May 5, or Cinco de Mayo, is not Mexico’s equivalent of the Fourth of July. It marks the 1862 victory of embattled Mexican President Benito Juarez’s forces over French imperial troops at the first Battle of Puebla.
Although France eventually won the second Battle of Puebla in 1863, and even installed Maximilian as a puppet emperor in Mexico City for more than three years, Cinco de Mayo established the unbreakable morale and will of Mexico’s forces to ultimately prevail.
President Abraham Lincoln was decisively engaged in a major war to hold the Union together and was in no position to enforce the Monroe Doctrine when Napoleon III intervened militarily in Mexico. Post-Civil War demobilization had begun in April 1865, and remaining federal troops were committed to occupation duty in the South or the western frontier.
Thus, Mexico’s five-year struggle to restore the republic also was a major factor that kept the United States intact.
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Had Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza’s troops not prevailed on May 5, Napoleon III would have been firmly established in Mexico.
A grab for territories comprising today’s southwestern states, and possibly even those of the Louisiana Purchase, would likely have followed, resulting in a far different map of North American today.
Charles Winn, Stuart