- Two Armies on the Rio Grande: The First Campaign of the US-Mexican War by Douglas A. Murphy
Recent scholarship on the U.S.-Mexican War has tended to focus on peripheral aspects rather than the fighting itself. Douglas Murphy shifts back to a more traditional military history of the war. However, he has notably expanded the field with his emphasis on Mexican sources to portray both sides on the opening days of the U.S.-Mexican War. Murphy’s book discusses the origin and execution of the Rio Grande Campaign, [End Page 81] providing a detailed narrative of the events starting with General Zachary Taylor’s march to Corpus Christi through his capture of Matamoros.
The most pronounced aspect of this book is Murphy’s effort to discuss the Battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Matamoros from both sides of the conflict. This is an important advance in the literature, because few books, Mexican or American, convey the Mexican military perspective. Mexican works have tended to focus on the politics surrounding the conflict rather than the military operations of their forces. In this, Murphy excels. He effectively recounts the movement of both armies and the problems their commanders confronted. The voices of officers on both sides are clear, while the reader can sense the struggles the Mexican generals faced when dealing with their own, unstable government.
Murphy is able to convey many voices due to his extensive use of letters, diaries, and government documents from both Mexico and the United States. His research includes some new sources not previously used and new interpretations of older sources. In particular, Murphy uses quotes from common soldiers in the United States Army, which allows the reader to understand army life not just from a top-down, operational level, but from the perspective of an American in the ranks. He superbly brought American soldiers to life, but this reader is left wanting more of the same for Mexican soldiers. Although there are issues that limit Murphy’s ability to expand in this area, it would have added a layer of depth to the Mexican narrative he provided.
While this book is a more traditional military narrative, Murphy also provides glimpses into the significance that South Texas and the Rio Grande had in American history. Within his narrative of the war, he describes the Rio Grande as a catalyst for economic growth and a source of political conflict for the region. Though this book focuses on the movements of armies, it also places the borderlands between Texas and Mexico as a crucial setting for events that changed the course of both Mexico and the United States. Throughout his book, he subtly hints at the greater significance of the actions taken by the generals on both sides of the river.
This book greatly expands the scholarship on the U.S.-Mexico War by providing readers with a far better look at the Mexican side of the conflict. Murphy’s balanced approach to the narrative gives new insights into why the first campaign of the war followed the course that it did. This book is important for anyone wanting to learn more about South Texas or the border relationship between the United States and Mexico. [End Page 82]