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Marshal of France Francois Achille Bazaine

Mexican Adventure: Crisp Pages: Marshall Bazaine

Francois Achille Bazaine was born at Versailles in 1811 and entered the French army as a private soldier in 1831. He was a self-made man, earning a lieutenant's commission and the Legion of Honor for his courage while fighting in Algeria.

He served with the French Foreign Legion in Africa as well as fighting the Carlists in Spain earning further distinctions for himself. He won even more praise for his service as a brigadier during the Crimean War at Sevastopol. In the next war with Austria he won the grand cross of the Legion of Honor for his actions at the bloody battle of Solferino in Italy.

In 1862, when Emperor Napoleon III ordered French troops into action in Mexico, Bazaine had a major command in the expedition, which was led by General Elie Frederic Forey.

General Forey, however, had never been in favor of the occupation of Mexico, nor of the plan to restore the empire under the Archduke Maximilian. Napoleon III promised him the rank of Marshal of France if he saw the invasion through, which he did, but as soon as Mexico City was taken and Maximilian and Carlota had arrived safely Marshal Forey resigned and returned to France to argue against the Mexican adventure there.

It was then, in 1863, that General Bazaine succeeded to the post of supreme commander of all French troops in Mexico.

In no time at all Bazaine, who was promoted to Marshal of France in 1864, proved himself the master of the Mexican battlefield. At every encounter he defeated the Mexican rebel forces of Benito Juarez.

Soon the republican armies were shattered and Juarez was forced to flee to the northern frontier, keeping constantly on the move to avoid French troops. Juarez ordered his armies to disperse and resort to guerilla warfare, but Marshal Bazaine met this challenge well and continued to dominate his enemies.

Quite the opposite of his predecessor, Marshal Bazaine made himself at home in Mexico, in fact some wondered if he did not have a long-term goal in mind to overthrow Emperor Maximilian and rule the country himself.

He obtained a considerable estate and married a very young Mexican girl from a wealthy Juarista family. This, naturally, did little to put him in the good graces of Emperor Maximilian and there was constant strife between Bazaine and the Imperial Couple.

The idea that Maximilian was a submissive puppet of the French is entirely untrue and relations between Bazaine and the Imperial Couple was often extremely tense. Bazaine was fairly obviously trying to be the power behind the throne and Empress Carlota could see this and did not trust the Marshal. Emperor Maximilian resented Bazaine's treatment of the Mexican public and what appeared to be his effort to insert himself into the upper echelons of Mexican society.

The worst fall-out was the last one when pressure from the United States caused the French to withdraw just when it seemed that final victory was in reach. Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota were outraged at the betrayal of the Treaty of MIramar, but Bazaine withdrew his forces and returned to France where he met an admiring public, but a resentful Emperor Napoleon III who put the blame on Bazaine for the failure of the Mexican adventure.

Marshal Bazaine returned to duty again in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. He was given command of a hopeless situation and did little to resist the crushing tide of the German forces. His experience in fighting irregular forces and small units of guerillas was little help in fighting the disciplined, regular army Prussians. He withdrew to Metz and stayed there until the war ended with the fall of the Second French Empire.

Once again, Bazaine seemed to have ambitions beyond the military sphere and he evidently began secret negotiations with the Germans in the hope of using his status as the commander of the only French army left to take control of the country himself.

It must be understood that much of this is still secret and remains a mystery, however, once he was forced to surrender and was later found guilty by a military court of illegal contact with the enemy and of surrendering before such action was justified. He was sentanced to humiliation and death but because of his years of service to France only the humiliation was given and he later lived the rest of his life in Spain.


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Occasionally updated by Tim Peterson