CINCO DE MAYO/BATTLE OF PUEBLA

By Rolando M. Romo, ©1983

In 1862, Mexico was a country occupied by France, England and Spain for the purpose of recovering large debts from the young republic. When England and Spain discovered that France intended to establish a monarchial dictatorship in Mexico, they withdrew their troops, leaving France in sole occupation of Mexico.

The French looked at Benito Juarez, the President of Mexico, with scorn and contempt. Juarez, a man of short stature and of Indian descent, would pose no serious threat to their plans of domination, so thought Napoleon III, the French Emperor. Napoleon III placed Archduke Maximilian of Hapsburg as the "Emperor of Mexico." Maximilian was convinced that the people of Mexico would embrace his leadership. The Mexicans that did join Maximilian were mostly the wealthy and aristocratic Mexicans that feared that they would lose their wealth and power with the agrarian reform-minded Juarez.

In order to secure their control of the country, the French needed to move their coastal base to the capital city of Mexico. General Laurencez headed an army of 6,000 well-trained and well-equipped French cavalry and infantrymen. The French army, following the Napoleonic Wars, was considered to be the best fighting force in the world. The French needed to pass through the city of Puebla on their journey to the capital. Benito Juarez ordered Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragosa to defend the city of Puebla.

Unlike the French army, the Mexican army was poorly equipped and their image was less than enviable. The Mexican army, though it had fought bravely against the U.S. in 1848, had ultimately been annihilated. Mexico had lost half of its territory to the U.S. General Zaragosa positioned his army of 4,000 into two forts and along the mountain sides facing the French advance. On May 5th, General Laurencez, with an air of contempt towards the Mexican forces, ordered a full-scale frontal attack on the Mexican fortified positions. The Mexicans, with a deadly crossfire from their two fortified positions, repulsed the French. The French suffered 1,000 casualties in their first assault. After several more unsuccessful charges by the French and faced with shortages of ammunition, the Mexicans fought with farm implements, machetes, and stones. The Mexicans then drove stampeding cattle at the French in order to create confusion amongst them.

Laurencezís army, badly mauled, retreated to the Mexican coast. Napoleon III was humiliated by the Mexican victory and dispatched 28,000 additional French troops in order to eventually secure Mexico City and thus Mexico for Maximilian.

The Mexican army was greatly aided by civilian combatants, many of whom were women. The Mexican people gained a source of newly found pride and resolve in their struggle against foreign domination. Even though the French ultimately occupied Puebla and Mexico City, the Mexican patriots fought against superior numbers with the conviction that they would eventually control their own destiny and live in an independent Mexico once again.