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Cinco de Mayo: The Battle of Puebla

May 02, 2018 02:29PM ● By Jason Huddle

Cinco de Mayo: The Battle of Puebla

Cinco de Mayo – May 5 – is an important day in Mexican history. do Americans really know why?

The Mexican-American War and the country’s own Reform War in the mid-1800s left Mexico in deep debt to countries that had provided aid during the conflicts. Benito Juárez – a lawyer and member of the native Zapotec tribe – inherited this debt when he was elected president of Mexico in 1861. 

“On July 17, 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for two years,” according to Wikipedia. That didn’t sit well with Britain, Spain and France, which sent naval military to force reparations. While Britain and Spain worked out an agreement with Juárez and Mexico, Napoleon III and France saw an opportunity to expand the French empire into what they would call Latin America. What resulted was a series of battles.

Veracruz was the landing spot for some 6,000 French soldiers led by General Charles Latrille de Lorencez that forced Juárez and his constituents to fall back. On its way to Mexico City, the French army found itself fighting a Mexican army of about 4,000 – led by General Ignacio Zaragoza – near Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico and the site of forts of Loreto and Guadalupe.

Despite being poorly equipped compared to the French, the Mexican army won what would be called the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

“The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening, and when the French finally retreated they had lost nearly 500 soldiers. Fewer than 100 Mexicans had been killed in the clash,” says

“A year later, with 30,000 troops, the French were able to defeat the Mexican army, capture Mexico City and install Emperor Maximilian I as ruler of Mexico,” Wikipedia says. “The French victory was itself short-lived, lasting only three years, from 1864 to 1867.”

That’s because, by this time, the Civil War in the U.S. had ended and troops could be sent to Mexico to aid in their fight against the French. Napoleon III didn’t like the prospect of a conflict with the U.S. and initiated a retreat from Mexico in 1866.

“The Mexicans recaptured Mexico City, and Maximilian I was apprehended and executed, along with his Mexican generals,” Wikipedia explains. “On June 5, 1867, Benito Juárez finally entered Mexico City where he installed a new government and reorganized his administration.”

In today’s Mexico, the Battle of Puebla Day or Battle of Cinco de Mayo, as it’s called, is not a

national holiday and is scarcely recognized. Still, all public schools are closed on May 5 and the states of Puebla and Veracruz celebrate it as an official holiday. Festivities include battle reenactments, parades, food and traditional dress.

“Every year the city (Puebla de Los Angeles) also hosts the Festival Internacional de Puebla, which gathers national and international artists, traditional musicians and dancers,” Wikipedia adds.

In 1863, Cinco de Mayo was celebrated in the U.S. for the first time – in California. Its origins here were to show support of Mexico against French rule. Over the decades, events have grown as a display of Mexican pride, culture and traditions. Today, it’s an opportunity for anyone to enjoy cerveza, tequila, margaritas and traditional food like Mole Pablano, chalupas and chiles en nogada.

Americans like a good party so, Mexican or not, enjoy this annual celebration. There are several parties scheduled for the Charlotte area (see sidebar). It’s a happy event that can be shared among us all.

Story By: Kim Cassell

Photos Courtesy: Wikipedia and The Associated Press

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