In the mid-1800s, Mexico needed to borrow rather extensively.  Unfortunately, they were not as quick to pay back as they were to borrow.  It seemed that their creditors (England, France and Spain) were getting a bit antsy about the money that was owed to them and in 1861 and 1862 they hopped into their ships and sailed to Mexico to collect what was due.

This was a blatant violation of the Monroe Doctrine, but the only country that could help Mexico was the Unites States.  As bad luck would have it, the United States was up to their ears in conflict at home… something called the American Civil War was taking up a lot of their resources and manpower.

Not long after the three nations landed on Mexican soil, Spain and England, realizing that France wanted to take the entire country as payment, decided to get out of the country and return home before someone thinks they were in on it with France.  This left France to their devices.

On 5 March 1862, the French army landed and began operations.  The French occupied the village of Orizaba, which prevented the Mexicans from taking possession of key mountain passes near the port of Veracruz. Falling back, the Mexican army of General Ignacio Zaragoza took up positions near Alcuzingo Pass. On April 28, his men were defeated by the French during a large skirmish and he retreated further to the fortified city of Puebla.

French General Lorencez, whose troops were among the best in the world, believed he could easily dislodge General Zaragoza from the town.  He had heard that the people of the town were pro-French and would help him to defeat the Mexican army.  When he and the French army arrived on 5 May, he decided to attack the Mexican positions.  He was surprised by how well the Mexican army responded and when his attack was beaten back, General Lorencez called up his reserves.  The second attach advanced further than the first, but it was still defeated.  Every tactic that Lorencez tried was defeated.  Finally, a stunned Lorencez pulled his men back and waited for the Mexicans to attack their position.  Around midafternoon, it started raining and the attack never came.

The Mexicans took this as the great victory that it was and the French had to report their defeat.  Immediately more French troops were sent and although they eventually won, the Mexican victory at Puebla inspired a national day of celebration best known as Cinco de Mayo.

Although today Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the Puebla area, the majority of Mexico does not celebrate it.  Interestingly, it has become a popular celebration in the United States, first with the Mexicans who emigrated to the U.S., and eventually with the American people.  Today, the origins of Cinco de Mayo have long been forgotten by the Americans, if they were ever known, but Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May, has become one of the more popular drinking days in the United States.  Mexican Cerveza (beer), Tequila and Margaritas flow free and Mexican music can be heard all day and late into the night.

The photo above is courtesy of MexicoToday.org

Published May 1, 2012

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