This work of historical fiction follows the American Army under Winfield Scott during the Mexican-American War. The protagonist is a young man who joins the army and serves under second Lieutenant U. S. Grant. With the rest of the U.S. army, he participates in the landing of U. S. ships at Vera Cruz, and the march of 200 miles inland in order to capture the Capital city of Mexico and force a surrender.
'YOU YOUNG RASCAL! WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS RACKET?'
Although General Winfield Scott was nicknamed by the soldiers "Old Fuss and Feathers," they intended no disrespect. On the contrary, they loved him, and asked only that he lead them. No general ever lived who was more popular with the men in the ranks. They had every kind of confidence in him; they knew that "Old Fuss and Feathers "would look out for them like a father, and would take them through.
His arrival, all in his showy uniform, upon his splendid horse, along the lines, was the signal for cheers and for the bands to strike up "Hail to the Chief." At bloody Chapultepec the soldiers crowded around him and even clasped his knees, so fond they were of him. And when he addressed them, tears were in his eyes.
General Scott was close to six feet six inches in height, and massively built. He was the tallest officer in the army. His left arm was partially useless, by reason of two wounds received in the War of 1812, but in full uniform he made a gallant sight indeed. He never omitted any detail of the uniform, because he felt that the proper uniform was required for discipline. He brooked no unnecessary slouchiness among officers and men; he insisted upon regulations and hard drilling, and the troops that he commanded were as fine an army as ever followed the Flag.
While he was strict in discipline, he looked keenly also after the comforts and privileges of his soldiers. He realized that unless the soldier in the ranks is well cared for in garrison and camp he will not do his best in the field, and that victories are won by the men who are physically and mentally fit. He did not succeed in doing away with the old practice of punishment by blows and by "bucking and gagging," but he tried; and toward the ill and the wounded he was all tenderness.
As a tactician he stands high. His mind worked with accuracy. He drew up every movement for every column, after his engineers had surveyed the field; then he depended upon his officers to follow out the plans. His general orders for the battle of Cerro Gordo are cited to-day as model orders. Each movement took place exactly as he had instructed, and each movement brought the result that he had expected; so that after the battle the orders stood as a complete story of the fight.
His character was noble and generous. He had certain peculiar ways—he spoke of himself as "Scott" and like Sam Houston he used exalted language; he was proud and sensitive, but forgiving and quick to praise. He prized his country above everything else, and preferred peace, with honor, to war. Although he was a soldier, such was his justice and firmness and good sense that he was frequently sent by the Government to make peace without force of arms, along the United States borders. He alone it was who several times averted war with another nation.
General Scott should not be remembered mainly for his battles won. He was the first man of prominence in his time to speak out against drunkenness in the army and in civil life. He prepared the first army regulations and the first infantry tactics. He was the first great commander to enforce martial law in conquered territory, by which the conquered people were protected from abuse. He procured the passage of that bill, in 1838, which awarded to all officers, except general officers like himself, an increase in rations allowance for every five years of service. The money procured from Mexico was employed by him in buying blankets and shoes for his soldiers and in helping the discharged hospital patients; and $118,000 was forwarded to Washington, to establish an Army Asylum for disabled enlisted men. From this fund there resulted the present system of Soldiers' Homes.
The Mexican War itself was not a popular war, among Americans, many of whom felt that it might have been avoided. Lives and money were expended needlessly. Of course Mexico had been badgering the United States; American citizens had been mistreated and could obtain no justice. But the United States troops really invaded when they crossed into southwestern Texas, for Mexico had her rights there.
The war, though, brought glory to the American soldier. In the beginning the standing army of the United States numbered only about eight thousand officers and men, but it was so finely organized and drilled that regiment for regiment it equalled any army in the world. The militia of the States could not be depended upon to enter a foreign country; they had to be called upon as volunteers. Mexico was prepared with thirty thousand men under arms; her Regulars were well trained, and her regular army was much larger than the army of the United States.
When General Zachary Taylor, "Old Rough and Ready," advanced with his three thousand five hundred Regulars (almost half the United States army) for the banks of the Rio Grande River, he braved a Mexican army of eight thousand, better equipped than he was, except in men.
A military maxim says that morale is worth three men. All through the war it was skill and spirit and not numbers that counted; quality proved greater than quantity. "Old Zach," with seventeen hundred Regulars, beat six thousand Mexican troops at Resaca de la Palma. At Buena Vista his four thousand Volunteers and only four hundred and fifty or five hundred Regulars repulsed twenty thousand of the best troops of Mexico. General Scott reached the City of Mexico with six thousand men who, fighting five battles in one day, had defeated thirty thousand. Rarely has the American soldier, both Regular and Volunteer, so shone as in that war with Mexico, when the enemy outnumbered three and four to one, and chose his own positions.
The battles were fought with flintlock muskets, loaded by means of a paper cartridge, from which the powder and ball were poured into the muzzle of the piece. The American dragoons were better mounted than the Mexican lancers, and charged harder. The artillery was the best to be had and was splendidly served on both sides, but the American guns were the faster in action.
Thoroughly trained officers and men who had confidence in each other and did not know when they were beaten, won the war. Many of the most famous soldiers in American history had their try-out in Mexico, where Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan were young engineers, U. S. Grant was a second lieutenant, and Jefferson Davis led the Mississippi Volunteers. The majority of the regular officers were West Pointers. General Scott declared that but for the military education afforded by the Academy the war probably would have lasted four or five years, with more defeats than victories, at first.
Thus the Mexican War, like the recent World War, proved the value of officers and men trained to the highest notch of efficiency.
In killed and wounded the war with Mexico cost the United States forty-eight hundred men; but the deaths from disease were twelve thousand, for the recruits and the Volunteers were not made to take care of themselves. In addition, nearly ten thousand soldiers were discharged on account of ruined health. All in all the cost of the war, in citizens, footed twenty-five thousand. The expense in money was about $130,000,000.
By the war the United States acquired practically all the country west from northern Texas to the Pacific Ocean, which means California, Utah, Nevada, the western half of Colorado and most of New Mexico and Arizona. This, it must be said, was an amazing result, for in the outset we had claimed only Texas, as far as the Rio Grande River.
|E. L. S.|
Editor's Note: In this version of the book the chronological listings of the events of the War with Mexico, and the events of the Life of Winfield Scott, have been removed from the front of the book, to the final chapters. The are valuable references but do not immediately pertain to the primary story line.
WINFIELD SCOTT—GENERAL-IN-CHIEF OF THE ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES.