The Pastry War must be one of the more strangely named wars in history. It was a French action against Mexico in the end of 1838 and beginning of 1839. The name comes from a supposed incident that started the war. Mexico had been undergoing almost constant unrest for over a decade as Mexico’s struggle between a concentrated central government and a more federal system drove the country to civil war. In 1838, a French pastry cook claimed that his shop in Mexico City had been ransacked by Mexican soldiers in 1828. France demanded the then exorbitant amount of 600,000 pesos in compensation from the Mexican government. Mexico had also defaulted on many of its loans to France, so King Louis-Philippe was eager to get that money paid as well.
The French sent their demand to Mexican president Anastasio Bustamante, but when payment of the reparations was not forthcoming, decided to take more drastic action. Using the claims by the pastry cook and other French citizens, France sent a fleet to blockade the port of Veracruz in February of 1838. Months of negotiations followed to try and get France to lift the blockade, but the French government did not budge on the demands. By November, the situation had deteriorated completely. The French navy began bombarding the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa at Veracruz, and Mexico declared war.
With the French attacking Veracruz, Mexico needed a quick defense of the city. To that end, the Mexican government called on General Santa Anna, disgraced two years prior after losing the Texan Revolution, to come out of retirement. Santa Anna was luckily at his ranch near Veracruz at the time, and rushed to prepare the city’s coastal defenses against the French attack. However, the superior numbers and position of the French forces won the battle and occupied Veracruz. The French navy stepped up the blockade and expanded it to include all ports along the Gulf coast of Mexico.
The French occupied Veracruz for several months until a resolution of the conflict could be arranged in March of 1839 after British intervention. Mexico was forced to pay the full reparations of 600,000 pesos, and the French fleet left Veracruz and returned to France. While the war was brief, it greatly influence the next chapter in Mexico’s history. Firstly, it returned Santa Anna to national prominence. While he lost the battle in Veracruz, he lost a leg during the retreat from the city. The leg was buried with full military honors and Santa Anna came out a hero. Soon after the war ended, Bustamante’s government collapsed and Santa Anna assumed the presidency. This was the fifth time out of eight that Santa Anna would hold the office of president of Mexico. Additionally, the payment to France and the loss of trade revenue during the war greatly weakened the Mexican military and economy. This proved disastrous ten years later during the Mexican-American War.