French Intervention in Mexico: Battle of Puebla

Battle of Puebla
Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Puebla - Conflict:

The Battle of Puebla was fought May 5, 1862 and occurred during the French intervention in Mexico.

Armies & Commanders:


  • General Ignacio Zaragoza
  • approx. 4,500 men


  • Major General Charles de Lorencez
  • 6,040 men

Battle of Puebla - Background:

In late 1861 and early 1862, British, French, and Spanish forces arrived in Mexico with the goal of recovering loans made to the Mexican government. While a blatant violation of the US Monroe Doctrine, the United States was powerless to intervene as it was embroiled in its own Civil War. Shortly after landing in Mexico, it became clear to the British and Spanish that the French intended to conquer the country rather than simply collect on debts owed. As a result, both nations withdrew, leaving the French to proceed on their own.

On March 5, 1862, a French army under the command of Major General Charles de Lorencez was landed and began operations. Pressing inland to avoid the diseases of the coast, Lorencez occupied Orizaba which prevented the Mexicans from taking possession of key mountain passes near the port of Veracruz. Falling back, the Mexican army of General Ignacio Zaragoza took up positions near Alcuzingo Pass. On April 28, his men were defeated by Lorencez during a large skirmish and he retreated further to the fortified city of Puebla.

Battle of Puebla - The Armies Meet:

Pushing on, Lorencez, whose troops were among the best in the world, believed he could easily dislodge Zaragoza from the town. This was reinforced by intelligence suggesting that the population was pro-French and would aid in expelling Zaragoza's men. At Puebla, Zaragoza placed his men in an entrenched line between two hills. This line was anchored by two hilltop forts, Loreto and Guadalupe. Arriving on May 5, Lorencez decided, against the advice of his subordinates, to storm the Mexican lines. Opening fire with his artillery, he ordered the first attack forward.

Battle of Puebla - The French Beaten:

Meeting heavy fire from Zaragoza's lines and the two forts, this attack was beaten back. Somewhat surprised, Lorencez drew upon his reserves for a second attack and ordered a diversionary strike towards the east side of the city. Supported by artillery fire, the second assault advanced further than the first but was still defeated. One French soldier managed to plant the Tricolor on the wall of Fort Guadalupe but was immediately killed. The diversionary attack faired better and was only repulsed after brutal hand-to-hand fighting.

Having expended the ammunition for his artillery, Lorencez ordered an unsupported third attempt on the heights. Surging forward, the French closed to the Mexican lines but were unable to breakthrough. As they fell back down the hills, Zaragoza ordered his cavalry to attack on both flanks. These strikes were supported by infantry moving into flanking positions. Stunned, Lorencez and his men fell back and assumed a defensive position to await the anticipated Mexican attack. Around 3:00 PM it began to rain and the Mexican attack never materialized. Defeated, Lorencez retreated back to Orizaba.

Battle of Puebla - Aftermath:

A stunning victory for the Mexicans, against one of the best armies in the world, the Battle of Puebla cost Zaragoza 83 killed, 131 wounded, and 12 missing. For Lorencez, the failed assaults cost 462 dead, over 300 wounded, and 8 captured. Reporting his victory to President Benito Juárez , the 33-year old Zaragoza stated, "The national arms have been covered with glory.” In France, the defeat was seen as a blown to the nation's prestige and more troops were immediately sent to Mexico. Reinforced, the French were able to conquer most of the country and install Maximilian of Habsburg as emperor.

Despite their eventual defeat, the Mexican victory at Puebla inspired a national day of celebration best known as Cinco de Mayo. In 1867, after French troops left the country, the Mexicans were able to defeat the forces of Emperor Maximilian and fully restore power to the Juárez administration.

Selected Sources