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Civil War Leadership and Mexican War Experience

Publication Year: 2007

A great many commanders in the American Civil War (1861-1865) served in the Mexican War (1846-1848). Civil War Leadership and Mexican War Experience explores the influence of the earlier war on those men who would become leaders of Federal and Confederate forces. Military historian Kevin Dougherty sets the context with a discussion of professional soldiering before both wars. He then depicts the unique experiences of twenty-six men in Mexico, thirteen who would later serve the Confederacy and thirteen who would remain with the Union. He traces how tactics they used and reactions they had to Civil War combat reveal a remarkable connection to what they learned campaigning against Santa Anna and other Mexican generals. Personalities discussed range from well-known leaders such as Ulysses S. Grant to lesser-known figures such as John Winder; from geniuses such as Robert E. Lee to mediocrities such as Gideon Pillow; and from aged heroes such as Winfield Scott to developing practitioners such as William Sherman. No other volume so exclusively and thoroughly focuses on connections of service in both wars. Two appendixes in the book list 194 Federal generals and 142 Confederate generals who served in Mexico. The impact of these experiences on major tactical decisions in the Civil War is far-reaching. A retired U.S. Army officer, Kevin Dougherty teaches history at the University of Southern Mississippi. His books include The Coastal War in North and South Carolina.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

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pp. vii-xi

History is full of examples of how a soldier’s experience in one war can impact on his or her conduct in another. Dwight Eisenhower attributes Winston Churchill’s World War II penchant “always to see great and decisive possibilities in the Mediterranean, while the prospect of invasion across the English Channel left him cold,” to “an inner compulsion to vindicate his strategical ...

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Patterns of the Military Profession

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pp. 1-34

Before beginning a discussion of the individuals who comprise this study, it may be useful to place their experiences in the context of the greater military environment before the Mexican War and before the Civil War. Current military doctrine lists the elements of combat power as maneuver, firepower, leadership, protection, and information (FM 3-0, 4-3). These elements pro-...


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George McClellan and Siege Warfare

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pp. 37-44

As a young lieutenant in Mexico, George McClellan would have two formative experiences. First, he would witness Winfield Scott’s magnificent amphibious turning movement and successful siege of Vera Cruz. McClellan would replicate this maneuver as commander of the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign. Unfortunately for McClellan, his siege of Yorktown would ...

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Ulysses S. Grant and Logistical Risk

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pp. 45-50

William McFeely writes that though “[v]irtually unnoticed himself in the Mexican War, [Ulysses S.] Grant watched his fellow warriors carefully” (37). During the war, Grant served as the quartermaster and commissary of the Fourth Infantry Regiment. Grant bitterly opposed the posting because he feared it would rob him of combat experience, but it ultimately proved to be ...

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Philip Kearny and Reckless Courage

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pp. 51-55

One of the most aggressive and combative officers in both the Mexican War and the Civil War was Philip Kearney. He certainly was not in the army because he had to be. Kearney had graduated from Columbia University in 1833 and later inherited a million dollars from his grandfather. Kearney was “a soldier for the love of soldiering” (Bill 15). ...

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Samuel Du Pont and the Naval Blockade

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pp. 56-63

An early part of the U.S. strategy in the Mexican War was to blockade ports on Mexico’s Gulf and Pacific coasts to prevent arms and ammunition from entering the country from Europe (Carney, Gateway 9). Accordingly, in July and August 1846 John Drake Sloat and Robert Stockton, successive commanders of the Pacific Squadron, established control of the Pacific coast from San Fran-...

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Winfield Scott and the Changing Nature of Warfare

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pp. 64-68

John Eisenhower identifies Winfield Scott as “the first truly professional soldier in the American military establishment,” and credits Scott with being “the country’s most prominent general” from 1821 to 1861 (Agent xiii). Scott’s military exploits are truly amazing. Unfortunately, he is most commonly fixed in the popular imagination as the rotund and aged figure depicted in the famous ...

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John Pope and the Influence of Zachary Taylor

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pp. 69-80

Besides Winfield Scott, the other major army commander in the Mexican War was Zachary Taylor. While Scott would march from his amphibious landing site at Vera Cruz inland to Mexico City, Taylor’s campaign would lead him from Texas into northern Mexico. Scott was “Old Fuss and Feathers” while Taylor was “Old Rough and Ready.” If Scott epitomized the incipient profes-...

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George Meade and Missed Opportunity

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pp. 81-85

Like Pope, George Meade served as one of Zachary Taylor’s topographical engineers in Mexico and would be influenced by Taylor’s generalship. Meade was with Taylor at Monterey, an American victory to be sure, but not a decisive one. The Mexican army under Pedro Ampudia would be spared to fight another day. Many criticized Taylor for not inflicting more damage on the Mexi-...

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Jefferson Davis and the Bad Example

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pp. 86-99

Brigadier General Jefferson Davis, U.S. Army, is an interesting footnote in the study of the Mexican War and the Civil War. The first point of note is obviously the name he shares with his more famous Confederate counterpart. The other unusual condition is that unlike most of the other Civil War generals who served in Mexico as young officers, Davis’s Mexican War experience was ...

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Joe Hooker and the Administrative Side

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pp. 91-95

Joe Hooker is most commonly remembered by the sobriquet “Fighting Joe Hooker.” A series of Associated Press releases during the Seven Days battles were headed “Fighting-Joe Hooker,” and newspapers all over the country simply removed the dash and used “Fighting Joe Hooker” as a subhead. The nickname stuck (Boatner 409). Hooker was an aggressive leader, but perhaps ...

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William Sherman and Room to Grow

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pp. 96-99

In June 1861, William Sherman and several other officers reported in person to President Abraham Lincoln. All had been told to ask for whatever positions they wanted. Sherman asked for and received the relatively low position of colonel of one of the ten new regiments of regulars that Congress had authorized. ...

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Henry Halleck and the Military Executive

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pp. 100-104

Like Sherman’s, Henry Halleck’s Mexican War experience would be in California. There Halleck held such political-military and administrative positions as secretary of state, chief of staff, and lieutenant governor in the Mexican city of Mazatlan (Hattaway and Jones 54). His service in California was exemplary, demonstrating “great energy, high administrative qualities, excellent judgment ...

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Henry Hunt and the Organization of Artillery

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pp. 105-109

Napoleon had taught that “it is with artillery that war is made,” and a series of forward-looking secretaries of war had agreed and ensured that at the time of the Mexican War, the U.S. Army had the finest artillery in the world ( J. Eisenhower, So Far 379–380). Indeed, artillery was such a key factor in Mexico that it single-handedly accounted for victories such as Palo Alto (Bauer 57). Lieu-...

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George Thomas and the Rock

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pp. 110-114

George Thomas’s biographer Richard O’Connor makes a brief survey of the impact of the Mexican War on several Civil War generals and then boldly asserts, “But it is doubtful, on the face of their records, whether any learned their lessons in battle more thoroughly than George H. Thomas” (79). While O’Connor’s conclusion may be somewhat overly enthusiastic, Thomas did have ...


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Robert E. Lee and Turning Movements Based on Reconnaissance

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pp. 117-121

Emory Thomas writes of the Mexican War that “for the first time in American history, United States armies marched on foreign soil and fought battles in an alien land. Maps were few and often unreliable, and Mexican guides for obvious reasons were even fewer and even less reliable. What . . . commanders required of the Engineers was reconnaissance, accurate information about roads, ...

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Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard and the Exception that Proves the Rule

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pp. 122-126

As an engineer lieutenant in Mexico, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard had not been shy about expressing his opinion. He attempted to persuade Brigadier General David Twiggs to concentrate all available forces against Cerro Gordo itself, believing that Twiggs’s plan to focus instead on the Mexican batteries would work but entailed unnecessary risks. Even more boldly and persuasively, ...

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Jefferson Davis and Misplaced Confidence

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pp. 127-132

T. Harry Williams writes that “if modern computer-calculators had been available in 1861, they would have surely forecast that Jefferson Davis would be a great war director and Abraham Lincoln an indifferent one” (History 248). Lincoln’s only firsthand experience with military service was during the Black Hawk War in 1832, in which he joined and rejoined the militia three times,...

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Braxton Bragg and Jefferson Davis

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pp. 133-137

With Jefferson Davis at Buena Vista was Braxton Bragg, commanding a battery of artillery. Bragg would go on to be a full general in the Confederate Army, commanding the Army of Tennessee. It would be a tumultuous and controversial command and one in which the relationship between Bragg and Davis would play a key part. Many would conclude that the confidence Bragg ...

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John Winder and Wartime Governance

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pp. 138-142

John Winder demonstrated remarkable coolness and bravery under fire in the Mexican War and was brevetted to lieutenant colonel for his meritorious conduct at Chapultepec and Mexico City. However, his most important experience in Mexico, so far as his later Civil War career would be concerned, was his service as lieutenant governor of Vera Cruz. During the Civil War, Winder ...

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John Slidell and Doomed Diplomacy

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pp. 143-146

One area in common between the Mexican War and Civil War was the inability to resolve the conflict through diplomacy. John Slidell would play a key part in both of these futile efforts. In Mexico, Slidell would land at Vera Cruz on November 29, 1845, as America’s minister-delegate with what John Eisenhower describes as “an impossible task” (So Far 45). On May 8, 1846, Slidell ...

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Gideon Pillow and Political Generals

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pp. 147-153

As the Civil War began, the U.S. Army rolls included virtually no general officers fit for arduous duty in the field. The rapid expansion of both the Federal and Confederate armies forced Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis to appoint large numbers of generals. In 1861, Lincoln commissioned 126 generals and Davis 89. Sixty-five percent of those appointed by Lincoln and ...

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Stonewall Jackson and the Role of Artillery

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pp. 154-157

During the Mexican War, artillery and infantry were employed in unison consistent with Napoleon’s claim that “the better the infantry, the more one must husband and support it with good batteries” (Chandler 179). Thus the United States had organized one company in each artillery regiment as light, or “flying,” artillery, designed for use with infantry. These were placed at the point of ...

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James Longstreet and the Changed Mind?

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pp. 158-163

James Longstreet is one of the more interesting personalities for the student of officers who served in both the Mexican War and the Civil War because information about his personal reflections from Mexico is so scant. In his memoirs, he briefly describes his two major engagements in Mexico but writes nothing about his roles or sentiments about the experience. Instead, he chooses to focus ...

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George Pickett and the Quest for Glory

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pp. 164-168

George Pickett is enshrined in Civil War legend and popular imagination as the leader of the gallant but doomed “Pickett’s Charge.” His carefully crafted public image, largely the product of the efforts of his wife, casts him as “the epitome of the mythic Southern soldier” (Gordon 2). Interestingly, Pickett had an experience similar in glory to Pickett’s Charge as a young lieutenant ...

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John Pemberton and Inflexibility

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pp. 169-173

John Pemberton would have two experiences in Mexico that would impact on his later fame as defender of Vicksburg. First, he would serve a significant portion of his time in Mexico as aide to Brigadier General William Jenkins Worth. In Worth, Pemberton would find an example of inflexibility and unsatisfactory people skills that would characterize Pemberton’s own personality ...

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A. P. Hill and the Tendency to Criticize

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pp. 174-179

Fellow Confederate brigadier general James Walker asserted that “of all the Confederate leaders [Ambrose Powell Hill] was the most genial and lovable in his disposition” (Robertson, Hill 326). Walker notwithstanding, Hill’s biographer William Hassler notes, “However, beneath Hill’s genial exterior smoldered a nervous and sensitive nature. He was extremely volatile and quick to ...

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Lewis Armistead and Comrades Becoming Enemies

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pp. 180-183

The shared hardships of war are a fertile ground for the formation of life-long friendships. Lewis Armistead and Winfield Scott Hancock shared such hardships during their service together as lieutenants in Mexico. Robert Selph Henry writes that at Chapultepec, [m]en of all commands, intermingled, leaped into the ditch and fought to get the ladders up, so they could mount them. First into the ditch ...

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Summary of Lessons Learned

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pp. 184-186

What are the general conclusions that can be drawn from this effort to understand the Civil War in light of a man’s experience in Mexico? It is a difficult question because many Mexican War veterans seem to have left the war with different lessons. Robert E. Lee learned to use reconnaissance to find a way to conduct a turning movement, while P. G. T. Beauregard viewed the turning ...


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pp. 187-194

Works Cited

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pp. 195-202


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pp. 203-207

E-ISBN-13: 9781604731620
E-ISBN-10: 1604731621
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578069682
Print-ISBN-10: 1578069688

Publication Year: 2007