The Mexican campaign: conditions in Veracruz (contemporary accounts)

Author(s) : BIBESCO Prince Georges, BOCHET Jules, LAURENT Paul
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Conditions in Veracruz

“Veracruz is a town in decline, but must once have been beautiful. Grass grows in the streets; the inhabitants go about their business quietly, with no attention paid to the French flag that blows proudly besides the Mexican flag. I spent my time putting up my men and [making] one or two purchases. I was of course quite unable to sleep at night, devoured as I was by all manner of beasts.
We sleep many to a room. In the room I was assigned, there was in addition (behind a curtain, it should be said) a goat which proceeded to make a most unbearable din in the middle of the night, the excuse being that its mistress had gone away for a moment. They do not want to let the troops stay in Veracruz, and with good reason, and so my section of the battalion was directed, via railroad, to the camp at Tejeria, twelve kilometres away. We had no baggage train, as the sea was rough and it was feared that we would not be able to land the barge bearing the luggage.” [Bochet]
“There was a dismal air to Veracruz, and it had a profound effect on all of us. A leaden sun and its vertical rays burned down on us; a dreadful smell betrayed the filthiness of certain quarters and the inhabitants' indifference towards cleaning the town's stinking streets. Gangs of tzopilotls, a sort of vulture which flourishes in Mexico, fight amongst themselves over the piles of rubbish thrown out in front of their houses by the inhabitants. These terrifying looking birds serve as refuse collectors; they are protected by law. […]
The population of Veracruz – made up of money-grabbing tradesmen, who leave themselves open to all sorts of danger in their quest for fortune – was essentially hostile towards us, the war that we had undertaken having ruined a lot of hopes. It is unfortunate to have to say that the French inhabitants reacted in deaf opposition to our presence, feeding with their malicious talk the already unfriendly disposition of the country's inhabitants.” [Laurent]
“The French transport ships bearing troops for the expedition continue to follow one after the other. The Darien and the Finistère arrived on the 23 [of this month], the Turenne on the 24, [and] the Asmodée on the 28, to the extent that to this date the 99th régiment de ligne, the artillery [train], the squadron of chasseurs d'Afrique, and the administrative services have either landed or are already en route to rejoin the marching columns [that have set off].
Never before had we been so busy, but [at the same time] never had we worked in such terrible conditions, exposed as we were to the constant plague that ravaged those amongst and around us. The officers' morning report for the colonel; visits to the hospital to keep up the patients' moral and comfort the dying; the departure of troops already landed; the inspection of buildings intended for troops still to arrive; letters to write and orders to dictate: such were the tasks – outside mealtimes – that occupied us and took up our days. The evenings were free; we would go out to the jetty to breath the air away from the city; at night, however, we fell prey to the mosquitoes! The battle would begin as soon as we had retired to bed; our mosquito nets failed to protect us, for the tiniest broken link offered a large enough breach for our bloodthirsty enemies, whilst our sheets, which [the mosquito's proboscis] could pierce, offered barely more protection.” [Bibesco]

The authors

Lieutenant Jules Bochet – Campagne du Mexique (1862-1867). Journal d'un officier de chasseurs à pied, published in 1894 – served in the Crimean War. He arrived in Mexico in November 1862 as a member of the 7e battalion de chasseurs à pied. He was made chevalier in the Légion d'honneur in recognition of his “intelligence” during the battles that took place in Mazatlán. He left Mexico in March 1867 and was posted to the Armée de Metz in 1870. He was killed on 18 August at the Battle of Gravelotte.
Paul Laurent was a lieutenant in the 3e régiment des chasseurs d'Afrique. Under the command of Colonel du Barail, he arrived in Mexico in November 1862 and took part in almost the entire campaign, during watch he earned his captain's stripes. His account of the campaign, La guerre du Mexique de 1862 à 1866 ; journal de marche du 3e chasseurs d'Afrique, was published in 1867.
Prince Georges Bibesco, whose account Au Mexique, 1862 ; combats et retraite des six milles (Paris, Plon, Nourrit et Cie), was published in 1887, was dispatched by the French War Ministry as part of the first expedition. His mission was to produce written reports on the campaign. Placed under de Lorencez's command, he arrived in Mexico in March 1862.

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