Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, but its roots are in Texas. The holiday celebrates the victory of a Mexican army over the French on May 5, 1862.
The army was led by Maj. Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, one of the most interesting Texans in history.
Zaragoza was born at Presidio de la Bahía, at what is now Goliad. The fort guarded Mission Nuestra Senora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga and the settlement that grew up around it.
In the days of Spanish rule, educated men came to the Texas wilderness to try to create a city of God among native peoples.
The grand experiment failed.
Ignacio Zaragoza’s father, Sgt. Miguel Zaragoza, was an infantryman at the fort.
The Texas Revolution divided the family when Ignacio was 7.
A relative of Ignacio’s mother, Juan Seguin, became vice president of the Republic of Texas. Sgt. Zaragoza remained loyal to the Mexican government.
After the revolution, Sgt. Zaragoza settled in Matamoros. Ignacio’s parents sent him to a seminary in Monterrey. Ignacio Zaragoza did not take to the priesthood but thought he might have military talent.
When he was rejected for admission into the academy for cadets, he signed on as a militiaman. As a teenager, he fought Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-American War.
President Juarez recognized Zaragoza’s ability and made him minister of war.
With the United States preoccupied with its own civil war, France sent an army to occupy Mexico in a dispute over debts.
But on May 5, 1862, Zaragoza led a Mexican army against the French at Puebla. The conventional wisdom was that no Mexican army could stand up against one of the best professional armies of Europe.
Zaragoza proved everyone wrong. The victory stunned everyone — friend and foe alike.
Zaragoza was recalled to the capital to receive the Benemérito de la Patria. Somewhere along the way, he contracted typhoid. He died at 33.
Puebla was not the decisive battle of the war.
It took years for Mexico to get rid of the French.
But through the long war, Mexican soldiers remembered something they learned under a young general from Texas — the taste of victory.