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Cinco de Mayo

May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, is the date of the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Seguín. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day, the most important national holiday, which occurs on September 16th.
The French occupation of Mexico took place in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 and the Mexican Civil War of 1858. These wars left Mexico nearly bankrupt. On July 17, 1861, Mexican President Juárez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for two years. In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France decided to use the opportunity to establish an empire in Mexico.
Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving the Mexicans into retreat. Moving on towards Mexico City, the French army encountered heavy resistance from the Mexicans near Puebla. The 8,000-man French army attacked the much more poorly equipped Mexican army of 4,000. Yet, on May 5, 1862, the Mexicans managed to decisively crush the French army, the best army of the time.
The victory represented a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and the Mexican people. The victory, however, was short-lived. Thirty thousand troops and a year later, the French were able to capture Mexico City, and establish Emperor Maximilian I as ruler of Mexico. However, the French victory was also short-lived, lasting only 3 years, until 1867. With our Civil War over in 1865, the US was able to provide more assistance to Mexico to expel the French, after which Maximilian I was executed by the Mexicans.
The Battle of Puebla was important for at least two reasons. First, although considerably outnumbered, the Mexicans defeated a much better-equipped French army. Second, it was significant because since that battle, no country in the Americas has been invaded by a European military force.
Some historians believe that had France won the Battle of Puebla they would have then thrown their support to the Confederacy in our Civil War—which may well have change the way that war ended.

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Further reading

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