Don't speak French? Thank Mexico.
Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo. It is not, as you may think, Mexican Independence Day
, nor is it the Birthday of Corona
. It is the celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla in which a rag tag Mexican force defeated the French. Since much of the world revels in American ignorancy of other nation's history we offer this lesson
for you to share over margaritas with your friends:In late 1861 Napoleon III of France sent his troops to Mexico, supposedly to collect debts owed by a previous Mexican government which Mexican President Benito Juárez had agreed to pay, but only in installments over time. Napoleon III's troops took the port city of Veracruz on December 8, 1861. It soon became apparent, however, that their actual goal was not the collection of debts, but rather the control of Mexico.The pass leading to Puebla was protected by Fort Loreto and Fort Guadalupe. Zaragoza had defensive trenches dug across the road and linking the forts.The Mexicans were aided by the weather – rainy season downpours had made the ground muddy, slowing the movement of the French artillery.General Lorencez was at first contemptuous of the Mexican troops, assuming they would quickly flee from heavy fighting. He therefore directed his first charge directly at the Mexican center. The Mexicans held their ground and drove the French back.The French regrouped and launched two more charges, both of which were similarly defeated.
The Mexicans then counter-attacked, including a force of Zacapoaxtla and Xochiapulco Indians, many armed only with machetes, who nonetheless succeeded in overrunning part of the French lines. Porfirio Díaz (later to be President of Mexico) led a well disciplined company of Mexican cavalry which flanked the French.The French then pulled back some distance as dark fell. General Lorencez waited two days for a Mexican counter-offensive, but Zaragoza did not wish to attack the French in open country where he would lose his defensive advantage. Unwilling to risk another attack on the Mexican position, Lorencez then withdrew his forces back to Orizaba.
What does this have to do with French? You might recall that the U.S. was engaged in the Civil War at the time, and France was eager to halt American expansionism. The French saw aid to the Confederate states as a perfect way to limit the future growth of America- and Mexico was the perfect route into the South.
When a few thousand farmers and semi-professional soldiers defeated one of the premier military powers in the world at Puebla the course of history was altered. Is it hyperbole to say that the Mexicans who defeated the French in 1862 did as much as President Lincoln to preserve the Union
? Maybe. But keep in mind, they didn't do it for us- they did it for themselves. That is what nations, and patriots, do. We may have problems with Mexico today over immigration and water rights, but during the darkest days in American history a small group of Mexicans, out numbered and out gunned, did the impossible- and just may have provided the buffer that America needed to survive, and become what she is today.
Just some food for thought as you join in the festivities.
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