Elements of the Third Company First Battalion of The French foreign Legion were surrounded by Mexican Cavalry. More than 2,000 Mexicans faced less than 46 Legionaires posited behind the crumbling adobe walls of the Hacienda Camerone. Mexican snipers occupied the upper stories of the ruined buildings, while the determined Captain Danjou elicited a promise from his surviving troops that they would fight to the end. A running firefight had erupted at around 7:30 am. At 9:30 the embattled Legionaires refused to surrender.
Around 11:00 am Captain Danjou was hit by sniper fire while scurrying across the courtyard. He was rescued by two men, but died less than five minutes later. Shortly after, The Legionaires heard bugle calls and prayed it was a relief column or the convoy coming to the rescue. A sergeant in the Legion climbed to the stable roof. He reported that the Mexican Cavalry was being joined by approximately 1,000 infantry. Local guerrillas swelled the already impossible odds. Still the Third Company refused to surrender. The noon sun baked the interior of the hacienda. The remaining soldiers and the wounded alike began to suffer from thirst. The North Africa vetrans drank their own urine to fight dehydration. Ammunition began to run low. At 2:00 pm the second in command Lt. Villain was killed. The attackers threw smoldering bales of straw over the walls. Smoke, heat, thirst, fear and exhaustion preyed upon the defenders. Repeated assaults brought the Mexicans close enough to batter holes in the ramparts. Still the defenders held.
At 5:00 pm The Mexican Commander called upon the remaining Legionaires to surrender. Only twelve remained on their feet. They again refused. Colonel Milan harangued his Mexican soldiers on the subject of their national honor and launched a full assault on the hacienda. After a desperate hour-long fight the Mexicans controlled the entire compound except the stable. Lt. Maudet and and five unhurt survivors were all that remained. Their ammunition was all but gone, they were dying of hunger and thirst, but they remembered their promise to Captain Danjou. Throwing aside the barricades, these six brave men launched a bayonet charge against the massed Mexican infantry!
Maudet and two others were struck down in a hail of gunfire. The remaining three brave soldiers formed back to back, bayonets lowered. They were ready to kill and be killed. The awed Mexicans could only stare. Finally the three were convinced to surrender. Unable to believe there were only three survivors Mexican Colonel Milan responded "Pero, non son hombres -- son demonios" (truly, these are not men -- they are demons).
The Mexicans treated the wounded. The three survivors and the 16 that were cut off in the earlier retreat to Camerone were later exchanged. Estimates are that the Legionaires inflicted more than 300 casualties. The half company had fought at more than one hundred to one odds for almost 10 hours.
Later, the wooden hand of Danjou was found amid the ruble of the buildings at Camerone. Every year the hand, in a little glass coffin, is paraded to the First Battalion of the French Foreign Legion as a reminder of their heritage and the standards they should attain. April 30 remains a holiday for the Legion.
Have you perviously heard of the Demons of Camerone?