Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman, And Davis In The Mexican War, 1846-1848, by Martin Dugard
Although this book is not properly a history of the Mexican-American War, it manages to build a compelling narrative by looking deeply at the documentary evidence of future Civil War leaders of their time in Mexico. The author has clearly done his homework when it comes to texts, citing Meade’s detailed journal, the letters of Ulysses Grant to his fiancé Julia, the complicated and often ribald letters of the obscure Napoleon Dana, and the writings of Jefferson Davis and William T. Sherman, to give but a few examples of the broad array of sources that are brought to light here as a way of demonstrating that the Mexican-American War was indeed a vital training ground for the leaders of the Civil War, giving them their first opportunities at promotion and leadership and experiencing what is is like to be under fire, and also giving them a certain degree of knowledge of the personalities and quirks of other leaders they would work with or face as opponents in the Civil War. And make no mistake, these soldiers remembered their service in Mexico, as is evidenced by its importance in their later memoirs as well as the way in which, for example, Ulysses Grant reminded Lee of the bad first impression Lee had made by dressing Grant the quartermaster down for not having his uniform in full spit-and-polish mode, to give but one example.
In terms of its contents, the book is organized generally chronologically as well as geographically. The almost 400 pages of main material of this book are divided into five “books” dealing with the line in the sand that led to the start of war, Taylor’s war for the conquest of Monterey, the change of command due to political concerns, Scott’s war, including Taylor’s defensive victory at Buena Vista, and the Aztec Club of those who participated in the conquest of Mexico City. Throughout there are a wide variety of chapters that divide up the contents, and within the chapters a great deal of attention is paid to the primary documents provided by the soldiers themselves in their memoirs, diaries, and letters back home. One sees the various officers in all their complexity, and we see growth, as well as the dangers of warfare in illness and injury, and the way in which the American officers were particularly concerned to gain glory for themselves, even if they were posted in areas behind the front, as was the case for Sherman.
Although this book is a very easy to read book, and one well worth reading for its appendices, which include the order of various battles and who was in command of which units, as well as a copy of Lincoln’s famous Spot Resolutions questioning the legitimacy of Polk’s declaration of war. However, despite the fact that the book is easy to read and the author shows adequate command of the texts at hand, there is one area where the author falls short that requires comment and that will hopefully be corrected in future editions, and that is the author’s frequent sloppy mistakes with regards to chronology. The author notes that McClellan was relieved of command on November 5, 1863 instead of 1862 (417) and claims that Lincoln was elected president in 1859 (378). A bit more precision in the chronology would have made this book even better, but even with its occasional flaws, the reader who is already familiar with Civil War history will find much to appreciate here , even if the editors clearly have some work to correct this work remaining.
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