Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the US than in Mexico. While some complain that it is just another ‘commercial’ holiday used to sell Corona, I think it is fitting that the US should celebrate the Mexican Victory at the Battle of Puebla, because the outcome of the American Civil War may have been different if the Mexicans had been defeated, and if the French had decided to intervene on the side of the Confederacy.
Napoleon III had dreams of a Second French Empire, conquering Mexico and Central America, and building a Canal across Nicaraugua. The French, along with the Spanish and English, invaded Mexico in 1861 / 1862. They occupied the port of Veracruz on the pretext of collecting debts repudiated by President Benito Juarez (the Customs House in Veracruz was the main source of revenue for the Mexican Government). The Europeans gambled that the US, embroiled in the American Civil War, would not be able to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. When Spain and Great Britain realized that Napoleon intended to take Mexico, they abandoned the venture.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862. About 4,500 Mexican soldiers, artillery, and cavalry commanded by Ignacio Zaragoza defended a pair of hilltop forts North of Puebla. The overconfident French, commanded by Charles de Lorencez, attacked the forts with about 6,000 soldiers and artillery. The French assaults were repulsed, and Zaragoza counterattacked, flanking the French and forcing their retreat. Zaragoza’s one-line message to Juarez read, ”The national arms have been covered with glory”.
As a result of Zaragoza’s victory, Napoleon sent about 29,000 soldiers to reinforce the French Intervention. Napoleon installed Maximilian, an Austrian Archduke, as the Emperor of Mexico in 1864. The Mexican Republican Liberals under Juarez (with American arms and aid) tied up the French forces until the end of the American Civil War. In 1865, the USA sent warnings to the French that the Monroe Doctrine would now be enforced (in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s “one war at a time” policy), sent troops to the US / Mexican border, and established a naval blockade to prevent French reinforcement. Note that ‘liberal’ meant something else back then…
The French agreed to withdraw in 1866, Mexican Republican forces defeated Imperial forces, and Maximilian was executed in 1867.
Viva Mexico! Viva Juarez! Viva el Cinco de Mayo!
Repost from 2008.
Maximilian did leave a legacy of brewing beer in Mexico - he introduced the Austrian lager – today represented by beers such as Dos Equis or Yazoo Dos Perros…