or: The Phantom Crown.
Mexican Adventure: Slovenian Volunteers in Mexico
Freely adapted from the website of Mexico 1867
a Mexican Restaurant in Ljubljana, Slovenia
|We, the jolly, merry Chicanos
Are proud to be the Mexicanos
From the Mexican terra Yonder,
where we want to lead la Guerra.
Of all, the throne of Maximillian Was erected
And He, of all, as Rei of Mexico Selected.
A folk song dedicated to the memory of Meksikajnarji
With the help of the French army, Maximillian, brother of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph, was installed as Emperor of Mexico. Maximillian Ferdinand of Habsburg (1832-1867) set out to Mexico to overthrow the Republican government of Benito Juarez and revive the monarchy. The counterrevolution, however, was suppressed. In the wake of their victory, the Mexican Republicans captured Maximillian and shot him. Thus Maximillian's dreams of the Promised Land, which were also harboured by Mexican volunteers nicknamed as MEKSIKAJNARJI, were smothered after three years.
The dreams were destroyed by Maximillian's death, insanity of his wife Charlotte as well as disappointed and decimated Meksikajnarji.
Among the Mexican volunteers from the Habsburg Monarchy were also a vast number of Slovenians. In 1864, Emperor Franz Joseph finally granted his brother's numerous requests and gave permission to gather 6000 volunteers from throughout the Monarchy to "preserve peace in Mexico". On 3 June 1864, the Ljubljana city secretariat issued a call-up for men to join the ranks of volunteers. The document stated the Emperor's decision of 1 April 1864 to gather within the Austrian lands 6000 volunteers for the Mexican land forces and another 300 for the Mexican navy. The volunteers were to be Christian, unmarried or widowed and childless. They had to be up to 40 years old and, to join the land forces, measure at least 59 inches in height. They would do a six-year service, which could also be renewable. After the revolution they would be granted land in Mexico or return to their homeland at the government's expenses.
ince the summer 1864, the volunteers from Kranj started to gather in Ljubljana. The Meksikajnarji's meeting place was the former sugar factory in Ljubljana. Until February 1865, the list included 433 persons. The majority of the volunteers were contributed by Ljubljana and its surroundings (118), which were followed by the city of Novo mesto (30) and the own of Kamnik (25), and then Kranj, Vrhnika and Idrija, each contributing 20 soldiers. The volunteers from other places were fewer. Their average age was 32 years.
The Meksikajnarji were then transferred by train to Trieste, where they set off to Mexico. The voyage lasted for 36 days and the very first soldiers were awaited at the Vera Cruz port by the Emperor himself. Among the volunteers for Mexico, there were 140 officers from Ljubljana. As all other groups, this one as well was bidden farewell at the train station by the mayor of Ljubljana and three committeemen. For these and similar merits, Dr Costa was later decorated with the Mexican order of Guadalupe. In Ljubljana, there still remained 400 volunteers. While living in the city, 40 cadets did their physical exercises at the Southern Falcon Gymnasium. The French ship with the volunteers arrived at the Gibraltar port on 21 December 1864. It carried 24 officers and 968 soldiers to the Emperor in Mexico. The officers received a hearty welcome and feast by the British army. When the voyage continued, the ship was caught in the middle of a storm. Gripped by fear, the soldiers began saying their prayers, while the first lieutenant Kastelic reproached them for losing all the courage they had been boasting about while cruising the Ljubljana taverns. There was even a Carniolan sausage hanging from the ship's Christmas tree.
The ship reached the Vera Cruz port on 17 January 1865. Its arrival was awaited by generals and officers and followed by a great festivity, while the local population completely ignored the foreign soldiers. The Austrian soldiers first clashed with the Mexicans at the town of Tezuitlan. Under fire were the second and sixth rifle companies. In an engagement on 17 February, the Kastelic's company lost three men; one of the wounded and captured was also the company leader Šeljan from the outskirts of Postojna.
As early as after the first month of fighting, first lieutenant Kastelic began to raise doubts about the victory. He wrote home stating that he did not know how it would be possible to appease this miserable country. Perhaps 50.000 soldiers and 100.000 settlers would suffice. Maximillian grew anxious.
He wrote home about the Slovenians that had shown utmost bravery in the fighting. Kastelic's 10th company was attacked by the Mexicans at the town of Zacapoaxtl. The Austrians went into the counterattack. They took control over several houses; in one of them they were met with fierce resistance by the Mexicans. The house was being besieged by 15 soldiers and five of them fell. The rifle man Hebina from the town of Kranjska Gora was the first to climb to the roof of the house, remove the bricks and open fire on the defenders above. On 14 March, the rifle man Lekse from the town of Zaborst at Novo mesto received three wounds, while his coat received 10 bullets. One of his arms became permanently stiff and a bullet remained in his stomach. On 17 July, Kocabe from the Inner Carniola region and a rifle man Povse from the vicinity of the town of Mokronog fought with 17 fellowmen against approximately 100 Mexicans. Povse's right arm was twice shot through above the elbow. Hebina, Lekse, Kocabe and Povse were awarded a silver medal for war merits.
In March 1865, Jurij Jenko from the town of Loka received heavy blows on his head leaving him lying on the battlefield unconscious. The Mexicans took his rifle, knapsack, coat and cartridges, and let him go. When it started raining, he came to and followed his fellowmen. He wandered the unknown land and forests, hid from the enemy and for 30 days lived off roots and grasses. When the soldiers finally found him, he looked like a living corpse. In August 1865, first Lieutenant Kastelic escaped death by a whisker. When the soldiers were resting, one man's rifle went off - the bullet killed another soldier, while only peeling away a bit of Kastelic's scalp.
In September 1865, our officer was growing more and more pessimistic about the victory, thinking, if the Americans were coming to join forces with the Mexicans, "we will most probably have to pack up our bits and pieces". About his fellow officers and soldiers he wrote that not all of them were happy in Mexico. Some missed home beers and wines, others could not do without the festivities and comfortable pace of life in Austria, and the list of laments could go on and on. "How peculiar it is that man cannot be comfortable with the choices he has made on a voluntary basis," the officer wrote back to his distant homeland in his last letter.
In 1866, Emperor Franz Joseph renewed the authorisation for the call-up of volunteers to be sent to Mexico. By the end of March 1866, the Novice (News) newspaper announced that Ljubljana would once again be hosting the Meksikajnarji. By spring, around 1000 men would be gathered and by autumn, further deployments were envisaged.
Portrait of Cesar Maksimilian and French medal for expedition corpus v Mexico.
Between 9 and 10 May 1866, about 1000 Meksikajnarji were transported by train to Trieste. Sunday, 6 May, saw a festive banquet in their honour. However, due to harsh objections by the North American government, the volunteers bound for Mexico were not permitted to set out to the sea. The question now was what to do with 1000 soldiers. 400 were admitted into the Austrian army and 700 were sent back to Ljubljana, from where they returned to their homes disappointedly.
After the Civil War, the US directed its attention to the developments in Mexico and decided to thwart the invasion of the European influence into this country. Under the US pressure French Emperor Napoleon called off his soldiers in March 1867. Strongly determined not to make a shameful escape from Mexico Maximillian sought refuge in the Queretaro fortress accompanied by a small number of loyal supporters.
He was caught by the Mexicans and shot on 9 June 1867. His wife Charlotte had been driven mad from grief as early as in autumn 1866, but she did not die until 1925. For a long time she had lived in the Miramare Castle near Trieste.
Out of all Austrian volunteers to engage in the Mexican war, only 1511 men returned home in April 1867. Upon their arrival, Janez Bleiweis cried out: "But what wretched faith hath befallen these poor souls!"
It is known that after the war a number of Slovenians remained in Mexico. Among them was Andrej Farcnik. He served Emperor Maximillian's attendant and also witnessed his execution in 1867. Another man, soldier Miha Ape, came home to visit his family for the first time only after 14 years.
Upon their return from the Mexican war, the soldiers were regarded as unique. As one inhabitant of Kamnik reported, there were a considerable number of Meksikajnarji. But they were tanned, sombre, black-bearded men. They also inspired a fashion cry - spurred Mexican-style boots, also nicknamed "meksikanarce".