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Cinco De Mayo, the history behind the holiday.

Cinco De Mayo is a new addition to the pantheon of North American holidays, and since there seems to be a recent tie-in with beer promotions, we did a little reading on the historical background.

Cinco De Mayo, which translates as "The Fifth Of May," commemorates a Mexican victory over a French army at the Battle Of Puebla in 1862.

According to Mexican tourism officials, it is primarily a regional holiday celebrated in the Mexican state capital city of Puebla and throughout the state of Puebla. However, it is now also celebrated in other parts of the country.

In the year 1862, Mexico was in turmoil. The country had gained independence from Spain in 1821, and the young country had already fought a losing war with the United States (What we call the Mexican War of 1846-1848). This defeat was followed by a period of unrest and civil war, which severely damaged the Mexican economy. Mexico found itself deep in debt to several European nations, including Spain, England and France. These countries occupied Vera Cruz, demanding payment. France's Emperor Napoleon III decided to go a step further, and collect the debt by making Mexico into a French colony. The U.S. was locked in its own Civil War, so the field was clear for (mis)adventure.

A French force of about 6,000 infantry and dragoons (heavy cavalry) began to march toward Mexico City. Their advance was uncontested until they reached the village of Puebla. There Napoleon's expedition met its latter-day Waterloo.

Two forts defended the town, garrisoned by about 2,500 men under General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin. These troops were a mix of Mexican Army and local militia units. Although poorly armed, they were well entrenched, and refused a French demand for surrender. The superior French force made several assaults, losing over 1,000 men, but failed to carry the city. Harassment by Mexican cavalry eventually forced the French to retreat in some disorder.

This defeat did not sit well with Napoleon III, and he dispatched a much larger force the following year. These troops roundly defeated the Mexican army, occupied Mexico City, and installed Maximilian as emperor of Mexico. He reigned until 1867, and here another beer industry parallel inserts itself. Harry Schuhmacher, publisher of Beer Business Daily claims that his family ranch, located near San Antonio, TX, was once the summer home of Emperor Maximilian. Historical evidence for this is sketchy, but Harry will be happy to regale you with this story at any time.

Maximilian's carefree days at the Schuhmacher ranch were cut tragically short in 1867, when he was deposed and executed in a popular uprising.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:100NA
Date:May 10, 2004
Words:441
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