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The Real War Story Behind the Cinco De Mayo Holiday

Although the day has nothing to do with American history, Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States are only getting bigger. Like St. Patrick’s Day, Americans celebrate their affinity for a culture that is also growing in the United States

With both holidays, there are a lot of misconceptions about what exactly is being celebrated. Along with Cinco de Mayo, some Americans think it’s a celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually September 16. Cinco de Mayo is actually the celebration of the Battle of Puebla in 1862, where an outnumbered Mexican army defeated French invaders.

The battle didn’t lead to an ultimate victory over the French, but it was a beacon of hope during a bad period for Mexico, one that showed the world that Mexico was not going to turn around to win. anyone.

In the years preceding the battle, Mexico had suffered a civil war in an effort to limit the power of the Catholic Church and the Mexican military in the country. The main result of this war was a crumbling economy. Mexico was forced to suspend interest payments on foreign debt for two years as it tried to recover, a decision poorly taken by its European creditors.

An allied force of France, Spain and England landed in Veracruz, Mexico in 1861. While England and Spain only wanted their money, Emperor Napoleon III, on the other hand, had bigger ideas. He wanted to overthrow the elected Mexican government and install his Austrian cousin Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico.

Maximilian I, the first of so many assholes to come from Austria.

When France’s other allies negotiated a separate peace with Mexican President Benito Juarez in 1862, the real war began. The French reneged on their promise to withdraw to the Mexican coastal zone, choosing instead to take a critical city that secured their hold on Veracruz. Skirmishes between the two sides began soon after.

Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza realized that his position trying to keep the French forces bottled up in Veracruz was no longer tenable, and he fell back to the city of Puebla with around 2,000–5,000 men. Zaragoza was not a trained military leader, but he had just fought a civil war and was skilled in unconventional warfare.

The French army was made up of seasoned veterans of recent French conflicts and outnumbered the Mexicans by at least 1,500 additional troops. Additionally, French General Charles de Lorencez expected that Mexican citizens would grow tired of the war and the slow recovery led by the government in Mexico City and would rally around the French flag.

He was wrong. Mexican citizens from the Puebla region volunteered en masse to fight with the Zaragoza army. On May 3, 1862, the Mexican defenders fortified their positions around Puebla. Lorencez’s attack began on May 5.

Puebla was surrounded by a series of five stone fortresses in various states of repair. During the first French attack on May 5, Lorencez sent 4,000 men to storm the two forts north of the city. They were believed to be in the worst condition. After using up half their artillery ammunition with little effect and suffering heavy casualties in their assault, the French were forced to withdraw.

The second assault was on the same forts, but included a diversionary attack to the southeast in an attempt to draw the men away from the defense of the fortresses. Not only did the second assault fail, but the diversionary force attempted to move to help take the fort and was also badly beaten.

The most decorated French troops, the North African Zouaves, were repeatedly mutilated by Mexican patriots.

After a little over two hours of combat, the French were forced to commit all their reserves to a third assault. They were low on artillery ammunition, so this next attempt against the Mexicans was also launched without any supporting fire from the French guns. This attempt also failed, but within an hour of the start of this final assault, it began to rain.

With the battlefield turned to mud, the Mexicans repelled the French onslaught, then left the safety of the fortifications to defend the surrounding peaks. The French had finally had enough and were trying to retreat, but the Mexicans weren’t done. They fired artillery at the French troops until they were out of range, then sang the Marseillaise (the French national anthem) to them as they drove away.

Ultimately, the Mexican government would fall to France, and Maximilian would rule Mexico from 1864 to 1867. When the United States ended its civil war in 1865, it was able to assert its Monroe Doctrine foreign policy , which guaranteed American support against European colonization and puppet governments in the Western Hemisphere.

Benito Juarez’s forces never gave up their fight against the French puppet government. With American support and arms, they forced Maximilian off the throne and back to the seat of government. The emperor was captured, imprisoned and executed as a message to the old world: Mexico was no longer ruled from abroad.

But even as the Civil War raged in the United States, America sympathized with its neighbor to the south. The first Cinco de Mayo celebration in the United States took place in California, a former Mexican territory, in 1863.

— Blake Stilwell can be reached at [email protected] It can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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