Why We Should Celebrate Cinco de Mayo


Cinco de Mayo—that random holiday where we celebrate all things Mexican.

After living in Mexico for over a decade, I thought it funny that Cinco de Mayo is becoming a minor holiday in the US.  It’s even funnier when you know that Mexicans don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo! (They know the significance of the date, of course, but it’s not widely celebrated.) Then I did some research and found out that there is a very good reason why we should celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the US.

The truth is, the events that took place in Mexico on the 5th of May in 1862 had an enormous indirect impact on the outcome of the US Civil War—but nobody knows this!

So let’s get educated!

What Happened?

Back in 1862, Mexico was recovering from its own Wars of Reform. To finance that war, the Mexican government borrowed a lot of money from a lot of other countries. Now that the war had been over for a few years, the creditors wanted their money back. Unfortunately, Mexico was not able to pay them back.

France got tired of waiting to get paid back. So they sent an army across the ocean and invaded Mexico. Their thought? “Hey, you don’t pay us back, so your country is ours.”

Not cool, France. Not cool.

We do need some background information here. In the middle of the 19th century, France was the world’s leading military superpower. They were pretty much guaranteed success in their plans to take over Mexico. They might have tried to invade Mexico earlier, but the US would have stepped to defend Mexico, thanks to the Monroe Doctrine. However, this was 1862, and the US was way too busy with its own problems (the Civil War).

Mexico was on its own.

The French army landed on the Mexican Gulf coast and easily defeated any resistance they encountered.  The French army had many more soldiers, better-trained soldiers, and newer, more powerful weapons. They were on a direct path to Mexico City, and steamrolling through the country.

Then, at their last major hurdle before reaching Mexico City, the French army was held up at the city of Puebla. The French army had 6000 soldiers. The Mexican army only had 2000. But, not only were they held up in Puebla, they were defeated!

Despite being so badly outnumbered, not as well trained, and not near as well equipped, the Mexicans forced the French army to retreat, back over the mountains to the Gulf Coast! Logically, that should have been impossible. The best army in the world was run out of town by a much smaller, ill-equipped force.

It’s amazing what people can do when they’re defending their homes.

Way to go, Mexico!

But how did all that have anything to do with the outcome of the US Civil War?

Let me tell you!

Nineteenth-Century Globalization

In May of 1862, the US was in the thick of the Civil War. At that point, either side could have won. (Most historians regard the Battle of Gettysburg as the turning point, which happened in July of 1862.)

Just as France helped the United States with our war for independence one hundred years earlier, they seemed very willing to help the Confederacy in their war for independence.  They couldn’t get through the US’s naval blockade (or they weren’t willing to declare sides so openly). But, if they overthrew the Mexican government, they could send the Confederacy badly-needed troops and supplies north through Texas.

If the Confederacy had fresh supplies and some of the best soldiers in the world fighting on their side, it is entirely likely that they could have won the Civil War.

However, the French army was foiled in this plan by 2000 Mexican soldiers, bravely defending their country against all odds.

After the events of Cinco de Mayo, the French army took a year to regroup. In 1863, they successfully marched to Mexico City and overthrew the Mexican government. But, by then, it was too late for France to help the Confederacy in the Civil War. The tide had turned.  France was no longer willing to help a cause that appeared to be lost.

Raise Your Glass

So this Cinco de Mayo, let’s salute those Mexicans who defended their country—and inadvertently kept ours together. While this day might not be widely celebrated in Mexico, it is the perfect day to celebrate Mexican-American heritage and contributions by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the US.

After all, one reason we are the country we are today is thanks to 2000 Mexican soldiers who overcame all odds by defending their country, and those outnumbered Mexicans helped ours considerably!



Sierra, Justo.  The Political Evolution of the Mexican People.  Translation:  Ramsdell,          Charles.  The University of Texas Press.  1966.

Cinco de Mayo:  The American Civil War Connection

Cinco de Mayo–Its Impact on Freedom and the US Civil War by Imagine Mexico

The Lincoln and Mexico Project

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Jill Douglas
Jill Douglas is a 40-something momma to her three minions (one girl and two boys, ages 11, 8, and 4). Originally from Ft. Wayne, IN, Jill spent most of her adult life in northern Mexico, almost halfway between the midwest and her husband's hometown of Mexico City. This last summer, Her husband's job asked him if he would be interested in moving to the Midwest, and Jill is thrilled to finally live so close to her family. Jill has been a stay-at-home mom for the last 11 years. In the wee hours of the morning, she teaches English online in China. When she's neglecting things around her house, she teaches herself how to knit, dabbles in music (flute and voice), watercolor, modern calligraphy, gardening, volunteering at church, wandering the woods, and kayaking the rivers. Jill blogs at http://jillmichelledouglas.com, sharing epiphanies, inspiration, or great places to explore! Having spent the last 10 years documenting the great things about Saltillo, Mexico (the city where she lived), she's now looking forward to this new adventure of discovering and sharing the wonders that Toledo has to offer!


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