- Riding for the Lone Star: Frontier Cavalry and the Texas Way of War, 1822–1865 by Nathan A. Jennings
Nathan A. Jennings's Riding for the Lone Star: Frontier Cavalry and the Texas Way of War, 1822–1865 tries to prove that, like the advertisement says, Texas is a whole other country. To do so, Jennings looks at what he calls the "Texas way of war," an interesting historiographical nod toward Russell F. Weigley's classic on U.S. war making, The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (New York, 1973). Jennings explores the impact of horses on Texas's mode of fighting and argues that horse culture permeated Texan society from its earliest days as a Spanish colony. This horse culture also allowed Texans to develop a unique style of fighting. In that sense, then, the Texas way of war is a hybrid of multiple traditions, though Jennings emphasizes the Anglo-European heritage and downplays the significance of Native American traditions adopted by Texans.
This book, though, is not a cultural history. It is military history, through and through—complete with twenty-first-century military jargon—that carefully explores military matters in Texas. National and then state leaders sought "a multi-faceted security posture" and "combined arms superiority" to protect their borders (pp. 72, 68). While such anachronistic phrases pepper the text and interrupt the flow of what is otherwise very readable prose, Jennings has written a thoughtfully organized and detailed account of warfare in early Texas. That detail can, at times, bog down a reader not as intimately familiar as the author with the location of certain blockhouses, forts, or other geographical features. Moreover, the narrative can obscure the larger points he tries to make about the emerging Texas way of war. After a very effective introduction, the succeeding chapters read more as a highlight reel of Texas military glory rather [End Page 418] than as a concerted effort to piece together an overarching interpretive framework to tie all the detail together.
What comes across, though, is that by 1840 a distinct style of warfare had matured in Texas, and central to that maturation process was the reliance on the famed Texas Rangers. This force allowed for "economized defense," or national security on the cheap, and introduced a flexible response to Native American attacks and threats from Mexico (p. 154). During the U.S.-Mexican War, the "Diablos Tejanos" served American purposes but also lacked military discipline (p. 189). During the Civil War, Texas cavalry units fought in several southern armies across multiple theaters of the war. Though the combat record of Texas cavalry units varied, Jennings makes an interesting case for the existence—at least before the Civil War—of a distinctive Lone Star war-making tradition. Overall, Jennings has written an engaging and highly detailed account of Texas's military past.
The author, though, could have clarified several analytical categories, including the use of the word polity, usually in reference to frontier residents. Readers may assume that Jennings is referring to white Texans, but he shows that the Rangers were a multiethnic outfit. If the military relied on diversity, it stands to reason that the frontier polity that it was trying to defend reflected that reality. Complicating our understanding of those frontier residents who constituted the polity could have made for an interesting discussion of the roles and responsibilities that Texas demanded of its citizens—even those who were not white. Focusing on the diversity of these communities would have allowed Jennings to connect his work to the rich historiography of the borderlands. Moreover, there is little discussion about how the Rangers were engaged in regulating Texas's growing slave population. Once again Jennings could have further grounded the Rangers in the social and cultural fabric of their homes. Last, in several instances Jennings remarks that Texans were waging a war on the outskirts...