Today in Military History – May 5th – Battle of PueblaRich
The Battle of Puebla took place on May 5, 1862 near the city of Puebla during the French intervention in Mexico. The battle ended in a victory for the Mexican Army against the occupying French forces. The victory is celebrated today during the festivities of Cinco de Mayo (5th of May).
In late 1861 Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, under the Treaty of London (1861) sent troops to Mexico, alongside Spanish and English forces, to collect debts owed by a previous Mexican government. President Benito Juárez had announced the annulment of these debts, and vowed to pay nothing to European powers. Napoleon’s troops occupied the port city of Veracruz on December 8, 1861. Soon thereafter, the accompanying British and Spanish forces returned home, having established a truce with Mexico.
The Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862, was a single, important victory for the Mexican people over the occupying French Army.
The French Army at the time was led by General Charles de Lorencez. The battle came about by a misunderstanding of the French forces’ agreement to withdraw to the coast. When the Mexican people saw these French soldiers wandering about with rifles, they took it that hostilities had recommenced and felt threatened. To add to the mounting concerns, it was discovered that political negotiations for the withdrawal had broken down. A vehement complaint was lodged by the Mexicans to General Lorencez who took the effrontery as a plan to assail his forces. Lorencez decided to hold up his withdrawal to the coast by occupying Orizaba instead, which prevented the Mexicans from being able to defend the passes between Orizaba and the landing port of Veracruz. The 33 year old Mexican Commander General, Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, fell back to Alcuzingo Pass, where he and his army were badly beaten in a skirmish with Lorencez’s forces on April 28. Zaragoza retreated to Puebla, which was heavily fortified. Puebla had been held by the Mexican government since the Wars of Reform in 1860. To its north lie the forts Loreto and Guadalupe on opposite hilltops. Zaragoza had a trench dug to join the forts via the saddle.
Lorencez was led to believe that the people of Puebla were friendly to the French, and that the Mexican Republican garrison which kept the people in line would be overrun by the population once he made a show of force. This would prove to be a serious miscalculation on Lorencez’s part. On May 5, against all advice, Lorencez decided to attack Puebla from the north. However, he started his attack a little too late in the day, using his artillery just before noon and by noon advancing his infantry. By the third attack the French required the full engagement of all their reserves. The French artillery had run out of ammunition, so the third infantry attack went unsupported. The Mexican forces and the Republican Garrison both put up a stout defense and even took to the field to defend the positions between the hilltop forts.
As the French retreated from their final assault, Zaragoza had his cavalry attack them from the right and left while troops concealed along the road pivoted out to flank them badly. By 3 p.m. the daily rains had started, making a slippery quagmire of the battlefield. Lorencez withdrew to distant positions, counting 462 of his men killed against only 83 of the Mexicans. He waited a couple of days for Zaragoza to attack again, but Zaragoza held his ground. Lorencez then completely withdrew to Orizaba.