Mexico and the United States of America experienced a drastic new paradigm in 1860 that cost both countries a million dead.
Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in November. Earlier that year Mexican Supreme Court Justice Benito Juarez, a full-blooded Zapotec Indian, had assumed the Mexican Presidency and led his Liberals to victory in a two-year civil war – the War of Reform. The enemy, Conservatives led by General Miguel Miramon, rich land owners and the Catholic Church which owned much of Mexico.
70,000 Mexicans died in the two-year civil war. Mexico was in ruins and broke. Lincoln was elected in the USA, ending a decade of Mexican apprehension of American motives. Many Americans desired more Mexican lands a dozen years after taking half of Mexican territory as spoils of winning the Mexican War in 1848.
That takeaway included what is now California, Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Southern slave states hungrily eyed all of Northern Mexico in which to expand their slave holdings. Juarez and the Liberals breathed relief in gulps when Lincoln was elected for the new Republicans certainly didn’t want to expand slave territory into Mexico.
The election of Lincoln distracted Southern slavers from Northern Mexico. They started a war against the Union not Mexico. Brilliant politician that he was Juarez saw the Mexican opportunity with a new President who had made his political reputation in Congress roasting a Democrat President that invaded Mexico to steal territory for the White Man’s Manifest Destiny.
Juarez recruited a new lawyer 23-year-old Matias Romero as his personal representative and sent him to meet Lincoln in January of 1861, two months before Lincoln was to be sworn in as President. Here is a note President-elect Lincoln wrote to the young man after they met:
“Mr. Matias Romero. Springfield, Ills.
My dear Sir: Jan. 21. 1861
Allow me to thank you for your polite call, as Charge d’Affaires of Mexico. While, as yet I can do no official act on behalf of the United States, as one of it’s citizens, I tender the expression of my sincere wishes for the happiness, prosperity, and liberty of ourself, your government, and its people.
Your Obt. Servt
The destinies of these three men and their countries were completely intertwined from the moment Romero shook Lincoln’s hand onward through wars in both countries that would almost merge in 1865.
Lincoln would be the first to die by assassination in 1865, Juarez would die of natural causes in 1872 and Matias Romero would live to 1898 serving his country as Ambassador to the U.S., as an army Colonel, as a builder of railroads, as an author and politician.
Lincoln would face his gigantic crisis – civil war — within days of his inauguration as Southern slave states would rebel and secede from the Union. Juarez faced a foreign invasion of Spanish, British and French troops sent to collect millions in foreign debt canceled by Juarez. They landed in December 1861 and in January 1862.
Almost 600,000 Americans died in the next four years of war; 300,000 Mexicans would die in the next five years of war with France.
1862 was unkind to both men and their armies. Lincoln’s soldiers were defeated over and over in 1862. The Mexicans split the year into triumph and defeat, both at Puebla about 100 miles east of Mexico City.
After the British and Spanish left, the French landed thousands more troops at the port of Vera Cruz and publicly declared their intention to bring “order” to the chaos of Mexico. French “Emperor” Napoleon III thought he was his uncle the real Napoleon. He wasn’t despite having probably the best army in Europe.
Cocky French officers marched their 8,000 mostly French with some African and Arab troops along the same route taken by Cortez’ Spanish conquerers in 1519 and the U.S. Army in 1846. They came upon the city of Puebla on hills above a valley with two old Spanish forts on each side, Forts Loreto and Guadalupe, where Mexican General Texas-born Ignacio Zaragoza had ensconced his army. Mexican soldiers, Indian volunteers armed with rifles last used in the Battle of Waterloo almost 50 years before shivered in cold wet fighting holes all night waiting to die.
Zeroed-in Mexican cannon made from church bells slaughtered the French infantry mired in mud from a storm the night before. Indian volunteers ran herds of cattle through the French then attacked helpless French soldiers with machetes. Future President Porfirio Diaz led his cavalry, the finest light cavalry in the 1862-world, repeatedly in bloody attacks on the French flanks wiping out French cavalry.
At the end of the day, almost half of the French army was either dead or wounded; cavalry men were dead or horseless The Mexicans had won a gigantic victory against the most powerful army in Europe.
Mexico was saved for another year. Mexicans would lose the second Battle of Puebla a year later, nonetheless, the French would fail to accomplish Napoleon’s desire to conquer Mexico and turn it into a supply line for the Confederate States of America. Napoleon desperately wanted to derail the United States of America, a democracy Napoleon hated.
Author Raoul Lowery Contreras books, including “The Cinco de Mayo Paradigm,” are available at amazon.com.