It’s Cinco de Mayo – Happy May 5th. On this date, 154 years ago, in 1862 a Mexican Army defeated an invading French force at the Battle of Puebla. That’s right – French, not Spanish. But what were the French doing in Mexico? Well, Mexico was under its FIFTH government since it won its war of independence from Spain in 1821. In 1862, like its neighbor to the North, Mexico was in the midst of a civil war. As a result, President Benito Juarez was forced to suspend debt payments owed to the European powers – particularly Great Britain, France, and Spain, who formed an alliance to get their money back.
More so than his allies, the French Emperor, Napoleon III, saw political opportunity to this default and was bent on installing a puppet Mexican state under the Austrian Archduke Maximilian. To this end, French forces landed at the Mexican port of Veracruz in December 1861 and worked their way inland. On that fateful day, Mexican forces pulled off a surprise victory over one of the most accomplished military forces in the world. Unfortunately, this battle was not to prove decisive for the Mexican forces. The French would recover and successfully establish the Empire of Mexico under Maximilian’s rule in 1863. This short-lived imperial venture, however, ended in 1867.