Franco-Mexican War

France, Mexican Conservatives — versus — Mexican Liberals

The Franco-Mexican War was driven entirely by an opportunistic desire of Napoleon III to establish a French colony in America. To do so, he found a pretext for interfering in a long running civil war in Mexico between Liberal* and Conservative* factions. Using as a casus belli the fact that the "Liberal" government in Mexico had recently suspended interest payments on its debts, the French intervened on the side of the "Conservatives" and overthrew the government in the Capital city. James Monroe had established the "Monroe Doctrine" forty years earlier to prevent just such interference, but at this time the United States was engaged in the American Civil War and could not prevent the French intrusion.

Franco Mexican war
Before the arrival of the French, the Mexican government was in disarray, and had been since the country declared independence from Spain 40 years previously. The "central government" never really governed all of Mexico, but rather, controlled Mexico City and the national treasury, while local governors, whose political alliances changed over time, ruled the provinces. The French began their invasion of Mexico in 1862 by seizing Veracruz, a port city that had already seen its share of political turbulence. From its coastal base, the French proceeded inland but lost a key battle on May 5 (Cinco de Mayo) to liberal government forces. While waiting for reinforcements, they negotiated with the currently-out-of-power "conservatives", who agreed to co-operate with the French. The following year French troops entered Mexico city, the government of Benito Juarez went into exile, and a Franco-Mexican junta proclaimed a Catholic Empire. The crown was offered to Maximilian of Austria, a distant relative of the Spanish monarch. He arrived a year later and attempted to rule the ungovernable country as a constitutional monarch.

For several years the French military continued to win victories over the liberal opposition but as soon as the Civil War in the United States ended, it became clear that the United States intended to force France out of Mexico. Although the United States did not send any direct military aid, they explicitly threatened France, and provided for the sale of Mexican bonds to aid the liberals. This had an immediate effect on the moral of both sides and the liberals began winning back territory even before the French officially withdrew in May 1866.

Maximilian could have fled the country with the French troops but, taking his role as a Mexican emperor seriously, he chose to stay and uphold the cause of the Mexican conservatives. Once the French withdrew however, the conservatives were unable hold territory. By February 1867 the Imperial government was forced to flee the capital and by that time it was too late for Maximilian to escape. He was caught and executed by firing squad in June 1867.

[* Do not take the terms "Liberal" and "Conservative" too seriously. Both sides were dominated by avaricious and unprincipled Freemasons. The "conservatives" were the original Scottish-rite branch that descended from Europe via the Spanish military. The "liberals" were the Yorkist branch, promoted by Anglo-American interests. For more information, see the Mexican War of Reform ].

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Acultzingo   French victory
Fought April 28, 1862, between the French, 7, 500 strong, under General Lorencez, and the main Mexican army, about 10,000 in number, under General Zaragoça. The Mexicans held a strong position in the Cumbres Pass, from which they were driven by the French, and forced to retire upon La Puebla.
Battle of La Puebla   Mexicans victory
Fought May 5, 1862, between the French, 7,500 strong, under General Lorencez, and about 12,000 Mexicans, under General Zaragoca. The French endeavoured to carry the ridge of the Cerro de Guadalupe, commanding the town, but were repulsed by General Negreti, with 1,200 men, losing 456 killed and wounded, and forced to retire from La Puebla, The Mexicans lost 215 only.
Siege of La Puebla   French victory
On May 4, 1863, the French army, 25,000 strong, under General Forey, laid siege to La Puebla, which was held by a Mexican garrison under General Ortega. Forey's force was too small for a complete investment, and he began operations against the Fort of San Xavier. On the 29th this post was taken by storm, the French losing 230, the defenders 600 men. From this point the French obtained foothold in the town, and then proceeded to capture the houses block by block. So determined was the resistance, however, that their progress was very slow, and by April 7 they had made next to no advance, though they had lost a further 600 men. Later in the month an attack on the Convent of Santa Cruz was repulsed with a. loss of 480. On May 8 a relieving force of 10,500 men, under General Comonfort, was defeated by a small French column under Bazaine, losing 8 guns and 1,000 prisoners, and from this point further resistance was useless. Ortega, therefore, after a most gallant defense, surrendered with 1,455 officers and 11,000 men, May 17, 1863.
Battle of San Jacinto   Republicans victory
Fought February 12, 1867, between the adherents of the Emperor Maximilian, under Miramon, and the Mexican Constitutionalists, under Escobedo. Miramon was defeated, and his army surrendered, he himself escaping with difficulty from the field.

Short Biography
Napoleon III Nephew of Napoleon, elected emperor of France after revolution of 1848. Deposed after disastrous Franco-Prussian War.
Benito Juarez Leader of Mexico during the War of Reform. Passed, enforced anti-clerical laws. Supported informally by United States.
Maximilian of Austria Archduke who was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico. Overthrown and executed by Liberal republicans.
Porfirio Diaz President of Mexico for 35 years. Brought stability, modernization, and foreign capital, but ruled as a dictator.

Story Links
Book Links
French Invasion and Maximillian  in  The Story of Mexico  by  Charles Morris
The French Invasion  in  A Short History of Mexico  by  Arthur Howard Noll

Image Links

A dramatic moment in front of the National Palace in Mexico City
 in The Story of Mexico

Death of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico
 in The Story of Mexico