On May 5th, 1862, in Puebla, Mexico a rag tag army of Mexican soldiers, Indians armed with only machetes and Tejano volunteers would defeat the French Army that was considered the most powerful in the world at that time.
Napoleon III, wishing to reconquer the empire gained and lost by his famous Uncle, Napoleon I had armies in Algeria and would attempt a glorious come back. Ignacio Zaragosa, born in Goliad Texas was the general in charge of this Mexican Army in 1862.
But that is not the reason Tejanos celebrate this event. We also know that the U.S. was involved in its own Civil War and would not be able to enforce its Monroe Doctrine which warned European countries of intervening in the U.S. area of influence. Napoleon, fearing the ever expanding U.S. and its growing economic power sought to stop its growth by entering in to Texas and joining the Confederacy to destroy the Union. Obviously, he needed to defeat the Mexicans first.
In 1846-1848 the U.S. went to war with Mexico and she would lose half of its territory. The reason Mexico was defeated so easily by the U.S. was that there was no nationalism in Mexico at that time. Mexico still identified itself as separate communities and did not consider itself a nation of its own. The Battle of Puebla would change all that. The victory at El Cinco de Mayo would galvanize the nation and a feeling of national pride would sweep throughout the entire nation, and the Mexicans would unite like never before and eventually drive the French out. Had it not been for the Mexicans the issue with that institution of slavery could have remained unresolved; but that’s only part of the story.
The reason we celebrate El Cinco de Mayo is because of the Tejano’s that fought in the War of The French Intervention. From Palito Blanco in South Texas came Porfirio Zamora with 500 mounted Tejano vaqueros and Tejano rancheros who had become U.S. Citizens after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Arriving in Puebla they would join forces with the Mexican Cavalry under the leadership of Porfirio Diaz. Late in the evening on May 5th the French Infantry were in the process of with drawing from the field of battle and it had been a long extensive exhausting battle. Ignacio Zaragosa orders Porfirio Diaz to withdraw his cavalry. Diaz, seeing an opportunity to destroy the retreating French Infantry disobeys the order and orders his cavalry to attack.
Among these attackers was our own Tejano Cavalry. A mighty charge ensued resulting in the total destruction of the infantry forcing the entire French Army to abandon the field of battle. Diaz knew that if he allowed the infantry to regroup he would have to fight them again the next day. It was a glorious Mexican victory. General Diaz, instead of being reprimanded would be the hero of the day.
Six years later the surviving Tejanos saw this battle and victory as their contribution in defeating the French and upon their return started the celebrations in South Texas. Porfirio Zamora would be decorated with the second highest combat decoration “La Condecoracion de Segunda Clase” for his bravery and patriotism in the battle. After Benito Juarez died the next candidate for the presidency Porfirio Diaz, would ride all the way to Alice Texas to seek the endorsement of Porfirio Zamora.
And now you know the rest of the story.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this guest column shows celebrations from the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo in Puebla, Mexico.