F Heritage History | Maximilian in Mexico by George Upton

Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton




The Siege of Queretaro

On the tenth of February the Emperor told his physician to prepare for a two weeks' expedition to Queretaro. Prompted by the urgent representations of his ministers, Lares and Marquez, that his presence was needed there to counteract the demoralizing effect of Miramon's defeat, he determined to place himself at the head of the army. After some delay, owing to the difficulty of obtaining funds for the campaign, in spite of the ministry's assurances as to the satisfactory condition of the national finances, Maximilian set out upon this fateful journey on the thirteenth of February, with a force of sixteen hundred Mexicans.

The matter had been arranged with so much secrecy that even Prince Salm and Major Hammerstein had no suspicion of the plan, while the Austrian hussars were dumbfounded when they found the Emperor starting for Queretaro without them. Two men have been accused of persuading Maximilian to this rash and fatal step—Father Fischer and the Prussian ambassador, Baron Magnus. Dr. Basch, one of the few who were in the secret, denies this, however, and places the blame entirely on the two ministers, Lares and Marquez—the latter of whom had managed to win the Emperor's entire confidence by his eloquence and flattery. This seems the more probable since it was to their interest to remove Maximilian to a safe distance. Once already he had started for the coast. Why might he not do so again and with the aid of his Austrians succeed in reaching it and bidding adieu to the country forever? This must be prevented at all cost. As for leaving these loyal troops behind and trusting himself to the uncertain Mexicans, it must be remembered that Maximilian was completely deceived as to the real state of affairs. From his order to Dr. Basch it is evident he expected to return from Queretaro in a short time. He wished also to give his Mexican subjects a proof of his confidence in them, a noble and chivalrous idea, no doubt, but most imprudent.

Marquez, on the other hand, was anxious to keep the Emperor under his own influence and away from that of his German friends, whose advice might seriously interfere with his plans. It was also important to leave the capital in safe hands, and no one realized more than Marquez the difference between the Austrian troops and his ragged Mexican soldiers, many of them wearing a uniform for the first time.

It was doubtless for this reason that the plan was kept so secret. The Emperor's friends would surely have dissuaded him from taking such a step or, at least, have insisted on accompanying him. Indeed, when Kherenhuller and Hammerstein heard that he was about to leave for Queretaro, they tried their best to induce him to take them with him. As a last resort they even appealed to Father Fischer to use his influence in their behalf, but all in vain. Having promised his friend, Marquez, Maximilian felt he could not in honor retract his word.

Shortly before setting out he took leave of his Austrian officers, assuring them that his reasons for taking this journey were purely political ones, and promising that they should soon follow. Prince Salm indeed did follow with a few trusted men, in spite of the Emperor's prohibition, overtaking the imperial party before they reached Queretaro. Of the march thither Maximilian himself gives an interesting account in a letter to Professor Bilimek who had returned to Miramar some time before. In it he writes:

"As you will already have learned through the newspapers, our friends, the French, have at last left Mexico, and, having once more obtained liberty of action, we have exchanged the butterfly net for the sword. Instead of bugs and beetles we now pursue other game. Bullets instead of bees now buzz about our heads. Twice between Mexico and Queretaro we were in action and had a number of our men killed and wounded. One of the latter fell just in front of my horse and was immediately operated on, under fire, by Dr. Basch, the only European who accompanied me. In the second skirmish, where we were shot at like targets, our Hungarian cook (you remember him?), who was riding behind us with our servant Grill, was wounded on the lip. In every town where there were no revolutionists we were welcomed most heartily by the people, whom we found longing for peace and cursing the French."

Maximilian reached Queretaro on the nineteenth and was received with the enthusiasm to be expected from one of the strongest imperialist cities. The streets were thronged with curious spectators who hailed the Emperor's appearance with shouts of joy, while from windows and balconies, flags and gay hangings of all sorts waved a welcome. The Spanish casino had been selected and prepared as a residence for the Emperor, where he was received by the commandant of the city, General Escobar, after which the whole party attended a solemn Te Deum at the cathedral.

In the evening there were great festivities, concluding with a magnificent banquet, at which there was no lack of those fine speeches wherein the Mexicans especially excel. Maximilian took no part in these celebrations, pleading fatigue as an excuse. Marquez, however, improved the occasion rudely to impress upon General Miramon the sense of their altered positions, he now being commander-in-chief and Miramon his inferior, at the same time openly displaying his satisfaction over the latter's recent defeat. Truly a noble soul! Although white with rage, Miramon controlled himself, replying briefly with a toast to the army.

For a time after his arrival in Queretaro, Maximilian found the life very pleasant. His simple, kindly ways soon won the hearts of the people, with whom he mingled freely and fearlessly, joining in their amusements and conversing familiarly with all classes. His coolness under fire also roused the admiration of his soldiers, who cheered wildly as he rode calmly past their ranks, the enemy's bullets whistling about his head.

In the capital, meanwhile, there was so little thought given to the Emperor and his companions in Queretaro, and there was so little idea of keeping any of the promises made to him, it would almost seem that Marquez was not the only traitor. Soon after leaving Mexico, Maximilian had sent back word for the Austrian troops remaining there to follow him at once. Had this order been delivered, the expedition to Queretaro might have had a different and less tragic ending. But, owing to Marquez, it never reached its destination, and the Emperor's loyal friends, Kherenhuller and Hammerstein, were prevented from joining him while there was still time.

The city of Queretaro had at this time a population of some forty thousand inhabitants. It lay in a narrow valley on the southern bank of a small stream, called the Rio Blanco, forming a quadrangle of about eight thousand feet in length by four thousand in breadth. To the west extended a wide plain, called from the mountains behind it the plait of Guadalajara, while running from south to north east was a range of hills, afterward utilized by the republicans with great effect. Two places which proved of special importance to the imperialist' during the siege were the Cerro de la Campana, hill lying just west of the city, and the Convent de la Cruz, almost at the opposite end. This was a large stone edifice of great strength, dating from the days of Cortez. The convent grounds were enclosed by heavy stone walls, and had at the eastern end a smaller but equally strong building known as the Pantheon or burial-place of the convent.

Two weeks after the Emperor's arrival (Marc: fifth), the republican forces, under General Escobedo, appeared before Queretaro and began to invest the town. The garrison consisted of about four thousand infantry, three thousand cavalry, and had forty-four cannon—a force so insignificant, co: pared with the vast armies of the present day, that it is remarkable it should have held out as long as it did against such overwhelming superiority of numbers. General Mejia had arrived at Queretaro shortly before this, with his troops from Potosi, among whom were a number of German officers and soldiers, while serving under Miramon were some six hundred Frenchmen. Immediately after the appearance of the enemy, Maximilian held a council of war with his generals. Miramon and Mejia were in favor of attacking the republicans before their forces should have time to unite—an excellent plan which was not carried out owing to the opposition of the all-influential Marquez, who held that the defence of the city should be their first consideration. Thus precious time was allowed to pass, and the imperialists looked calmly on while the enemy gradually crowned the surrounding heights with batteries. The Emperor had first established his headquarters on the Cerro de la Campana, but when the republicans extended their lines eastward, they were moved to the Convent de la Cruz (so called from a cross erected there in commemoration of the conquest). General Miramon now occupied the former headquarters with a battery of eight guns, while the chief defence of the town was entrusted to the Mexican Castillo, an able general, but no longer young and almost entirely deaf.

The enemy's next move was to cut off the city's supplies, both of water and provisions, hoping to subdue it by starvation. The only water now obtainable was that of the Rio Blanco, while meat soon grew so scarce that many of the cavalry horses had to be sacrificed. Juarez himself joined the republican camp for a time, but, being unable to endure the smell of powder, soon returned to Potosi. On the fourteenth of March the Juarists made their first general attack on the town, assaults being made on three sides at once, under cover of the batteries. The main struggle, however, took place at La Cruz. After a hot fight they succeeded in capturing the Pantheon, but were afterward driven out by a body of Austrians. During the attack Maximilian remained in the great square before the convent, exposed to the hottest fire, yet quite calm and apparently unconscious of the deadly hail of bullets all about him. Once a shell burst only a few paces in front of him, but fortunately no one was injured, though an adjutant had his sword bent and his clothes burned by a flying splinter. Prince Salm, always conspicuous for bravery, made a brilliant sortie and succeeded in capturing the first guns from the enemy.

By evening the Juarists had been repulsed at all points and driven back, but the victory proved barren in results. Lopez, for some reason, took no part in the action, while Marquez either would not or did not know how to follow up the advantage he had gained. As for Miramon, he distinguished himself a few days later. It had been planned to surprise the Juarists early on the morning of the sixteenth, and Miramon was chosen to lead the attack, from which great things were hoped. But the whole scheme fell through because—that general overslept!—a neglect of duty difficult to understand in these days. When he did at last awake it was broad daylight, and all thought of a surprise had to be abandoned.

On the twenty-first of March another council was held and an important decision arrived at. This was to send one of the generals back to the city of Mexico with full authority from the Emperor to act as he thought best. He was to dismiss the present ministry and form a new one, to obtain more funds, and, in any case, to return with aid to Queretaro without delay. Marquez, for whom the place was getting much too warm by this time, had no difficulty in obtaining the appointment—a simple means of escaping the trap into which he had led his sovereign. Still trusting the traitor implicitly, Maximilian left it entirely to him whether to bring only a part of the troops from Mexico or the whole garrison. It was arranged that Marquez, with one thousand horsemen, was to make his way through the hills to the south, while Miramon, to divert the enemy's attention, made a sortie in the opposite direction. The plan was kept so secret that even Miramon had no suspicion of the real purpose of his expedition. This time he did not oversleep but successfully surprised the enemy at four in the morning, returning with twenty-two carts full of provisions and war material, sixty oxen, and some two hundred sheep and goats. Meanwhile Marquez and his troopers had passed through the enemy's lines unnoticed, leaving the imperialists the poorer by one thousand of their best men—no small loss to a garrison already so reduced.

The Juarists, now swelled by reinforcements to about forty thousand men, continued to harass the city by daily attacks from without, while their spies kept them accurately informed of all that passed within. The Emperor, unconscious of the treachery by which he was surrounded, still looked confidently for relief from Marquez. Days passed in ever-increasing suspense, while the situation of the besieged grew more and more critical. Marquez' enemies began openly to hint at treachery, and at length even Maximilian lost faith. Now that it was too late his eyes were opened to the real nature of his "friend," and, realizing that he had been betrayed, he determined to send Prince Salm on another mission to the capital—to arrest Marquez, if necessary, and return at once with reinforcements. An attempt was accordingly made on the twenty-second of April to break through the enemy's lines, but the city was by this time so closely invested that it was found to be useless. Meanwhile the republicans, fearing that the Emperor with his whole force might succeed in escaping from the city, caused reports of Marquez' approach to be circulated by their spies, while false despatches, purporting to arrive from the capital, were smuggled through the lines in order to soothe the imperialists with vain hopes.

But what of Marquez while all Queretaro watched so anxiously for his return? Where was he and what was he doing? He had arrived safely at the capital on the twenty-seventh of March with few losses, and, finding the city of Puebla hard pressed by the Juarist, Porfirio Diaz, determined to go to its relief. Though well aware of the urgency of the situation in Queretaro, and the need of haste in executing his mission, he seems to have troubled himself little concerning it, and to have taken no steps toward sending the promised aid. The relief of Puebla he did indeed undertake, but here as in Queretaro he made so many blunders that the attempt ended in utter failure and involved the needless sacrifice of many of Maximilian's brave Austrians.