- Volunteers: The Mexican War Journals of Private Richard Coulter and Sergeant Thomas Barclay, Company E, Second Pennsylvania Infantry (review)
- Civil War History
- The Kent State University Press
- Volume 38, Number 3, September 1992
- pp. 260-263
- View Citation
- Additional Information
260CIVIL WAR HISTORY the marriage, Benton reconciled quickly with the young couple and perhaps emerged as the closest thing to a father figure that Fremont ever had. The dominant influence in Fremont's life beyond this point, however, became his wife, Jessie, who passionately defended and excused his every action. Fremont was, in modern parlance, "a loner." Those who followed him on his several expeditions found him to be a man of intrepid courage, contemptuous of danger to the extent that he frequently endangered their lives, as in his ill-advised crossing of the Sierra in midwinter on his second far-western expedition of 1843-44. Rolle says that "fashioning a strange quilt of personal isolation, he developed a state of mind sometimes called 'psychic numbness,'" showing "considerable indifference to pain or pleasure" (279). Fremont's later career was marked by mercurial ups and downs. When he was nominated as the Republican party's initial presidential candidate in 1856, his father-in-law Benton declined to support him—a move that seriously hurt his candidacy. He was constantly embroiled in fortuneseeking schemes with usually less than salutary results. Appointed one of the initial four major-generals in the Union army at the outset of the Civil War, Fremont spent a controversial hundred days in Missouri in the fall of 1861 locking horns with President Lincoln over his premature Emancipation Proclamation and with the powerful Blair family, which had helped secure him the post of commander of the Western Department , over his military policies. Here his main problem seemed to be a self-imposed isolation within his headquarters, where he was surrounded by corrupt foreign sycophants and California cronies. Rolle presents a compelling analysis of Fremont's personality with a fast-moving narrative, although he sometimes plays havoc with minor details and chronology. His final chapter, "An Appraisal of Personality," provides an excellent summary of his findings and makes interesting comparisons of Fremont and Lawrence of Arabia and Alexander Hamilton, all of whom sprang from similar origins. William E. Parrish Mississippi State University Volunteers: The Mexican War Journals of Private Richard Coulter and Sergeant Thomas Barclay, Company E, Second Pennsylvania Infantry. Edited by Allan Peskin. (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1991. Pp. 342. $35.00.) Attorney Richard Coulter and district attorney Thomas Barclay of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, served in the Westmoreland Guards (Company E), 2d Pennsylvania Infantry, a volunteer unit, during Winfield Scott's 1847 campaign which climaxed in the conquest of Mexico BOOK REVIEWS261 City. Their company of ninety-four men (a ninety-fifth member failed his physical examination) was mustered into United States service at Pittsburgh on January 1, 1847, to serve for the war's duration. Coulter and Barclay participated in Scott's siege of Veracruz, the fighting at Cerro Gordo, Chapultepec, and the Garita de Belén, and the U.S. occupation of Mexico City and San Angel. Both men maintained detailed journals about their experiences. Coulter's entries cover January 1, 1847, through July 14, 1848, Barclay's from December 30, 1846, through March 2, 1848. This volume reproduces transcripts of these journals held by the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. Some excerpts from both diaries have previously appeared as part of an article in the Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine. Peskin notes that the original manuscript diaries "seem to have been irretrievably lost" (9). The diaries provide a compelling narrative of the experiences of United States volunteer enlisted men in the Mexican War. Both diarists, often in graphic detail, capture the totality of soldiering from the exhilaration of battle to its most mundane moments. (I am sure that I have never encountered, in a primary source, as many synonyms for vomiting as appear in these journals.) Through the diaries, it becomes possible to comprehend the maturation of the Pennsylvanians (and, by projection, other U.S. volunteers in the war) from untrained amateurs who panicked at the slightest alarm to competent veterans capable of coping with insufficient and rancid rations, exposure to the elements, and the myriad dangers and discomforts of the campaign. Battle wounds and disease decimated the Westmoreland Guards; only forty-four members of the unit were mustered out of the army...