Ask most Americans what happened on
Something probably did occur on that day during the Civil War, but what makes the date lastingly significant is what took place in
Those who do recognize Cinco de Mayo as a major Mexican holiday also celebrated in the Lone Star state still wrongly think the day is our sister republic’s version of the Fourth of July. Cinco de Mayo does not mark a declaration of independence. Rather, it celebrates an event that helped sustain Mexican independence. And even though
That’s a very general summary of the thrust of a well-researched and well-written book by
Like many problems, the French misadventure in
While Texans who bother to give this episode any thought might see the French intrusion into
Napoleon not only wanted the French tri-color forever flying over
A Confederate diplomat in
Miles does an excellent job of telling a complicated story, breaking each chapter of his book into a series of readable vignettes that are as entertaining as they are informative. He also has an eye for interesting detail and fascinating characters, from the boozy ranking French diplomat in Mexico (the same Pierre Saligny who occupied the French embassy in Austin during the early days of the Republic of Texas) to Princess Agnes Salm-Salm, who took her clothes off to try to convince a Mexican officer to release French-imposed Emperor Ferdinand Maximilian from prison following the collapse of his regime.
A couple of good examples of the interesting detail Miles turned up in his research (much of it at the Benson Latin American collection at the University of Texas) come in his description of the early stages of the fight at Puebla.
The French expected to march into
I knew I was hooked on the book when browsing around before really getting serious about paging through it, I found a scene where a Mexican woman mooned French soldiers from the window of a convent. (No, the author did not explain whether the woman was a patriotic nun or just some senora strongly opposed to French intervention.) Whoever she may have been, the French found it tremendously insulting and began firing at the window. The woman dropped her skirt and disappeared, her point made.
With Miles’ new book, Texans now have two ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo – with food, drink and festivities or by partaking of a good read.