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MEXICO: Expédition du Mexique 1861-1867. Récit Politique et Militaire. Zoom



MEXICO: Expédition du Mexique 1861-1867. Récit Politique et Militaire.


Author: Gustave-Léon NIOX (1840 - 1921).
Place and Year: Paris: Librarie Militaire de J. Dumaine, 1874.
Technique:
Code: 64923

Large 8° (24 x 16.5 cm / 9.5 x 6.5 inches): Collation Complete: 4 ff., 770 pp., 1f. (Errata), plus 4 lithographed maps; original marbled boards backed by burgundy calf with title and elaborate tooling in gilt (Very Good, some very slight sporadic spotting in text, biding with light shelfware and a few minor blemishes).

 

[Accompanied by:]

Carte du Mexique Dressée au Dépôt de la Guerre, Par Mr. Niox, Capitaine d'État Majeur. D'après les levés des Officiers du Corps Expéditionaire et les renseignements recueillis par le Bureau Topographique.

Paris, 1873.

Chromolithographed map (in 2 colours, black and blue), dissected into 24 sections and mounted on original linen, folding into original black cloth slipcase with printed pastedown title on recto (Very Good, a few minor spots of discolouration, some short separations in the very thin, fragile original linen along folds, slipcase very good with minor shelfware), map: 71 x 104 cm (28 x 41 inches).  

Of great historical importance – an especially fine example of Niox’s authoritative account of the French Intervention in Mexico and the reign of Emperor Maximilian I, accompanied by Niox’s large folding map of Mexico, which in good part based on fresh and advanced military surveys, was by far the most accurate general map of the nation to date.

Gustave-Léon Niox’s book and accompanying wall map provides both a fascinating insider’s account into the French Intervention in Mexico (1861-7) and the ultimate record of the epic new cartography that was produced during the time.  Niox, a young, but unusually talented military officer rose to become the head of the topographical corps of the French Expeditionary Force in Mexico, whereupon he was charged to create an accurate general map of the entire country for the use of the new imperial regime.  While he was able to draw upon some excellent, fresh military surveys and some fine hitherto unexploited source maps in Mexican archives, his work was limited by the wartime environment and the hasty departure of the French forces from Mexico in 1867.  Nevertheless, completing his work while back in Pairs, he managed to create the most accurate general map of Mexico to date, one that would not be surpassed for some years.  It is thus one of the key foundational works of the modern, scientific cartography of Mexico.  

 

Niox was also a gifted historian and observer of contemporary events, and his accompanying account of the French Intervention is a seminal record of this fascinating interlude in Mexican history, being predicated upon excellent research and direct eyewitness accounts.  The complete set of the book and map is today rare, with the present example being in especially fine condition.

 

Historical Context: The French Intervention in Mexico & the Rise and Fall of Emperor Maximilian

The French Intervention in Mexico (1861 - 1867) was an extraordinary, and somewhat bizarre, event in the history of the Americas.  To clear up any confusion, it is technically know as the Second French Intervention in Mexico (Segunda intervención francesa en México), for the French had briefly invaded parts of Veracruz state during the so-called Pastry War of 1838-9 (the First French Intervention).  At its essence, the Second Intervention was a full-throttle attempt to re-impose European colonial-imperialism upon one of Latin America’s largest nations, almost two generations after Mexico had won its independence from Spain.  The Intervention was a transformative event in the history of Mexico, as the nation’s successful struggle to regain its independence hailed the birth of the modern republic, turning the page on the disasters that had befallen the country during the mid-19th Century.

During the mid-1850s, Mexico was reeling from the devastation of its defeat during the Mexican American War (1845-8), which included the loss of what became the U.S. Southwest.  However, things were about to get worse.  The advent of a new administration in 1854, dedicated to liberal reforms, met with resolute opposition from many of the large landowners (the hacendados) and the Roman Catholic Church.  The new regime aimed to curtail their powers and grant constitutional rights to the peasantry, objectives codified in the Constitution of 1857.  The tensions between conservative and liberal elements broke out into a civil conflict, the Reform War (Guerra de Reforma, 1857-60).  While the forces of the ‘La Reforma’ were eventually victorious, in 1860, the republic was wracked with crushing public debt, while the government’s enemies licked their wounds, plotting revenge.

President Benito Juárez (1806-72), who assumed office in 1858, was a brilliant lawyer who became a liberal icon as the author of the ‘La Reforma’ legislation.  He was also the first Mexican head of state of primarily indigenous decent since 1520.  Juárez was determined to liberate the masses from the remains of the feudal ecomienda system and to modernize Mexico’s economy and infrastructure.  However, these objectives promised to be expensive and were being undermined by the nation’s severe public debt, the interest payments upon which were alone starting to deprive Mexico from having basic daily operating capital, not to mention funds for grand measures.  In particular, Mexico owed vast sums of high-interest debt to France, Britain and Spain.  After the president’s attempts to renegotiate the loans failed, in July 1861, Juárez announced that Mexico would default on its debts.

France, Britain and Spain were enraged by Juárez’s action, and all parties decided to seek redress – by force if necessary.

Meanwhile, a unique circumstance had developed which would underlie the events which were to follow.   Since 1823, the United States had tried to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, a policy by which it would prevent European powers from increasing their colonial presence in the Americas beyond what they already held at that time (Canada, some West Indian islands and few coastal enclaves).  In other words, the Americas were to be U.S. zone of dominance.  However, the period leading up and during the U.S. Civil War (1861-5) ensured that Washington was completely consumed with domestic matters, having no resources to enforce the Doctrine.

In this power vacuum, the trio of European powers decided to use the debt default as a pretext to invade Mexico.  France, Spain and Britain signed the Treaty of London (October 31, 1861), whereby they formed a collation to mount a punitive expedition against Mexico.  The plan was to seize the country’s principal port of Veracruz, while threateing a larger invasion, and so forcing Juárez to honour his debts.

On December 8, 1861, a Spanish naval fleet arrived off of Veracruz, seizing the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, and then the entire city on December 17.  Joint European forces then proceeded inland to Orizaba, Cordoba and Tehuacán, while a French fleet took the port of Campeche, to the south.  However, it was only after a large French army arrived at Veracruz on March 5, 1862, that the Spanish and British realized that France had plans that went far beyond what was agreed in London.

Emperor Napoleon III (1808-73), the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, had ruled France as a dictator since 1852.  Like his uncle, he harboured grand ambitions for his country that, at times, bordered on the delusional.  With aggressive military and economic policies, he wanted France to become the dominant power in Continental Europe, and global player who could rival Britain and the United States.

Napoleon was not content to simply threaten Mexico to recover France’s money, he wanted to conquer the nation, making it into a colony under his control.  The debt controversy and the U.S.’s internal travails provided him with an unprecedented opportunity, and he merely used Spain and Britain as pons in his game.  Madrid and London, not accepting this realization, withdrew their forces from the Mexican conflict in April 1862.

Napoleon’s plan was as follows.  Recalling that the U.S. invaded Mexico with relative ease in the 1840s, he believed that a sizable and well-equipped French army could take the country in a similar fashion.  His agents had also found that many of the conservative Mexican landowners would welcome the removal of the Juárez government and imposition of a traditional, imperial regime.  Napoleon, for his part, envisaged that Mexico’s vast silver wealth could be used to finance France’s global ambitions.

France would eventually send 38,493 well-armed regular troops to Mexico, backed up by 20,285 Conservative Mexican fighters.  They would be opposed by Mexican Republican forces numbering 70,000 troops, plus many more irregular fighters.

The French forces began their conquest of the interior in earnest, but not without complications.  The main French army suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of Republican forces under General Ignacio Zaragoza at the Battle of Puebla (May 5, 1862), an event which has since been commemorated as the Mexican national holiday ‘Cinco de Mayo’.  However, Mexican attempts to wipe out the French army were thwarted by the French victory at the Battle of Orizaba (June 14).  Additional French forces arrived in Mexico in September 1862, and the French took Tampico (October 23) and Xalapa (December 12).

In 1863, the military conflict reached its climax.  The French defeated the Mexican army at the Battle of San Lorenzo and took Puebla in May 17.  The road to the capital then lay open for a large French force under General François Achille Bazaine, who seized Mexico City on May 31.  President Juárez then moved with his government to Chihuahua, which became the provisional Republican capital, while mounting a guerrilla war against the foreign invaders and their domestic allies.

Once in charge of the capital, the French appointed a Junta Superior made up of conservative grandees, declaring the country a ‘Catholic Empire’, based on traditional imperialistic values.  However, an empire would not be an empire without an emperor, and it was at this juncture that Napoleon III concocted his most flamboyant flourish. 

Napoleon arranged for Archduke Maximilian Ferdinand von Habsburg (1832-67), the younger brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, to become ‘Emperor of Mexico’.   As the Habsburg family had previously ruled Mexico for almost two centuries, it was hoped that Maximilian’s pedigree would add historical gravitas to his reign.  Maximillian was an intelligent, honourable and ambitious man, who possessed an impressive military record as an officer in the Austrian Navy.  While his world view was somewhat archaic and naïve, he had a liberal disposition, which was to alienate him from his natural supporters.  Indeed, while Napoleon assumed that Maximillian would be a conservative puppet, responsible to Paris, things would not turn out that way.

Maximilian I (Spanish: Maximiliano) and his wife Charlotte (Spanish: Carlota) arrived in Mexico in April 1864, during a period in which the French forces were romping from victory to victory.  The French had captured Guadalajara on January 6, 1864; Zacatecas on February 6; and would go on to take Acapulco on June 6 and Durango on July 3.  Maximilian was warmly received by the conservative grandees and, for a while, it looked as if the Empire would endure, as Juárez’s forces were everywhere on the run.

However, much to the shock of Napoleon, Maximilian failed to follow dictates from Paris.   He also vowed to rule as a constitutional monarch, subject to an elected house of representatives, while maintaining most of the liberal policies of the La Reforma.  This horrified the conservative factions, who became to have second thoughts, gradually withdrawing their support for the imperial regime. 

For a time, the French forces added to their conquests, taking Mazatlán in November 1864 and Oaxaca (the capital of Juárez’s home state) on February 9, 1864.  However, the Republicans managed to retain control of strategic bases in the both the north and south and the country. 

The war was about to turn, as determined Republican resistance, the scourge of disease and the vastness and ruggedness of the country, began to wear down the French forces.  Their supply lines were tenuous and their morale was flagging, and the French began to suffer a series defeats.  The Republicans won the Frist Battle of Tacámbaro in Michoacán (April 11, 1865), and began to conquer imperial-held territory from the north, as they descended from Sinaloa and Chihuahua.  The French suffered another defeat as the Second Battle of Tacámbaro on July 11, 1865, which generally placed them on the defensive.

Maximilian, who had alienated both Paris and the Mexican conservatives, began to lose his cool.  Worried by imperial losses, he urged the French forces to mount a more ferocious campaign, treating the Republican ‘rebels’ as illegal combatants, as opposed to honourable opponents subject to the rules of war.  On October 21, 1865, he issued the ‘Black Decree’ that stated that any Republicans captured should be summarily executed.  While this dictate was not universally followed (many imperial troops found it barbaric and contrary to their honour system), many Republican prisoners-of-war were brutally killed.  The Black Decree lost Maximilian any respect he may have had within liberal circles and, as shall be seen, it sealed his own death warrant.

Meanwhile, the Civil War in the United States had concluded, giving Washington the ability to reassert its traditional role in the Western Hemisphere.  The U.S. made it clear that the continued existence of the Mexican Empire was totally unacceptable.  America placed ever-greater pressure upon Napoleon III to withdraw from Mexico and it gradually ramped up its semi-covert financial and material support of Juárez’s regime, with appreciable consequences.  U.S. Secretary of State William Seward would later recall that “The Monroe Doctrine, which eight years ago was merely a theory, is now an irreversible fact.”

On May 31, 1866, facing further loses in the field, combined with American pressure, Napoleon announced the gradual withdrawal of French forces from Mexico.  He urged Maximilian to abdicate, and return to Europe with the retreating armies.  However, the emperor stubbornly refused, even as his empire was falling before him.  The Republicans took Guadalajara on July 8; while later that month they seized Matamoros, Tampico and Acapulco.  The French soon abandoned Monterrey, Saltillo and the entire state of Sonora. 

Still Maximilian fought on with a small an ever-smaller army of conservative Mexicans and a loyal coterie of European troops.  Imperial forces were crushed at the Battle of Miahuatlán in October 1866, driving them out of Oaxaca; while by January, 1867 they were evicted from Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato.

The gig was now up.  The French marched out of Mexico City on February 5, 1867, leaving it in the hands of a small imperialist force.  The quixotic Maximilian then fled to Querétaro.  There the Imperialists made their last stand, sustaining a siege for two months.  Once the city was captured by Juárez’s forces, and after a series of attempts by Maximilian to flee the scene, the Emperor was placed on trial and court-martialled.  Literally dozens of European rulers and intellectuals, from Queen Victoria to Victor Hugo, telegrammed Juárez to spare Maximilian’s life.  However, Juárez knew that he had to send a message to any potential future foreign invaders; moreover, Maximilian’s ‘Black Decree’ ensured that he would only get the justice he had meted out upon captured Mexicans.  Maximillian and his two top lieutenants were executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867.  The following day, Mexico City surrendered to the Republicans, so ending the Empire.

Juárez then resumed is civil administration, free of the conservative opposition, which had become utterly discredited by their ‘treasonous’ association with foreign invaders.  However, he increasingly faced opposition within his own liberals ranks.  Juárez died in office in 1872, and after a period of instability.  In 1876, Porfirio Díaz, a military hero of the late war, became president.  Presiding over a 35-year long dictatorship, known as the ‘Pofiriato’, his autocratic and repressive regime nevertheless succeeded in restoring Mexican sovereignty, industrializing the economy and modernizing infrastructure and institutions, creating the foundation of the modern Mexican republic.

Niox’s Insider’s Account

 

Focussing on Niox’s text, he provides a highly detailed and valuable insider’s account of the French Intervention, from its conception to its demise.  He makes every attempt to be impartial and accurate, and his writing is refreshingly free of blatant nationalist value judgments and propaganda.  He rather bases his analysis on established facts, government and military records, and his own personal experiences in the field.  Overall, we gain the impression that officers of the French army arrived in Mexico with the intention of making short work of the invasion.  Far from being naïve practitioners of European field drills, many of the troops had extensive experience fighting guerrilla wars in North Africa, yet they still managed to underestimate the challenges of upcoming mission.  The French soon found that they had walked into a trap: the country was enormous and rugged; their Mexican allies were unreliable; the commitment of their home government was questionable; and they were forced to fight for Emperor Maximilian, a foreign leader whose naïve missteps made their mission practically impossible.

 

Niox’s text is divided into two parts, of seven chapters each.  Part One traces the events from Mexico’s independence until the Treaty of London that led to formation of the foreign coalition which aimed to invade Mexico; the organization of the foreign forces and the events leading up to the invasion of Veracruz; the rupture of the foreign coalition; the initial French invasion of the interior under General Lorencez and its difficulties, including the battles at Cumbres, Puebla, Orizaba, Barranca-Seca and Cerro-Borrego; the French regrouping under Generals Forey and Bazaine including their victories at Xalapa, Puebla and San Lorenzo; and finally General Forey’s entry into Mexico City.

 

Part Two includes a description of the French surge across the country, including the actions at San Lorenzo, Guadalajara, Zacatecas, Tampico and Acapulco; the arrival of Maximilian in Veracruz; the investiture of Maximilian at Mexico City; the French victories at Oaxaca, Mazatlan and Guyamas; Franco-American relations, the consolidation of Maximilian’s

regime and his political misstep; the turning tide of Imperial losses and souring relations between France and Maximilian; the departure of the French forces and Maximilian’s vow to remain in Mexico; Maximilian’s defeat and execution and the restoration of the Republic.

 

The text is followed by a valuable Appendix presenting several historical documents, including an account of the ‘Jecker Affair’ (a scandal involving Mexican debt in the lead-up to the Intervention); the text of the Treaty of London; a list of supposed pre-war ‘injustices’ committed by the Mexican government; the organization of the French expedition to Veracruz; a roster of all French military ships that sailed to Mexico during the Intervention; the organization of General Forey’s expeditionary corps in 1862; the text of the Convention of Miramar which designated Maximilian as Emperor; the organization of the French forces in Mexico during 1864; notes on French colonization projects in Mexico; the text of the Convention of July 1866; a roster of French ships returning home in 1867; and a List of the Expenditures of the French Empire during the Intervention, showing that a total of 363.2 million Frances was spent over 7 years.

 

The book is illustrated with four plates of battle maps highlighting some of the key actions of the Intervention.  They are as follows:

 

1) Combat des Cumbres (28 Avril 1862) / Combat de la Barranca-Seca (18 Mai 1862).

Lithograph, 20.5 x 24 cm (8 x 9.5 inches).

 

This plate depicts the related actions of the Battle of Las Cumbres (April 28, 1862) and the Battle of Barranca-Seca (May 18, 1862).  These altercations occurred when the French army was retreating from their defeat at Puebla (May 5, 1862), all the while pursued by Republican forces.  As depicted on the map, at Las Cumbres, Imperial forces under General Lorencez blocked Mexican forces from pursuing them through the vital corridor of the Acultzingo Pass.  This allowed them time to regroup and gain a victory over the Republicans at the Battle of Barranca-Seca. 

 

2) Environs d'Orizaba.

Lithograph, 24 x 18.5 cm (9.5 x 7.25 inches).

 

The French victory at Battle of Barranca-Seca only managed to stall, but not conclude, the Republican offensive.  As shown here, the two forces met again at the Battle of Orizaba (June 14), near the Cerro-Borrego.  The showdown yielded a French victory, which placed the French back on the offensive in the overall conflict.

 

3) Plan de Puebla et des environs pour servir a l'intelligence du combat du 5 Mai 1862 livrée par le Général de Lorencez sur les hauteurs de Guadalupe, et des opérations du siège dirigé par le Gal. Forey (du 16 Mars au 18 Mai 1863) [with 2 insets]: [1] Combat de Sn. Lorenzo (8 Mai 1863); [2] Détails du Cadre de Santa-Ines (Attaque du 25 Avril 1863).

Lithograph, 35.5 x 60 cm (14 x 23.5 inches).

 

This important, large-format plan depicts the city of Puebla and its environs.  The Republican forces had famously defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla of May 5, 1862 (‘Cinco de Mayo’).  The action here depicts the French reprise, whereby they mounted a two-month siege (March to May 1863) before taking the city.  The inset map of the Battle of San Lorenzo (May 8, 1863) depicts how the French throttled the Republican forces, essentially placing the Imperial side in control of Central Mexico.

 

4) Plan d'Oajaca.

Lithograph, 39.5 x 24 cm (15.5 x 9.5 inches).

 

This map depicts the environs of the key southern city of Oaxaca, which was seized by Imperial on February 9, 1864.

 

Niox’s Epic Carte du Mexique

 

Niox, who led the topographical corps of the French Expeditionary Force during the Intervention, was charged by the French high command to create a master map of the country for the strategic use of the French government, army, as well as Emperor Maximilian and his ministers.  Due to the collapse of the Imperial regime in 1866-7, he was not able to publish the map until 1873, almost a decade after it was first commissioned.

Niox’s large-format map presents Mexico with unprecedented accuracy, through clean and crisp lithography.  The geodetic positioning of many places and natural features had been markedly improved from that presented upon all previous works, as the nation’s topography is carefully rendered, with mountain ranges expressed through shading, and rivers and coastlines delineated by fine blue lines.  All major cites and towns are labelled, as are all major routes of transportation, including roads and railway lines.  The map presents all details sufficient for strategic military planning, yet purposefully omits many superfluous details, such as internal political boundaries, which would impair the clarity of the presentation.

As Niox dispatched mapping parties to various regions and pressed regimental commanders for fresh surveys, he realized that the army’s cartographic operations would be limited to the regions under the control of Imperial forces.  Even then, he knew that mapping activities might be further circumscribed by political instability and guerrilla warfare.  In any event, his final map would have to be a careful synergy between new French military geographical observations and pre-existing information from the best published sources, as well as local mapping from Mexican archives.

Niox’s natural starting point were the maps from Antonio García Cubas’s Atlas Geográfico, Estadístico e Histórico de la República Mexicana (1857) and, perhaps more importantly, García Cubas’s Carta General de México (1863), the first serious modern national map.  However, García Cubas’s work had many limitations, as while many areas were impressively accurate, other regions were portrayed with variable quality.  Thus, García Cubas presented Niox with an excellent starting point, but then again, only a starting point.

While Niox and his military engineers were mapping parts of Mexico in the wake of the progress of the Imperial army, his men combed the country for additional source material.  They acquired maps from municipal offices and haciendas, which were of variable quality, but overall yielded valuable information.  Fortunately, the collections of the Sociedad de Geografía in Mexico City proved to possess a wealth of underexploited high quality information, which Niox and his team integrated into their general projection.

The inset, ‘Carte des Divisions Politiques’, in the lower right corner, delineates Mexico’s internal state boundaries, but more importantly features a small national map, detailing the parts of the country that the French Expeditionary Force actually explored (coloured in amber).  It shows that the French were able to map much of Central Mexico, but were only able to map isolated forays into Northern and Southern Mexico, with large peripheral areas having been entirely unexplored. 

Gradually, by increments, Niox and his team began to assemble the national map, carefully editing their sources to separate the wheat from the chaff.  While much progress had been made while they were in Mexico, the project was not completed by the time that Niox and his colleagues had to make their rather hasty departure from the country in 1867.  Niox retained his most vital documents and plans and completed the map at the Dépôt de la Guerre in Paris, where it was published in 1873.  While the limitations of operating in a warzone ensured that his work was not perfect, he proudly (and correctly) recalled that it marked “progrès sérieux” (serious improvement) upon the García Cubas map.  Indeed, the Niox map would remain the most accurate general map of Mexico for some years.  Only after the extensive long-term efforts of the Comisión Geográfico-Exploradora (CGE), the mapping agency established in 1877 by President Porfirio Díaz, was Niox’s mapping measurably improved upon.  Thus, Niox’s masterpiece is one of the anchors of the modern cartography of Mexico, and the ultimate embodiment of the geographic knowledge gained during the French Intervention.

Gustave Léon Niox: Leading French Military Cartographer, Historian and Administrator

 

Gustave Léon Niox (1841-1921) was a military officer, historian, curator, surveyor and cartographer, whose career spanned six decades.  After graduating from the Ecole Spécaiale Miliataire at Saint-Cyr, he joined the Imperial Guard, before being dispatched to North Africa.  In 1862, he joined the general staff of the French Expeditionary Force in Mexico, and so impressed his superiors that he was soon promoted to become the head of the mission’s topographical corps, an amazing achievement for someone still in their mid-20s!  After distinguished service that resulted in the present groundbreaking map and account of Mexico, he retuned to the Paris where he assumed senior roles at the Ministry of Defence.  He fought in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1), and was taken prisoner at the siege of Metz.  After his release, he turned to academia, whereupon he became a prolific author and served as professor of geography and statistics at the l'Ecole d'État-Major, and latterly, the l'État Supérieur de Guerre.  He subsequently served variously as the Inspector-General of the Army Telegraph Corps, the Governor of the Invalides and as the Director-General of the Musée de l’Armée.  Remaining on the military roster, he eventually attained the rank of general.  Though and an elderly, but still spry, man, he served as the Chief of the Topographical Corps for the French Army during World War I, providing vital geographical intelligence to the front lines.  He died in 1921 as one of the most revered military administrators, cartographers and historians of his era.

 

In addition to the present work, Niox’s numerous publications included: De l'emploi des chemins de fer pour les mouvements stratégiques (1873); Notions de géologie: géographie militaire (1876); L'Empire russe (1886); L'Indo-Chine (1886); Péninsule des Balkans (1886); Sénégal et Niger (1886); Géographie militaire, 7 vols. (1876-95); La Guerre de 1870. Simple récit (1896); Drapeaux et trophées, résumé de l'histoire militaire contemporaine de la France: catalogue du Musée de l'armée (1910); and La Grande guerre, 1914-1918, simple récit (1921).

 

The Rarity of the Niox’s Pairing of the Map & Book

 

Niox’s complete pairing of the map and book is today very rare.  We know of only two other examples as having appeared on the market during the last generation.

 

References: Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE C-9327 (map) and 8-LH4-1368 (book); Palau 191775 & 191776. 

 

€3,200.00