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Cinco de Mayo: All the news that’s fit to cut-n-paste

5 May 2012

Normally I wouldn’t steal an entire articles from a newspaper, but I’ll make an exception this once.   Notice how long it took to get the news in those days — and that the New York Times, always a conservative paper when it comes to spelling and word usage, still used British spelling in the 1860s.

Besides just the surprise of the crappy, ad-hoc Mexican army beating what was then considered the best military force in the world, there was another reason Cinco de Mayo was a BFD in the United States long before it was “discovered” by beer distributors and politicians pandering for the Hispanic vote: the United States was in the middle of a large-scale organized insurgency seeking to create a break-away southern republic. Some claim Zaragoza and his army saved the Union.

France and Britain were ostensibly neutral, but the governments in both of the two superpowers openly supported the Confederacy — not only because they wanted favorable terms for buying U.S. (Confederate) cotton for their mills, but because they suspected (rightly, as it turned out) that a strong United States would rival their own economic and political hegemony. At the time, something everyone forgets is that the United States was sort of seen by the European monarchies sort of the way today’s major powers see China… an up and coming superpower, with a weird political system and not to be trusted.  Even if the Confederate insurgency was contained, a pro-European Mexico would have meant the United States was surrounded by enemy (or at least unfriendly rival) states.

Neither British-controlled Canada on the northern borders of the United States, nor the British and French Caribbean possessions had the facilities to provide more than token assistance to the insurgency. A European-puppet state in Mexico, under French tutelage, would have permitted France openly to support the insurgent Confederacy, and the British to openly conduct business with the rebel government and, channel military and economic “assistance” through the Mexican “Empire” supposedly ruled by Queen Victoria’s cousin and her none-too-bright Hapsburg hubby.

Luckily for the United States, what happened on 5 May 1862 meant the French had to commit 30,000 troops to Mexico, and spend a year bogged down just trying to take back this one city.  More than enough time for the United States to push back the insurgency from the South, which would manage to mount one last major offensive into Gettysburg Pennsylvania two months later, and then, effectively, collapse from lack of support.

Published: June 13, 1863

IMPORTANT FROM MEXICO.; Detailed Account of the Surrender of Puebla. Official Order from General Ortega. His Announcement of the Surrender. REPLY FROM THE MEXICAN GOVERNMENT. A PROCLAMATION BY JUAREZ. The City of Mexico to be Defended. We translate from the monthly review of the Heraldo of Mexico City the following account of the surrender of Puebla, the general order of ORTEGA, his correspondence with the Minister at War, and the proclamation of President JUAREZ:

MEXICO, Saturday, May 23, 1862.

With the purpose of introducing provisions and ammunition into Puebla, the army of observation moved early in May nearer the besieged city. On the 8th inst, the first division of that corps d’armee was surprised by the French at San Lorenzo. Our soldiers defended themselves like heroes, but were driven back and forced to give way. The loss which we experienced in that affair was of no small amount, and the Army of the Centre, now very much diminished, was compelled to fall back as far as the bridge of Tosmelucan. Neither our review nor the present situation of the Republic appear to us like the proper place or occasion for making recriminations, impartial history will before long decide upon all that has passed at the memorable siege of Puebla, and will say whether the Government displayed all the activity and all the energy that were required to aid Puebla, and whether the Commander-in-chief of the Army of the Centre complied with the duties which are imposed upon every one who exercises a similar command Perhaps all have fulfilled their duty, perhaps only some.

The city was in need of provisions, for on the 21st of last month we were written to on the subject, that we might use our influence to get them sent in. It was scantily supplied with artillery, the consequence of which made themselves felt every day more dreadfully.

Gen. ORTEGA had thought of leaving the city with its hero defenders, when it was not very difficult, (live have before the 8th of the present month,) but the project agreed to by him, to send into the city the indispensable articles which he asked for, and the natural dislike which he felt to leave the city which he had defended with so much courage and self-denial, stopped him. Later, when the army of the Centre could not, assist him, he attempted to do so; but fate or Providence, who wishes to prove in this unjust war the decision and firmness of conviction of loyal Mexicans, prevented it. The city continued to be defended heroically until the 16th, when the soldiers, worn out from the want of provisions, could not support themselves, and when there only remained an insignificant amount of war like materials, expecting to be attacked on the following day by the enemy, who now judged them to be much weakened.

Perhaps in gain time, on that same day — the 16th — the Quartermaster-General, GONZALEZ MENDOZA, went to the French camp, to propose to its Commander-in-chief the abandonment of the city by its garrison, the soldiers being allowed to carry away their arms, and, with unfurled flags, to proceed to the seat of the supreme Government. It is said that FOREY, appreciating the indomitable courage of our soldier, allowed the honor, but required that the march should be to Orizaba, where they were to remain that the termination of the war, without taking any part in it. Gen. MENDOZA withdrew after completing his mission.

At 4 P.M. of the same day, the 16th, Gen. ORTEGA herd a meeting of Generals in the Government-house, where he lived. Having heard the opinion of his comrades, he resolved and so declared, in a general order, published for the purpose, that on that night all the arms should be broken and rendered useless, the cannon that remained should be spiked and thrown into the ditches, and the flags of the corps collected, which some assert were burned. All was done according to order, the soldiers disbanding according to the same regulation. At 5 A.M. a white flag was raised and the Commander-in-Chief, commanders and officers awaited the enemy with firmness, resolved not to ask any kind of pledge, as in fact they did. The French army, full of admiration at an act so sublime and unparalleled, could not help showing themselves affected and respectful. Glory to the hero of Puebla in May, 1863! Glory to the unconquered army of his command.

Some gangs of traitors were the first who entered the city, and giving proofs of their vandal-like instincts, took out of the houses the horses of the Commanders of the Army of the East, and began to commit excesses. Fortunately, some Zouaves entered, and with their weapons forced them to desist, showing, as did all the French army, the contempt with which they look upon the spurious Mexicans who have sold their country.

The generates, commanders and officers were treated with some consideration at first, perhaps with the hope that they would sign a declaration or oath that was presented to them, but all indignantly refused to sign it. We have heard that generals had not even a chair sit down upon; what must be the lot that fell to the subalterns?.

Several commanders, officers and soldiers escaped from Puebla, who brought the news, confirmed by the general order published by Gen. ORTEGA on the 17th, as we have mentioned, and which the Supreme Government received the day before yesterday.

General COMONFORT having given up the command of the Army of the Centre, after the battle of the 8th, it was accepted by the Government, and the young and valiant Gen. ROSE DE LA GARZA was appointed in his stead. As soon as there had information of the surrender of Puebla to the French, he gave the orders he thought necessary to attack the enemy if they advanced, and to avoid being cut off in the place which they occupied. Gen. GARZA has given proofs of intelligence and great activity.

It having been ordered by the Supreme Government to concentrate in the Capital all the forces that can contribute to its defence, the divisions which formed the Army of the Centre have already entered.

Gen. GARZA is taken charge of the civil and military command of the district, and is untiringly occupied in preparing the defence of the city, in case the French should care to attack it.

By a decree of the 18th the Government ordered that all French subjects who are in the City of Mexico and other places of the Federal district should leave by way of Morella or Queretaro, for a distance not less than forty leagues from the Capital, with the exception only of those physically prevented, according to the opinion of three medical men, appointed by the government of the district. That on the same day the French should give up to the Government the arms which they had in their possession. That the French comprised in this resolution can dispose freely of their property, with the exception of their arms.

The Federal district was declared on the same day in a state of siege, the military authority assuming the civil command, which, as we have just mentioned, is exercised by Gen. GARZA.

The Minister of War has addressed a circular to all the Governors and military commanders of the States, in which, after informing them of the occupation of Puebla by the invading army, after a defence so glorious for Mexico, he invites them to send all the forces that they can muster, to increase the number of defenders of the Capital, allowing them, in order to carry this resolution into effect, the powers with which the General Government is invested.

The Supreme Magistrate of the nation has published a manifesto full of patriotism, and in which he shows his firm resolution to defend the independence and liberty without rest and without reserve of sacrifices. The following are some paragraphs of this important document:


“MEXICANS: The nation has just suffered a severe blow. Puebla of Zaragoza, immortalized by high and numerous heroic actions, has just succumbed, not from the bravery of the French, whom our soldiers were accustomed to repel, but from causes which the Government must consider insurmountable for heroism itself.

None of our Generals and chiefs who had so distinguished themselves in the defence of that city, have sent to the Government information respecting that deplorable event; but a multitude of private accounts make it certain, although they do not allude to or differ on points of the greatest interest.

But the occupation of Zaragoza, which could not be taken in any of the repeated assaults of the enemy, nor by the most formidable means of war, in no Wise diminishes nor mars the glory of our valiant warriors, who have raised the name of Mexico, in spite of its proud invaders.

Our country is vast, and contains innumerable elements of war which we will take advantage of against the invading army. Not only the Capital of the Republic will be defended to the last extremity by all the means at our disposal, but the defence of all our places shall be made with a similar vigor. The National Government will urge unflinchingly every where resistance and attack against the French, and will listen to no proposition of peace from them which is hurtful to the independence, the entire sovereignty, the liberty and the honor of the Republic, and its glorious antecedents of this war.”

Since the date of our last review until the 17th, [when the occupation of Puebla by the French took place] the latter had made no progress, being confined to the ruins of San Javier and the blocks of houses which they occupied, in consequence of taking those ruins. In all the attacks which they made against the different places, either fortified or defended by the soldiers of the people, they were revised. The French have entered Puebla without glory, never obtained a triumph, over its defenders, whom they met disarmed, awaiting death serenely.

There having been rejected by the Congress of the Union the majority report of the commission formed by it, which advised the concession of universal powers to the Executive, with a few restrictions, it was made the subject of debate, and the minority report, which grants him all kinds of powers, even that of making treaties, will be approved.

We give, in continuation, the order of the day published by the worthy Quartermaster-General of the Army of the East, by direction or the Commander-in-Chief, the dispatch sent to the Supreme Government, and the reply of the latter — documents of the greatest importance.


May 17, 1863.

The garrison of this city not being able to continue its defence on account of the utter lack of provisions, and of being completely out of provisions.” so as to be unable longer to resist the attack which undoubtedly the enemy will make with the first dawn of the morning, judging from the points and positions which they occupy, and the knowledge which they have of the condition of this city.

Having heard through the Generals the opinion of the majority of the officers who compose the army. which opinion is in absolute conformity with the contents of this order, the General-in-Chief orders that, for the preservation, of the honor and dignity of the Army of the Orient and the arms of the Republic, between the hours of 4 and 5 A.M. to-day, all the armament be broken up which has been used by the divisions during the heroic defence which this city has made — which sacrifice the country exacts of its noble sons in order that the said armament may not in any way be made useful to the invading army.

At the same hour the Commander-in-Chief of the Ordnance will order that all pieces of artillery with which this place is armed be destroyed.



The Commander-in-Chief to the Minister of War.

With this date and at this hour, 4 A.M., I send the following communication to the Commander-in-Chief of the French army:

GENERAL: As it is impossible for me to continue defending this city, from the want of ammunition and provisions, I have disbanded the army that was under my command, and destroyed its equipments, including all the artillery. The City is therefore at the order of your Excellency, and you can direct it to be occupied to-day, if you think fit, the measures dictated by prudence, to prevent the evils that a violent occupation will bring with it when there is no motive for it. The generals, commanders, and officers of which this army consists are at the Government-House, and surrender as prisoners of war. I cannot, General, continue defending myself any longer. If I could, do not doubt that I would do so. Please accept, &c., &c.”

The above I transcribe for the information of the supreme magistrate of the Republic, to whom I hope you will explain, that the army — the command of which he was pleased to intrust to me — defended itself as was suitable to the honor and reputation of the Republic, and that it would have continued doing so, it an absolute physical impossibility had not interposed to prevent it. Since some days past it had consumed all the provisions, and the small quantity of ammunition which remained to it, after the fierce attacks which it lately suffered, and in which, fortunately, it did not lose a single redoubt.

I believe, Sir, that I have fulfilled the wishes of the supreme Government, and complied with the duties imposed upon me by honor and the office intrusted to me, but if it should not be so, I will with pleasure submit to a trial as soon as I am at liberty for in a few hours I shall be a prisoner. J.G. ORTEGA.



To the Minister of War, Mexico.



The Citizen Constitutional President has been informed of the note that you addressed to the Commander-in-Chief of the French army to communicate to him that as it was impossible to continue the defence of Puebla from the want of ammunition and provisions, you had disbanded the army which was under your immediate command, and broken up its equipments with all the artillery, so that he might order the city to be occupied, which from that time remained subject to his orders. He has also been informed of the resolution taken by you to deliver yourself up a prisoner, with the staff of Generals, commanders, and officers, for which reason, as well as for the other arrangements ordered by you, you explain that, notwithstanding your belief that you have compiled with your duties, yet you will with pleasure submit to a trial as soon as you are at liberty, if the Supreme Government should thus determine.

The citizen President has been observing with deep interest all and each of the events that have taken place during the glorious defence of this city, and and sees with pride that the last which has put an end to the tenacious and vigorous struggle, corresponds to the former ones, if not in its victorious results, at east in other things, because it leaves untainted the fame of the nation, without in any way diminishing the lustre of its unconquered arms, or compromising by any offer the sacred word of its warriors.

The President is therefore satisfied with your conduct, and that of the generals, commanders, officers and privates who formed the immortal army of the East, and orders me to say, as I have the power to do in this dispatch, that the manner in which that well-deserving army has disappeared, confirms its being worthy of the honors and congratulations which the sovereign Congress and supreme Government have addressed to it in the name of the nation which they represent.


MEXICO, May 22, 1863.

To Gen. J.G. ORTEGA. Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the East.




GENERAL-IN-CHIEF The undersigned, officers of the Army of the East, declare by our word of honor:

1. Not to take part again in the politics of the country, and to be neutral in the present struggle.

2. Not to go cut of the limits of the place that the commander-in-chief of the French army may appoint for us.

3. Not to hold communication with anybody, nor with our families, without his previous consent.

PUEBLA, May 18, 1863.


The above paper having been read by Gen. LLAVE, and those present questioned, they all replied unanimously “Long live Mexico” “Down with the traitors.”

Moreover, the Generals, Commannders and officers signed the following answer

“The laws of the country, military honor, and our private convictions, not permitting us to sign the paper that has been presented to us. We protest against it, signing our name as follow: Puebla.”

In view of this dignified reply, the Commander-in-Chief ordered the Generals to pass us prisoners to the house of ISUNZA, in Victoria-street: the Commanders to the suppressed monastery of Soledad; and the subaltern officers to the Custom-house, all under guard, and without being able to go out.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Juanita Cortez permalink
    5 May 2012 10:33 pm

    Camels in South Texas, White Gold and Mexican/French OVERT support of the Conferacy. Matamoros was overrun with French wine, Parisian chandeliers and wild times. Some of the French architecture exists on both sides of the river today. Now we have white gold again but a different kind.,_Tamaulipas

    • 5 May 2012 10:53 pm

      I’ll have to dig it out, but I wrote one time on the “unBattle of Bagdad”… U.S. soldiers were supplying Mexican Republicans and accidentally ran into Austrian soldiers serving Maximiliano there, who they took prisoner and marched back to Brownsville. The Austrians weren’t happy and Emperor Franz-Josef was not happy and the U.S. didn’t want problems with the Austria-Hungarian Empire AND the U.S. claimed it wasn’t intervening in Mexico… so… everyone decided those Austrian soldiers weren’t soldiers, and the U.S. soldiers weren’t soldiers, but there had been a misunderstanding between some foreign tourists. The leader of the Austrian soldiers (who weren’t soldiers) complained the rest of his life about the lousy accommodations in Brownsville.

  2. Juanita Cortez permalink
    5 May 2012 10:41 pm

    By the way, Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, was a Texan and the city of Seguín is named after his ancestors.

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