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The historic Battle of Puebla saw Mexican patriotic forces defeat the imperialist French army, which was considered the most powerful in the world at the time. This remarkable victory has become a symbol of Mexico’s struggle for sovereignty and independence.
The origins of this battle date back to the Reform War, which pitted liberals and conservatives against each other between 1858 and 1861. Both sides went into debt with other countries to finance the war, plunging the entire nation into poverty. Then-President Benito Juarez tried to alleviate the situation and engaged in negotiations with France, Spain and England, but only the last two accepted restructuring the debt.
France, governed by Napoleon III, decided to invade Mexico and sent around 6,000 men commanded by Charles Ferdinand, the Count of Lorentz. The Mexican forces grouped around 5,000 soldiers, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, who established his defense in Puebla.
At 9 in the morning on May 5, 1862, the battle began. Zaragoza’s forces defended the city with cannons and artillery, but victory was made possible by the help of indigenous communities who unexpectedly joined the battle. Despite having no training and being armed only with machetes and sticks, they were key to repelling the French invasion.
The union of soldiers and indigenous people gave way to Mexico’s historic triumph with the French army withdrawing in humiliation. This event helped build the Mexican identity and strengthened the country’s sovereignty and patriotism.
“They [the French] may be the best army in the world but we are the best sons of Mexico,” Zaragoza wrote to President Juarez after defeating the French forces.
The Battle of Puebla gave the Mexican government a year to prepare the defense before the “Second French Intervention”. Hostilities with France lasted until 1867. Though the invaders managed to secure large swathes of territory and install their emperor, guerrilla resistance and Prussian advances in Europe eventually led to Mexican victory.