Friday, May 5, 2017


(The hero of Cinco de Mayo Ignacio Zaragoza was born in present-day in Goliad, Texas. After his family moved to Matamoros to escape persecution from the soldiers of the Texas Revolution, he attended school there and then moved to Monterrey to further his schooling. After that, he joined the Mexican military on the side of Benito Juarez's Liberal army. A chronology of his life follows.)

1829: Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin was born on January 14, 1829 to Capt. Miguel Zaragoza and his wife Maria de Jesus Seguin in the Bahia del Espiritu Santo. The site is near present-day Matagorda Bay, between Houston and Corpus Christi. The State of Texas has included his birthplace in the Goliad State Park and the house where Zaragoza was actually born is still standing.

1833: With fierce Comanches as neighbors and the incipient Texas Republic in the offing, the Zaragozas stay in Texas was relatively brief. When he was four, his family moved to Matamoros and he attended the San Juan elementary school, although little is known about his stay there. 

A street bears his name in Matamoros, but apart from that, there is little to indicate the hero of Puebla lived there. The Original Townsite of Brownsville was once that city's communal land, so in a sense, Zaragoza lived here, too. Zaragoza’s family had originally come from Monterrey, where many of the settlers of the South Texas area originated. In fact, that Nuevo Leon city was the launching point for many Mexican families who lived in then-Mexican Texas.

1840s: In Monterrey Ignacio entered the seminary, a traditional haven for young men who saw the church as a way to a profession. He interrupted his clerical studies to enter commerce. He worked for Felipe Sepulveda, a prominent Monterrey grocer. In 1846, when U.S. troops invaded Mexico, he joined the Mexican national guard.

He attained the rank of captain and was stationed in Victoria, Tamaulipas, the capital of the state. Later, one of Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana’s usurpations of the national presidency drew Zaragoza into the regular army and he served under the liberal generals who adhered to the constitution defended by Benito Juarez. He soon attained the rank of colonel. His performance on the battlefield and his knowledge of military tactics earned him the confidence and respect of his superiors.

1855: In the Battle of Silao, Zaragoza – then only 25 – played a defining role in the Liberals' victory. That battle is recognized as one of the bloodiest of the war. Zaragoza knew what stakes were in play. At the heart of the civil war was the dispute between the constitutionalists who wanted the laws of reform followed, and the conservatives, who wanted to hold on to power.

The church, a powerful institution, backed the conservatives. Clerics feared the state would carry out the separation of church and state called for in the reformed constitution and financed the conservatives in their quest to retain their power.

1856-61: Interim President Ignacio Comonfort refused to relinquish power and uphold the precepts of the constitution and it ignited civil war. In battle after bloody battle, the liberals moved toward the Mexican capital as the conservatives delayed their progress by inciting peasants to battle the "devil-driven" liberals.
In one of these battles, General Jesus Gonzalez Ortega took ill with fever. The Battle of Guadalajara was to mark an important turning point in the war. The city – which lay between the Liberal Army and the capital – was an important tactical site and the conservatives fought hard to deny them a victory.

Gonzalez-Ortega hand-picked Zaragoza over higher-ranking officers to lead the assault against the city. The Liberal siege of the city lasted for weeks and saw hand-to-hand combat in the city’s streets. Time and time again the Liberals charged only to be driven back by the determined defenders.

With typhoid fever raging through the city, the weary defenders finally succumbed to Zaragoza’s Ejercito del Centro and asked for a truce that would allow them to retreat and abandon the city. A truce was worked out and the defeated army was allowed to depart. But another surprise awaited the Liberal soldiers. Unbeknownst to them, another conservative army had arrived in the outskirts of the city and the two armies met at a bridge to the city. Zaragoza’s army would not be denied their victory and the conservatives were defeated.

December 22, 1861: Before them, the road to the capital lay waiting. Gathering their forces, the Liberals organized around San Miguelito. They faced an army of 8,000 well-equipped men with supplies bought for them by frightened church prelates and clergy. They had at their disposal several dangerous artillery pieces. The task of defending the most vulnerable site on the battle field was assigned to young Ignacio, then only 31.

He was given the task of defending the hills overlooking the battle. If the high ground was lost, the result could very well decide the war between the Liberals and Conservatives – and the future of Mexico. He did not falter. Bearing the brunt of the attack, Zaragoza’s troops held the hills as the enemy’s troops fought for their survival. Bloody and fierce clashes occurred where the defenders of the hills foiled the attacks and Zaragoza aided his fellow generals to execute the battle plan. His troops held. The Liberals prevailed. The next day, the defeated conservative generals came to secure guarantees for their remaining troops and officers.

December 25, 1861: With the city theirs for the taking, the Liberal armies gathered to enter it. On Christmas Day General Gonzalez-Ortega, ordered one of his generals and an escort to enter the city and assure of a peaceful takeover. The general he chose for this honor – and great risk– was Ignacio Zaragoza.

Thus, it is that on that day when the constitutionalist forces of Benito Juarez took the city, the man leading the takeover force was the same who was born a scant 32 years before in the rolling hills of Goliad, Texas.

January 1, 1862: Benito Juarez and his constitutionalist armies joined Zaragoza in the city. Later in April, Juarez named him minister of War of Mexico. By then he was all of 33 years old.

May 5, 1862: He was to be tested again, but this time it would be by seasoned French troops who had entered the country under the pretense of getting debts repaid to their country. Having heard that the French had started their march toward Mexico City, Zaragoza led his troops to meet the most feared imperial army in the world of the day.

He left behind a gravely ill wife he would never see again.On the hills of Puebla and the plains below, Zaragoza and his army withstood and defeated the French troops. For half a day, the soldiers repelled the charges of the imperial soldiers and left the field in victory. Among the defenders were future Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz and Brownsville's own guerrilla leader Juan Cortina.

"The national arms have been covered with glory," he wrote Juarez in a one-line letter after the May 5th battle for Puebla. ("Las armas nacionales se han cubierto de gloria.")

September 8, 1862: Four months later, Ignacio Zaragoza died of typhoid fever. His victory, however, remains celebrated to this day.


Manuel Perez said...

I love it when you write about the Mexican culture, Juan. I am the Most Mexican Guy In Brownsville. Yy father swam across the river, guey!

Anonymous said...

Like Canada, Mexico would be speaking french had it not been for American warships arriving in Veracruz to enforce the big brother Monroe doctrine.