CAMERONE DAY – A month ago Balladeer’s Blog examined the 1895 collection of short stories Garrison Tales From Tonquin (Tonkin), written by American James O’Neill. The tales were fictionalized accounts of his experiences in the French Foreign Legion in the 1880s and 1890s in Algeria and Vietnam. O’Neill’s insights into the French occupation of Vietnam during and after the Sino-French War were astonishingly ahead of their time.
Today’s blog post is nowhere near as profound or steeped in existentialism as Garrison Tales From Tonquin, but I couldn’t help but reflect on it since the yearly anniversary of the Battle of Camerone in Mexico has been THE major event on the French Foreign Legion’s calendar since 1863. It is often viewed as the battle that helped cement the Legion in the imaginations of people around the world in the 19th Century, and no doubt its legend was well known to James O’Neill by the time he enlisted in the fighting outfit in the 1880s.
THE BATTLE OF CAMERONE (Camaron in Spanish) – Getting back to the topic of this blog post, it’s sort of the French Foreign Legion’s central Alamo event. And I say central because many of the most famous battles of the Legion are like a long series of Alamos. Camerone set the standard, though. As usual, the Legion’s cause was not a virtuous one by our standards. The execrable Napoleon the Third was using the FFL and other French forces to try to prop up his Austrian ally Maximilian, the so-called “Emperor of Mexico.”
The Mexicans wanted the foreign-imposed emperor out and ultimately prevailed in 1867, but on April 30th, 1863 a mere 65 members of the French Foreign Legion held off what ultimately grew to a force of THREE THOUSAND, THREE HUNDRED (3,300) Mexican soldiers. Continue reading