Book Review: Army Of Manifest Destiny

Army Of Manifest Destiny:  The American Soldier In The Mexican-American War, 1846-1848, by James M. McCaffrey

What was the life of a soldier like during the Mexican-American War?  As one might expect, the more you look into a war like this, the more you recognize that there are patterns which held true throughout a great many wars, and some of those patterns are definitely in evidence here.  The United States frequently finds itself involved in wars while unprepared, and then finds that such wars end up being immensely deadly to the (relatively) small number of people who find themselves being a part of the active duty forces.  And how well to proud and free people who take pride in their freedom to live as they please and talk back to others take to the sort of discipline and public health regulations that are present in the military?  Not very well, one might suspect.  With accounts frequently taken from varied and entertaining primary documentation, this book is one that will likely be enjoyed by the reader so long as one has a great deal positive that one thinks about the lives and behaviors and writings of common and ordinary soldiers in a conflict far from home.

This book is twelve chapters and just over 200 pages long.  The book begins with a preface and abbreviations  After that the author discusses the tangled beginnings of the war as it related to American soldiers (1).  After that there is a discussion of the patriotic rush to the colors that followed the declaration of war (2) and the way that soldiers, and by no means all who volunteered, were shipped off to war, sometimes paid by loans taken out by their governors in the absence of payment from the federal government itself (3).  The author discusses the terrible problems of disease that lingered throughout the entire war (4) as well as the high degree of racism that white Americans held for most Mexicans (5).  A couple of chapters discuss the variety of what happened in the lives of soldiers (6) as well as the way that soldiers were frequently unruly and had a hard time getting used to the idea of obedience and discipline (7).  Chapters discuss the tension between regulars and volunteers, a problem that long existed in the military establishment and to some extent does today (8) as well as the forces that conquered New Mexico and California (9) as well as the heartland of Mexico (10).  The book then ends with a discussion of the difficult road to peace (11) as well as an epilogue which tied the Mexican-American War to later American experience.

While it is easy to appreciate this book, it is not always easy to sympathize with the people involved.  The author shines a mirror to the mid-19th century American volunteer soldier and in many ways the problems faced by such people are still issues that have to be dealt with by Americans as a whole.  There are still tensions between freedom and the well-being of others.  There are still concerns about the way that a firm love of political freedom does not always mean that one views all people around the world or within one’s own country as deserving political freedom.  Likewise, this book demonstrates that those who volunteered for war faced a significant chance of not coming home because of death, usually by disease, a percentage that was not very different from what one found in many conflicts.  If it was thought to be a manly thing to fight, it certainly was not the wisest thing that one could do, to fight for an army in difficult terrain with a lot of diseases and indifferent to hostile medical care.  Some things have long been a problem for veterans in the United States, and not only recent problems either.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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