About the book

The book is packed with fast action and vivid details. Yet the extensive footnotes make clear the solid research behind the fascinating stories.--Dr. Kurt Kent, Professor, Journalism Department and Latin American Studies Center, University of Florida

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What’s Different About This Book?

Quick! Name a Good Book About Cinco de Mayo! Can’t think of any?  Except for children’s books of 36 pages or less, there are none! Go ahead. Try the bookstores! If you were to publish anything about this, you’d be the first to do so in decades. That’s what this book is about.

There’s nothing in print at the moment that matches what’s contained in this volume. Author Don Miles has searched bookstores and libraries in many parts of the U.S. and Mexico, retrieving information – in English and Spanish – published as far back as 1867.

Only in Cinco De Mayo will you find little-known scenarios that are hard to believe but true – all in one place. For example:


  • Europe’s mightiest army was ordered by an emperor to conquer Mexico and then to help the Confederacy win its war against the United States. (Napoleon III’s Grand Design, Pages 7-8.) The rest of the book tells how the French got in over their heads and what it took – for the next five years – to get them out.
  • A signed treaty that would guarantee Mexico a U.S. bail-out loan and send three invading armies back to Europe was on its way to Washington. It looked as though the mule carrying it was about to roll over in the stream. Learn what finally happened to the document on its way to the U.S. Senate for ratification. See Pages 17 and 18.
  • It was a windy evening as the women lighted their cooking fires at the Mexican Eastern Army camp. A few sparks blew into the barn where thirty-two tons of explosives were stored. Ten percent of the army was lost – fifteen hundred dead – and the French had not yet fired a shot. See Pages 14-15.
  • As the French soldiers looked up at the convent, something appeared in the window that they never expected. They were being “mooned!” Page 107.
  • The “fight to the death” Foreign Legion scene in Chapter 14 is not fiction. They had all taken an oath never to surrender, but sixty-four of them were surrounded by 1,200 Mexicans and their canteens had been filled with wine, not water. Legionnaires still show up in that village every April 30th  for a ceremony. See Pages 97-99.
  • France’s foreign minister to Mexico was so devastated by the French loss on May 5th that he was found staggering drunk in the streets of Puebla on May 6th, bottle in hand. The Mexican newspapers were already calling him “Old Cognac” and he was portrayed in cartoons as a toad inside a bottle steeped in alcohol. See Page 49.
  • Follow the colorful story of Agnes LeClerq Joy, the Vermont farm girl who ran away and joined the circus, met a real prince from Europe who was fighting for the Union in the Civil War, married him, and eventually wound up in Mexico fighting for the emperor. She makes brief appearances on Pages 18, 73,107, 137, 149 and 174 before taking “center stage” in Chapter 34, where she wrecks a diplomat’s new carriage, does a striptease as she tries to bribe the warden into freeing the emperor and her husband from prison and winds up on her knees with her arms wrapped around the legs of the Mexican president, asking him to spare their lives. See Pages 227-235.
  • Read the legend of Inez Walker in Chapter 29. The kidnapped daughter of an American gold mine owner had been locked up at a wealthy Spaniard’s hacienda for years until she was rescued by a unit of the Confederate Cavalry! They had just arrived from a horrendous gunfight at the state capitol building in Austin, Texas, and were on their way to offer their services to Emperor Maximilian.  See Pages 191-195 for the Inez rescue and 180-183 for the Austin gunfight.
  • Some of the chapter titles will give you clues to interesting episodes:
    • Ch. 10, Fighting a Skirmish Dressed in Drag. See Pages 68-70.
    • Ch. 12, A Hurricane and a Valentine’s Ball. See Pages 78-81 to find out how they unloaded 700 horses in Veracruz  harbor during a hurricane without
      losing a single animal.
    • Ch. 13, Icicles in Their Beards. The French encounter “Siberian” weather in the mountains of what they thought was “tropical” Veracruz. Page 87.
  • One village was so sad and desolate that the major form of entertainment was
     attending wakes. Pages 84-85.
    Ready for Battle: Modern day reenactment by children
    in Mexico City.
  • Children reacted to the presence of soldiers in various ways:
    • Little boys in Orizaba raised imaginary bugles to their lips and held “drills” on the parade ground, according to a 19th century novelist. See Page 66.
    • Several centuries of harsh religious conformity enforced by the Spaniards resulted in the claim by every indígena (Indian) boy that his name was “José.” Every girl in an Indian village would insist that her name was “María.” (Their parents, when interrogated, pretended not to know any Spanish.) See Pages 31-32.
  • You could receive a public flogging if you didn’t tip your hat when the cross went by in a procession. See Page 134.
  • One of the Confederates’ worst nightmares was the discovery that the French were planning to re-annex Texas to Mexico once they were completely in power. Page 141.
  • Troops loyal to Emperor Maximilian were closing in on Nicolás Romero, famous as the “Mexican Robin Hood.” As Romero fled, he couldn’t find a horse, so he climbed a tree. He would have escaped if the soldiers had not chased a rooster up into the same tree as they scavenged for dinner. Pages 174-175.
  • As Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops to Ulysses S. Grant, the two generals waited for the documents to be prepared. They reminisced about how they had fought on the same side in the Mexican War of 1847, and apparently they mentioned Xalapa. Lee is quoted by some sources as saying, “I can conceive of nothing more beautiful.” Was he talking about the scenery or the women? Page 177.
  • It was Mexico City’s wedding of the year. The French Commander-in-Chief, General Achille Bazaine, was 54. The Mexican bride was 17. Years later, when Bazaine was imprisoned after the Franco-Prussian War, his wife smuggled a rope to him, he slid down the prison wall, and they rowed away in a small boat to exile in Spain. See Pages 178-179 for the wedding and Pages 247-248 for the prison escape.
  • Emperor Maximilian received a telegram telling him that his wife – Empress Charlotte – was hospitalized during her trip to Europe under the care of a doctor by the name of Reidel. “Do you know a Dr. Reidel?” he asked his personal physician.
    “Oh, yes,” was the answer. “He’s the director of the Vienna Lunatic Asylum.” See
    Page 209
  • Ex-Confederate generals Sterling Price and Isham Harris claimed that their new town outside of Córdoba, Mexico, would soon be as large as Richmond or New Orleans. Harris wrote to a friend that he could see the snow-capped volcano known as Pico de Orizaba from his back yard. All he had to do to get ice for his drinks was to send an Indian runner up the mountain (40 miles away.) See Pages 215-216.
  • A showdown was building between General Bazaine and the archbishop of Mexico.
    The archbishop wanted to excommunicate all French soldiers in a dispute over land
    seized by the government. Bazaine said he’d blast the cathedral doors open with
    cannon fire if soldiers were not admitted on Sunday. Who blinked? Pages 140-141.
  • A popular form of jewelry was a set of live, blinking fireflies skewered onto a hairpin or placed into fine, transparent sacks that were then sewed onto ladies’ clothing. The indígenas (Indian women) sold them as people strolled through the alameda (park) in Veracruz. See Pages 23-24. 

More Strange Truths....
Read an excerpt in English or Spanish.

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