Ignacio Seguín Zaragoza, Mexican general and hero of Cinco de Mayo, was born on March 24, 1829, at Bahía del Espíritu Santo (see LA BAHÍA) in the state of Coahuila and Texas, near present Goliad, Texas. He was the second son of Miguel G. Zaragoza of Veracruz, Mexico, and María de Jesús Seguín of Bexar, who was a relative of Juan José Erasmo Seguín. With Mexico's defeat in the Texas Revolution, Miguel Zaragoza, an infantryman, moved his family from Goliad to Matamoros, where Ignacio attended the school of San Juan. The elder Zaragoza was transferred to Monterrey in 1844, and Ignacio entered a seminary there. By 1846 he realized that he did not have a strong vocation and left. When the United States invaded Mexico, he volunteered to serve as a cadet in the Mexican army but was rejected. He entered the mercantile business for a short time, and in 1853 he joined the militia of Nuevo León with the rank of sergeant. When his regiment was incorporated into the Mexican army, he was promoted to captain.
During the 1850s Zaragoza sided with the liberal forces favoring the Plan de Ayutla, Mexico's first serious effort to establish a democratic and constitutional government. He took part in the battles of Saltillo and Monterrey against the armies of Antonio López de Santa Anna. On January 21, 1857, while on an important army assignment in San Luis Potosí, Zaragoza was unable to attend his own marriage to Rafaela Padilla in Monterrey, so his brother, Miguel, served as his proxy. Zaragoza and his wife had four children, three of whom died in infancy. During the years of the War of the Reform (1857–60), the struggle between conservative powers and liberal forces led by Benito Juárez, Zaragoza took part in a number of military engagements. During Comonfort's rebellion in 1857 he led forces in defense of the reformist principles of the constitution. He fought in the battle of Guadalajara, and in 1860 he participated in the battle of Calpulalpan, which ended the war.
In April 1861 Juárez appointed Zaragoza minister of war and navy in the parliamentary ministry. Three months later Juárez declared a two-year moratorium on Mexico's European debts, and in December a fleet of Spanish ships forced the surrender of Veracruz; soon thereafter the forces of France and England joined the Spanish. Zaragoza resigned from the ministry to lead the Army of the East, and in February 1862, a month after his wife's death in Mexico City, he began work on the defenses of Puebla. Early in 1862 the English and Spanish withdrew; French forces attacked Puebla in a battle that lasted the entire day of May 5, 1862, the now-famed Cinco de Mayo. Zaragoza's well-armed, well-trained men forced the withdrawal of the French troops from Puebla to Orizaba. The number of French reported killed ranged from 476 to 1,000, although many of the troops were already ill from their stay in the coastal lowlands. Mexican losses were reported to be approximately eighty-six. Although the French captured Mexico City the next summer, the costly delay at Puebla is believed to have shortened the French intervention in Mexico and changed its outcome, since the French were planning to aid Confederate forces in Texas during the Civil War. In addition, the battle rekindled the spirit of the Mexican people to win and preserve their independence.
In mid-August Zaragoza went to Mexico City, where he was feted as a hero. When he returned to his troops in Puebla he became ill with typhoid fever and died there on September 8, 1862. A state funeral was held in Mexico City with interment at the Panteón de San Fernando. On September 11, 1862, President Juárez issued a decree changing the name of the city of Puebla de los Angeles to Puebla de Zaragoza and making Cinco de Mayo a national holiday. Zaragoza became one of the great national heroes of Mexico. Songs have been written in his honor, and schools, plazas, and streets have been named either Zaragoza or Cinco de Mayo. Each year on May 5, Zaragoza societies meet throughout Mexico and in a number of Texas towns (see FIESTAS PATRIAS). In the 1960s General Zaragoza State Historic Site was established near Goliad to commemorate Zaragoza's birthplace. In 1980 dignitaries from the United States, Texas, and Mexico participated in the dedication of a ten-foot bronze statue honoring Zaragoza, commissioned by Alfredo Toxqui Fernández de Lara, governor of Puebla, as a gift to the people of Goliad and Texas. The statue was placed in Goliad State Historical Park.