The Great Call-Up: The Guard, the Border, and the Mexican Revolution by Charles H. Harris III, Louis R. Sadler
In The Great Call-Up, the frighteningly prolific Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler chronicle the massive 1916 mobilization of the U.S. National Guard to the border with Mexico in order to protect the United States against possible incursions by Mexican troops during the Mexican Revolution. Harris and Sadler convincingly demonstrate that the National Guard’s mobilization deserves to be understood as an event separate from Gen. John J. Pershing’s better-known Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa in 1916, perhaps even eclipsing the latter expedition in its significance for U.S. military history.
Harris and Sadler provide what can best be characterized as a painstakingly detailed account of the National Guard’s mobilization, which is bookended by a brief historiographical contextualization and analysis. The authors demonstrate a mastery of the minutiae of military details, and their attention to these details will surely be appreciated by military historians. They also, by arranging their narrative by the geographic locations in which the National Guard’s regiments served, provide some interesting snapshots into the mobilization’s significance for the servicemen and the cities and towns where they found themselves stationed. For instance, the mobilization of the National Guard to Corpus Christi produced an immediate boon to local merchants and businessmen, who would feel the deep pangs of the National Guard’s removal once high command mustered the men out. Furthermore, when guardsmen left Laredo, “some unscrupulous enlisted men ‘sold’ the buildings in their camp to innocent and trusting [End Page 93] Hispanics” (263), showing that some of the National Guard were no different than the many civilian Anglo Texas borderlanders who sought to bilk ethnic Mexicans from their material wealth. Furthermore, the authors detail the hardships that the often underfunded, underequipped but generally well-trained National Guard faced in a modernizing armed force caught between nineteenth-century military stylistics and the burgeoning technologies of machine guns, trucks, and automobiles.
Harris and Sadler convincingly demonstrate that the National Guard’s mobilization in 1916 served as an important precursor to preparing the U.S. Army for entry into the Great War. The Great Call-Up, however, is not without its flaws. The authors persist with an argument that they first introduced in their previous monograph, The Plan de San Diego: Harris and Sadler argue that the famous South Texas revolt of 1915–1916 was a trans-border plot orchestrated by none other than Mexican President Venus-tiano Carranza as opposed to a liberation movement, a contention based on extremely limited and circumstantial historical evidence and for which there is no historiographic support outside of Harris and Sadler’s own work. Furthermore, although the book is undoubtedly well written and the authors’ keen eye for detail is impressive, the narrative, at 454 pages, could have benefited from some significant trimming. Despite these critiques, The Great Call-Up offers the first examination of a clearly seminal event in U.S. military history and will undoubtedly be appreciated by historians interested in the Army and the events surrounding the border during the Mexican Revolution.