In case anyone needed more proof that history isn’t just a boring list of dates and names, one story has us in stitches: Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna (yeah, the one that led the Mexican forces during the Mexican-American War), held a funeral for his amputated leg.
Yeah, you read that right.
Santa Anna had been forced to retire after an embarrassing defeat against Texan revolutionaries. In 1838, however, Mexico would need their famous, controversial general again. Mexico owed a large debt to France, and had refused to pay compensation for the destruction of French property during some riots in Mexico City. Well, France lost patience and sent troops to teach the Mexican government a lesson. They set up a blockade around Mexican forts and sent a huge force to try and capture Vera Cruz, Mexican general Santa Anna’s main base.
As you can imagine, Santa Anna was forced to come out of retirement and scramble to defend the city. During the battle, his leg was hit by French canon fire. The wound was so serious that the Mexican doctors ended up having to amputate his leg. With their general out of commission, the Mexicans payed war reparations to the French in exchange for the French pulling their troops out of Mexico.
Apparently, Santa Anna was very fond of his leg. Four years after the battle of Vera Cruz was over, in one of the most diva-like moments of his life, he had his leg dug up and reburied with full military honors. The funeral included cannon salvos, lengthy speeches, reverent prayers, and beautiful poetry recited in the general’s honor. The leg itself was put into a crystal vase and buried beneath a huge, costly, ridiculously elaborate monument in the Santa Paula cemetery.As if that wasn’t enough, Santa Anna used the publicity from the funeral to become president of Mexico, and even after that, he wasn’t done reminding everyone that he sacrificed a leg for his beloved country. In parades, he had a habit of removing his prosthetic leg and waving it around in the air as a sign of all he’d given up for Mexico.
In 1847, during the Mexican-American War, American troops took Santa Anna’s prosthetic leg. Santa Anna managed to escape capture by the skin of his teeth – latching onto a nearby horse and riding away into the sunset.
His prosthetic leg remains in the United States today on display at the Illinois State Military Museum…and, yup…his real leg is still there, buried under that monument in the Santa Paula cemetery.