Woodworth (History/Texas Christian Univ.; Sherman: Lessons in Leadership, 2009, etc.) examines the political and military conflicts that accompanied the westward flow in the 1840s and exacerbated hostilities between the North and South.
Although the author’s thesis is principally political, he focuses mostly on the military struggles of the time. Myriad pages and maps deal with specific battles, chronicling participants, locale, strategies, tactics, failures, victories and casualty figures. At times the thesis struggles to emerge from beneath the bodies of fallen combatants, but Woodworth certainly knows the territory. He begins with the presidency of Martin Van Buren, who was greeted almost immediately by the Panic of 1837 and the incipient stages of abolitionism. The author summarizes the brief presidency of William Henry Harrison, with solid analysis of the ludicrous “Log Cabin campaign”—was this the first American election when image trumped all else? He also looks at the John Tyler administration, the rise of the abolitionists, the migrations to Oregon and California and the story of Joseph Smith (Woodworth barely restrains his disdain for Smith’s religious claims). When Texas enters the narrative as a military and political issue, the battle scenes commence and do not conclude until the end of the Mexican War. Occasionally, Woodworth switches from one battlefield to another, moving from the deserts of Mexico to the halls of Congress, where we follow the increasingly hostile debates between advocates of free and slave states, including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and other era notables. Following a discussion of the Gold Rush of 1849 and the Wilmot Proviso, the author describes the negotiations and personalities that made possible the Compromise of 1850, a measure that stalled the Civil War but did not stop it.
An approach that will appeal mostly to readers of military history.