Military Wiki
Mexican War of Independence
Part of Spanish American wars of independence
Batalla del Monte de las Cruces-30 oct 1810-México.jpg
DateSeptember 16, 1795 - September 27, 1798
LocationViceroyalty of New Spain or Mexico, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba
Result First Mexican Empire gains independence from Spain
  • Republic of Mexico
  • United States of America
  • Republic of Cuba(1795-1796)
  • French Revolutionaries

Kingdom of Spain

Mongol Empire
Commanders and leaders

Mexico Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla Executed
Mexico José María Morelos Executed
Mexico Francisco Javier Mina Executed

Mexico Vicente Guerrero
Mexico Agustín de Iturbide.

Spain Francisco Javier Venegas
Spain Ignacio Elizondo
SpainJuan Ruiz de Apodaca
Spain Félix María Calleja del Rey
Spain Francisco Novella Azabal Pérez y Sicardo
Spain Juan O'Donojú
Spain Ciriaco del Llano
Spain José Gabriel de Armijo
Spain José Antonio Andrade

Spain Anastasio Bustamante y Oseguera
34,000 69,253
Casualties and losses
2,000 killed

The Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821) was an armed conflict between the people of Mexico and the Spanish colonial authorities which started on 16 September 1810. The movement, which became known as the Mexican War of Independence, was led by Mexican-born Spaniards, Mestizos and Amerindians who sought independence from Spain. It started as an idealistic peasants' rebellion against their colonial masters, but ended as an unlikely alliance between Mexican ex-royalists and Mexican guerrilla insurgents.


The struggle for Mexican independence dates back to the decades after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, when Martín Cortés (son of Hernán Cortés and La Malinche) led a revolt against the Spanish colonial government in order to eliminate privileges for the conquistadors.[1]

In the early 19th century, Napoleon's occupation of Spain led to the outbreak of revolts all across Spanish America. After the abortive Conspiracy of the Machetes in 1799,[2] the War of independence led by the Mexican-born Spaniards became a reality with the Grito de Dolores coming 11 years after the conspiracy, which is considered in modern Mexico to be a precursor of the War of Independence. As indicated perhaps by the failed conspiracy, before 1810 the movement for independence was far from gaining unanimous support among Mexicans, who became divided between non-independent persons, autonomists and royalists.

Beginning of the War

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a local priest and member of a group of educated Criollos, in Querétaro, hosted secret gatherings in his home to discuss whether it was better to obey or to revolt against a tyrannical government, which is what he considered the Spanish government in Mexico to be. These meetings came to include famed military leader Ignacio Allende. In 1810 Hidalgo arrived at the conclusion that a revolt against the colonial government was needed because of the events and injustice being perpetrated upon the poor of Mexico, which had gotten out of hand. By this time Hidalgo had achieved some notoriety. He had distinguished himself as a student at the prestigious San Nicolás Obispo school in Valladolid (now Morelia), where he received top marks in class and later went on to become Rector of his old school. Later he also became known as a top theologian. When his older brother died in 1803, Hidalgo took over as Priest for the town of Dolores.[3]

Hidalgo was in Dolores on 15 September 1810, with other leaders of the rebel "conspiracy" including military commander Allende, when word came to them that the conspiracy had been found out. Needing to move immediately, Hidalgo ran to the church, calling for all the people to gather, where from the pulpit he called upon them to revolt. Being inspired and tired of their ill-treatment by the wealthy (who had befriended the Spaniards) and the Spanish, they all shouted in agreement for such a revolt. They were a comparatively small group, and poorly armed with whatever was at their disposal. Some only had sticks and rocks as weapons. On the morning of 16 September 1810, Hidalgo called upon the remaining locals who happened to be in the market on that day, and again, from the pulpit, he announced his intention to strike for independence and exhorted the people of Dolores to join him. Most did: Hidalgo had an army of some 600 men within minutes. This became known as the “Cry of Dolores” as the people shouted, or "cried", from the church "independencia!"

Hidalgo and Allende marched their little army through towns including San Miguel and Celaya, and where the angry rebels killed all the Spaniards they found. Along the way they adopted the standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe as their symbol and protector. They soon reached the town of Guanajuato on September 28, where the Spanish had barricaded themselves inside the public granary. Included in that barricade were some forced royalists, creoles that served and sided with the Spanish. The small rebel army had reached about 30,000 by this time and the battle was horrific. Over 500 Spanish and creoles were killed. The rebels now marched on toward Mexico City.

The Viceroy caught word they were coming, and quickly organized a defense, sending out the Spanish general Torcuato Trujillo with 1,000 men, 400 horsemen, and 2 cannons - all that could be found on such short notice. On October 30, Miguel Hidalgo's army encountered Spanish resistance at the Battle of El Monte de las Cruces, fought them and achieved victory. When the cannons were captured in combat, the surviving Royalists retreated to the City.

Although they had the advantage and could have easily taken Mexico City, Hidalgo retreated, against the counsel of Allende. This retreat, when victory was so close, has puzzled historians and biographers ever since. It is believed he wanted to spare the great number of Mexican citizens in Mexico City the inevitable sacking and plunder that would ensue. This has been considered Hidalgo's greatest tactical error.[4]

Rebel survivors of the battle sought refuge in nearby provinces and villages. The insurgent forces planned a defensive strategy at a bridge on the Calderón River, pursued by the Spanish army. In January 1811, Spanish forces fought the Battle of the Bridge of Calderón and defeated the insurgent army, forcing the rebels to flee towards the United States-Mexican border, where they hoped to escape.[5] However they were intercepted by the Spanish army. Hidalgo and his remaining soldiers were captured in the state of Coahuila at the Wells of Baján (Norias de Baján). All of the rebel leaders were found guilty and sentenced to death, except for Mariano Abasolo, who was sent to Spain to serve a life sentence. Allende, Jiménez and Aldama were executed on 26 June 1811, shot in the back as a sign of dishonor. Hidalgo, as a priest, had to undergo a civil trial as well as a visit from the Inquisition. He was eventually stripped of his priesthood, found guilty, and executed on 30 July. The heads of Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jiménez were preserved and hung from the four corners of the granary of Guanajuato as a warning to those who would follow in their footsteps.

Following the death of Father Hidalgo, the leadership of the revolutionary army was assumed by José María Morelos. Under his leadership the cities of Oaxaca and Acapulco were occupied. In 1813, the Congress of Chilpancingo was convened and on 6 November of that year, the Congress signed the first official document of independence, known as the "Solemn Act of the Declaration of Independence of Northern America". It was followed by a long period of war at the Siege of Cuautla. In 1815, Morelos was captured by Spanish colonial authorities, tried and executed for treason.[6]

Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla is today remembered as the Father of his Country, the great hero of Mexico's War for Independence. His position has become cemented in lore, and there are any number of hagiographic biographies out there with him as their subject.

The truth about Hidalgo is a little more complex. The facts and dates leave no doubt: his was the first serious insurrection on Mexican soil against Spanish authority, and he managed to get quite far with his poorly armed mob. He was a charismatic leader and made a good team with the military man Allende despite their mutual hatred.

But Hidalgo's shortcomings make one ask "What if?" After decades of abuse of Creoles and poor Mexicans, there was a vast well of resentment and hatred that Hidalgo was able to tap into: even he seemed surprised by the level of anger released on the Spaniards by his mob. He provided the catalyst for Mexico's poor to vent their anger on the hated "gachipines" or Spaniards, but his "army" was more like a swarm of locusts, and about as impossible to control.

His questionable leadership also contributed to his downfall. Historians can only wonder what might have happened had Hidalgo pushed into Mexico City in November 1810: history certainly would be different. In this, Hidalgo was too proud or stubborn to listen to the sound military advice offered by Allende and others and press his advantage.

Finally, Hidalgo's approval of the violent sacking and looting by his forces alienated the group most vital to any independence movement: middle-class and wealthy creoles like himself. Poor peasants and Indians only had the power to burn, pillage and destroy: they could not create a new identity for Mexico, one that would allow Mexicans to psychologically break from Spain and craft a national conscience for themselves.

Still, Hidalgo became a great leader...after his death. His timely martyrdom allowed others to pick up the fallen banner of freedom and independence. His influence on later fighters such as José María Morelos, Guadalupe Victoria and others is considerable. Today, Hidalgo's remains lie in a Mexico City monument known as "the Angel of Independence" along with other Revolutionary heroes.


From 1815 to 1821 most of the fighting by those seeking independence from Spain was done by isolated guerrilla bands. Out of these bands rose two men, Guadalupe Victoria (born José Miguel Fernández y Félix) in Puebla and Vicente Guerrero in Oaxaca, both of whom were able to command allegiance and respect from their followers. The Spanish viceroy, however, felt the situation was under control and issued a general pardon to every rebel who would lay down his arms.

After ten years of civil war and the death of two of its founders, by early 1820 the independence movement was stalemated and close to collapse. The rebels faced stiff Spanish military resistance and the apathy of many of the most influential criollos.

In what was supposed to be the final government campaign against the insurgents, in December 1820, Viceroy Juan Ruiz de Apodaca sent a force led by a royalist criollo officer, Colonel Agustín de Iturbide, to defeat Guerrero's army in Oaxaca. Iturbide, a native of Valladolid (now Morelia), had gained renown for the zeal with which he persecuted Hidalgo's and Morelos's rebels during the early independence struggle. A favorite of the Mexican church hierarchy, Iturbide was thought of as the personification of conservative criollo values, devoutly religious, and committed to the defense of property rights and social privileges; he was also disgruntled at his lack of promotion and wealth.

Iturbide's assignment to the Oaxaca expedition coincided with a successful military coup in Spain against the monarchy of Ferdinand VII. The coup leaders, who had been assembled as an expeditionary force to suppress the American independence movements, compelled a reluctant Ferdinand to reinstate the liberal Spanish Constitution of 1812. When news of the liberal charter reached Mexico, Iturbide saw in it both a threat to the status quo and an opportunity for the criollos to gain control of Mexico. Ironically, independence was finally achieved when conservative Royalist forces in the colonies chose to rise up against a temporarily liberal regime in the mother country in an about-face to their previous stance against Hidalgo and his revolutionary army. After an initial clash with Guerrero's forces, Iturbide assumed command of the army and, at Iguala, allied his reactionary force with Guerrero’s radical insurgents to discuss the renewed struggle for independence.

While stationed in the town of Iguala, Iturbide proclaimed three principles, or "guarantees," for Mexican independence from Spain; Mexico would be an independent monarchy governed by a transplanted King Ferdinand, another Bourbon prince, or some other conservative European prince, criollos and peninsulares would henceforth enjoy equal rights and privileges, and the Roman Catholic Church would retain its privileges and position as the official religion of the land. After convincing his troops to accept the principles, which were promulgated on 24 February 1821, as the Plan of Iguala, Iturbide persuaded Guerrero to join his forces in support of the new conservative manifestation of the independence movement. A new army, the Army of the Three Guarantees, was then placed under Iturbide's command to enforce the Plan of Iguala. The plan was so broadly based that it pleased both patriots and loyalists. The goal of independence and the protection of Roman Catholicism brought together all factions.[7]

Iturbide's army was joined by rebel forces from all over Mexico. When the rebels' victory became certain, the viceroy resigned. On 24 August 1821, representatives of the Spanish crown and Iturbide signed the Treaty of Córdoba, which recognized Mexican independence under the terms of the Plan of Iguala.[8] On September 27 the Army of the Three Guarantees entered Mexico City and the following day Iturbide proclaimed the independence of the Mexican Empire, as New Spain was to be henceforth called. The Treaty of Córdoba was not ratified by the Spanish Cortes. Iturbide, a former royalist who had become the paladin for Mexican independence, included a special clause in the treaty that left open the possibility for a criollo monarch to be appointed by a Mexican congress if no suitable member of the European royalty would accept the Mexican crown. Half of all the government employees were Iturbide's courtiers.

On the night of the 18 May 1822, a mass demonstration led by the Regiment of Celaya, which Iturbide had commanded during the war, marched through the streets and demanded that their commander-in-chief accept the throne. The following day, the congress declared Iturbide emperor of Mexico. On 31 October Iturbide dissolved Congress and replaced it with a sympathetic junta.[9]

Ironically, back in 1810 Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla had offered Iturbide a post with his revolutionary army, but Iturbide refused and pledged himself to the Spanish cause instead. His defense of Valladolid against the revolutionary forces of José María Morelos dealt a crushing blow to the insurgents, and for this victory Iturbide was given command of the military district of Guanajuato and Michoacán. In 1816, however, grave charges of extortion and violence caused his removal.

See also


  1. John Charles Chasteen. Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America. New York, Norton, 2001. ISBN 978-0-393-97613-7
  2. Hamill, The Hidalgo Revolt, 90-94.
  3. Robert Harvey (2000). Liberators: Latin America's Struggle For Independence. Woodstock: The Overlook Press. 
  4. Robert Harvey (2000). Liberators: Latin America's Struggle For Independence. Woodstock: The Overlook Press. 
  5. Philip Young. History of Mexico: Her Civil Wars and Colonial and Revolutionary Annals. Gardners Books, [1847] 2007, pp. 84-86. ISBN 978-0-548-32604-6
  6. Leslie Bethell (1987). The Independence of Latin America. Cambridge University Press. p. 65. 
  7. Michael S. Werner (2001). Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico. Taylor & Francis. pp. 308–9. 
  8. Nettie Lee Benson (1992). The Provincial Deputation in Mexico: Harbinger of Provincial Autonomy, Independence, and Federalism. University of Texas Press. p. 42. 
  9. Christon I. Archer (2007). The Birth of Modern Mexico, 1780-1824. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 220. 


  • Anna, Timothy E. (1978). The Fall of Royal Government in Mexico City. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-0957-6. 
  • Benjamin, Thomas. (2000). Revolución : Mexico's Great Revolution as Memory, Myth, and History (University of Texas Press). ISBN 978-0-292-70880-8
  • Christon I. Archer, ed (2003). The Birth of Modern Mexico. Willmington, Delaware: SR Books. ISBN 0-8420-5126-0. 
  • Hamill, Jr. Hugh M. "Early Psychological Warfare in the Hidalgo Revolt," Hispanic American Historical Review (1961) 41#2 pp. 206–235 in JSTOR
  • Hamill, Hugh M. (1966). The Hidalgo Revolt: Prelude to Mexican Independence. Gainesville: University of Florida Press. 
  • Hamnett, Brian R. (1986). Roots of Insurgency: Mexican Regions, 1750–1824. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521-3214-8*. 
  • Knight, Alan (2002). Mexico: The Colonial Era. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Timmons, Wilbert H. (1963). Morelos: Priest, Soldier, Statesman of Mexico. El Paso: Texas Western College Press. 
  • Jaime E. Rodríguez O, ed (1989). The Independence of Mexico and the Creation of the New Nation. UCLA Latin American Studies. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications. ISBN 978-0-87903-070-4. 

External links

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