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The Journal of Military History 72.2 (2008) 589-590

Reviewed by
Timothy D. Johnson
Lipscomb University
Nashville, Tennessee
Civil War Leadership and Mexican War Experience. By Kevin Dougherty. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. ISBN 978-1-57806-968-2. Photographs. Illustrations. Appendixes. Works cited. Index. Pp. xi, 207. $50.00.

With over three hundred Mexican War veterans going on to become Civil War generals, a link between the two conflicts seems a foregone conclusion. One might assume that experience in the former would demonstrably influence leadership in the latter. However, the connections, as Kevin Dougherty explains in the preface to his book, are not so obvious. He begins his study by pointing out what the reviewer discovered years ago while writing on this topic, which is that historians can make few concrete and provable links between the two wars. That is not to say that the earlier conflict did not influence the latter one, but that drawing a direct line showing how previous experiences influenced later actions is often difficult and sometimes hypothetical. Acknowledging this, Dougherty tells the reader that in "many cases there is insufficient evidence" to conclusively demonstrate a Mexican War influence on the Civil War. He further contends that even though "not all [of his conclusions] would necessarily 'stand up in court,'" they are "certainly plausible" (pp. viii-ix).

The most obvious missing link is a lack of personal statements by Civil War generals, who rarely referred back to the earlier conflict. Few of them are as blatant as Gen. George McClellan in 1861 when, in a letter to Gen. Winfield Scott, his former commander in Mexico, he wrote that he had "learned my first lessons in War" from the older general. And later, while preparing to move against Confederate forces in western Virginia, McClellan informed Scott of his tactical plan: "If possible I will repeat the manoeuvre of Cerro Gordo." With a dearth of such straightforward testimonials, the historian must use conjecture and inference, which can be convincing if supported with adequate primary research. Unfortunately, this study lists less than a dozen primary sources in the bibliography.

After an introductory chapter on weaponry, tactics, and leadership, Dougherty offers the reader twenty-six chapters; each being a case study of a Civil War leader. There is no attempt at a cover-to-cover narrative, rather each chapter is a short, individual vignette that stands alone. The author chose to evaluate thirteen Federals and thirteen Confederates, and his evaluation of each is largely a synthesis of selected secondary sources. While many of his comparisons are not new, they are thought provoking as they remind the reader of a myriad of possible Mexican War influences that must have helped shape later generalship.

Among the comparisons that Dougherty makes on the Union side are George McClellan, whose 1862 Peninsula Campaign was merely an attempt to replicate Scott's 1847 Mexico City Campaign. The author also asserts that McClellan learned contempt for civil authority from his observations of Scott's relationship with President James K. Polk. Ulysses S. Grant's bold decision to abandon his [End Page 573] supply line during the Vicksburg Campaign in 1863 was, according to Dougherty, a lesson learned from Scott who did likewise in 1847. Other comparisons: George G. Meade developed into a careful and competent commander due in part to his tutelage as a staff officer under Zachary Taylor; Joseph Hooker became known for his organizational skills in the Civil War largely because in Mexico he served as staff officer to superiors like Gideon Pillow whose limited knowledge required that they rely heavily on him; Samuel DuPont learned lessons in Mexico about coastal blockading that would serve him well during the Civil War.

On the Confederate side Dougherty not surprisingly asserts that Robert E. Lee learned the value of reconnaissance, flank attacks, and battlefield audacity from Scott in Mexico. It was the latter quality, audacity, that differentiated Scott from Taylor and later differentiated Lee from Meade, and thus it was the key ingredient that separated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-7795
Print ISSN
0899-3718
Pages
pp. 573-574
Launched on MUSE
2008-04-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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