Every year, gringos in Texas (and, I assume, other parts of the U.S.) celebrate Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) with little or no knowledge of what the holiday represents. Americans love any excuse to drink and wear funny hats. For examples, see St. Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest. I often hear at least one person tell another that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day. Let me drop some conocimiento on you.Mexico declared their independence from Spain on September 15, 1810. Later, in 1861, Mexico elected Benito Juarez as the president of a new democratic government. That December, troops from England, France, and Spain showed up to collect on Mexican debts. The English and Spanish cut deals with the Mexicans and went home, but the French didn’t just want money. They brought an Austrian prince with them, Maximilian, to be the emperor of Mexico. The French army had not been defeated in decades, so they had every confidence that they could beat the Mexicans, who would get no help from their French-endorsed Confederate neighbors to the north.
The French marched toward Mexico City, hoping to strike a deathblow to the capital. The French army (about 8,000 men) was armed with the newest technology and weapons of the time. Some of the Mexicans (there were about 4,000 of them) were armed with machetes. They waited for the French at Puebla, about 100 miles east of Mexico City. The French arrived on the morning of May 5th, 1862. The French cavalry proved to be no match for the Mexican cavalry, and were promptly defeated. The French infantry charged the Mexican defenders, but they had to deal with a muddy field and a giant herd of cattle that the Mexicans had rustled up in their path. In the confusion, the Mexicans slaughtered the French troops.
The defeat at Pueblo kept the French from supplying the Confederates, who were involved in the American Civil War. Fourteen months later, Union troops defeated the Confederates at Gettysburg, delivering a crushing blow to end the Civil War. Approximately 50,000 American troops (many of them black) rushed to the Mexican border to train and supply the Mexican troops. American soldiers were discharged with their weapons if they joined the Mexican army to fight the French. When the French finally withdrew from Mexico, the American Legion of Honor marched in the victory parade in Mexico City.
Points of Interest:
- The French took control of Mexico City in late 1862, and Maximilian was crowned emperor of Mexico on June 10th, 1864. He made an honest effort to unite Mexico.
- In 1867, the last French and Austrian troops were withdrawn from Mexico and Maximilian was executed.
- When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, thousands of Mexicans joined the U.S. Army to help fight the war.
- May 5th is also Dutch Liberation Day.
Vaya con Dios, amigos.