Dugard (Chasing Lance: The 2005 Tour de France and Lance Armstrong’s Ride of a Lifetime, 2005, etc.) offers an admiring, blow-by-blow account of one of the most shameful wars of aggression in American history.
The tight-knit West Point “brotherhood” who served during the Mexican War—which included the illustrious names Grant, Lee, Jackson, Davis, Bragg, Beauregard, Sherman, Pickett, Burnside, Longstreet and Hooker—would meet again in more dire, momentous circumstances during the Civil War. Dugard works backward from Appomattox, 1865—when generals Lee and Grant recognized each other from their stint in Mexico some 18 years before—and follows their dissimilar early military careers from West Point. Lee, an exemplary student who graduated second in his class of 1829, was the gentleman son of the famous Revolutionary War hero. Grant, who graduated in 1843, was a scrappy kid from Ohio who didn’t excel in much but horsemanship. (Pickett, in contrast, was the class “goat,” graduating last in his class.) The cadets cut their teeth during the Mexican-American conflict, after the Alamo had fallen in 1836, martyring the Texian rebels, who had provoked Mexico into challenging their desire for independence and annexation by the United States. The country was ripe for expansion (Manifest Destiny), and annexation of California and Texas from Mexico, as well as Oregon from Britain, was the game plan for many politicians, led by James K. Polk. General Zachary Taylor commanded the American army marching on Texas, and with him quartermaster Grant, whose letters to his sweetheart Julia Dent back in St. Louis, along with extracts from his later memoirs, help frame the subsequent incursions into Mexico, from Fort Texas and Monterrey to Veracruz and Mexico City. Dugard alternates this narrative with glimpses of Lee’s dogged engineering work under General Winfield Scott, and Mississippi Congressman Jefferson Davis’s eager volunteer action.
Though the Mexican point-of-view receives scant consideration, the book is action-packed and peopled by intriguing characters.