By Dan Arellano
On May 5th 1862 in the city of Puebla the invading forces of Napoleon III, Maximilliano the Archduke of Austria, his puppet Emperor, would encounter a force of Mexican troops led by Ignacio Zaragoza. We have all heard the story of how General Zaragoza who was born in Goliad, Texas would successfully defeat the French invaders at the Battle of Puebla, but that is only half of the story.
Napoleon III had plans to intervene in the American Civil War.
While the United States was busy with the American Civil War, Napoleon decided that he would be as great a conqueror as his famous uncle, Napoleon I and it would be a good time to retake Mexico and stop America’s expansion. We know now that Napoleon had plans to enter the United States and join the Confederates.
Tejano cavalry joins fight against the French.
However, what is little known is that General Zaragoza would recruit Captain Porfirio Zamora from Palito Blanco in south Texas and in turn he would recruit 500 Tejano’s. Together as a cavalry unit they would join the Mexican Army and fight to defend Mexico from the French invasion. These Tejano’s, although still Mexicans at heart, were American citizens. After the invasion of Mexico in 1846, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo(1848) would guarantee these former Mexican citizens full American citizenship. These American citizen volunteers came from as far as Corpus Christi to Brownsville and all along the Rio Grande Valley.
According to Dr Andres Tijerina, author, historian and professor of Texas History, the Tejano Cavalry that fought under the leadership of Captain Porfirio Zamora, would defeat the French infantry and this decisive charge would end the Battle of Puebla.
Tejano veterans of the Battle of Puebla started Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Texas.
After the French were driven out of Mexico the surviving Tejanos returned and started the celebrations in south Texas. Dr Tijerina says that if it had not been for the 500 Tejanos the war may have had a different outcome. These Tejanos considered the Battle of Puebla as their victory and their contribution in saving Mexico from French domination. After the war, Porfirio Zamora would be promoted to Major, and for his bravery and valor, would be awarded Mexico’s second highest military medal, “ La Condecoracion de Segunda Clase.” This medal and citation were personally signed by President Benito Juarez.
So powerful in Mexican politics was Zamora that after Benito Juarez died, General Porfirio Diaz, candidate for Mexican President rode all the way to Alice Texas to seek the endorsement of Major Porfirio Zamora. And now you know the rest of the story.
[Editor’s note: News Taco spoke to Dan Arellano in a phone interview. A recording of that interview follows:]
[Photo by Esparta]
Ref: El Mesquite, Elena Zamora O’ Shea Texas A & M University originally published 1935 by Mathis Publishing Co., Dallas, Texas
Dan Arellano Author/Historian