Major Battles of Mexico's Independence From Spain

Years of Fighting to Make Mexico Free

Between 1810 and 1821, Mexico's government and people were in turmoil as a Spanish colony, resulting from rising taxes, unexpected droughts and freezes, and political instability in Spain because of the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Revolutionary leaders like Miguel Hidalgo and Jose Maria Morelos led a mostly agrarian-based guerrilla war against the royalist elites in the cities, in what some scholars see as an extension of an independence movement in Spain.

The decade-long struggle included some setbacks. In 1815, the restoration of Ferdinand VII to the throne in Spain brought the reopening of sea communications. The re-establishment of Spanish authority in Mexico seemed inevitable. However, between 1815 and 1820, the movement was entangled with the collapse of imperial Spain. In 1821, the Mexican Creole Augustin de Iturbide published the Triguarantine Plan, laying out a plan for independence.

Mexico's independence from Spain came at a high cost. Thousands of Mexicans lost their lives fighting both for and against the Spanish between 1810 and 1821. Here are some of the most important battles of the first years of the insurgency which ultimately led to independence.

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el Grito de Dolores by Juan O'Gorman. Public Domain

On September 16, 1810, rebel priest Miguel Hidalgo took to the pulpit in the town of Dolores and ​told his flock that the time had come to take up arms against the Spanish. In minutes, he had an army of ragged but determined followers. On September 28, this massive army arrived at the rich mining city of Guanajuato, where all of the Spaniards and colonial officials had barricaded themselves inside the fortress-like royal granary. The massacre that followed was one of the ugliest of Mexico's struggle for independence. More »

Miguel Hidalgo, Father of Mexican Independence. 1864 Painting by Joaquin Ramirez

With Guanajuato in ruins behind them, the massive rebel army led by Miguel Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende set their sights on Mexico City. Panicked Spanish officials sent for reinforcements, but it looked like they would not arrive in time. They sent every able-bodied soldier out to meet the rebels to buy some time. This improvised army met the rebels at Monte de las Cruces, or "Mount of the Crosses," so-called because it was a place where criminals were hung. The Spanish were outnumbered anywhere from ten-to-one to forty-to-one, depending on which estimate of the size of the rebel army you believe, but they had better weapons and training. Although it took three offensives launched against stubborn opposition, the Spanish royalists eventually conceded the battle.  More »

Ignacio Allende leads his troops into battle. Painting by Ramon Perez

In early 1811, there was a stalemate between rebel and Spanish forces. The rebels had massive numbers, but determined, trained Spanish forces proved tough to defeat. Meanwhile, any losses inflicted on the rebel army were soon replaced by Mexican peasants, unhappy after years of Spanish rule. Spanish General Felix Calleja had a well-trained and equipped army of 6,000 soldiers: probably the most formidable army in the New World at the time. He marched out to meet the rebels and the two armies clashed at Calderon Bridge outside of Guadalajara. The unlikely royalist victory there sent Hidalgo and Allende fleeing for their lives and lengthened the struggle for independence. More »