Most celebrated battle of the French Foreign Legion
(La Legion Etrangere
On April 29, 1863, the 3rd Company (1st Battalion) of the Foreign Legion stationed in Mexico was ordered by Colonel Jeanningros to escort a convoy carrying gold bullion from Vera Cruz to Puebla. Due to yellow fever, the company was comprised of 62 legionnaire
s (no officers) and 3 volunteers: Cpt. Danjou, Lt. Vilain (the pay officer) and 2nd Lt. Maudet.
The column left at 1am on the morning of the 30th, intending initially to reach Palo Verde. Meanwhile, the Mexican sector commander, Colonal Milan, learns of the convoy and musters 2000 men (including 800 cavalry armed with Winchester
rifles) to intercept it. The French do not realise such a large force is in the area.
At approximately 5am Danjou's company passes the village of Camerone. A mile later the column is briefly halted for morning coffee. Seconds later, the first shot of the battle rang out - fired by a nervous Mexican sentry.
Milan orders his cavalry
to charge. The legionnaires form a square amongst the thick scrub brush. Concentrated fire from the legionnaires break up and repulse the charge. However in the chaos, the legion's mules have been scared off - taking their supplies of food, water, and spare ammunition with them.
Unable to penetrate the legionnaire's defenses, the cavalry attempt to maneuver to surround. Danjou pulls his company to a defensive position back to the village of Camerone (still in square formation). They arrive with 42 men (including wounded). The village consists of a farmhouse and outbuildings, plus some ruined hovels. All this is enclosed within a courtyard. The company begins to build barricades.
At 9am, the Mexican infantry arrive (three battalions, 1200 men). Milan calls on the legionnaires to surrender. Danjou persuades his men to fight to the end. Several attacks are made. The Mexican assault reaches the upper story of the farmhouse. Danjou is killed, Vilain takes command. At noon, Milan again calls for the legionnaires to surrender. They replied "Merde" (shit). The situation worsened as the Mexicans broke into the rooms of the hacienda, killing the defenders and setting fire to the rooms. Just before 2pm, Valain is killed. Maudet takes command.
By 5pm, only Maudet and 12 legionnaires remain alive. The Mexicans set fire to the farmhouse, forcing the legionnaires to flee across the courtyard to an outhouse.
Again Milian called on the legionnaires to surrender-they did not deign to reply-and a fresh attack was launched against them: Maudet was by now alone with a corporal (Maine) and four legionnaires (Leonhard, Catteau, Wenzel and Constantin).
were now empty. After a brief lull, the Mexicans mass and slowly approach the outhouse. It is now 6pm. Maudet gives the order to fix bayonets and charge. They are engulfed by the Mexican infantry and none reach their targets.
Three legionnaires are left standing, though wounded (Maine, Wenzel and Constantin). Milan halts his men, and calls for the legionnaires to surrender. They reply that they would not do so unless they were allowed to keep their arms and tend to their wounded. Milan agrees, and is rumoured to have said: "One can refuse nothing to men like you". Of the 65 legionnaires in 3rd company, only three were to survive the battle.
The Mexicans lost over 500 men.
"Camerone 1863" was incribed on the banner of the 1st Regiment by order of Emperor Napoleon III, in 1892 a monument was raised on the site of the battle.
April 30th is celebrated as Camerone Day by the Foreign Legion, and is the most cherished battle in the history of the Legion. The word "Camerone" is inscribed in gold on the walls of Les Invalides in Paris. Danjou's wooden hand rests in the Legion Hall of Honour in Aubagne.