The Mexican general who led the Mexican army during the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 was General Ignacio Zaragoza. Zaragoza was born on March 24, 1829 in Bahía del Espíritu Santo, Texas (now Goliad, Texas). He joined the army as a cadet in 1846 and rose through the ranks over his military career. By 1862, he had achieved the rank of Brigadier General. When the French army invaded Mexico in 1862, looking to collect on debt repayments, Zaragoza led the Mexican army to victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. This battle, which is commemorated today as Cinco de Mayo, helped strengthen Mexican resistance against the French and prevent the French from quickly taking over Mexico City.
When and where did the Battle of Puebla take place?
The Battle of Puebla took place on May 5, 1862 in the city of Puebla, Mexico, about 80 miles east of Mexico City. In 1861, President Benito Juárez had suspended Mexico’s foreign debt payments to European nations. In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz in December 1861 to try to negotiate terms for continued repayment of the debt. Britain and Spain negotiated deals with Mexico and withdrew their forces. France, ruled by Napoleon III, had other ambitions and saw an opportunity to expand its empire. The French established a foothold in Veracruz in early 1862 with the intention of marching inland to Mexico City to force the Mexican government into concessions, including payment of debt and the establishment of a monarchy under Austrian prince Maximilian.
To get to Mexico City, the French forces under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez had to march through Puebla de Los Angeles. General Ignacio Zaragoza positioned his smaller and poorly equipped Mexican force of around 4,500 men at the nearby forts of Loreto and Guadalupe outside Puebla. When the French army of around 6,000 men approached Puebla on May 5th, Zaragoza surprised them by attacking first, setting off an intense battle. Despite their superior numbers and weaponry, the French troops were unprepared for the assault from Zaragoza’s forces. After heavy fighting, the French were forced to retreat. This unexpected victory became a potent symbol of Mexican resistance and patriotism.
Who were the key commanders during the battle?
The key commanders during the Battle of Puebla were:
- General Ignacio Zaragoza – Commander of the Mexican army at Puebla
- General Charles Latrille de Lorencez – Commander of the French expeditionary force
Zaragoza was an experienced general who had fought against bandits and indigenous groups prior to the French invasion. Though his force was smaller and poorly equipped compared to the French, he used his knowledge of the terrain near Puebla to set up defensive fortifications and launch an unexpected offensive against the French, taking them by surprise.
Lorencez was an arrogant commander who severely underestimated the Mexicans’ will to fight. He assumed his superior numbers and firepower would easily overwhelm Zaragoza’s defenses. Caught off guard by Zaragoza’s preemptive attack, Lorencez lost control of the battle and was forced to retreat in disgrace.
How many troops were involved on each side?
The Mexican force at the Battle of Puebla consisted of around 4,500 men. This included:
- 4,000 infantry and militia
- 500 cavalry
The French expeditionary force numbered about 6,000 men, including:
- 4,000 infantry
- 1,000 cavalry
- 1,000 artillery with 24 guns
So the French had a numerical advantage in total troops, and a overwhelming edge in artillery. But the Mexicans were fighting on home soil for their independence, with better knowledge of the terrain. Their ferocity, will to fight, and Zaragoza’s leadership helped overcome the French advantages.
What were the casualty figures from the battle?
The Battle of Puebla resulted in heavy casualties, especially for the defeated French army. Casualty estimates include:
- Mexican casualties: 83 dead, 131 wounded
- French casualties: 462 dead, 304 wounded, 8 taken prisoner
In addition, the French lost up to 200 deserters during their retreat. The Mexicans achieved a remarkable victory at a cost of less than 200 casualties against over 700 French casualties.
What led to the French invasion of Mexico in 1861?
There were several key factors that led to France’s invasion of Mexico in 1861:
- Mexican foreign debt – In 1861, Benito Juárez suspended Mexico’s foreign debt repayments, angering European creditors including France, Britain, and Spain.
- Napoleon III’s ambitions – French Emperor Napoleon III was seeking to expand France’s colonial empire. Mexico’s instability seemed an opportunity.
- US Civil War – The ongoing US Civil War made the US government unable to enforce the Monroe Doctrine and prevent European interference in the Americas.
- Domestic Mexican factions – Conservative and monarchist factions in Mexico were willing to ally with the French if it gave them power over the liberal republican government.
Mexico had substantial debts owed to Britain, Spain, and France dating back decades. President Benito Juárez suspended repayments in 1861, citing Mexico’s inability to pay. This angered the creditors. Napoleon III saw an opportunity both to install a friendly monarchy in Mexico and to check growing American power.
What was the purpose and outcome of the 1861 European intervention in Mexico?
The 1861 joint British-Spanish-French expedition sent naval forces to Veracruz to pressure Mexico into resuming its foreign debt payments. Britain and Spain negotiated deals and withdrew forces after the Battle of Puebla. France under Napoleon III had more ambitious goals:
- Overthrow Benito Juárez’s liberal government
- Force debt repayment
- Install a friendly monarch to rule “New Spain”
After initial defeats, the French returned in force in 1863, eventually capturing Mexico City and installing Emperor Maximilian I. But Mexican resistance continued, and with the US Civil War over, the US aided the Mexicans. France withdrew its forces in 1866-67 after Maximilian was executed by Benito Juárez’s forces.
Why did Britain and Spain withdraw after the Battle of Puebla?
Britain and Spain were mainly seeking repayment of debts from Mexico. After negotiating deals to recover money owed, they were satisfied with withdrawing from Mexico in 1862 after the Battle of Puebla. In contrast, France and Napoleon III had more ambitious goals of overthrowing the Mexican republic and establishing a French-backed empire in North America. The Battle of Puebla was a setback for France, but they returned in much greater force in 1863 and eventually installed Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico before withdrawing in 1867.
Who was Ignacio Zaragoza and what was his background?
Ignacio Zaragoza was the general who led the Mexican army to victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Some key facts about his background:
- Born in 1829 in Goliad, Texas, then part of Mexico
- Joined the army in 1846 as a cadet
- Fought against bandits and indigenous groups in the 1850s as he rose through the ranks
- Achieved rank of Brigadier General by 1862
- Known as a patriotic and heroic figure committed to Mexico’s defense
Zaragoza came from a modest background but had a successful military career. He played a key role in defeating Mayan rebels in the Yucatan in the 1850s. When the French invasion came in 1862, President Juárez appointed Zaragoza to command the Mexican forces because of his military experience and his loyalty to Mexico.
What were Zaragoza’s tactics at the Battle of Puebla?
Zaragoza used several effective tactics to defeat the larger French army at Puebla:
- Established defensive fortifications around Puebla, forcing French head-on assault
- Concealed troop strengths and positions before the battle
- Surprised the French with unexpected preemptive strikes from forts
- Used his cavalry to outflank French units in key areas
- Motivated troops by appealing to their patriotism and courage
Rather than just sit back, Zaragoza went on the attack first, throwing the French off balance. His knowledge of the terrain allowed him to move troops covertly into advantageous positions before launching assaults that the French did not anticipate.
What impact did Zaragoza’s leadership have on the battle?
Zaragoza’s leadership was absolutely essential to Mexico achieving victory against the odds at the Battle of Puebla:
- Inspired troops with his charismatic leadership and exhortations to patriotism
- Leveraged his prior military experience in the Yucatan campaign
- Made shrewd use of terrain, concealment, and misdirection tactics
- Caught the French army off guard by attacking first from forts
- Bold, aggressive approach boosted morale of Mexican troops
His creative tactics and ability to motivate the Mexican forces to fight fiercely against a larger professional European army were hugely important. The French commander Lorencez made fatal underestimations while Zaragoza seized the initiative and inflicted a major strategic defeat.
How did the Battle of Puebla impact the French intervention in Mexico?
The surprising Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla had several important impacts on France’s intervention in Mexico:
- Shattered French confidence and exposed weaknesses in their expeditionary force
- Forced Napoleon III to bolster French troop levels in Mexico to conquer the country
- Bought the Mexicans critical time to strengthen their defenses and resistance
- Boosted Mexican morale and ignited further resistance against French occupation
- Prevented a quick French victory march to Mexico City in 1862
The Battle of Puebla was a major setback for French plans to quickly overthrow President Juárez’s government. France had to commit a lot more troops and resources over several years before capturing Mexico City in 1863. Even then, Mexican resistance continued. The unlikely victory at Puebla gave Mexicans time and hope.
How did Mexican forces follow up after the battle?
After winning the Battle of Puebla, the Mexicans worked to build on their victory in several ways:
- Zaragoza continued drilling and improving his army in preparation for the French return
- Defenses were strengthened around Mexico City and other key strongpoints
- Efforts were made to acquire additional armaments to counter French firepower
- Guerrilla forces were organized to harass French supply lines
- Appeals made for indigenous groups to ally with Mexico against the French
Unfortunately Zaragoza fell ill and died in September 1862, leaving Mexico without its victorious general from Puebla. But Mexican resistance continued even after France ultimately captured Mexico City, showing the defiant spirit awakened after defeating the French at Puebla.
Why did the French eventually succeed in conquering Mexico after this battle?
There were several reasons why the French eventually succeeded in conquering Mexico after their defeat at Puebla:
- France sent tens of thousands more troops in subsequent campaigns.
- The death of General Zaragoza was a big loss for Mexican leadership.
- French naval power helped blockade and isolate Mexican coastal cities.
- Collaboration by Mexican conservatives and monarchists gave the French key allies.
- Mexico lacked the manpower and resources to resist the huge French army indefinitely.
The victory at Puebla gave Mexico time and hope, but the odds were still stacked against them. The additional French forces included highly experienced colonial troops from Algeria and Senegal. But even after capturing Mexico City in 1863, French control remained tenuous due to Mexican guerilla resistance.
How has the Battle of Puebla been remembered and celebrated?
The Battle of Puebla became a potent symbol of Mexican resistance and dignity in the face of foreign aggression. It has been remembered and celebrated in Mexico in various ways:
- Cinco de Mayo commemorations celebrate the battle as a day of national pride
- Numerous streets, towns, and monuments in Mexico are named “5 de Mayo” or “Puebla”
- General Zaragoza was honored as a national hero for his leadership at Puebla
- The Mexican victory showed that indigenous Mexican forces could defeat a modern European army
- “Cinco de Mayo” celebrations are also held internationally, especially in the United States
While Mexico ultimately lost the war against France, the shocking upset victory at Puebla became a powerful symbol of Mexican courage and resolve that still resonates strongly with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans today.
How has the legacy of the battle impacted US-Mexican relations?
The legacy of the Battle of Puebla has impacted US-Mexican relations in a few key ways:
- It is seen as an inspiring shared heritage, with Cinco de Mayo celebrations creating cultural bonds
- The US provided diplomatic support to Mexico against the French during this period
- It serves as a point of pride and identity for Mexican-Americans
- The defeat of a major European power resonated with the US’ anti-colonial origins
- Some tensions have emerged recently around cultural appropriation of Cinco de Mayo
Over time the meaning of Cinco de Mayo in the US has diverged somewhat from the original historical context. But both Mexicans and Americans can find common ground and identity in commemorating this famous Mexican victory.
What controversies have arisen around Cinco de Mayo in modern times?
Some controversies surrounding Cinco de Mayo include:
- Cultural appropriation and commercialization in the US context
- Debate over celebrating Mexican pride versus military history
- Tensions over immigration policy and US-Mexico relations
- Cancellation of some Cinco de Mayo events over fears of racism/stereotyping
- Questions over whether alcohol promotion exploits the holiday’s meaning
As Cinco de Mayo has become highly commercialized and popularized in the US, its meaning and significance have become contested. Some argue it promotes harmful stereotypes or that corporate interests have co-opted the day. Others say the holiday promotes beneficial cultural exchange and Mexican-American empowerment when celebrated respectfully.
The Battle of Puebla was a momentous victory for Mexico against the much larger French expeditionary force in 1862. Though Mexico eventually lost the war against France, General Zaragoza’s inspired leadership and the courage of his outnumbered troops allowed Mexico to defeat a European colonial power. This shocking upset became a potent rallying point of Mexican identity and resistance. The celebrations of “Cinco de Mayo” to commemorate the victory remain an important marker of cultural heritage for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans today, though not without some controversies surrounding the holiday’s evolving significance.