- The Mexican War Diary and Correspondence of George B. McClellan
Thomas Cutrer has made a valuable addition to the literature on the U.S.-Mexican War. Using the George McClellan Papers at the Library of Congress, Cutrer has deftly combined letters and McClellan's diary into a single volume representing the young lieutenant's contemporary writing on the war. It is a substantial improvement over William Starr Myers's The Mexican War Diary of George B.McClellan (1917), including controversial material Myers left out and correcting many mistranscriptions and errors in annotations. The editor made breaks in the diary where he placed contemporary letters, thus providing a nice narrative of the war—at least as McClellan saw it. Cutrer begins each chapter with a short introduction, setting the stage and context for the primary material that is to come. This is especially valuable for readers—particularly those interested in McClellan's Civil War career but who know little of the U.S.-Mexican War. Many of the letters in this volume are published for the first time.
There is nothing here about McClellan that will surprise the reader. As Cutrer points out: "Already in 1846 . . . one may clearly see in the newly commissioned second lieutenant the talent, ambition, and arrogance that characterized the engineer, businessman, soldier, and politician that he was to become" (3). McClellan proves to be a snob, a racist (but his attacks on Mexicans and Mexican institutions are no worse as those we find in the letters and diaries of many American soldiers who served in the war) and contemptuous of volunteers—particularly those who outranked him. All in all, it is what we have come to expect from McClellan, but accurately rendered for scholars.
The first chapter consists of McCellan's correspondence while at West Point between March and September 1846. The second chapter records his experiences in the late fall of 1846 and provides excellent descriptions of the lower Rio Grande Valley—particularly Brazos Santiago. Much of chapter three covers his experiences in and around Tampico in late winter of 1847—and provides great detail, much more than found in other primary sources. Chapter four consists of material on the siege of Veracruz, mainly from the diary. The next chapter covers Scott's campaign from the coast through the fall of Mexico City, and here the reader will be disappointed that McClellan did not say more. The penultimate chapter records his experiences in Mexico City during the occupation in letters that are no doubt new material for historians. The final chapter consists mainly of correspondence and orders after his return to West Point in June 1848.
All in all, this is an excellent book that deserves a place in every university [End Page 211] library and on the shelf of any scholar or reader interested in the U.S.-Mexican War or McClellan's military career.