Battle of Puebla

Battle of Puebla

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Puebla

caption=Depictions of the battle showing Mexican cavalry overwhelming the French troops below the fort at Loreto.
partof=the French intervention in Mexico
date=May 5, 1862
place=Puebla, Mexico
result=Mexican victory
combatant1=flagicon|Mexico|1823 United Mexican States
combatant2=flagicon|France Second French Empire
commander1=Ignacio Zaragoza
commander2=Charles de Lorencez
strength1=4,500 soldiers, mostly veterans of the Reform Wars 1857-1860, include Zappadores, Infantry, Cavalry and 18 guns in 3 batteries of artillery. (Civilian forces not substantiated)
strength2=6,040 soldiers, includes Chasseurs à Pied, Chasseurs de Vincennes, Chasseurs d'Afrique, 99th Infantry, 2nd Zouaves, Marine, Naval Infantry, and 12 guns Artillery, 6 guns Mountain Howitzer
casualties1=83 dead, 131 wounded, 12 MIA
casualties2=462 dead, more than 300 wounded, 8 captured
The Battle of Puebla took place on May 5, 1862 near the city of Puebla during the French intervention in Mexico. The battle ended in a victory for the Mexican Army against the French occupational forces. The victory is celebrated today during the festivities of Cinco de Mayo (5th of May). Contrary to some misconceptions, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's independence day.


In late 1861 Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, sent troops to Mexico, alongside Spanish forces, to collect debts owed by a previous Mexican government. President Benito Juárez had announced the annulment of these debts, and vowed to pay nothing to European powers. Napoleon’s troops occupied the port city of Veracruz on December 8, 1861. Soon thereafter, the British and Spanish forces returned home, having established a truce with Mexico.

The Battle

The Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862, was a single, important victory for the Mexican people over the occupying French Army.

The French Army at the time was led by General Charles de Lorencez. The battle came about by a misunderstanding of the French forces’ agreement to withdraw to the coast before French general atilano labracasualties of New World diseases were left behind as recovering stragglers. When the Mexican people saw these French soldiers wandering about with rifles, they took it that hostilities had recommenced. To add to the mounting concerns, it was discovered that political negotiations for the withdrawal had broken down.

A vehement complaint was lodged by the Mexicans to General Lorencez who took the effrontery as a plan to assail his forces. Lorencez decided to hold up his withdrawal to the coast by occupying Orizaba instead, which prevented the Mexicans from being able to defend the passes between Orizaba and the landing port of Veracruz. The 33 year old Mexican Commander General, Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, fell back to Alcuzingo Pass, where he and his army were badly beaten in a skirmish with Lorencez’s forces on April 28. Zaragoza retreated to Puebla, which was heavily fortified. Puebla had been held by the Mexican government since the Wars of Reform in 1860. To its north lie the forts Loreto and Guadalupe on opposite hilltops. Zaragoza had a trench dug to join the forts via the saddle.

Lorencez was led to believe that the people of Puebla were friendly to the French, and that the Mexican Republican garrison which kept the people in line would be overrun by the population once he made a show of force. This would prove to be a serious miscalculation on Lorencez's part. On May 5, against all advice, Lorencez decided to attack Puebla from the north. However, he started his attack a little too late in the day, using his artillery just before noon and by noon advancing his infantry. By the third attack the French required the full engagement of all its reserves. The French artillery had run out of ammunition, so the third infantry attack went unsupported. The Mexican forces and the Republican Garrison both put up a stout defense and even took to the field to defend the positions between the hilltop forts.

As the French retreated from their final assault, Zaragoza had his cavalry attack them from the right and left while troops concealed along the road pivoted out to flank them badly. By 3 p.m. the daily rains had started, making a slippery quagmire of the battlefield. Lorencez withdrew to distant positions, counting 462 of his men killed against only 83 of the Mexicans. He waited a couple of days for Zaragoza to attack again, but Zaragoza held his ground. Lorencez then completely withdrew to Orizaba. The political repercussions were overwhelming, as the outnumbered Mexicans used what courage and determination they could to repel the French forces. The legendary battle had created a Mexican moral victory which is celebrated today as Cinco de Mayo.

Unsubstantiated accounts

A Hollywood-Style account of the Battle of Puebla being fought by peasant townspeople wielding pitch forks and machetes is totally unsubstantiated. The Battle was fought by legitimate Mexican forces, many of whom had fought in the Reform Wars of 1857-1860. Another account of the French being deliberately trampled by a herd of cattle is also unsubstantiated.

Follow up

On september 16 1862, President Juárez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday, regarded as "Battle of Puebla Day" or just Cinco de Mayo. Although it is recognized as a day of celebration, nowadays it is not a federal holiday in Mexico.

On May 11, 1867 Maximilian I of Mexico resolved to attempt an escape through the enemy lines. He was, however, intercepted before he could carry out this plan on May 15 and, following a court-martial, was sentenced to death. Many of the crowned heads of Europe and other prominent figures (including Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi) sent telegrams and letters to Mexico pleading for Maximilian's life to be spared, but Juárez refused to commute the sentence, believing that it was necessary to send a message that Mexico would not tolerate any government imposed by foreign powers.

Maximilian was executed on June 19, 1867, (along with his generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía) on the Cerro de las Campanas, a hill on the outskirts of Querétaro, by the forces loyal to President Benito Juárez, who had kept the federal government functioning during the French intervention. Juárez's position was further strengthened when the United States deployed troops to the Rio Grande, and threatened an invasion. Mexico City surrendered the day after Maximilian was executed.

The republic was restored, President Juárez was returned to power in the national capital, and the 1857 Constitution of Mexico once again was unchallenged supreme charter of the country. Among other things, the constitution confiscated the vast landholdings of the Catholic church (which had been acting as landlord over half the country), established civil marriages, and forbade the participation of priests in politics (the separation of Church and State).

ee also

* Cinco de Mayo


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