|The Legion in Mexico|
After the debacle at Puebla it seemed that the French army began to take the whole enterprise more seriously. Many officers even adopted a more native appearance, in typical French style, wearing their coats open with wide sashes and large sombreros on their heads to shield them from the tropical sun. They also made use of allied Mexican forces such as the conservative troops under the fearsome General Leonardo Marquez who won a smashing victory at the battle of San Lorenzo in March as the French moved up to take Puebla again, this time by siege. This time, however, it was the Mexican republicans who made a stupendous mistake. Puebla was the only really half-way defensible place on the road to Mexico City and Juarez decided to gamble everything on holding Puebla despite the fact that the French were better trained, better disciplined, better armed and more experienced that his own forces and, despite the earlier Mexican victory there, in any face-to-face fight between the French and Mexicans the smart money would be on the French army. Nowhere was this more evident than in a little battle along the French line of supply that may not be as widely celebrated as Cinco de Mayo but is actually an even more remarkable battle and is still celebrated today as the official holiday of the French Foreign Legion.
Given that, it was not surprising that after two months under siege the Mexican republicans at Puebla surrendered on April 17, effectively clearing the way to Mexico City. Juarez, for his part, did not even try to defend the city and evacuated his government to San Luis Potosi and a week later General Forey and the French army marched into Mexico City and began establishing the conservative junta that would direct national affairs until a new government could be formed. It was this junta that eventually gave way to the triumvirate that invited Archduke Maximilian of Austria to become Emperor of Mexico. However, Napoleon III was bothered by the fact that his top commander, General Forey, seemed to have lost faith in the expedition and was extremely critical of the situation on the ground and the long term prospects for success. However, as he could hardly punish such a successful commander the Emperor decided to kick him upstairs by promoting him to the rank of Marshal of France, recalling him and replacing him with one of his divisional commanders General Francois Achille de Bazaine.
To be concluded in Part II...