Zaragoza was born in the small Mexican village of Presidio de Bahía del Espíritu Santo (now Goliad, Texas, in the United States), second son of Miguel G. Zaragoza from Veracruz and María de Jesús Seguín of Bexar. After the defeat of Mexico in the Texas Revolution (whereupon infantryman Miguel moved to Matamoros in 1834), the Zaragoza family finally settled in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1844, where young Ignacio entered a seminary.
After losing his vocation and a brief period in business, Zaragoza joined the Mexican militia of Nuevo Léon in 1853 at the rank of Sergeant; he was soon to rise to Captain when the regiment was incorporated into the Mexican army.
During the political unrest of the 1850s, Zaragoza joined the army supporting the cause of the Liberal Party (they made the first real attempts to establish a democratic and constitutional government), in opposition to dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna. Zaragoza and forces loyal to him, notably at the battle of Saltillo and Monterrey. During the years of the War of the Reform (1857–60), pitching conservative against and liberal forces led by Benito Juárez, Zaragoza took part in a number of military engagements, namely Comonfort's rebellion, the battle of Guadalajara and, in 1860, the battle of Calpulalpan, which ended the war. From April to October 1861, Zaragoza served as Secretary of War in the cabinet of Benito Juárez. He resigned in order to lead the Army of the East against the invading French, Spanish and British troops.
Though Zaragoza's forces were forced back by the invading French at Acultzingo on 28 April, 1862, the Mexican general occupied favourable defensive positions outside of the city of Puebla and beat back the better-equipped and -organised French at Forts Loreto and Guadalupe on 5 May, 1862, the famous Cinco de Mayo. The French were forced to retreat to Orizaba.
This was however only a pause in the fighting. French forces returned the following year, capturing Mexico City. Unbeknownst to Zaragoza however, since after a triumphant return to Mexico City where he was fêted as a war hero, the Mexican general went back to Puebla and succumbed to typhoid fever there, dying on 8 September, 1862. A state funeral was held in Mexico City and his body was interred at the Panteón de San Fernando. On 11September, 1862, President Juárez changed the name of Puebla in honour of the general (from Puebla de los Angeles to Puebla de Zaragoza) and instituted the fifth of May (the Cinco de Mayo) as a national holiday. Zaragoza became one of the great national heroes of Mexico. After the first combat at Puebla, Zaragoza wrote to President Juarez famously noting: "Las armas nacionales se han cubierto de Gloria" ("The arms of the nation have been covered with glory"). These words and Zaragoza's likeness appear on the current Mexican 500-peso.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Rodolfo Arroyo Llano, Ygnacio Zaragoza, defensor de la libertad y la justicia (Monterrey, Nuevo León, 1962). Federico Berrueto Ramón, Ignacio Zaragoza (México, D.F.: Secretaría de Educación Pública, Subsecretaría de Asuntos Culturales, 1966). Guillermo Colín Sánchez, Ignacio Zaragoza: Evocación de un héroe (México, D.F.: Editorial Porrúa, 1963). Ricardo Covarrubias, Anales de la vida del C. General de División Don Ignacio Zaragoza (Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, 1962). Ignacio Zaragoza, Cartas y documentos (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1962). Ignacio Zaragoza, victoria y muerte, 1862 (Mexico City: Partido Revolucionario Institucional, 1976).