The Battle of Puebla was a combat fought by the Mexican army, under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza, against the French army. This battle took place during the government of Benito Juárez, on May 5, 1862, when the French army, commanded by General Charles Ferdinand Latrille, began an invasion of Mexico and attacked the city of Puebla.
The French invasion tried to pressure the Mexican government to pay the astronomical foreign debt contracted by the country since its independence in 1821. Despite the numerical disadvantage of the Mexican army – some 4,800 men – the troops managed to contain the French advance.
General Zaragoza’s battle strategy led to the defeat of the invading army with its accurate cavalry and infantry attacks, and that same day they had to surrender. The Mexican victory would have significant and historic consequences for the country.
In view of the siege by foreign troops, President Benito Juárez unilaterally declared a moratorium on the debt and broke relations with France, England and Spain.
Background and history
In 1862 Mexico was plunged into a great economic and social crisis. This critical situation was a direct consequence of the 3-Year War, which left the country almost in ruins. The marked fiscal deficit and the colossal external debt that had been dragging on since 1821 also had an influence.
For the moment, the Mexican debt with France, England and Spain amounted to more than 82 million Mexican pesos. The Republic of Mexico owed France only 2860772 pesos in the year 1857. With England the debt was 69994542 pesos, and with Spain it was 946.0986 pesos.
Origin of Mexico’s external debt
The Mexican foreign debt began with the pact signed between General Agustín de Iturbide and the then Spanish viceroy Juan O’Donojú. In exchange for the recognition of Mexico as a sovereign country, the commitment to pay the debts left by the viceregal government was acquired.
To pay off this debt, the government requested in 1823 a loan from England of 16 million pesos. Of this sum, the Mexican government received less than half, because the lender, Casa Goldschmidt y Cía. of London collected the interest in advance.
Later, another 16 million pesos were requested from Casa Barclay Herring Richardson y Cía., Another London bank that proposed the same unfavorable terms for the country. A part of this money was used to pay debts; the rest was designated for the purchase of weapons and military supplies at very high prices.
The chronic millionaire indebtedness continued with the successive governments that the country had. This led Mexico to the very compromised financial situation it had in 1862, when the Battle of Puebla occurred.
Mexico paid a heavy price for its political independence. After 1821, with the signing of the Córdoba Treaties, the country became more economically dependent on European governments.
Suspension of external debt payments
Upon assuming the interim presidency of the nation in January 1858, Benito Juárez initiated the reform movement that lasted for three years. In 1861, when he was reelected as president of the republic, he declared a moratorium on foreign debt payments.
Juárez had asked Mexico’s creditors to grant him at least 2 years to begin paying, in view of the country’s financial situation.
France, Spain and England did not agree, because they wanted to collect immediately and, under this pretext, expand their interests in America. So they formed a coalition to invade Mexico and force the government to pay. This agreement was called the London Convention.
Start of the battle
After the ultimatum issued by the three countries to invade the country, President Benito Juárez declared the moratorium and prepared a small army of 4,800 men, commanded by General Ignacio Zaragoza.
At the same time, the Secretary of Foreign Relations, Manuel Doblado, began talks with the three governments to try to reach an agreement. Doblado’s diplomatic skill managed to get Spain and England to withdraw their troops with the signing of the Preliminary Treaties of La Soledad, on February 19, 1862.
But the French government did not agree and embarked on the adventure of trying to invade Mexico for the second time. In view of France’s refusal to allow the requested financial truce, Benito Juárez ordered to prepare for battle. Military supplies were transferred and the city of Puebla was fortified.
Who participated? Forces in combat
With only 4,000 men in command, given the difficulty of forming a larger army, General Zaragoza was appointed as leader, replacing General José López Uraga. At that time, Zaragoza was Minister of War.
For its part, the French contingent consisted of about 10,000 men, who had better training and weapons. French troops arrived through the Port of Veracruz on March 5. Shortly after they began their long journey to the outskirts of Puebla, where the battle would take place.
Characteristics of the French army
The French army was considered at that time as the best in the world. In command of the invading troops was General Charles Ferdinand Latrille, also known as the Count of Lorencesz.
The French troops were supported by the conservative general Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, after proclaiming himself supreme head of the nation. Other conservative Mexican military leaders, such as José María Conos, Leonardo Márquez, and Antonio de Haro y Tamariz, also joined the French army.
The Battle of Puebla
On the way to Puebla, the French army faced Mexican guerrillas who cannot contain their advance. General Alejandro Constante Jiménez came to the aid of the Zaragoza troops with a contingent of 2000 soldiers.
On April 28, the troops of the eastern army, led by Zaragoza, ran into the French for the first time on the border between Veracruz and Puebla. Zaragoza took advantage of this first contact to blanket his inexperienced soldiers and measure Ferdinand’s forces.
Entrance to Puebla
On May 3, General Zaragoza reached Puebla, where he found a desolate city. Most of its inhabitants had fled because they were supporters of the invasion.
There he established his headquarters, to protect the square with the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. His strategy consisted of covering the southern and northern areas on the outskirts of the city, to prevent French troops from taking the urban area of Puebla.
Before reaching Puebla, General Zaragoza left part of his troops in the rear. In this way he hoped to weaken the French army before its arrival in the vicinity of Puebla.
The day of battle
On May 5, 1862, at dawn, General Ignacio Zaragoza launched the famous battle harangue to his soldiers, which would be recorded for history.
He claimed that they were facing “the world’s first soldiers,” but they, who are the “first sons of Mexico,” were fighting to prevent their homeland from being taken from them. The battle began at 11:15 in the morning, with a cannon fired from Fort Guadalupe and the ringing of the church bells in the city.
At that moment an unexpected maneuver occurred for the Mexican army. The French column divided and led half the soldiers (about 4,000) to attack the forts protected by artillery. The other half stayed in the rear.
The French commander Charles Ferdinand Latrille concentrated the attacks on the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe, where the Mexican army was superior, despite the fact that the conservative military leaders Almonte and Antonio de Haro had advised him to attack Puebla from the north and south.
Count Lorencez was confident of the superiority of his troops. He believed that this, plus the support of Leonardo Márquez’s armed contingent, would be enough to win the battle.
Upon noticing the French maneuver, General Zaragoza reconsidered his military strategy and mobilized his troops towards the slopes of the hill.
The Mexican army formed a defense angle that ran from the Guadalupe fort to the Plaza de Román, just in front of the French positions. The city was strategically protected from all sides.
The attacks of the French column that tried to penetrate the defenses of Guadalupe and Loreto were bravely repelled, as well as the attacks launched by other columns in the perimeter of the city.
Last French assault
When the Mexican cavalry entered battle, the French casualties were enough. At 2:30 in the afternoon the victory of the Mexican troops began to take shape. Commander Ferdinand Latrille ordered a last assault on Fort Guadalupe, but they were met with fire by General Lamadrid’s troops.
The heavy rain in the afternoon made it difficult for the French to advance. In vain, they attempted to seize Fort Loreto to nullify the 68-pound cannon that had caused so many casualties.
The Mexican response on all fronts further weakened the decimated French troops. They withdrew to the Los Alamos ranch and finally began their withdrawal.
Important Characters: Commanders
The two most important characters in this battle were: General Ignacio Zaragoza, commander of the Mexican army; and General Charles Ferdinand Latrille, Count of Lorence, who commanded the French army during the second invasion of Mexico.
Zaragoza is considered a hero of Mexico for his contributions and sacrifice for the country. He fought in several internal battles as an army officer, and later served as Minister of War and Navy in the government of President Benito Juárez.
He was the winner of the Battle of Puebla with the support of Generals Porfirio Díaz, Francisco Lamadrid, Miguel Negrete, Santiago Tapia, Felipe Berriozabal, Antonio Álvarez, Tomás O’Horán, Antonio Carbajal and Alejandro Constante Jiménez.
After the battle of Puebla, Zaragoza contracted typhoid fever and died on September 8, 1862.
Charles Ferdinand Latrille
The Count of Lorencez was a French nobleman related to the Empress Carlota, daughter of the Belgian King Leopold I, and wife of the Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian.
The fundamental cause of the Battle of Puebla was the declaration of default on the foreign debt by President Benito Juárez. France did not accept the financial terms proposed by Mexico, which was to allow it a financial truce of two years before starting to pay.
On the other hand, England and Spain did, which is why they did not support the war actions of France.
Behind the financial pressure of these three countries were other economic interests, such as control of the silver and gold mines in Mexico, and commercial and territorial expansion.
The Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla did not prevent France from invading Mexico again in 1864 and deposed the government of Benito Juárez.
But it set a political and military precedent, to the point that it is celebrated as the most important national holiday after the Grito de Dolores . This battle made Mexico regain its patriotism and faith as a nation.
- History of May 5. Consulted of cincodemayo.bicentenario.gob.mx
- May 5, 1862 – Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. Consulted of udg.mx
- Bautista, Oscar Diego (2003): External debt in the history of Mexico (PDF): Bautista, Oscar Diego (2003): External debt in the history of Mexico (PDF). Recovered from ri.uaemex.mx
- The Count of Lorencez, the great loser of Puebla. Consulted of excelsior.com.mx
- Museum of the Fort of Loreto. Consulted of inah.gob.mx
- September 8, 1862 Death of General Ignacio Zaragoza. Consulted from web.archive.org
- Battle of Puebla. Consulted of es.wikipedia.org