Cinco de Mayo celebrates a victory by the Mexican Army over the French Army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
It was a great victory because it was unexpected. France at that time was still very powerful and had many troops in Mexico. Why were French troops in Mexico? Let’s go back a few years.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1810. But the Mexican War with the United States and the Mexican Civil War almost entirely wiped out the Mexican Treasury. During these wars, Mexico had borrowed heavily from European countries, including France. In the early 1860s, Mexico stopped paying France back. France’s answer was to invade Mexico.
The French had tried to make Archduke Maximilian of Austria the ruler of Mexico. Under his command, French troops marched from the Gulf of Mexico toward Mexico City.
Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza and about 5,000 poorly armed troops met the 6,000-strong French army at the Battle of Puebla. The Mexican victory was incredible. It stopped the French cold, at least for awhile.
But more French troops returned, and this time they succeeded. French rule of Mexico was short, however. In 1867, pressure from the United States and from other concerns abroad convinced France to abandon its Mexican empire. Mexico was free once again.
The importance in the Battle of Puebla is in the ability of a smaller, more poorly equipped army to defeat a larger, well-equipped one. The Mexican people also showed that they were willing to defend their homeland from invaders. This victory also punched a hole in the European mystique, which held that European governments and armies were by their very nature more powerful than other, smaller countries and their armies.
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