Cinco de Mayo is a national holiday in Mexico, celebrated on the 5th of May. It's a holiday of national pride, of an impossible battle won. Surprisingly, Cinco de Mayo is somewhat more enthusiastically celebrated among Mexican-Americans in the United States than in Mexico. This is not Mexico's independence day, which is September 16.
Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. The years following its independence were troubled, with internal political strife. In the 30 years from 1821 until 1850, there were 50 governments, most resulting from military coups. Wars included the Mexican-American War and the Mexican Civil War of 1858. The national economy was devasted, with impossible debts owed to France, Spain, and England.
When Mexico suspended
payments for two years, Napoleon III, Emperor of France and nephew
of Napoleon Bonaparte, took the opportunity to invade and establish
Archduke Maximilian, also a relative of Napoleon, as the new
ruler of Mexico. The Emperor of France was aware of Mexico's
loss of over half of its land to the United States after the
Mexican-American War. Taking control of Mexico would stop the
rapid growth and power of the United States. It would allow France to eventually control Mexico, Central America,
and perhaps even South America. Mexico was key to this plan,
and appeared an easy target.
The young General Zaragoza (33 years old at the time of battle) was born in what is now Goliad, Texas. He was brilliant and innovative, frustrating the French by avoiding battle on open ground, instead using a type of "guerilla" warfare with harassing patrols, and short skirmishes. Using these methods, he was able to gather intelligence on the French army, slow their progress while incurring minimal losses, and gain time to fortify Puebla.
On May 5, 1862,
the French attacked the two forts. Although outnumbered and poorly
equipped, the Mexican army defeated the French, killing over
1,000 and scattering the rest. Mexico had won that battle, uniting
the people against the European intruders, but the French later
returned with more than 30,000 soldiers, captured Puebla and
ruled Mexico until 1867.
England and Spain quickly removed their backing because of the French failure at Puebla. With this backing now absent, Maximillian was rightfully hesitant to even come to take his throne!
The United States' "South" realized that they now had no dependable ally; the South originally thought they could count on the Tripartite to help them win their war with the North (by having the French troops block any attack by the Union soldiers who were planning to attack the"South" from Arizona or Texas.
What might have happened if the French had beaten the Mexicans at Puebla on the 5th of May?
Would the tripartite have, within the next 12 years, carved up Mexico to create a little Spain, England and France/Austria?
It is likely that the United States would have been ripe for invasion because the land to the north was itself under attack and the tripartite would have made the odds much more favorable for the South (who was doing rather well despite the battle participant's ratios of 3 northerners to every southerner. If the tripartite came into Texas, California and Arizona at the same time and then had its armies pivot to the east, it is likely that Grant and Mc Clellan would have been overwhelmed and caved in to the firepower the tripartite added to the South's battle wisdom!
Soon, the United State's South would have overwhelmed the North and likely forced Grant and then Lincoln to capitulate and the Capital of the United States would have moved to Jefferson Davis' Southern Headquarters in Dixie.
Canada would have been invaded next (it was partially French already) and soon, the tripartite would have become the strongest nation in the world! Whatever name the tripartite would have called itself, it could have challenged the rest of the world!
Thanks to the moral conviction of the 2,000 plus soldiers and citizenry of Puebla, the Mexican government was made stronger. The United States finally forced the South back into the democracy it previously had, and Canada was never the wiser about its own potent change! Viva Mexico!
Let me take you to another century, to tie the two Napoleons together.
The Mexicans had won a great victory that kept Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebels for another year, allowing the United States to build the greatest army the world had ever seen. This grand army smashed the Confederates at Gettysburg just 14 months after the battle of Puebla, essentially ending the Civil War.
It might be a historical stretch to credit the survival of the United States to those brave Mexicans who faced an army twice as large in 1862. But who knows?
|Diplomacy and Intrigue. Confederate Relations with the Republic of Mexico, 1861-1862|