Most people do not realize that while the U.S. was engaged in civil war the French were establishing a foothold in Mexico with the intention of establishing an empire on the American continent.
After the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the Mexican government was bankrupt and in debt. In 1861, President Benito Juarez suspended payments to all foreign creditors for two years with a promise that payment would resume after this period. Among the foreign creditors was France. Napoleon III, grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte, used this as an excuse to send troops to conquer Mexico. By April of 1862, a French force numbering 7,000 began its march to Mexico City. President Juarez sent General Ignacio Zaragoza to block the advance. The Mexican army was ill-equipped and hopelessly outnumbered. General Zaragoza did not expect to defeat the French army since it was considered the best in the world. His intention was merely to give President Juarez more time to fortify the city.
The battle took place in the town of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The Mexicans fought bravely even though they knew the battle would be suicide. Regardless of the odds, the Mexican army was victorious. The Battle of Puebla delayed the French conquest of Mexico for one year. The battle demonstrated that the young Mexican nation was ready and willing to defend itself against any foreign invasion. Mexico was under French rule for five years before the French appointed Emperor Maximilian was captured on May 15, 1867 and eventually executed by the Mexican army. President Juarez declared May 5 a national holiday in honor of the Battle of Puebla after the French were finally overthrown.