Manifest Destiny fulfilled: Groom (Vicksburg, 1863, 2009, etc.) spotlights four journeys during two tumultuous years in American history that marked a “stupendous westward shift.”
Did the United States bait Mexico into a war in 1846? Groom spends little time debating the justifications for or the morality of this controversial clash. Rather, he focuses on how the war accelerated an already notable westward migration by Americans across the continent. The day after Congress’s declaration, President Polk ordered General Stephen Kearny to capture Mexico’s northern-most provinces, territory that would become Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Groom follows Kearny’s 2,000-mile march from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to California, providing wonderful stories about the soldiers’ progress through a rugged, wildly changing landscape. Kearny’s march was only the most conspicuous example of the western exodus. Also on the move was the “most famous man in America,” the Pathfinder, John C. Frémont, who believed he had discretion in the event of war with Mexico to seize California, a severe misunderstanding that put him in eventual conflict with Kearny and subjected him to a controversial court-martial. The Latter-Day Saints, too, were headed west. Fleeing persecution, stalled in Nebraska, Brigham Young used the money raised from the enlistment of the Mormon Battalion—whose trek on behalf of a U.S. government that suddenly needed them was, unlike Kearny’s, all on foot—to finance the Mormon’s passage to Utah, “the single greatest human migration in American history up until that time.” Meanwhile, snowbound in the High Sierras, the Donner party descended into cannibalism. Relying heavily on letters, official reports and journals, Groom darts in and out of these four stories, his quick rhythm mimicking the agitation of a vast territory whose conquest profoundly altered the boundaries and character of the nation.
Galloping popular history, guaranteed to entertain.