F Heritage History | Maximilian in Mexico by George Upton

Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton

Departure of the French

Meanwhile the French were making active preparations for their return to France. On the sixteenth of January, 1867, a letter arrived from Napoleon Third, revoking the extraordinary powers granted to Bazaine as commander-in-chief of the Expedition Corps and declaring the corps itself disbanded. The embarkation of the first division of troops on the Empress Eugenie had then already begun. This was in accordance with the secret articles already mentioned, and met with no objection on the part of Maximilian. The recall of the foreign legion, however, included in the order, was a direct violation of the Treaty of Miramar, which guaranteed their remaining in the country for several years yet, if needed.

In February the French marched out of the capital. Before leaving they burned as many of the army effects as could not profitably be taken with hem. A large quantity of powder was poured into the water, and projectiles were rendered useless by being filled with sand, so that the Mexicans should not profit by their possession. It is hard to believe that Bazaine's personal feeling could have gone to such lengths, but there seems no reason to doubt the truth of these statements. During the Russian retreat before the French, in 1812, stores of all kinds were destroyed to prevent their falling into the enemy's hands. Maximilian was not yet an enemy; on the contrary, he was supposed to be an ally, yet for days huge columns of fire and smoke testified to the friendship of the French.

Nor was this all. On the occasion of the Marshal's marriage to his Mexican wife, Maximilian had presented him with a palace, which in case of his recall was to be redeemed by the government for 150,000 piastres ($100,000). Now that he was about to leave the country forever he demanded the promised sum, though well aware of the state of Mexican finances, and, finding it impossible to obtain the money from an empty exchequer, sold enough French arms and ammunition to the revolutionists at insignificant prices to make up the amount.

When Bazaine, some months before, had begun the reorganization of the Mexican army which was to replace the French, he had ordered that all commanders must be Frenchmen, other officers and privates either French or Mexicans; pay, equipment, etc., to be the same as in the French army, end those of his own troops who chose were to be free to remain in the service of the Emperor. Yet in spite of this, before the departure of the last of the troops in February, 1867, he issued an order declaring that all French 'soldiers, officers or privates, who did not return to their own banner immediately would be regarded as deserters and forfeit all rights as citizens. Owing to the wide area of country involved and the difficulty of communication it was, of course, impossible for this order to reach all the French soldiers in Mexico—a fact which was taken advantage of later by Juarez, for all the Frenchmen serving under Maximilian, who were unfortunate enough to be taken prisoners, were shot as deserters. Before leaving, however, the Marshal was kind enough to send a message to Maximilian, offering to wait for him in case he should decide to leave the country—an offer which, needless to say, was declined.

With the French troops, thanks to Bazaine's powers of persuasion, went the greater part of the Austrian and Belgian volunteers, who had done distinguished service under the command of Count Thun, only a few of the Austrians remaining with their Prince. The first step now to be taken was the formation of the new national army, a task already begun by Bazaine. Maximilian divided it, roughly speaking, into three corps, commanded respectively by Generals Miramon, Marquez, and Mejia. As these three men are henceforth to play an important part in Mexican affairs, a word concerning them may not be amiss.

Miramon had already enjoyed the honor of occupying the presidential chair in Mexico, at which time Marquez had served under him. One incident will suffice to illustrate the character of these two heroes. After the capture of Tacubaya, in 1859, they made a visit to the hospital where a corps of seven surgeons were caring for the wounded, friend and foe alike. That very day Miramon issued an order to Marquez, requiring all prisoners ranking from subalterns to staff-officers to be shot under his personal supervision—a list of the same to be delivered to himself that evening. And Leonardo Marquez, this worthy henchman, carried out these instructions so faithfully that not only every prisoner was shot before sunset, but also the surgeons of whom there had been no mention in the order. Such were the ideas of justice that animated these two commanders of the Mexican national army, yet Marquez, in particular, seems to have completely succeeded in concealing his real character from Maximilian, over whom he unfortunately had great influence. In marked contrast to these was the Indian Mejia, who, though still young and of unprepossessing appearance, was brave and honest, a good soldier, and loyal to the end to his imperial master, whose death indeed he shared.

Army corps, properly speaking, were out of the question, of course, in the Mexican army, of which only the few remaining French troops and foreign volunteers were trained soldiers. For the rest and for the greater part it was composed of half-hearted Mexicans, impressed into the service and ready to go over to the enemy at a moment's notice whenever it pleased them. Of the volunteers Colonel Kherenhuller had succeeded in forming a regiment of hussars, and Baron Hammerstein, one of infantry, while Count Wickenburg had an auxiliary force of constabulary, and Colonel Masso the cazadores or chasseurs, all of whom did good service. That their blood was shed in vain, that they never had the honor of fighting near the Emperor or defending him with their lives, was not the fault of these brave Germans, but of the traitorous villain Marquez.

Maximilian next divided the country into three great military districts. Mejia was given command in the east, with headquarters at San Luis Potosi, Miramon was stationed in the west at Queretaro, while Marquez, controlling the central district, remained in the capital.

The Emperor was determined now to show that he could maintain his position without the aid of French bayonets—a proof of confidence and fearlessness which was hailed with acclamations by the imperialists, who already foresaw the downfall of Juarez and the triumph of the Empire. Before actual hostilities began, however, Maximilian made one more effort to avert bloodshed and make peace with his enemies. But it was all in vain. His overtures were coldly rejected and there was nothing for it but to let fate take its course.

The first advance was made by Miramon, who succeeded in inflicting a severe defeat upon the republicans, Juarez and his ministers only escaping by the swiftness of their horses. But the exultation caused by this news soon gave place to deepest dejection. Some days later, Escobedo, commander of the revolutionist army in the north, surprised the imperialists at San Jacinto and put them to rout, while Miramon, with the remnants of his scattered forces, took refuge in Queretaro.