Tag Archives: Napoleon III

Remembering History: Battle of Puebla Shows Mexicans Can Defeat a European Power (5 May 1862)

Battle of Puebla 5 May1862
Located at Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones, Mexico
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On 5 May 1862 Mexican troops defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla. The victory, while not a major one for the French Mexican War of 1861-1867, was an important morale booster for Mexico.


In 1861 Benito Juarez became president of Mexico. Mexico at time was facing a several financial crises. Mexico had taken out loans from British, French, and Spanish creditors. Due to the inability to pay the mounting debt, Juarez declared a 2-year moratorium on interest loan payments. This brought condemnation from Britain, France, and Spain due to this unilateral action. Both Britain and Spain would initially support French intervention in Mexico. Due to the American Civil War, the United States was unable to do anything.

A Spanish fleet sailed into the port of Veracruz on 14 December 1861 and took possession of it and later the city. French and British forces arrived on 7 January 1862. Spanish General Juan Prim issued a manifesto on 10 January to make it clear they had no come to conquer but to have negotiations with the Mexican government over their claims of damages. These claims were presented on 14 January 1862 to the government I Mexico City. After some back and forth over having the foreign forces leave Vera Cruz, it was decided to hold a conference in Orizaba. The agreement that was signed on 23 January formally recognized the Juarez government and Mexican sovereignty.

Talks broke down on 9 April 1862 as it became clear the French were interested in invading Mexico rather than resolving the debt issue. The British decided to not support the French and told Mexico of its intent to leave. This lead for an agreement between Mexico and the United Kingdom (and Spain as well) over the debt issue. The British and Spanish would leave. The Mexican government made it clear that if the French continued, it would lead to war. French Emperor Napoleon III (a nephew of the famous Napoleon) saw this as an opportunity to carve out an empire in Mexico.

As had happened in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars, there were many Mexicans who sided with France. Napoleon III, like Napoleon, was seen as bringing much needed changes to their country. The French issued a proclamation on 16 April 1862 inviting Mexicans to join them in establishing a new government.  Mexican general Juan Almonte, who had served as foreign minister under the conservative government, was brought back by French and assured the Mexican people of the benevolent French intentions. The French thought the war would be brief and defeated small Mexico forces at Escamela and then capturing Orizaba. With 6,000 troops, French General de Lorencez reasonably believed he would easily defeat Mexican forces. Juarez had been forced into exile in late 1861when French troops had landed. Now operating out of the north, he assembled faithful soldiers and sent them to Puebla. General Almonte used the time to consolidate the Mexican pro French supporters and got some major cities to join him like Orizaba and Veracruz. Former officers of the Mexican Army, now aligned with France, joined as well.

Juarez had ordered the fortification of Puebla forcing the French forces trying and failing to capture the forts Loreto and Guadalupe situated on top of the hills overlooking the city of Puebla. Lorencez went up against a smaller force of Mexicans that comprised between 2,000-5,000 that managed to stave off the larger and more powerful French army. The French were better armed with long rifles that were better than the muskets the Mexicans had. Many French soldiers, thinking it was going to be nothing more than a quick fight, did not bother to get their weapons ready to go. The French started the morning with loud bugle cries and bayonet drills to intimidate the city. After a full day of warfare, which included three failed uphill attacks on the forts, Lorencez was forced to retreat to Orizaba. The victory was a huge morale booster for the smaller Mexican forces and Mexico in general. The battle was just one of many during the war, that would rage till 1867. But the day is celebrated in Mexico because a mouse had defeated a roaring lion called France.


French forces retreated and regrouped after the battle. When word of the defeat reached Napoleon III, he dismissed Lorencez and ordered more troops to Mexico. The French would win the second Battle of Puebla in 1863 and then capturing Mexico City forcing Juarez into retreat into more remote northern parts of Mexico. The Second Empire of Mexico would be proclaimed. Napoleon tapped the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian to be Emperor of Mexico. Supporters of the Mexican Republic would continue to wage war as guerilla bands much like those that had formed in Spain to fight the French who had invaded and conquered the country. The Empire of Mexico was recognized by the European powers but crucially not by the United States. Since it was embroiled in its war with the Confederates States of America, it did not formally oppose it.

Once the war was over though, U.S. policy changed significantly by recognizing the government of Benito Juarez as legitimate over that of the Empire of Mexico. Napoleon III had thought America would come out weak in the end, but instead the North won the war, and the union was restored. This left Napoleon III with a significant problem. While the U.S. was not aiding Juarez directly (though it was indirectly), it was made very clear that the Empire of Mexico was not welcome, and that France should get out. Not wanting to face war with the United States, he began withdrawing troops in 1866. Maximillian had limited support and while liberal on many causes, he did not have the widespread support he needed to stay in power. As French troops began to depart, he declined to abdicate and leave with the French. He was captured with two of his generals by Republican forces and executed by firing squad on 19 June 1867. The short-lived Empire of Mexico was at an end.


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—. “Outnumbered Mexican Army Defeats French at Battle of Puebla.” HISTORY, 4 May 2024, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/cinco-de-mayo.

“Napoleon III.” Biography, 22 Feb. 2024, www.biography.com/political-figures/napoleon-iii.

—. “Battle of Puebla.” Wikipedia, 5 May 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Puebla.

—. Second Mexican Empire – Wikipedia. 5 May 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Mexican_Empire.