Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton

Death of Maximilian and His Generals

The news that the Emperor and his two generals, Mejia and Miramon, had been sentenced to death, aroused widespread sympathy and Juarez was besieged with petitions for mercy, even Garibaldi, who certainly was no friend to the house of Hapsburg, being among the pleaders. The Prussian ambassador, Baron von Magnus, hastened to Potosi to intercede personally in behalf of Maximilian, and used every effort to secure a pardon, but in vain. All that he was able to obtain was a reprieve of two days, the execution of the sentence being postponed till seven o'clock on the morning of the nineteenth.

Prince Salm being still a prisoner and powerless to act, his wife made one last desperate attempt to bring about the Emperor's escape by flight, but again the plan was frustrated by the fatal treachery that seemed to pursue Maximilian at every turn in Mexico. The Princess Salm was put into a carriage and sent out of Queretaro under a military guard, while all the diplomatic representatives were ordered by Escobedo to leave the city at two hours' notice. Meanwhile the Emperor and his companions prepared for death. They received the sacrament from Father Soria and spent their last hours communing with the confessors who were to accompany them on their last journey. Maximilian, calm and serene as in happier days, conversed cheerfully with Dr. Basch and his lawyers, Ortega and Vazquez, who had come to bid him farewell. On parting with the physician he charged him to carry back to his friends and family in Vienna a report of the siege and of his last days.

Maximilian Death


"Tell my mother," he said, "that I have done my duty as a soldier and die a good Christian."

At three o'clock, the time originally set for the execution, all was ready for the last march to the Cerro de la Campana. The officer in command of the firing squad begged for forgiveness with tears in his eyes, but the Emperor calmed him, saying: "You are a soldier and must obey your orders." For a whole hour they waited for the summons, but none came. At last, about four o'clock, an officer arrived with the announcement that the execution had been postponed till the nineteenth, the order having only just arrived by wire from Potosi an hour before.

"This is hard," exclaimed Maximilian, "for I had already finished with the world."

He availed himself of the delay, however, to dictate several farewell letters to his physician, among them one of thanks to his captive officers for their loyalty and a touching appeal to his implacable enemy, Juarez, to prevent further bloodshed and let his death serve to promote the peace and welfare of his adopted country. Even now Baron von Magnus made one more effort to save the Emperor's life. On the eighteenth of June he sent a telegram to the Juarist minister, Lerdo de Tejada, offering to secure guarantees from all the leading sovereigns of Europe that none of the three prisoners should ever again set foot on Mexican soil or disturb the country in any way. But Juarez was inexorable. In reply to the Baron's despatch Minister Tejada stated that the President of the Republic was convinced that the cause of justice and the future peace of the country required the death of the prisoners.

At last the fatal morning of Wednesday, June 19, 1867, dawned. At five o'clock Father Soria came to celebrate mass, and at half past six the republican officer who had charge of the execution arrived. The three prisoners, dressed in black, entered carriages, each with his confessor, and were driven slowly to the place of execution, which was surrounded by a guard of four thousand men. On alighting, the Emperor embraced his two companions, promising they should soon meet in another world, and then walked with dignity to the spot assigned at the foot of a hill in front of a shattered wall. Here he placed Miramon in the centre, saying, "A brave soldier is respected by his sovereign; permit me to yield you the place of honor." Turning to Mejia, who had been unnerved by the sight of his wife running through the streets frantic with grief, he said: "General, what has not been rewarded on earth will certainly be in heaven." After distributing some gold pieces among the soldiers who were to do the firing, he said in a firm voice: "May my blood be the last shed in sacrifice for this country, and if more is required, let it be for the good of the nation, never by treason."

The signal to fire was then given and the three fell simultaneously, Maximilian's body pierced by six bullets. The Mexican Empire had ceased to exist, and the noble Hapsburger had laid down his life for the welfare of an ungrateful people..

General Escobedo had promised the Emperor before his death that his body should be delivered to Baron von Magnus to be taken back to Europe, yet in spite of this the ambassador had much trouble in obtaining possession of it. He was ill himself for a time with fever and had to be taken to Potosi. After many delays, however, the remains were finally given into his custody on November twelfth and, attended by Vice-admiral von Tegetthof, his two adjutants, and Doctor Basch, were taken to Vera Cruz with a cavalry escort of one hundred men, and placed on board the Novara, the same vessel which but three years before had conveyed Maximilian to his adopted country and to his doom. On the fifteenth of January, 1868, the Novara arrived at Trieste. A special train conveyed the coffin to Vienna, where, three days later, the body of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria was buried in the imperial vault in the Capuchin church.