Mexican War of Independence

1810 to 1821
Royalists — versus — Patriots

The Mexican War of Independence began in 1810 as an authentic movement among oppressed, indigenous Mexicans to throw off the shackles of the tyrannical Spanish aristocracy. Over time the movement attracted intellectuals and other discontents, and by the time Mexico succeeded in breaking its chains with the mother country, in 1821, the "Independence" movement included tyrannical aristocrats from the entire political spectrum, in league with indigenous rebels. The man who did the most to permanently break Mexico's ties with Spain, was actually the leading general of the Spanish Royalists, who changed sides for purely opportunistic reasons. His reign as the leader of an independent Mexican state was a short one, but it bespeaks a level of ideological incoherence and opportunism that existed from the very beginning in Mexican politics.

The timing of the Mexican War of Independence had little to do with a change of conditions or sentiment among the indigenous population, and everything to do with politics in Spain. In spite of deplorable government and long-standing oppressions, no significant rebellion was raised against Spain until its home government was near collapse. It was the perceived weakness of Spain that led to rebellions throughout its colonies rather than any change in colonial policies.

In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain and deposed the Spanish king. For the next five years Spain was embroiled in the terrible Peninsular War, and even after Ferdinand VII was restored to the Spanish throne, the Spanish government was broke, subject to foreign interference, and strongly divided politically. In 1820 a civil war broke out in Spain between Liberals and Monarchists, and for some time it was unclear who would prevail. It was during this period that the final blow in the Mexican War of Independence took place.

Mexican War of Independence : 1810 to 1821

The first leader of the War for Mexican Independence was Miguel Hidalgo, priest of Delores, who identified with the plight of the indigenous people, and in 1810 led the first disorganized band of poorly armed rebels against Royalist troops. He won few victories, suffered a disastrous loss at Calderon Bridge, and was executed for his efforts. The mantle then passed to Jose Morelos, another priest who had no military training, but was a more effective military leader. He won several victories against the Royalists before being caught and executed in 1815. At no time did the rebels in this early period did the rebels succeed in more than harassing the Royalists. They occupied various cities, but were unable to hold them. The government in Spain during this time was in complete disarray, and the Royalists who opposed the rebels were led by Felix Calleja, a particularly able military leader. In spite of a few isolated patriot victories, Celleja effectively kept a lid on the rebellion throughout the period of Spain's greatest weakness.

After the death of Morelos, there were few battles but rather a series of minor skirmishes, and guerilla warfare. The rebels were led by Guadalupe Victoria, and Vicente Guerro, lieutenants under Morelos who became, subsequently, the first and second presidents of the Mexican Republic. The success of the rebels between 1815 and 1820, however, was not particularly notable. They had a strong following, but were largely resisted by the middle classes, who preferred peace to warfare.

The dramatic change to the fortunes of the rebels came in 1820, when the Royalist general Agustin de Iturbide, acting on is own volition, changed sides and joined the rebels. His desertion had much more to do with ongoing incidents in Spain than in Mexico. Fearing that Spain would fall into liberal hands, he made common cause between the rebels who desired to break with Spain, and the Mexican conservatives, to desired to avoid liberal reforms. Iturbide brought the Royalist army to his side, and then declared himself emperor, but his reign was exceedingly short. He was overthrown by Santa Anna after only a year, and Guadalupe Victoria was elected the first president of the Mexican Republic.

Spain made one attempt to reclaim Mexico in 1827 during a period of political unrest. An expedition was launched from Cuba and landed in Tampico, but it was soundly defeated by Santa Anna.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Calderon Bridge   Royalists victory
Fought Jan 17, 1811 between 80,000 poorly armed insurgents under the revolutionary priest Miguel Hidalgo, and a much smaller but better armed Royalist force under Calleja. The independent forces could not withstand the cannon fire of the better trained and equiped royalist army. After a munitions wagon exploded, the insurgent army was dispersed.
Battle of Cuaulta   Patriots victory
In March of 1812, the forces of Jose Morelos, the leader of the Mexican independence movement, was besieged by a Spanish army led by Felix Calleja. Morelas broke through the siege on May 2, and continued his campaign by taking the towns of Oaxaca and Acapulco.
Battle of Tampico (liberal rising ) Mexicans victory
On July 31, 1827 a force of 1500 Mexicans under Santa Anna laid siege to 3,000 Spanish and Cuban soldiers, under Barradas, who landed in Tampico, with the intention of overthrowing the Mexican government. The Spaniards were cut off from reinforcements and surrendered September 11.

Short Biography
Miguel Hidalgo Freemason Priest who was a leader of Mexico's war of independence. Famous for !Grito de dolores!
Jose Morelos Lieutenant of Miguel Hidalgo who assumed leadership of the rebellion on Hidalgo's death.
Vincente Guerrero Leader of the Mexican rebellion against Spain, and Second President of Mexico.
Guadalupe Victoria Leader of the Mexican rebellion against Spain, and First President of Mexico.
Felix Celleja Spanish viceroy and Royalist general for the first five years of the war.
Agustin Iturbide Spanish General who changed sides and supported Mexican independence. Later made himself emperor.
Santa Anna Fought for Mexican independence and against Texas, then served as president on and off, over twenty turbulent years.

Story Links
Book Links
Winning of Freedom—Santa Anna and Texas  in  The Story of Mexico  by  Charles Morris