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Maximilian in Mexico - Woman's Reminiscences of the French Intervention 1862-1867

Sara Yorke Stevenson

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Title: Maximilian in Mexico

A Woman's Reminiscences of the French Intervention 1862-1867

Author: Sara Yorke Stevenson

Release Date: June, 2004 [EBook #5997]

[Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule]

[This file was first posted on October 10, 2002]

Edition: 10

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


Produced by Dianne Bean





copyright 1897, 1898, 1899






One of the latest survivors of the drama, some episodes of which are herein related.

His approval of five articles on the French Intervention and the reign of Maximilian, which appeared in the "Century Magazine" in 1897, and his earnest request that they "be published in a more permanent form, led to the presentation of this volume to the public.

With deepest appreciation of the important part played by this Mexican patriot in checking the aggressive policy of Europe upon this continent, the author here inscribes his name.


Part I. The Triple Alliance, 1861-62

I. El Dorado . . . . . . . . . 1

II. The New "Napoleonic Idea" . . . . 7

III. M. De Saligny And M. Jecker . . . 17

IV. The Al ies In Mexico . . . . . . 24

V. Rupture Between The Allies . . . . 36

Part II. The French: Intervention, 1862-64

I. The Author Leaves Paris For Mexico . . 47

II. Puebla And Mexico--General De Lorencez--General Zaragoza . 66

III. The Siege of Puebla--General Forey--General Ortega . .82

IV. The French In The City Of Mexico--The Regency . . . 93

Part III. The Empire Of Maximilian I, 1864-65

I. Marshal Bazaine . . . . . . . 117

II. A Bed Of Roses In A Gold-Mine . . . .125

III. Thorns . . . . . . . . . 136

Part IV. The Awakening

I. "A Cloud No Bigger Than A Man's Hand" . . . 161

II. La Debacle . . . . . . . 188

III. Comedy And Tragedy . . . . 207

IV. General Castelnau . . . . . 232

V. The End Of The French Intervention . . . 256

Part V. The End

I. Queretaro, 1867 . . . . . . 269


A. The Bando Negro (Black Decree) Proclamation Of Emperor Maximilian, October 3, 1865. . . .309

B. Treaty Of Miramar, Signed On April 10, 1864 . . 315

List Of Illustrations

Frontsview Page

Napoleon III, Eugenie, And Duc De Morny . . 9

Maximilian Gold Coin . . . . . . 19

Agustin De Iturbide . . . . . . . 29

Miguel Miramon . . . . . . 39

President Benito Pablo Juarez . . . . . 49

General Prim . . . . . . . . 59

Porfirio Diaz . . . . . . . . . 69

Matias Romero . . . . . . . . 79

From "Mexico and The United States," by permission of G.P.Putnam's Sons.

Chapultepec, Maximilian's Palace . . . . 89

Empress Charlotte . . . . . . . 99

Colonel Van Der Smissen . . . . . . 109

Marechal Bazaine And Madame La Marechale . 119

Matthew Fontaine Maury . . . . 129

After a Photograph By D. H. Anderson.

Comte De Thun De Hohenstein . . . . . 143

Photographed By Merille.

Count Von Funfkirkchen . . . . . . . 153

From Photograph By Montes De Oca.

Ex-Confederate Generals In Mexico . . . 171

Dr. Wil iam M. Gwin . . . . . . . 183

From A Steel-Engraving By A. B. Walter For "The Democratic Review."

General Mejia . . . . 195

Marquis De Gal ifet . . . . . . . 211

After Photograph By Nadar.

Colonel Tourre, Third Zouaves . . . . 227

After Photograph By Montes De Oca.

Comte De Bombel es . . . . . . . 239

After Photograph By Aubert & Co.

General Castelnau . . . . . . . 251

Colonel Dupin . . . . . . . . . 263

Surrender of Maximilian, May 15, 1867 . . . 275

Don Pedro Rincon Gallardo . . . . 283

From A Photograph By Cruces y Campa.

Guard And Sergeant Who Shot Maximilian . . 291

Last Day Of Maximilian . . . . . . . 297

The Calvary Of Queretaro, Showing Where Maximilian, Mejia, And Miramon Were Shot . . . 300

The Last Moments Of Maximilian . . . . 301

The Hack In Which Maximilian Was Taken To The Place Of Execution . . . . .304

Monuments Marking The Place of Execution . . 307


In offering these pages to the public, my aim is not to write a historical sketch of the reign of Maximilian of Austria, nor is it to give a description of the political crisis through which Mexico passed during that period. My only desire is to furnish the reader with a point of view the value of which lies in the fact that it is that of an eyewitness who was somewhat more than an ordinary spectator of a series of occurrences which developed into one of the most dramatic episodes of modern times.

Historians too often present their personages to the public and to posterity as actors upon a stage,--I was about to say as puppets in a show,--whose acts are quite outside of themselves, and whose voices express emotions not their own. They appear before the footlights of a fulfilled destiny; and their doubts, their weaknesses, are concealed, along with their temptations, beneath the paint and stage drapery lent them by the historian who, knowing beforehand the denouement toward which their efforts tended, unconsciously assumes a like knowledge on their part. They are thus often credited with deep-laid motives and plans which it may perhaps have been impossible for them to entertain at the time.

To those who lived with them when they were MAKING history, these actors are al aglow with life. They are animated by its passions, its impulses. They are urged onward by personal ambition, or held back by selfish considerations. They are not characters in a drama; they are men of the world, whose official acts, like those of the men about us to-day, are influenced by their affections, their family complications, their prejudices, their rivalries, their avarice, their vanity. The circumstances of their private life temporarily excite or depress their energies, and often give them a new and unlooked-for direction; and the success or failure of their undertakings may be recognized as having been the result of their individual limitations, of their personal ignorance of the special conditions with which they were cal ed upon to cope, or of their short-sightedness.

In this lies the importance of private recollections. The gossip of one epoch forms part of the history of the next. It is therefore to be deplored that those whose more or less obscure lives run their course in the shadow of some public career are seldom sufficiently aware of the fact at the time to note accurately their observations and impressions.

These thoughts occurred to me when, at the request of the editor of the

"Century," I one night took up my pen, and gathering about me old letters, photographs, and smal tokens faded and yel ow with age, plunged deep into the recol ections of my youthful days, and evoked the ghosts of bril iant friends, many of whom have since passed away, leaving but names written in lines of blood upon a page of history. As they appeared across a chasm of thirty years, the wel -remembered faces familiarly smiled, each flinging a memory. They formed a motley company: generals now dead, whose names are revered or execrated by their countrymen; lieutenants and captains who have since made their way in the world, or have died, broken-hearted heroes, before Metz or Sedan; women who seemed obscure, but whose names, in the general convulsion of nations, have risen to newspaper notoriety or to lasting fame; soldiers who have become historians; guerril eros now pompously called generals; adventurers who have grown into personages; personages who have sunk into adventurers; sovereigns who have become martyrs.

They had al been laid away in my mind, buried in the ashes of the past along with the old life. The drama in which each had played his part had for many years seemed as far off and dim as though read in a book a long time ago; and yet now, how alive it all suddenly became--alive with a life that no pen can picture!

There were their photographs and their invitations, their old notes and bits of doggerel sent to accompany small courtesies--flowers, music, a Havana dog, or the loan of a horse. It was all vivid and real enough now. Those men were not to me mere historical figures of whom one reads.

They fought historic battles, they founded a historic though ephemeral empire; their defeats, their triumphs, their "deals," their blunders, were now matters of history: but for all that, they were of common flesh and blood, and the strange incidents of a strangely picturesque episode in the existence of this continent seemed natural enough if one only knew the men.

Singly or in groups, the procession slowly passed, each one pausing for a brief space in the flood of light cast by an awakening memory. Many wore uniforms--French, Austrian, Belgian, Mexican. Some were dancing gaily, laughing and flirting as they went by. Others looked careworn and absorbed by the preoccupations of a distracted state, and by the growing consciousness of the thankless responsibility which the incapacity of their rulers at home, and the unprincipled deceit of a few official impostors, had placed upon them. But all, whether thoughtful or careless, whether clairvoyant or blind, whether calmly yielding to fate or attempting to breast the storm, were driven along by the irresistible current of events, each drifting toward the darkness of an inevitable doom which, we now know, was inexorably awaiting him as he passed from the ray of light into the gloom in his "dance to death."






During the winter of 1861-62, my last winter in France, one of the principal subjects of conversation in Parisian official circles was our Civil War, and its possible bearing upon the commercial and colonial interests of Europe, or rather the possible advantage that Europe, and especially France, might hope to derive from it.

A glance at M. de Lamartine's famous article written in January, 1864, and reprinted a year or two later in his "Entretiens Litteraires," will help us to understand how far Frenchmen were from appreciating not only our point of view, but the true place assigned by fate to the United States in contemporary history. Nothing could so plainly reveal the failure of the French to understand the natural drift of events on this side of the Atlantic, and account for the extraordinary, though shortlived, success of Napoleon's wild Mexican scheme. In this article, written with a servile pen, the poet-statesman attacked the character of the people of the United States, and brought out Napoleon's motives in his attempt to obtain, not for France alone, but for Europe at large, a foothold upon the American continent. With a vividness likely to impress his readers with the greatness of the conception as a theory, he showed how the establishment of a European monarchy in Mexico must insure to European nations a share in the commerce of the New World. The new continent, America, is the property of Europe, he urged. The Old World should not recognize the right of the United States to control its wealth and power.

An article by Michel Chevalier, published with the same purpose in view, threatened Mexico with annexation by the United States unless the existing government of the country underwent reorganization.

Both authors were frequent visitors at my guardian's house in Paris, which accounts for the impression made upon my youthful mind by their written utterances at that time. M. Chevalier was a distinguished political economist. He had visited Mexico, and knew the value of its mining and agricultural wealth without sufficiently recognizing the actual conditions to be dealt with, and he ful y indorsed the imperial conception. "The success of the expedition is infallible," he said. He explained the resistance of the Mexicans by their hatred of the Spaniards, and demonstrated to his own satisfaction that the burden of the venture must fall upon France, who should reap the glory of its success.

Modern civilization, he urged, includes a distinct branch--the Latin--in which Catholicism shines. Of this France is the soul as wel as the arm.

"Without her, without her energy and her initiative the group of the Latin races must be reduced to a subordinate rank in the world, and would have been eclipsed long ago." In comparing upon a map of the world the space occupied by the Catholic nations two centuries ago with the present area under their control, "one is dismayed at al that they have lost and are losing" every day. "The Catholic nations seem threatened to be swal owed up by an ever-rising flood."*

* "Revue des Deux Mondes," of April, 1862, p. 916. It is interesting to find him quoting Humboldt's prophecy that "the time wil come, be it a century sooner or later, when the production of silver will have no other limit than that imposed upon it by its ever-increasing depreciation as a value." (April, 1862, p. 894).

When the Mexican empire was planned our Civil War had been raging for nearly two years. From the standpoint of the French rulers, the moment seemed auspicious for France to interfere in American affairs. The establishment of a great Latin empire, founded under French protection and developed in the interest of France, which must necessarily derive the principal benefit of the stupendous wealth which Mexico held ready to pour into the lap of French capitalists,--of an empire which in the West might put a limit to the supremacy of the United States, as wel as counterbalance the British supremacy in the East, thus opposing a formidable check to the encroachments of the Anglo-Saxon race in the interest of the Latin nations,--such was Napoleon's plan, and I have been told by one who was close to the imperial family at that time that the Emperor himself fondly regarded it as "the conception of his reign."

Napoleon III labored under the disadvantage of reigning beneath the shadow of a great personality which, consciously or unconsciously, he ever strove to emulate. But however clever he may be, the man who, anxious to appear or even to be great, forces fate and creates impossible situations that he may act a leading part before the world, is only a schemer. This is the key to the character of Napoleon III and to his failures. He looked far away and dreamed of universal achievements, when at home, at his very door, were the threatening issues he should have mastered. The story is told of him that one evening, at the Tuileries, when the imperial party were playing games, chance brought to the Emperor the question, "What is your favorite occupation?" to which he answered: "To seek the solution of unsolvable problems." It is also related that in his younger days a favorite axiom of his was: "Fol ow the ideas of your time, they carry you along; struggle against them, they overcome you; precede them, they support you." True enough; but only upon condition that you will not mistake the shril chorus of a few interested courtiers and speculators for the voice of your time, nor imagine that you precede your generation because you stand alone. He dreamed of far-away glory, and his flatterers told him his dreams were prophetic. He saw across the seas the mirage of a great Latin empire in the West, and beheld the Muse of history inscribing his name beside that of his great kinsman as the restorer of the political and commercial equilibrium of the world, as wel as the benefactor who had thrown El Dorado open to civilization. With the faith of ignorance, he proposed to share with an Austrian archduke these imaginary possessions, and to lay for him, as was popularly said in 1862-63, "a bed of roses in a gold-mine." Unmindful of warnings, he pushed onward for two years, apparently incapable of grasping the fact that the mirage was receding before him; and final y found his fool's errand saved from ridicule only by the holocaust of many lives, and raised to dignity only by the tragedy of Queretaro.

Al this we now know, but in 1861-62 the Napoleonic star shone bril iantly with the ful luster cast upon it by the Crimean war and the result of the Italian campaign. It is true that occasionally some strong discordant note issuing from the popular depths would strike the ear and for the time mar the paeans of applause which always greet successful power. For instance, at the Odeon one night, during the war with Austria, I was present when the Empress Eugenie entered. The Odeon is in the Latin Quarter, and medical and law students fil ed the upper tiers of the house. As the sovereign took her seat in a box a mighty chorus suddenly arose, and hundreds of voices sang, "Corbleu, madame, que faites vous ici?" quoting the then popular song, "Le Sire de Franboisy."

The incident, so insulting to the poor woman, gave rise to some disturbance; and although the boys were quieted, the Empress soon left the theater, choking with mortification. M. Rochefort, who refers to this incident in his memoirs, adds that as the imperial party came out, another insult of a still more shocking character was thrown at the Empress. This, of course, I did not witness.

Such occurrences were usual y treated by the press and the government sympathizers as emanating from youthful hot-brains, or from the lower ranks of the people, and therefore as unworthy of attention. But those hot-brains represented the coming thinkers of France, and the "common"

people represented its strength. On the whole, however, in 1862 the more powerful element had ral ied to and upheld the government. The court and the army were so loud in their admiration of the profound policy of the Emperor that those who heeded the croakings of the few clear-sighted men composing the opposition were in the background.

It so happened that my lines had been cast among these, and it is interesting now, in looking back upon the expressions of opinion of those who most strenuously opposed French interference in American affairs, to see how little even these men, wise as they were in their generation, appreciated the true conditions prevailing in Mexico. None seriously doubted the possibility of occupying the country and of maintaining a French protectorate. The only point discussed was, Was it worth while? And to this question Jules Favre, Thiers, Picard, Berryer, Glais-Bizoin, Pel etan, and a few others emphatically said, "No!"


The "Napoleonic idea," however, had not burst forth fully equipped in all its details from the Caesarean brain in 1862. It would be unfair not to al ow it worthy antecedents and a place in the historic sequence. As far back as 1821, when the principle of constitutional monarchy was accepted by the Mexicans under the influence of General Iturbide, a convention known as the "plan of Iguala" had been drawn by Generals Iturbide and Santa Anna, and accepted by the new viceroy, O'Donoju, in which it was agreed that the crown of Mexico should be offered first to Ferdinand VII, and, in case of his refusal, to the Archduke Charles of Austria, or to the Infante of Spain, Don Carlos Luis, or to Don Francisco Paulo.

The Mexican embassy sent to Spain to offer the throne of Mexico to Ferdinand was il received. The king had no thought of purchasing a crown which he regarded as his own by the recognition of the constitutional principle which he had so long fought; and the Cortes scorned to authorize any of the Spanish princes to accept the advances of the Mexicans. The result of Spain's unbending policy was a rupture which involved the loss of its richest colony.

In 1854 General Santa Anna,* then dictator or president for life, had given full powers to Senor Gutierrez de Estrada to treat with the courts of Paris, London, Vienna, and Madrid for the establishment of a monarchy in Mexico under the scepter of a European prince; and Senor de Estrada, with the consent of the French government, had offered the throne of his country to the Duc de Montpensier, who wisely, as it proved, had declined it.

* Santa Anna raised the flag of revolt against his benefactor in 1823.

Iturbide abdicated, was given a pension of twenty-five thousand dol ars, and, at his own suggestion, was escorted to the sea-coast, a voluntary exile, by a guard of honor. From this time Santa Anna had a hand in al the revolutions that fol owed. He himself subsequently fel before an insurrection of the Liberal party led by the old Indian governor of Guerrero, General Alvarez.

The Crimean war and the downfal of General Santa Anna checked the progress of these negotiations, which were resumed as soon as, peace having been restored, the European powers could turn their attention to their commercial interests in America, which Senor de Estrada represented to them as gravely compromised by the encroachments of the United States in Mexico, and to the grievances urged by their subjects against the Mexican government.*

* Compare Abbe Domenech, "Histoire du Mexique," vol. ii, p. 360.

In 1859 General Miramon* confirmed the powers given by General Santa Anna to the Mexican representative; and then it was that, for the first time, the Emperor commended to his attention the Archduke Maximilian.

* General Miramon was barely twenty-six when he rose to the first rank in Mexican politics. Of Bearnese extraction, his father's family passed over to Spain in the eighteenth century. His grandfather had gone to Mexico as aide de-camp to one of the viceroys. Miguel Miramon had served in the war against the United States. He was a brilliant officer, bold, vigorous, original. During his term of office he had on his side the clergy, the army, the capital.

It were also unfair not to admit that the varying success of the conflict between the two factions struggling for supremacy in Mexico was likely to deceive the European powers, and made it easy for men whose personal interests were at stake to misrepresent the respective strength of the contending parties and the condition of the country. But no leader of men has, in the eyes of history, a right to be deceived either by men or by appearances; and granting that Napoleon might at first have been misled, he had timely warning, and the opportunity to withdraw, as did the Spaniards and the English, without shame, if without glory.

After Mexico, led by the patriots Hidalgo and Morelos, had thrown off the Spanish yoke, it became for forty years the scene of a series of struggles between contending factions which reduced the country to a state of anarchy. Once rid of their Spanish viceroys, the Mexicans found themselves little better off than they had been under their rule. For centuries the Mexican church had played upon the piety of the devout for the furtherance of its own temporal interests, until one third of the whole wealth of the nation had found its way into its hands. It was against the clergy, and against the retrogressive policy for which it stood, that in 1856 a wide-spread revolutionary movement was successfully organized, as a result of which, in 1857, a liberal constitution was drawn up and accepted by the people.

The clerical or reactionary party, although it counted among its adherents many of the best old Spanish families composing Mexico's aristocracy, would probably soon have ceased to be a serious practical obstacle in the way of reform had it not been for the wealth of a corrupt clergy, by means of which its armies were kept in the field. Be this as it may, the reign of constitutional order represented by President Comonfort in 1856 was shortlived, General Comonfort abdicated in 1858. Benito Juarez, by virtue of his rank of president of the Supreme Court, then became constitutional president ad interim.

By a pronunciamiento General Zuloaga, with the help of the army, took possession of the government and of the capital, while Juarez maintained his rights at Queretaro. War raged between the two parties, with rapidly varying success. A letter dated November 19,1860, written by my brother, a young American engineer who had gone to Mexico to take part in the construction of the first piece of railroad built between Vera Cruz and Mexico, gives a concise and picturesque account of the situation: Things look dark--so dark, in fact, that for the present I do not think it advisable to risk any more money here. There is a fair prospect of the decree of Juarez being annulled. If so, our bonds go overboard.

There is a prospect of Juarez signing a treaty. If so, our bonds go up 15 or 20. It is rouge et noire--a throw of the dice. The Liberals have been beaten at Queretaro, where Miramon took from them twenty-one pieces of artillery and many prisoners, among them an American officer of artillery, whom he shot the next day, AS USUAL. Oajaca has fallen into the hands of the clergy. The Liberals under Carbajal attacked Tulancingo, and were disgraceful y beaten by a lot of ragged Indians.

They are losing ground everywhere; and if the United States does not take hold of this unhappy country it wil certainly go to the dogs.

There is a possibility of compromise between Juarez and Miramon, the effect of which is this: the constitution of '57 to be revised; the sale of clergy property to their profit; the revocation of Juarez's decree of July about the confiscation of clergy property to the profit of the state; religious liberty, civil marriage, etc.

A gloomy picture, and true enough, save in one respect. The Liberals might be beaten everywhere, but they were not losing ground; on the contrary, their cause rested upon too solid a foundation of right and progress, and the last bril iant exploits of General Miramon were insufficient to galvanize the reactionary party into a living force.

On December 22, 1860, Miramon was finally defeated at Calpulalpan by General Ortega, and shortly after left the country. On December 28 the reforms prepared in Vera Cruz by Juarez, proclaiming the principles of religious toleration, and decreeing the confiscation of clergy property, the abolition of al 13 religious orders, and the institution of civil marriage, etc., were promulgated in the capital by General Ortega; and on January 11,1861, Juarez* himself took possession of the city of Mexico. The Liberals were triumphant, and the civil war was virtually at an end.

* Benito Pablo Juarez was of Indian birth, and as a boy began life as a mozo, or servant, in a wealthy family. His ability was such as to draw upon him the attention of his employer, who had him educated. He soon rose to greatness as a lawyer, and then as a member of the National Congress, governor of Oajaca, secretary to the executive, and president of the republic.

The defeated army, as was invariably the case in Mexico, dissolved and disappeared, leaving only a residuum of small bands of guerril as. These preyed impartial y upon the people and upon travelers of both parties.

Leonardo Marquez almost alone remained in the field and seriously continued the conflict. The principal leaders fled abroad, especially to Paris, where they made friends, and planned a revenge upon the victorious oppressors of the church, whose outrages upon God and man were vividly colored by religious and party hatred. Among these were men of refinement and good address, scions of old Spanish families, who, like M. Gutierrez de Estrada, found ready sympathy among the Emperor's entourage. As a rule, none but "hopelessly defeated parties seek the help of foreign invasion of their own land"; but the Empress Eugenie, who, a Spaniard herself, was a devout churchwoman, lent a wil ing ear to the stories of the refugees, impressively told in her own native tongue.

To reinstate the church, and to oppose the strong Catholicism of a Latin monarchy to the Protestant influence of the Northern republic, seemed to her the most attractive aspect of the projected scheme.

The str