When the Mexican Army defeated the French

With all the nonsense going on in Old Europe, it’s apropos, as they say in France, to observe Cinco de Mayo alongside our friends in Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo marks May 5, 1862, when a ragtag Mexican force whipped the superior French Army at the Battle of Puebla.

France at the time was a global superpower, ruled by Emperor Napoleon III, its military machine undefeated since the Battle of Waterloo a half-century before. With the United States embroiled in the Civil War, France backed the Confederacy and plotted to install a puppet monarchy in Mexico. France’s ultimate goal was to wrest control of the hemisphere’s new republics that had won independence from Spain.

French troops closed in on Puebla, pummeling the city’s two fortresses with heavy cannon. The Mexican defenders, led by the brilliant cavalryman, General Ignacio Zaragoza, fought back hard. Resisting the onslaught, the Mexicans stampeded a herd of cattle against advancing French lines. Machete-wielding mestizos and Zapotec Indians did the rest. The surviving French ran away.

Paris sent in fresh reinforcements, later squashing the Mexicans, and in two years installed an Austrian archduke, Maximilian Hapsburg, as puppet Emperor of Mexico. He didn’t last long. Within four years the French abandoned the hapless Maximilian to a Mexican firing squad.

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