Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cameron Day - The Making of the French Foreign Legion

Americans have the Alamo – but the French Foreign Legion has the battle of the Cameron Hacienda.  April 30th every year commemorates this illustrious day in the history of the Legion Entranger.  Since two of my books have dealt with the Legion, I thought it only appropriate on this 30 April to provide the context of why the Foreign Legion is so highly respected. 

The Legion had been deployed to Mexico in support of the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian.  Capitaine Jean Danjou led a small contingent of Legionnaires to protect a wagon train.  Danjou was a renowned warrior who had already lost a hand in fighting in Algiers, and wore a wooden replacement. 

At Cameron Capitaine Danjou and his small unit of 49 officers and men turned the small hovel into tiny fortress.  Facing them was 800 cavalry and 1200 infantry.  The fighting was bitter, driving the Legionnaires to thin cover behind a stone wall in a small building.  The leader of the enemy Juarist forces, Colonel Milan, sent out a man under a flag of truce and offered Danjou and his men a chance to surrender.  The Legionnaires refused, despite the fact that they were trapped with little water and hopelessly outnumbered. 

The Juarists sent wave after wave of troops at the men of the Legion, and each was beaten back.  When Danjou was killed, Lieutenant Vilian took command.  He called out the survivors, "Mes enfants! I command you now. We may die, but never will surrender."  After four more hours of hot bitter fighting, Vilian also fell. 

When the Juarists sent another surrender request, only a dozen Legionnaires remained alive.  Maudet, now the commander, repulsed more waves of the enemy.  After another hour, only five men remained.  The survivors were down to one bullet each.  "At my command, fire. Then follow me through the breach. We'll end this with our bayonets." 

Maudet did the unthinkable…he charged.  The men of the Legion were eventually surrounded and clubbed to death. It was the stuff of legends, where blood, sweat, and determination form myths of such daring.    

Now, on the 30th of April, the Legion celebrates Cameron Day, parading their most sacred relic, the wooden hand of Danjou at the head of their celebration parade. I’m posting this on the 29th – the day of the actual fighting, to commemorate those brave men who made the legend of the Foreign Legion a reality.     

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