French intervention in Mexico

For the earlier French intervention of 1838–39, see Pastry War.
Franco-Mexican War

Clockwise from left: French assault during the Second Battle of Puebla; French cavalry seize the Republican flag during the Battle of San Pablo del Monte; depiction of the execution of Emperor Maximilian I by Édouard Manet.
Date8 December 1861 – 21 June 1867

Mexican republican victory

Commanders and leaders
Benito Juárez
  • 70,000
Casualties and losses
Total: c.12,000 dead,
8,304 wounded[8]

Total: c.14,000 dead

The second French intervention in Mexico (Spanish: Segunda intervención francesa en México), also known as the Maximilian Affair, Mexican Adventure, the War of the French Intervention, the Franco-Mexican War or the Second Franco-Mexican War, was an invasion of Mexico in late 1861 by the Second French Empire, supported in the beginning by the United Kingdom and Spain. It followed President Benito Juárez's suspension of interest payments to foreign countries on 17 July 1861, which angered these three major creditors of Mexico.

Emperor Napoleon III of France was the instigator, justifying military intervention by claiming a broad foreign policy of commitment to free trade. For him, a friendly government in Mexico would ensure European access to Latin American markets. Napoleon also wanted the silver that could be mined in Mexico to finance his empire. Napoleon built a coalition with Spain and Britain while the U.S. was deeply engaged in its civil war.

The three European powers signed the Treaty of London on 31 October 1861, to unite their efforts to receive payments from Mexico. On 8 December the Spanish fleet and troops arrived at Mexico's main port, Veracruz. When the British and Spanish discovered that France planned to seize all of Mexico, they quickly withdrew from the coalition.

The subsequent French invasion resulted in the Second Mexican Empire.[lower-alpha 1] In Mexico, the French-imposed empire was supported by the Roman Catholic clergy, many conservative elements of the upper class, and some indigenous communities; the presidential terms of Benito Juárez (1858–71) were interrupted by the rule of the Habsburg monarchy in Mexico (1864–67). Conservatives, and many in the Mexican nobility, tried to revive the monarchical form of government (see: First Mexican Empire) when they helped to bring to Mexico an archduke from the Royal House of Austria, Maximilian Ferdinand, or Maximilian I. France had various interests in this Mexican affair, such as seeking reconciliation with Austria, which had been defeated during the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, counterbalancing the growing American Protestant power by developing a powerful Catholic neighboring empire, and exploiting the rich mines in the north-west of the country.

After heavy guerrilla resistance led by Juárez, which had never ceased to exist even after the capital had fallen in 1863, the French eventually withdrew from Mexico and Maximilian I was executed in 1867.

1862: French invasion

The British, Spanish and French fleets arrived at Veracruz, between 8 and 17 December 1861 intending to pressure the Mexicans into settling their debts.[12] The Spanish fleet seized San Juan de Ulúa and subsequently the capital Veracruz[12] on 17 December. The European forces advanced to Orizaba, Cordoba and Tehuacán, as they had agreed in the Convention of Soledad.[12] The city of Campeche surrendered to the French fleet on 27 February 1862, and a French army, commanded by General Lorencez, arrived on 5 March. When the Spanish and British realised the French ambition was to conquer Mexico, they withdrew their forces on 9 April, their troops leaving on 24 April. In May, the French man-of-war Bayonnaise blockaded Mazatlán for a few days.

Mexican forces commanded by General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French army in the Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862 (commemorated in Mexico by the Cinco de Mayo holiday). The pursuing Mexican army was contained by the French at Orizaba, Veracruz, on 14 June. More French troops arrived on 21 September, and General Bazaine arrived with French reinforcements on 16 October. The French occupied the port of Tampico on 23 October, and unopposed by Mexican forces took control of Xalapa, Veracruz on 12 December.

1863: The French take the capital

General Bazaine attacks the fort of San Xavier during the siege of Puebla, 29 March 1863

The French bombarded Veracruz on 15 January 1863. Two months later, on 16 March, General Forey and the French Army began the siege of Puebla.

On 30 April, the French Foreign Legion earned its fame in the Battle of Camarón (or Camerone in French), when an infantry patrol unit of 62 soldiers and three officers, led by the one-handed Captain Jean Danjou, was attacked and besieged by Mexican infantry and cavalry units numbering three battalions, about 3000 men. They were forced to make a defence in a nearby hacienda. Danjou was mortally wounded at the hacienda, and his men mounted an almost suicidal bayonet attack, fighting to nearly the last man; only three French Legionnaires survived. To this day, the anniversary of 30 April remains the most important day of celebration for Legionnaires.

Entry of the French division in the Bay of Acapulco, 10 January 1863

The French army of General François Achille Bazaine defeated the Mexican army led by General Comonfort in its campaign to relieve the siege of Puebla, at San Lorenzo, to the south of Puebla. Puebla surrendered to the French shortly afterward, on 17 May. On 31 May, President Juárez fled the city with his cabinet, retreating northward to Paso del Norte and later to Chihuahua. Having taken the treasure of the state with them, the government-in-exile remained in Chihuahua until 1867.

French troops under Bazaine entered Mexico City on 7 June 1863. The main army entered the city three days later led by General Forey. General Almonte was appointed the provisional President of Mexico on 16 June, by the Superior Junta (which had been appointed by Forey). The Superior Junta with its 35 members met on 21 June, and proclaimed a Catholic Empire on 10 July. The crown was offered to Maximilian, following pressures by Napoleon. Maximilian accepted the crown on 3 October, at the hands of the Comisión Mexicana, sent by the Superior Junta.

1864: Arrival of Maximilian

Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico

On 28 and 31 March 1864, men from the French man-of-war Cordelière tried to take Mazatlán, but were initially repelled by Mexicans commanded by Colonel Gaspar Sánchez Ochoa.

The French under Bazaine occupied Guadalajara on 6 January 1864, and troops under Douay occupied Zacatecas on 6 February. Further decisive French victories continued with the fall of Acapulco on 3 June, occupation of Durango on 3 July, and the defeat of republicans in the states of Sinaloa and Jalisco in November.

Maximilian formally accepted the crown on 10 April, signing the Treaty of Miramar, and landed at Veracruz on 28 May (or possibly 29 May) 1864 in the SMS Novara. He was enthroned as Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, with his wife Charlotte of Belgium, known by the Spanish form of her name, Carlota. In reality, Maximilian was a puppet monarch of the Second French Empire.

Maximilian expressed progressive European political ideas, favouring the establishment of a limited monarchy sharing powers with a democratically elected congress. He inspired passage of laws to abolish child labour, limit working hours, and abolish a system of land tenancy that virtually amounted to serfdom among the Indians. This was too liberal to please Mexico's conservatives, and the nation's liberals refused to accept a monarch, leaving Maximilian with few enthusiastic allies within Mexico.

On Sunday, 13 November 1864, three French men-of-war (Victoire, D'Assas and Diamante) shelled Mazatlán 13 times, and Imperial Mexican forces under Manuel Lozada entered and captured the city.

1865: Beginning of Republican victories

Benito Juárez, Republican leader and President

The French continued with victories in 1865, with Bazaine capturing Oaxaca on 9 February (defeating the city's defenders under General Porfirio Díaz). The French fleet landed soldiers who captured Guaymas on 29 March.

But on 11 April, republicans defeated Imperial forces at Tacámbaro in Michoacán. In April and May the republicans had many forces in the states of Sinaloa and Chihuahua. Most towns along the Rio Grande were also occupied by republicans. The Belgian volunteers were defeated by the republicans at the Second Battle of Tacámbaro on 11 July.

The decree known as the "Black Decree" was issued by Maximilian on 3 October, which threatened any Mexican captured in the war with immediate execution. This was later the basis for the next government to order his own execution. Several high-ranking republican officials were executed under this order on 21 October.

1859–1867: U.S. diplomacy and involvement

As early as 1859, U.S. and Mexican efforts to ratify the McLane-Ocampo Treaty had failed in the bitterly divided U.S. Senate, where tensions were high between the North and the South over other issues. Such a treaty would have allowed U.S. construction in Mexico and protection from European forces in exchange for a payment of $4 million to the heavily indebted government of Benito Juárez. On December 3, 1860, President James Buchanan had delivered a speech stating his displeasure at being unable to secure Mexico from European interference:

European governments would have been deprived of all pretext to interfere in the territorial and domestic concerns of Mexico. We should have thus been relieved from the obligation of resisting, even by force, should this become necessary, any attempt of these governments to deprive our neighboring republic of portions of her territory, a duty from which we could not shrink without abandoning the traditional and established policy of the American people.[13]

United States policy did not change during the French occupation as it had to use its resources for the American Civil War, which lasted 1861 to 1865. President Abraham Lincoln expressed his sympathy to Latin American republics against any European attempt to establish a monarchy. Shortly after the establishment of the Imperial government in April 1864, United States Secretary of State William H. Seward, while maintaining U.S. neutrality, expressed U.S. discomfort at the imposition of a monarchy in Mexico: "Nor can the United States deny that their own safety and destiny to which they aspire are intimately dependent on the continuance of free republican institutions throughout America."[14]

On April 4, 1864, Congress passed a joint resolution:

"Resolved, &c., That the Congress of the United States are unwilling, by silence, to leave the nations of the world under the impression that they are indifferent spectators of the deplorable events now transpiring in the Republic of Mexico; and they therefore think fit to declare that it does not accord with the policy of the United States to acknowledge a monarchical government, erected on the ruins of any republican government in America, under the auspices of any European power."[15]

Near the end of the American Civil War, representatives at the 1865 Hampton Roads Conference briefly discussed a proposal for a North-South reconciliation by a joint action against the French in Mexico. In 1865, through the selling of Mexican bonds by Mexican agents in the United States, the Juarez Administration raised between $16-million and $18-million dollars for the purchase of American war materiel.[16] In 1866 General Philip Sheridan was in charge of transferring additional supplies and weapons to the Liberal army, including some 30,000 rifles directly from the Baton Rouge Arsenal in Louisiana.[17]

By 1867, Seward shifted American policy from thinly veiled sympathy to the republican government of Juárez to open threat of war to induce a French withdrawal. Seward had invoked the Monroe Doctrine and later stated in 1868, "The Monroe Doctrine, which eight years ago was merely a theory, is now an irreversible fact."[18]

1866: French withdrawal and Republican victories

Battle of Miahuatlán, 3 October 1866

In 1866, choosing Franco-American relations over his Mexican monarchy ambitions, Napoleon III announced the withdrawal of French forces beginning 31 May. The Republicans won a series of crippling victories taking immediate advantage of the end of French military support to the Imperial troops, occupying Chihuahua on 25 March, taking Guadalajara on 8 July, further capturing Matamoros, Tampico and Acapulco in July. Napoleon III urged Maximilian to abandon Mexico and evacuate with the French troops. The French evacuated Monterrey on 26 July, Saltillo on 5 August, and the whole state of Sonora in September. Maximilian's French cabinet members resigned on 18 September. The Republicans defeated imperial troops in the Battle of Miahuatlán in Oaxaca in October, occupying the whole of Oaxaca in November, as well as parts of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato. On 6 December the Austrian and Belgian volunteers disbanded and were supposed to join the Mexican Army; however, 3500 of the 4648 volunteers did not enlist, and tried to flee the country.

On 13 November, Ramón Corona and the French agreed to terms for the withdrawal of the latter forces from Mazatlán. At noon, the European invaders boarded three men-of-war, Rhin, Marie and Talisman and departed.

1867: Republican triumph, execution of Maximilian

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, Édouard Manet 1868. Gen. Tomás Mejía, left, Maximiian, center, Gen. Miguel Miramón, right It is one of 5 versions of his renderings of the event.

The Republicans occupied the rest of the states of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato in January. The French evacuated the capital on 5 February.

On 13 February 1867, Maximilian withdrew to Querétaro. The Republicans began a siege of the city on 9 March, and Mexico City on 12 April. An imperial sortie from Querétaro failed on 27 April.

On 11 May, Maximilian resolved to try to escape through the enemy lines. He was intercepted on 15 May. Following a court-martial, he was sentenced to death. Many of the crowned heads of Europe and other prominent figures (including liberals Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi) sent telegrams and letters to Mexico pleading for Maximilian's life to be spared, but Juárez refused to commute the sentence. He believed he had to send a strong message that Mexico would not tolerate any government imposed by foreign powers.

Maximilian was executed on 19 June (along with his generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía) on the Cerro de las Campanas, a hill on the outskirts of Querétaro, by the forces loyal to President Benito Juárez, who had kept the federal government functioning during the French intervention. Mexico City surrendered the day after Maximilian was executed.

The republic was restored, and President Juárez was returned to power in the national capital. He made few changes in policy, given that the progressive Maximilian had upheld most of Juárez's liberal reforms.

After the victory, the Conservative party was so thoroughly discredited by its alliance with the invading French troops that it effectively became defunct. The Liberal party was almost unchallenged as a political force during the first years of the "restored republic". In 1871, however, Juárez was re-elected to yet another term as president in spite of a constitutional prohibition of re-elections.

Porfirio Díaz (a Liberal general and a hero of the French war, but increasingly conservative in outlook), one of the losing candidates, launched a rebellion against the president. Supported by conservative factions within the Liberal party, the attempted revolt (the so-called Plan de la Noria) was already at the point of defeat when Juárez died in office on 19 July 1872, making it a moot point. Díaz ran against interim president Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, lost the election, and retired to his hacienda in Oaxaca. Four years later, in 1876, when Lerdo ran for re-election, Díaz launched a second, successful revolt (the Plan de Tuxtepec) and captured the presidency. He held it through eight terms until 1911, a period when he jailed many political opponents at the fort off Veracruz.

Divisions and disembarkation of allied troops

French expeditionary force, 31 December 1862

Campaign uniform of a French Foreign legionary during the Mexican campaign

At its peak in 1863, the French expeditionary force counted 38,493 men[5] :740 (which represented 6.25% of the French army).[19] 6,654[6] :231 French died, including 4,830 from disease.[6]:231 Among these losses, 1,918 of the deaths were from the regiment of the French Foreign Legion.[20]:267

Victory of Jiquilpan, won by Colonel Clinchant, 2nd Zouaves
French chasseurs d'Afrique taking the standard of the Durango lancers

Général de Division Forey

[21]:95–96 Not yet arrived:

Belgian Voluntary Troops 1864–65

Belgian Legion in Mexico
Costumes of officers and soldiers of the Belgian regiment: bodyguards of the Empress Charlotte.

16 October 1864

14 November 1864

16 December 1864

27 January 1865

15 April 1866

16 July 1866


Austrian Voluntary Corps December 1864

Hungarian Voluntary Corps


Egyptian Auxiliary Corps January 1863

447 men (including troops serving in Sudan) who were placed under the command of French commandant Mangin of the Third Zouaves Regiment:[5]:215[2]

Spanish Expeditionary Force January 1862


See also


  1. Apart from the participating European dynasties, the Empire of Russia also acknowledged the Mexican crown. After the French inaugurated Maximilian I of Mexico and captured Acapulco, the Tsarist fleet was ordered to sail to the harbor of the city and salute the Mexican Imperial flag.[11]


  1. 1 2 3 Péter Torbágyi (2008). Magyar kivándorlás Latin-Amerikába az első világháború előtt [Hungarian emigration to Latin America until the outbreak of World War I.] (PDF) (in Hungarian). Szeged, Hungary: University of Szeged. p. 42. ISBN 978-963-482-937-9. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  2. 1 2 Hill, Richard; Hogg, Peter (1995). A Black Corps d'Elite: An Egyptian Sudanese Conscript Battalion with the French Army in Mexico, 1863-1867, and its Survivors in Subsequent African History. Michigan State University Press. ISBN 978-0-87013-926-0.
  3. 1 2 3 Walter Klinger (2008). Für Kaiser Max nach Mexiko- Das Österreichische Freiwilligenkorps in Mexiko 1864/67 [For the Emperor Maximilian to Mexico, the Austrian Volunteer Corps in Mexico 1864/67] (in German). Munich, Germany: Grin Verlag. ISBN 978-3640141920. Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  4. 1 2 Robert Ryal Miller (1961). "The American Legion of Honor in Mexico". Pacific Historical Review. Berkeley, California, United States: University of California Press. 30 (3). ISSN 0030-8684. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Gustave Niox (1874). Expédition du Mexique, 1861–1867; récit politique & militaire [Mexican Expedition, 1861–1867, military & political narrative] (in French). Paris, France: J. Dumaine. ASIN B004IL4IB4. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jean-Charles Chenu (1877). "Expédition du Mexique" [Mexican expedition]. Aperçu sur les expéditions de Chine, Cochinchine, Syrie et Mexique : Suivi d'une étude sur la fièvre jaune par le Dr Fuzier [Overview of the expeditions in China, Cochinchina, Syria and Mexico: A Follow-up study on the yellow fever by Dr. Fuzier] (in French). Paris, France: Masson. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
  7. Martín de las Torres (1867). El Archiduque Maximiliano de Austria en Méjico [The Archduke Maximilian of Austria in Mexico] (in Spanish). Barcelona, Spain: Luis Tasso. ISBN 9781271445400. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  9. René Chartrand (1994). Lee Johnson, ed. The Mexican Adventure 1861–67. Men-at-arms. 272. Illustrated by Richard Hook. Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 185532430X.
  10. Richard Leslie Hill; Peter C. Hogg (1995). A Black corps d'élite: an Egyptian Sudanese conscript battalion with the French Army in Mexico, 1863–1867, and its survivors in subsequent African history. East Lansing, United States: Michigan State University Press. ISBN 9780870133398.
  11. "Mexico and the West Indies" (pdf). Daily Alta California. San Francisco, United States: Robert B. Semple. XVI. (5310): 1. 16 September 1864. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  12. 1 2 3 Henry Jarvis Raymond (12 July 1867). "The history of foreign intervention in Mexico II." (pdf). The New York Times: 1. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  13. Manning, William R.; James Morton Callahan; John H. Latané; Philip Brown; James L. Slayden; Joseph Wheless; James Brown Scott (25 April 1914). "Statements, Interpretations, and Applications of the Monroe Doctrine and of More or Less Allied Doctrines". American Society of International Law. 8: 90. JSTOR 25656497.
  14. Manning, William R.; James Morton Callahan; John H. Latané; Philip Brown; James L. Slayden; Joseph Wheless; James Brown Scott (25 April 1914). "Statements, Interpretations, and Applications of the Monroe Doctrine and of More or Less Allied Doctrines". American Society of International Law. 8: 101. JSTOR 25656497.
  15. McPherson, Edward (1864). The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion: From November 6, 1860, to July 4, 1864; Including a Classified Summary of the Legislation of the Second Session of the Thirty-sixth Congress, the Three Sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, the First Session of the Thirty-eighth Congress, with the Votes Thereon, and the Important Executive, Judicial, and Politico-military Facts of that Eventful Period; Together with the Organization, Legislation, and General Proceedings of the Rebel Administration. Philip & Solomons. p. 349.
  16. Hart, John Mason (2002). Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico Since the Civil War. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 17. ISBN 0-520-90077-4.
  17. Hart, James Mason (2002). Empire and Revolution: The American in Mexico Since the Civil War. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 15. ISBN 0-520-90077-4.
  18. Manning, William R.; James Morton Callahan; John H. Latané; Philip Brown; James L. Slayden; Joseph Wheless; James Brown Scott (25 April 1914). "Statements, Interpretations, and Applications of the Monroe Doctrine and of More or Less Allied Doctrines". American Society of International Law. 8: 105. JSTOR 25656497.
  19. Raymond, Henry Jarvis, ed. (10 July 1862). "The military force of France.; The Actual Organization of the Army Its Strength and Effectiveness. The Imperial Guard, the Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Engineers, Administration, Gen D'Armerie. General Staff of the army. The Military Schools, the invalids, the government of the army, Annual cost of the French Army.". The New York Times. New York, United States: The Times. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
  20. Marcel Pénette; Jean Castaingt (1962). La Legión Extranjera en la Intervención Francesa [The Foreign Legion in the French Intervention] (PDF) (in Spanish). Ciudad de México, Mexico: Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
  21. Percy Falcke Martin (1914). Maximilian in Mexico. The story of the French intervention (1861–1867). New York, United States: C. Scribner's sons. ISBN 9781445576466. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  22. 1 2 3 "The Mexican expedition" (pdf). Lyttelton Times. Thorndon, New Zealand: Papers Past. XIX. (1090): 9. 22 April 1863. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  23. Fren Funcken; Lilian Funcken (1981). Burgess, Donald, ed. "The Forgotten Legion" (pdf). Campaigns Magazine – International Magazine Of Military Miniatures. Los Angeles, United States: Marengo Publications. 6 (32): 31–34. ASIN B004DRAZSI. ISBN 9780803919235. Retrieved 9 June 2012.

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