Battle of Camarón
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|Battle of Camarón|
|Part of the French intervention in Mexico|
Battle of Camarón
|Commanders and leaders|
|Francisco de Paula Milán||Jean Danjou †|
|Casualties and losses|
19 captured of whom 17 wounded
Some died of wounds
The Battle of Camarón (French: Bataille de Camerone) which occurred on 30 April 1863 between the French Foreign Legion and the Mexican army, is regarded as a defining moment in the Foreign Legion's history. A small infantry patrol, led by Captain Jean Danjou and Lieutenants Clément Maudet and Jean Vilain, numbering just 65 men was attacked and besieged by a force that may have eventually reached 3,000 Mexican infantry and cavalry, and was forced to make a defensive stand at the nearby Hacienda Camarón, in Camarón de Tejeda, Veracruz, Mexico. The conduct of the Legion, who refused to surrender, led to a certain mystique — and the battle of Camarón became synonymous with bravery and a fight-to-the-death attitude.
As part of the French intervention in Mexico, a French army commanded by the General Forey was besieging the Mexican city of Puebla. Fearing a logistical shortage, the French sent a convoy with 3 million francs, matériel, and munitions for the siege. The 3rd company of the Foreign Legion detachment was charged with protecting the convoy. As the company had no officers, Captain Danjou, Regimental adjutant, assumed command.
On 30 April, at 01:00, the 3rd company — 62 soldiers and three officers — was en route. At 07:00, after a 15-mile (24.1 kilometer) march, they stopped at Palo Verde to rest and "prepare the coffee". Soon after, a Mexican Army force of 800 horsemen was sighted. Captain Danjou ordered the company take up a square formation, and, though retreating, he rebuffed several cavalry charges, inflicting the first heavy losses on the Mexicans that suffered from long-range rifle fire.
Seeking a more defensible position, Danjou made a stand at the nearby Hacienda Camarón, an inn protected by a 3-meter-high (9.8 feet) wall. His plan was to occupy Mexican forces to prevent attacks against the nearby convoy. While his legionnaires prepared to defend the inn, the Mexican commander, Colonel Francisco de Paula Milán demanded that Danjou and soldiers surrender, noting the Mexican Army's numeric superiority. Danjou replied: "We have munitions. We will not surrender." He and his men then swore to fight to the death.
At around 11:00. the size of the Mexican force was increased by the arrival of 2,200 infantrymen. The Hacienda came under fire and the French had lost all water early in the morning when pack mules were lost during the retreat. At midday, Captain Danjou was shot in the chest and died; his soldiers continued fighting under the command of Lt. Vilain, who held for four hours before falling during an assault.
At 17:00. only 12 Legionnaires remained around under the command of Lt. Maudet. By 18:00, with ammunition exhausted, the last of Danjou's soldiers, numbering only five, including Maudet, desperately mounted a bayonet charge. Two men died outright, while the rest continued the assault. The tiny group was surrounded. A Belgian Legionnaire, Victor Catteau, leapt in front of Maudet in an effort to protect him from the Mexican guns when they were leveled at him but died in vain, as both he and Lt. Maudet were hit in the barrage.
Colonel Milán, commander of the Mexicans managed to prevent his men from executing the two surviving legionnaires. When they were asked to surrender, they insisted that they should be allowed safe passage home, to keep their arms, and to escort the body of Captain Danjou, to which Milán commented "What can I refuse to such men? No, these are not men, they are devils", and agreed to these terms.
Finally, the French supply convoy made it safely to Puebla. The Mexicans failed to relieve the siege and the city fell on 17 May.
Capitaine Danjou was a professional soldier and had lost his left hand while on a mapping expedition in the Kabyia campaign. He had a wooden articulated prosthetic hand made, painted to resemble a glove, strapped to his left forearm. Overlooked by both French and Mexican comrades who came to bury their dead it was found by an Anglo-French farmer, Langlais. Two years later, it was sold and taken to the Quarter Viénot in Sidi Bel Abbès in French Algeria, the home of the Foreign Legion. When the Legion moved to France, Capitaine Danjou's wooden hand was taken to Aubagne where it remains in the Legion Museum. The hand is the most cherished artifact in Legion history and the prestige and honor granted to a Legionnaire to carry it on parade in its protective case is among the greatest bestowed on a Legionnaire.
30 April is celebrated as "Camerone Day", an important day for the Legionnaires, when the wooden prosthetic hand of Capitaine Danjou is brought out for display and veneration in a special ceremony. The officers prepare and serve the Legionnaires coffee, to celebrate the "...coffee they [The Legionnaires of Camarone] never had."
After hearing of the battle, French Emperor Napoleon III had the name Camerone embroidered onto the Legion's flag.
In 1892, a monument commemorating the battle was erected on the battlefield containing a plaque with the following inscription in French:
Ils furent ici moins de soixante
Opposés a toute une armée(French: "Here there were less than sixty opposed to a whole army. Its numbers crushed them. Life rather than courage abandoned these French soldiers on April 30, 1863. In their memory, the motherland has erected this monument")
Sa masse les écrasa
La vie plutot que le courage
Abandonna ces soldats Français
Le 30 Avril 1863
A leur memoire la patrie eleva ce monument
The railing from the Legion grave at Camarone can now be found at the village of Puyloubier near Aix-en-Provence.
Visiting the site of the battle
The site of the battle can be visited at the village of Camarón de Tejeda, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. This village was formerly known as El Camarón, and later as Adalberto Tejeda, Villa Tejeda or Camarón de Tejeda.
In the village there is a monument erected by the Mexican government in 1964, honoring the Mexican soldiers who fought in the battle. There is also a memorial site and parade ground on the outskirts of the village. The memorial has a raised platform, which covers the resting place of the remains of French and Mexican soldiers disinterred in the 1960s. The surface of the platform has a plaque in Latin. Diligent search of the area has failed to locate the plaque with the oft-quoted 1892 French language inscription referred to above.
Every year on 30 April, the Mexican government holds annual ceremonies at the memorial site, with political speakers and a parade of various Mexican military units. The village holds a fiesta on the same day. The ceremonies are sometimes attended by representatives of the French military, and the site is also visited by retired veterans of the French Foreign Legion. It is also tradition that any Mexican soldiers passing by the area turn towards the monument and offer a salute.
The village of Adalberto Tejeda (also known as Villa Tejeda, Camarón de Tejeda, or simply El Camarón) is located on secondary roads about 25 to 30 km west of the town of Soledad de Doblado, Veracruz, and about 64 km. west of the city of Veracruz. The 1964 monument is in the center of town. The memorial and parade ground, known as El Mausoleo (the Mausoleum), is a few blocks away on the edge of the village, near the town cemetery. The coordinates of the village of Adalberto Tejeda are Lat. 19.0216°; Long. -96.6154.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Camarón.|
- Brunon, Jean (1981). Camerone. Paris: Editions France.
- Patay, Max (1988). Camerone 1863. Paris: Socomer editions.
- Ryan, James W. (1996). Camerone. The French Foreign Legion's Greatest Battle. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-95490-0.
- About the Legion and the Battle
- (German) lalegion.de The official battle report
- French Foreign Legion Website with statistics about the battle
- es:Camarón de Tejeda (Veracruz) Website of village of Camaron de Tejada, Veracruz (in Spanish).