Whatever Cinco de Mayo is to people in his country or in Mexico, there’s always a story behind the celebration. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the Mexican independence Day. However, it does involve a battle.
In the aftermath of the Mexican-American War and the Reform War, Benito Juarez became president of a country in financial ruin, and he was forced to default on his debts to European governments.
In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France, ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to carve a dependent empire out of Mexican territory.
Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juarez and his government into retreat. Certain that French victory would come swiftly in Mexico, 6,000 French troops descended on Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico.
From his new headquarters in the north, Juarez rounded up a small force of loyal men and sent them to Puebla. Led by Texas-born General Zaragoza, the 2,000 Mexicans fortified the town and prepared for the French assault.
On the fifth of May, 1862, the French began their assault from the north. The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening, and when the French finally retreated they had lost nearly 500 soldiers to the fewer than 100 Mexicans killed.
Although not a major strategic victory in the overall war against the French, Zaragoza’s victory at Puebla tightened Mexican resistance, and six years later France withdrew. (Some historians also believed that Napoleon III feared the threat of war with Prussia, and “the prospect of a serious scrap with the United States” for his making his retreat from Mexico starting in 1866.)
Victory at the Battle of Puebla represented a great moral victory for the Mexican government, symbolizing the country’s ability to defend its sovereignty against threat by a powerful foreign nation.
So, take your family out for a nice Mexican fiesta and enjoy a margarita today! Our office had a celebration on Friday with a potluck and a visit from the Margarita Man machine.