I’ve long wanted to feature the occasional book review by Trail Mixers. Here’s an offering from eProf2. I welcome others. — Craig
A Book Review of “Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War” by Jeff Shaara and published by Ballantine Books (2000, 448 pages)
By eProf2 for Trail Mix.
Lately, I’ve taken an interest in historical novels about the fusion culture of the southwest. There are a great many to choose from. One of my favorites, Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War, was a very good historical read about America’s almost forgotten war.
US history textbooks, generally, spend less than two or three pages on how the United States expanded its territory in the southwest to include California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and parts of Utah all in one fell swoop from 1846 to 1848.
Here in Arizona, Mexican American history courses for the Tucson School District were banned; thus, removing any opportunity for students of all backgrounds to delve into and appreciate the very history of a fusion culture and an understanding of a policy of “Manifest Destiny” devised by President James Polk.
While American textbooks limit any discussion on the war between our two nations, Mexican history books on the other hand can spend up to a third of their content on General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and the loss of so much Mexican territory. Santa Anna presided over Mexico for many years during this tumultuous time after Independence from Spain in 1821, including the years of the Mexican American War. Mexicans have not forgotten the war of 1846-1848 as one of the biggest events in their history, while few Americans even remember it.
Jeff Shaara’s novel sticks to the actual events fairly closely only adding dialogue to the main characters, Winfield Scott, Robert E. Lee, and so many other military figures who became so prominent in the American Civil War thirteen years later. The Mexican American War, among other outcomes, was almost a proving ground for these famous men of American history.
I was glad to see Shaara include events surrounding the San Patricio Battalion, a group of Irish Catholics who enlisted in the American army but later deserted to Mexico when they were denied access to their religious ceremonies and the mass. Shaara describes quite accurately how many of them were hung or shot as deserters just a few minutes after the US flag was raised at Chapultepec replacing the Mexican flag and effectively bringing the war to an end in favor of the United States.
Shaara, unfortunately, doesn’t even mention Los Ninos Heroes, the six young Mexican cadets (13-17) who lost their lives at Chapultepec trying to resist the American onslaught to their academy. Mexicans celebrate El Dia de Los Ninos Heroes every year as they also lay a wreath at the historic plaque dedicated to the San Patricio Battalion in Mexico City.
This historical novel of the Mexican American War and the loss of so much territory, due mostly to the ineptitude of Santa Anna, is just one of the reasons Mexicans like to say, “so far away from God and so close to the United States.”
This was a good read for those interested in the flesh and blood of an otherwise historical skeleton.
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