Ignacio Zaragoza was born in what is now Goliad, Texas. On May 5, 1962 (“Cinco de Mayo”), he led the Mexican Army sucessfully against the French forces at the Battle of Puebla.
General Zaragoza’s quote after the battle—“Las armas nacionales se han cubierto de gloria” (“The national arms are covered with glory”)—is on the MXN $500 banknote.
Wikipedia: Ignacio Zaragoza
Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín (March 25, 1829 – September 8, 1862) was a general in the Mexican Army, best known for his 1862 victory against the French invading forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5 (the Cinco de Mayo).
Zaragoza was born in the town of Presidio de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo in what was then the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas, now the city of Goliad, Texas, in the United States. The Zaragoza family moved to Matamoros in 1834 and then to Monterrey in 1844, where young Ignacio entered the seminary.
During Mexico’s political unrest of the 1850s, Zaragoza joined the army supporting the cause of Mexico’s Liberal Party, opposing dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna. He led an army of volunteers in 1855 that defeated Santa Anna and led to the reestablishment of a constitutional democratic government in Mexico.
Zaragoza served as Secretary of War from April through October 1861 in the cabinet of President Benito Juárez. He resigned to lead the Mexican Army of the East against invading Europeans.
When the French forces of Napoleon III invaded Mexico, Zaragoza fought them, first engaging the French at Acultzingo on April 28, 1862, where he was forced to withdraw. Zaragoza understood the favorable defensive position outside of the city of Puebla, where, with a force that was smaller and not as well equipped as the French, he beat back repeated French assaults on May 5. The French then retreated to Orizaba.
Shortly after his famous victory, he contracted typhoid fever, of which he died at the age of 33.
His famous quote Las armas nacionales se han cubierto de gloria is used to remember the battle, and is included, along with Zaragoza’s bust, on the current MXN $500 banknote. The phrase means “The national arms have been covered with glory.” It comes from the one-line letter he wrote to his superiors (namely, President Benito Juárez) to inform them about the victory over the French.
About.com: Latin American History
Cinco de Mayo/The Battle of Puebla
Mexican Courage Carries the Day
By Christopher Minster, About.com
The third wave of French infantry was forced to retreat. It had begun to rain, and the foot troops were moving slowly. With no fear of the French artillery, Zaragoza ordered his cavalry to attack the retreating French troops. What had been an orderly retreat became a rout, and Mexican regulars streamed out of the forts to pursue their foes. Lorencez was forced to move the survivors to a distant position and Zaragoza called his men back to Puebla. At this point in the battle, a young general named Porfirio Díaz made a name for himself, leading a cavalry attack.
“The National Arms have covered themselves in Glory”
It was a sound defeat for the French. Estimates place French casualties around 460 dead with almost that many wounded, while only 83 Mexicans were killed.
Lorencez’s quick retreat prevented the defeat from becoming a disaster, but still the battle became a huge morale-booster for the Mexicans. Zaragoza sent a message to Mexico City, famously declaring “Las armas nacionales se han cubierto de gloria” or “The national arms (weapons) have covered themselves in glory.” In Mexico City, President Juarez declared May 5th a national holiday in remembrance of the battle.
The Battle of Puebla was not very important to Mexico from a military standpoint. Lorencez was allowed to retreat and hold onto the towns he had already captured. Soon after the battle, France sent 27,000 troops to Mexico under a new commander, Elie Frederic Forey. This massive force was well beyond anything the Mexicans could resist, and it swept into Mexico City in June of 1863. On the way, they besieged and captured Puebla. The French installed Maximilian of Austria, a young Austrian nobleman, as Emperor of Mexico. Maximilian’s reign lasted until 1867, when President Juarez was able to drive the French out and restore the Mexican government. Young General Zaragoza died of typhoid not long after the Battle of Puebla.
The Present Condition of Mexico:
Message from the President of the United States, in Answer to Resolution of the House of 5th December Last,
Transmitting Information Upon the Present Condition of Mexico
By Dept. of State, United States Dept. of State, United States
Published by Government Printing Office
The national arms are covered with glory, and I offer, through you, my congratulations to the supreme magistrate of our republic for being enabled to assure him, with pride, that during the long engagement the Mexican army never once turned its back to the enemy.