Jeff Shaara’s story telling ability and attention to detail combine for a fantastic read in Gone for Soldiers. Shaara has spent most of his life reconstructing history bringing many of America’s greatest sons to life. In Gone for Soldiers, we follow the story line of the Mexican War from the battle of Vera Cruz to the occupation of Mexico City. Teachers and historians often overlook the war for the border of Texas, but Shaara shows that it had more of an impact on American history than many realize. In fact, three presidents of the United States were veterans of the Mexican War, and countless generals and commanders of the Civil War, including Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Jackson, and Pierre G.T. Beauregard, to name a few, gained notoriety while fighting side by side against Santa Anna and the rebel Mexican forces. Only God knows if the Union would have finally rallied to victory under Grant and defeated the Confederacy if he had not first made his mark at the battle for Molina del Rey in 1847.
This book, however, was about more than just the battles waged over the border of Texas; Gone for Soldiers illustrates in stark terms the arrogance of humanity. James K. Polk, driven by the ambition of manifest destiny, orders Zachary Taylor to wage war with Santa Anna over the border of Mexico. Taylor assumes the Mexicans will surrender in front of the awe-inspiring American forces but is impeded when the Mexican army inflicts major losses in multiple engagements. The government loses patience with Taylor and sends Winfield Scott, a hero from the war of 1812, to quell Santa Anna’s insurrection.
Scott’s forces – outnumbered 3 to 1 – invade the heartland of Mexico and push Santa Anna back to Mexico City—but his success came with a great cost. Scott appears to be the only humble American general unaffected by the corruption in Washington, but he still loses over a thousand men in a victory at the battle of Padierna by underestimating Santa Anna’s resolve. With the aid of capable and humble leaders like Robert E. Lee and Colonel Bennett Riley, however, the American army recovers and captures Mexico City.
Consistently, Santa Anna – self referentially the “Napoleon of the West” – arrogantly assumes the American forces will fight strength on strength. And if it were not for Lee and Scott, some of the American Generals like Davy Twiggs and Gideon Pillow – political appointees vying for office – would have arrogantly fought those battles. Thankfully there were a few good men who understood the value of human life and the danger of pride.
Robert E. Lee was the best of those good men. In the last scenes of the book, Shara uses Winfield Scott to illustrate Lee’s character. Scott recognizes Lee as the finest soldier the military had—and for his performance in the war he was promoted three ranks in one day. Lee came to Mexico as a captain and left a colonel.
I enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it but I do have to say it is my least favorite of the four Shaara books I have read so far. And, that is, mainly, because the political wrangling was more than I could bear at times. But if you are interested in a quick read with a great story, this is a solid choice.