In the previous sections we told how civilian authorities imprisoned
Marshal Hermes da Fonseca, Head of the Army. In response, a group of young Army
officers revolted. Captain Euclides Hermes, son of the Marshal, originally lead
the rebellion, which centered on the Fort of Copacabana.
The revolt soon collapsed and Euclides Hermes released everyone from the Fort who wished to leave – twenty-eight, including four officers, remained with him. Hermes went to seek peace terms and was arrested.
Twenty-four men within the fort, rather than surrender, armed themselves with pistols and rifles, and began marching up Copacabana beach, intent on fighting their way through thousands of government troops to deliver a piece of the Brazilian flag to Captain Hermes. A lone civilian asked to join them and was given a rifle. The leader of the band was 24-year-old Lt. Siqueira Campos.
At the moment we are about half way through the doomed march. Before we continue, we ask the reader’s indulgence as we attempt to divine the motives of two of the marchers by taking a look at their backgrounds. Along the way, the indulgent reader will learn something of the unique relationship that has existed in Brazil between civilian and military powers.
THE MARCH TO THE END
Why would men volunteer for such an ill-fated march? We know little about them, except for two: Siqueira Campos and Eduardo Gomes. They met and became close friends at the Military School where, as we have seen, the revolt folded so quickly. Both came to the Army as the result of their fathers’ financial difficulties.
Gomes’ father was a man born to great wealth who abandoned a career in the Navy to dedicate himself to railroad construction. It ended in his financial ruin. With the loss of the family fortune, Gomes had an impoverished childhood. He was nonetheless able to work his way to a humanities degree, in the process demonstrating some technical aptness – his nickname became “The Mathematician.” Because of his technical interests and ability, and because a degree in humanities offered little in the way of employment, he entered the Military School in 1916. There he met Siqueira Campos.
The father of Campos had prospered working for his wealthy and politically active brother, and later as head of the São Paulo water department. Siqueira did well in the São Paulo school system and was headed toward a career in engineering. But his mother died and his father married a woman even younger than Siqueira, who was then 16. The marriage apparently affected the family’s financial resources and resulted in Campos leaving São Paulo for Rio. He volunteered for the Army in 1915; seeking a professional career he entered the Military School in 1916.
During this period, the avowed objective of the Military School was to train a completely apolitical professional military class. The two ambitious young men concentrated on their studies in their beginning year. They both did well; they sailed though the difficult scientific and mathematics course work, and turned to a field where such technical skill was invaluable: the artillery.
Here they could do very challenging and skilled work – to their relief, they would not have to become street vendors. Though their rank in society was far below that of scions of the wealthy elite who had always ruled Brazil, a well-ordered future lay ahead.
But their contact with their instructors and older students soon taught them about a reality beyond the bland official apolitical façade, a far more exciting reality. It was impressed upon them that the Republic itself was founded by a military coup led by young officers.
After independence from Portugal in 1822, Brazil had been a constitutional monarchy, with an emperor. In 1889, despite lack of civilian support, a group of junior officers had convinced their commander (the uncle of our Marshal Hermes) to lead a coup against the emperor. The successful and bloodless coup resulted in the Republic, which began as a military government.
Since that time the power and influence of the military had diminished somewhat. But in 1910, only six years earlier, sailors had seized the São Paulo and Minas Gerais and some smaller vessels in the bay at Rio and threatened to bombard the city. Marshal Hermes, then the President of the Republic, had been forced to grant the rebels their demands and to give them amnesty.
So the military might open a door to power and influence. But the atmosphere of the School played to another, perhaps deeper, motive: the secret desire of a young man to be a hero. The Brazilian military of that time had come to believe it was their sacred duty not only to protect the motherland against foreign aggression but against unscrupulous political groupings within Brazil as well. The origins of this belief system were in the founding of the Republic itself.
In overthrowing the Emperor, the military had violated their oath to him. How could it justify this? By linking its duty and destiny to Brazil. The military must always act for the good of the people, rather than the political party that happened to be in power at the time. The heroic military must be above politics.
Article 14 of the Brazilian constitution was particularly important. It declared the army and navy to be permanent – they could not be dissolved – and responsible for maintaining law and order and for ensuring the continuance of the Republic. The armed forces were to be the moderator of the system, and military officers were Brazil’s only constitutionally mandated elite. The article required the military to be obedient to the president but “within the limits of the law.” Thus, the armed forces were to obey only if they determined a presidential order to be legal.
Gomes and Campos began to realize their lives could be more than the joy of interesting technical work. Their future could be intertwined with the future of the nation.
The impassioned and officially forbidden political discussions among the student body led the pair to rent a house away from the Military School. There they and like-minded students could gather to study and discuss politics. It became, so to speak, a radical safe house, and sheltered many who later were to lead the revolts that shook Brazil in the twenties.
The official file kept at the Military School on Gomes and Campos showed them to be excellent students, except for one blemish on the record of Campos. In 1919 he was imprisoned for two weeks for attacking a police captain who he thought had insulted him. Only his good record saved him from more severe punishment. Gomes received a commission in the artillery at the end in 1918, and Campos in the same branch in 1919. After graduation, Gomes left Rio for several years to pursue a passion for an exciting technology: aeronautics. The time of the revolt found them both stationed in Rio, in the artillery.
As the little band proceeded up Avenida Atlântica the news of their march seemed to move ahead of them. From the moment that the cannons of the fort had signaled the beginning of the revolt, just 36 hours earlier, the windows of the houses along this avenue had been shut. Now as the soldiers appeared the windows opened and the people waved to them.
Some bade them farewell, others came out to beg them to turn back. A newspaperman urged Siqueira Campos to give his life, if he must, to a worthier cause. He replied that any other course would dishonor the uniform he wore. Someone asked by what authority he commanded this attack. Campos answered that he was no longer an officer but a common soldier, and that anyone who wished could turn back.
Others wanted to take photographs, and a remarkable one survives. It is an image of men going into a battle where they are almost certain to die. What can be read on the faces of such men? Are they thoughtful, resigned, and grim? Exuberant and carefree? Perhaps merely irritable?
None of these. About all we can say is that no one looks very happy. One senses they are holding something back. That might possibly be fear. Perhaps vanity bids them conceal it: everyone’s eyes are fixed on the photographer. Someone said later that Siqueira Campos was a little miffed at not being photographed.
The photograph shows one row of the marchers distinctly: Eduardo Gomes, Mário Carpenter, Nilton Prado, the civilian, and 2 enlisted. In a second row, about ten yards behind, are 5 or 6 more enlisted troops. Clustered on both side of this second row are civilian spectators in sports jackets and Italian straw boater hats.
Gomes, with his neat uniform and erect bearing, is the only snappy looking officer. Carpenter and Prado are hatless, Carpenter’s uniform is a sagging half unbuttoned and his hair is flying. Beside him, Prado, short, beefy, and truculent looking, has a big holster strapped to his belly and carries only a pistol since he has given his rifle to the tall, gaunt, elegant civilian striding beside him. These men are white; the two enlisted on their left are mulattos. The enlisted men behind also appear to be mulattos.
One wonders why enlisted men, particularly mulattos, volunteered for this march of death. At issue in the revolt was the leadership of the Republic, and the leaders of the Republic had never shown much concern for citizens below a certain rank. We can only surmise it was the timeless loyalty of warriors to their leaders, and the magnetism of Siqueira Campos. We will see that some them had second thoughts.
At government headquarters the sensational news arrived: “About 60 men have abandoned the fort and are marching up Avenida Atlântica, heading toward the New Tunnel.” Major Pedro Brasil was sent with orders to stop them. He commanded Lt. Segadas Viana to take position on the present Siqueira Campos St. and ordered other forces to Plaza Serzedelo Correia, thus blocking the route to the New Tunnel, while he himself went to the next street, on the northern side of the plaza, Hilário de Gouveia.
It was a hot day for July, which is winter in Brazil, and the sun was out. The rebels had marched nearly two kilometers. Noticing a servant woman standing in front of a residence with two children, Siqueira asked if she could give them water. The domestic sent the children in to get some, saying she regretted not being able to give them more.
The children brought the water and the men rested a moment as they drank. Then two soldiers near the rear of the group broke away and began running back down the street from which they came. A non-commissioned officer shouted to Campos, “Should I shoot them?” “No!” he replied, “Let them go! The fewer be the number, the greater the glory of those that stay!” The march resumed.
They had not gone far when they heard shouts from the distance. They could just make out loyalist officers and men on the side streets calling, “Lay down your arms! We will not fire!” The rebels did not reply. Their plan was to fight their way through the New Tunnel and on to Catete. To do that, they needed to turn left on Siqueira Campos St., which was just ahead.
They reached the street and turned up it. A short block in front of them was the Plaza Serzedelo Correia where they could discern troops massed. Lt. Segadas Viana approached them carrying a pistol. He shouted something indistinct; they answered with a confused, defiant chorus and pressed forward. As Lt. Viana stood indecisive, Major Brasil came hurrying from Hilário de Gouveia.
He had worked together as close friends with Mário Carpenter, just two days earlier, before Carpenter had defected to the rebels. Now Brasil approached Carpenter. But the lieutenant called out, “Major, we don’t come to surrender, we want to die fighting you – it is useless to counsel us.” “You are insane,” Brazil answered. Someone shouted, “We are going to Catete, Major!” Brasil shot back, “You are going to commit an act of complete madness, you will encounter an entire regiment – ” Siqueira Campos drew his pistol and said in an even voice, “I’ll kill you Major.”
At this moment, Lt. Nilton Prado, at the head of the insurgents, shouted, “Friends, for life or for death, fire!” Brasil turned to Lt. Viana, “Fire on these personnel!” As gunfire erupted he ran out of the crossfire, calling out, “Boys, boys, shoot, fire! Fire! – they won’t surrender – Fire! Fire!”
Shouting and shooting, the twenty or so rebels rushed upon the government troops as if attacking a smaller force. Siqueira Campos directed them into two bands, one driving back Viana’s squad on Siqueira Campos St., the other pressing the soldiers on Hilário de Gouveia. Their advance lasted but a moment: the government troops retreated to join a much larger detachment, hundreds of men, at Plaza Serzedelo Correia. As the troops in the plaza raised their weapons and began firing, insurgents started to fall.
Campos saw several of his men tumble and others run for cover. He knew their ammunition was limited – each man had only what he was able to stuff into the pockets of his uniform. A mass flight or surrender was imminent. He had noticed construction work being done in the beach area, which would provide good cover. He motioned his men to retreat in that direction.
The air seemed full of whistling bullets as they fell back. He watched a black soldier fire, then retreat to the partial shelter of a doorway. But there he jerked and toppled onto the sidewalk; government forces were fanning out to shoot at them from the sides.
Campos himself did not take cover as he retreated down the middle of the street, firing a few times with his pistol and trying to concentrate on the overall situation. As quickly as he could he brought his band to the area fronting the ocean.
He and his men ran across Avenida Atlântica to shelter themselves among the piles of sand, trenches, and partially constructed small docks. Campos threw himself in a depression near the middle of his line of soldiers, which was perhaps 80 meters wide. The loyalists took cover across the avenue among the row of homes and a church on the corner. At Campos’ side were Nilton Prado and a sergeant; he could see Lt. Carpenter to his left and Eduardo Gomes and the civilian to his right.
He raised his head to look around. His men, short of ammunition, fired only occasionally while the flashes of fire and smoke across the street were constant and the noise deafening. But his men were well entrenched and the fight seemed almost a stalemate. The non-com beside him also rose up to look. A bullet grazed his forehead and knocked him back into the trench. He lay with his eyes rolling.
Campos turned to his right and saw the civilian on one knee exposed beside a pile of sand. With elbow on knee, hand cradling his rifle, he snapped off a shot. Then his chest seemed to explode in blood – Campos thought he saw the heart exposed – and he fell without a sound.
More and more troops arrived across the street, and the soldiers already there, unable to hit the dug-in rebels on the beach, began to climb the rooftops, walls, and trees. Siqueira watched as loyalists started to run across the avenue on the distant flanks. He and Eduardo Gomes stood and fired at them with their rifles. Gomes grunted and twisted falling into the sand, clutching his left thigh.
But there were no medics; Campos could do nothing. The line of rebels was shrinking and firing less. A bullet tore away the flesh between his right thumb and forefinger. He looked at the bloody wound as he dropped to the ground, noting that he could still hold his rifle. Beside him Nilton Prado moaned, “Siqueira, I think my leg is broke.”
Campos gritted his teeth and rose to shoot. A bullet though the abdomen knocked him onto his seat. He struggled onto his knees, fighting the nausea. From across the street came for the first time the loud staccato rattle of a machine gun, firing into a group of soldiers dug in around a construction, making the sand jump around them. When it stopped firing, the group of rebels fired no more.
To his left, he saw a band of men lift a rifle with a white flag attached to the bayonet. He shouted, “Look!” to Mário Carpenter and pointed to the men. “Move them to the side, out of the fire,” he ordered. Carpenter nodded, scuttled across the sand, and fell into the group. They lowered their flag and began to move toward the left flank.
Waves of pain alternated with nausea as Campos struggled to keep his mind steady. He glanced at his bloody hand clotted with sand. Feeling weak, he lay face down. The firing from his side grew less and less, the firing from the other side ever closer. Suddenly it stopped.
“Still alive, get up! Get up, get up, you still living!” came the shouts. He turned his face toward Nilton Prado. In a blurry vision, he saw Prado, sweating and pain-racked, close his hand over the pistol by his side. Then the government troops were standing over them. They lifted him up and carried him.
Siqueira Campos, wounded in the abdomen, was operated on and survived. Eduardo Gomes, with an exposed thigh fracture, lived. Nilton Prado, with two bullets through the abdomen, was operated on, later gave an interview to a reporter, died on July 12th. Mário Carpenter, bullet through the chest, died on the operating table. The civilian arrived at the hospital with a large hole in his chest, still lucid. But a bullet was lodged in his heart; when the doctors tried to remove it he died.
Many of the enlisted died; some of them were identified, others, rather amazingly, were not. We have the names and rank of the 28 who volunteered to stay in the fort written on its wall and the enlisted dead must have been among them. But despite the judicial inquiry after the revolt, the report of which ran to thousands of pages, the names on the wall were never matched to the list of those dead or brought to justice.
All the surviving enlisted who gave testimony claimed to have been forced into the insurgency. We can easily forgive this falsehood. Some of them were imprisoned; of these, several died soon after. The prisons in those days were notoriously unhealthy, much more so than today.
And the legal system was even more interminable in those days. We will not detail the judicial battle than ensued after the physical one. Almost all the rebels were imprisoned for a time. A practice in Brazilian jurisprudence (which may seem strange to foreigners) is that while awaiting judgment you can be released without bail for years on a writ of habeas corpus.
You can even leave the country. Campos and Gomes were so released in 1923, and it wasn’t until 1928 that their case was judged. By that time, as we will see, a Niagara of water had flowed over the bridge, and the judgment was irrelevant. Marshal Hermes did not have to endure the full legal proceedings.
After an adventurous chase through Rio, Hermes was arrested at 6 AM on July 6th, the last day of the revolt. First detained on the battleship Floriano, he was moved from ship to ship, ending up on a small boat where is family could visit him only with difficulty. He was released by a habeas corpus decree in early 1923, and went to live in Petrópolis, a small city not far from Rio.
He had felt his first heart attack when he stepped onto the deck of the Floriana, but had hid it from everyone. He died of a heart attack in Petrópolis in 1923, a few days before he had been ordered to depose in the criminal cases against the revolutionaries. The former President of Brazil absolutely refused any honors at his funeral, other than having his body wrapped in the flag of Brazil.
His son, Euclides Hermes, whose behavior during the revolt was so admirable, seems to have dropped from Brazilian history afterward. Not so Gomes and Campos. The fight on the sands of Copacabana was in no way the climax of their public lives but the beginning.
Artur Bernardes was sworn in as President of the Republic in November 1922. But due to the disaffection of the military with him (and other political tensions we have not detailed), he governed literally in a state of siege, decreed by himself.
After Siqueira Campos was released from prison in 1923 he went to live and work as a businessman in Uruguay and Argentina. Eduardo Gomes got out the same year. Fearing he would eventually be condemned, he fled to hide in the interior of Brazil. But, as we will see, he was a man who kept coming back.
In 1924 Campos returned secretly to Brazil and resumed revolutionary activities in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. (Rio Grande do Sul, called the land of the gaucho, had a long history of rebellion.)
Meanwhile, revolt had broken out in São Paulo. The uprising was largely in commemoration of the Fifth of July heroism. In fact, it broke out exactly two years later and is sometimes called the Second Fifth of July Revolt. While other disaffected elements, such as industrial workers in São Paulo, gave it support, it was mostly effected by young Army officers, collectively called tenentes, “lieutenants,” opposed to Bernardes. Eduardo Gomes came out of hiding to join it and was in command of its air forces.
This revolt was much bigger than the first, and occupied São Paulo for 23 days. It inspired revolts in other Brazilian states, including Rio Grande do Sul. The revolting gauchos were commanded by a young captain, Luis Carlos Prestes, who had in fact been in military service in Rio during the earlier revolt – only severe illness had prevented him from joining it. He was thus known to Siqueira Campos, who soon joined forces with him, to form another group of tenentes.
The revolutionaries in São Paulo were eventually forced out of the city and suffered a major defeat in the interior of Brazil. The forces of Prestes were also defeated and headed north. The rebellious armies joined forces in April 1925 to form the legendary Prestes Column, destined to fight twenty-five thousand kilometers through the interior of Brazil against the government of Bernardes. The column was divided into four detachments, with Siqueira Campos leading one of them.
The Father of the Brazilian Air Force
Eduardo Gomes did not meet his comrade in arms when the two defeated groups joined. During the São Paulo revolt, he had flown to Rio to seek support for his air forces. But his plane developed mechanical problems, he was forced to land, and again imprisoned. He escaped, hid with relatives in Rio, and eventually made his way south to join the Prestes Column, where he was soon captured again. Released in 1926, he hid in the interior until 1929, but turned himself over to authorities in 1930 and went to jail yet again. Freed in May, 1930, he immediately joined a conspiracy to overthrow the government.
By 1930, with the shadow of the Great Depression falling over Brazil, a complex coalition had come into being, the Liberal Alliance (AL), opposed to the Republic. The tenentes, including Campos and Gomes, formed part of the coalition, in spite of the fact that the AL also represented the oligarchies they had spent years fighting.
Gomes was in Minas Gerais when revolutionary violence broke out in October 1930, and took part in the military operations there. The operations succeeded with little violence and the Liberal Alliance overthrew the Republic. In November 1930 the gaucho Getúlio Vargas assumed power. Gomes was given an important role in the new regime. At long last a member of the establishment in power, he was never again thrown into jail. The establishment, however, was braced on shifting sands, and over the years he shifted with them while never losing a core of integrity or his dedication to aeronautics.
He participated in the creation and direction of the military air mail. When a rebel group tried to seize power in 1935, he lead the air force in combat against it. In 1937 he requested release from his military duties because his opposition to some decrees of the Vargas regime. In 1941, upon the creation of the Ministry of Aeronautics, he was promoted to brigadier.
Gomes played an important role in the contact between the governments of Brazil and the USA in WWII. After the war, he associated himself with opposition to the Vargas dictatorship, and in 1945 ran unsuccessfully for president of Brazil against a former minister of Vargas. In 1950 he ran again, this time being defeated by Vargas himself.
Once more on the outside of power, he was one of the leaders of the campaign to oust Vargas. After the suicide of Vargas, Gomes assumed the Ministry of Aeronautics. But he lost power again in the later 1950’s for his opposition to the presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek.
General Eduardo Gomes was to come back one last time, in one last coup, as one of the architects of the hit which installed the military dictatorship in 1964. In 1965 he returned to head the Ministry of Aeronautics, remaining in this position until his retirement from public life in 1967. He died in 1981 at the age of 85. Today he is revered as the Father of the Brazilian Air Force.
The military dictatorship was to claim an old ally of Gomes. O Correio da Manhã, which had opposed the presidency of Bernardes, as it had so many presidents since its inception in 1901, was a ferocious opponent of the dictatorship. The martial cabal pressured businesses not to advertise in the journal, and in 1974 it expired for lack of funds, never to return.
About the time Gomes was accepted into the establishment, Barroso St. became Siqueira Campos St. In 1974, near the middle of the military dictatorship years, a statue was dedicated to The 18 of the Fort, as the fighters came to be called. (They are known by this name though their exact number is uncertain.)
Tourists visiting Copacabana beach will find the statue in the median of Avenida Atlântica near the intersection with Siqueira Campos St. It portrays a falling soldier. On the base are inscribed these words of Campos: “One must give all for the homeland, asking for nothing, not even to be understood.”
And of Siqueira Campos?
His life during the period 1925 – 1930 was even more adventurous than that of his fellow survivor Gomes. He was a major leader of the Prestes Column, as it fought its way from Paraguay, south-west of Brazil, to the northeastern state of Paraíba. The Column then returned southwest, crisscrossing the vast untamed interior of the nation, remaining always in the rural regions, urging the people to revolt.
The army of bearded, unkept men on horseback had no regular source of supplies so lived by plundering the countryside. They sacked businesses and wreathy landowners, always trying to leave the small households at peace. Constantly chased by government troops and harassed by hired gunmen, they were also the target a governmental PR campaign: bands of ordinary thugs, posing as members of the Column, were hired to steal cattle and violate young women. At times when Siqueira and his men entered a village they were greeted with a hailstorm of Carnaval dances and marching music – at others by a hailstorm of bullets.
Campos had slit men’s throats in revenge and threw their bodies to the dogs; he had saved men from firing squads at the last moment, had burned villages, and quarreled with Prestes; he had fought hand to hand with bandits at night, unable to tell friend from foe.
And it was all for naught. Confronted by government forces with superior heavy weapons, weakened by illness, lacking even enough horses, and unable to convince the largely illiterate and traditional country people to take up arms, the Prestes Column retreated into Bolivia and disbanded in February 1927, with Siqueira Campos leading major actions until the end.
After the dispersal, he moved to Buenos Aires, where he tried to regroup the Brazilian revolutionaries exiled in Argentina and Uruguay. To solve the financial difficulties confronting the conspirators, he proposed to request the aid of International Communism, a proposal rejected by the other leaders, including Prestes. Near the end of the decade, he realized some secret trips to Brazil with the objective of attracting young military men to the revolutionary cause.
Siqueira was designated to prepare the 1930 Liberal Alliance uprising in São Paulo. Discovered by the police, he fled to Buenos Aires. There he tried, in vain, to convince Prestes (who had by this time been converted to Marxism) to support the movement.
Had he taken careful notes, his life could have been made into an epic novel, or the first chapter of one.
After a last, useless night in Buenos Aires, trying to change Prestes’ mind, on the morning of 10 May 1930, six months before the victory of the revolution, he boarded an aircraft bound for São Paulo, bringing with him a large sum of money destined to be used for revolutionary activities. But Campos’ luck ran out and his plane crashed into the River Plate. Searchers recovered his body; the money was never found.
Let us give Eduardo Gomes the final word. Speaking forty years after the shoot-out on Copacabana Beach, General Gomes remembered:
The first to fall, between the streets Siqueira Campos and Hilário de Gouveia, was a black soldier not identified. It was the first time I had seen a person die. At my side, Mário Carpenter could not contain an exclamation, “What horror!.” The man fell heavily, and a ribbon of ruby blood, glittering, commenced to run from the hole opened by the ball. I remember seeing a little fly light on the wound.
The author cautions that the reader should not assume everything in the article is historically accurate, though most things are. He welcomes any factual corrections, additional facts, or alternative interpretations of events.
The main source for this article was 1922 – Sangue na Areia de Copacabana (1922 – Blood on the Sands of Copacabana), by Hélio Silva, published by Editora Civilização Brasileira S.A., Rio de Janeiro, 1971.
Dr. Addison Jump is a retired mathematician living in Rio. Of Native American descent, he worked at a college for American Indians and later for the U.S. Department of Defense. Email: email@example.com.
This is the fifth and last of five articles on the Fifth of July Revolt.
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