Play button

Cinco de Mayo

nono umasy

Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico's victory over the Second French Empire at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza. Although Zaragoza passed away shortly after from illness, and the French eventually occupied Mexico City following a subsequent victory, the initial Mexican triumph was significant. It became a symbol of resistance against foreign domination. The significance of this victory increased as the United States began supporting the Mexican Liberals with funding and arms after the American Civil War ended in 1865. This support helped edge the French and Mexican Conservatives towards defeat. In 1866, under pressure, Napoleon III declared the withdrawal of French troops from Mexico.


The French intervention in Mexico, known as the Tripartite Expedition, began with an alliance between France, the United Kingdom, and Spain. This coalition formed in response to Mexican President Benito Juárez's moratorium on foreign debt payments, announced in July 1861. The allied forces landed in Mexico, starting with a Spanish fleet capturing Veracruz in December 1861, followed by French and British forces arriving in January 1862. Despite initial declarations to the contrary, the alliance's intent soon shifted toward more aggressive objectives, particularly from France.

Early in 1862, the allies moved their forces to Orizaba, and after negotiations that briefly recognized the Juárez government, it became clear that France sought more than financial redress. By April, following the breakdown of agreements, France escalated its efforts, aiming to establish control over Mexico. The British and Spanish, disagreeing with this new direction, decided to withdraw after settling their claims with Mexico.

French ambitions were marked by a proclamation on April 16, inviting Mexicans to support a new, French-backed government. This was further emphasized when Mexican General Juan Almonte, aligned with conservative Mexican factions and the French, issued a manifesto portraying the French intervention as benevolent. Meanwhile, French military advances continued with the capture of Orizaba and movements towards Puebla.

By May 1862, French General Charles de Lorencez led a significant force to Puebla, expecting a swift victory over Mexican forces. President Juárez, however, mobilized a determined defense, which culminated in the iconic Battle of Puebla on May 5, where Mexican forces achieved a symbolic victory against the better-equipped French army. This battle, although not decisive in the broader context of the intervention, became emblematic of Mexican resistance.

Battle of Puebla

In early May 1862, the French forces under General Charles de Lorencez prepared to seize the strategic city of Puebla, Mexico. By May 4, the French had positioned themselves near the city, with plans to capture the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe, crucial for controlling Puebla. Despite advice to bypass Puebla and march directly to Mexico City, Lorencez decided to engage directly, aiming for a decisive victory that could facilitate easier control over the region.

Battle of Puebla

On May 5, the Battle of Puebla commenced. The French forces, composed of well-armed zouaves and artillery units, launched an assault on the heavily fortified positions at the forts of Guadalupe and Loreto. General Ignacio Zaragoza, commanding the Mexican defenders, anticipated the French strategy and fortified these positions further upon observing the initial French movements.

The battle unfolded with intense combat, where French troops attempted to storm the forts directly. Despite their superior weaponry and tactical organization, the French forces struggled against the robust Mexican defenses. Mexican forces, under generals like Miguel Negrete and Felipe Berriozábal, managed to repel the French assaults effectively. The Mexican cavalry and infantry, using the natural terrain and fortifications to their advantage, inflicted significant casualties on the French, who were forced to retreat after several failed attempts to capture the forts.

The French army, underestimating the resilience and tactical capability of the Mexican forces, retreated back to their camp at Los Alamos after enduring heavy losses. This retreat marked a crucial victory for the Mexican forces and was celebrated as a symbol of national resistance against foreign intervention. The battle's outcome significantly boosted Mexican morale and marked a turning point in the French intervention in Mexico.

Aftermath and Legacy

Following the victory, General Zaragoza was honored with accolades, including a ceremonial sword, and Congress's thanks. Puebla de los Ángeles was renamed Puebla de Zaragoza in his honor, and medals from the battlefield were presented to the government by Zaragoza, although President Benito Juárez chose to return these along with French prisoners of war. Sadly, Zaragoza died of typhoid fever just months later. The battle slowed French advances, although France eventually captured Puebla and Mexico City, establishing the Second Empire of Mexico under Maximilian of Habsburg. The resistance continued under leaders like Porfirio Díaz, who later became President of Mexico. The Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, marked a significant moment in Mexican history, celebrated annually as Cinco de Mayo.

While Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated in Mexico, and is often confused with Mexico's Independence Day (September 16), it has gained considerable popularity in the United States as a celebration of Mexican-American culture. Starting from localized observances in places like Columbia, California since 1862. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo was popularized significantly during the 1950s and 1960s, promoted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor Policy." The day has evolved, particularly due to marketing efforts in the 1980s by alcohol companies, to become a major cultural event. This has made it comparable to the Super Bowl in terms of beer sales. In Mexico, celebrations are generally ceremonial, with military parades and battle reenactments primarily in Puebla, where the original battle occurred. Globally, Cinco de Mayo has transcended its historical roots to become a broader celebration of Mexican culture, cuisine, and heritage, increasingly featured in various forms of entertainment media.

Last Updated: Wed May 01 2024

HistoryMaps Shop

Shop Now

There are several ways to support the HistoryMaps Project.
Shop Now
Support Page

What's New

New Features




New HistoryMaps

History of Afghanistan
History of Georgia
History of Azerbaijan
History of Albania