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Civil War Leadership and Mexican War Experience

Civil War Leadership and Mexican War Experience

Copyright Date: 2007
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    Civil War Leadership and Mexican War Experience
    Book Description:

    A great many commanders in the American Civil War (1861-1865) served in the Mexican War (1846-1848).Civil War Leadership and Mexican War Experienceexplores the influence of the earlier war on those men who would become leaders of Federal and Confederate forces. Military historian Kevin Dougherty sets the context with a discussion of professional soldiering before both wars. He then depicts the unique experiences of twenty-six men in Mexico, thirteen who would later serve the Confederacy and thirteen who would remain with the Union. He traces how tactics they used and reactions they had to Civil War combat reveal a remarkable connection to what they learned campaigning against Santa Anna and other Mexican generals.

    Personalities discussed range from well-known leaders such as Ulysses S. Grant to lesser-known figures such as John Winder; from geniuses such as Robert E. Lee to mediocrities such as Gideon Pillow; and from aged heroes such as Winfield Scott to developing practitioners such as William Sherman. No other volume so exclusively and thoroughly focuses on connections of service in both wars.

    Two appendixes in the book list 194 Federal generals and 142 Confederate generals who served in Mexico. The impact of these experiences on major tactical decisions in the Civil War is far-reaching.

    A retired U.S. Army officer, Kevin Dougherty teaches history at the University of Southern Mississippi. His books includeThe Coastal War in North and South Carolina.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-162-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Patterns of the Military Profession
    (pp. 1-34)

    Before beginning a discussion of the individuals who comprise this study, it may be useful to place their experiences in the context of the greater military environment before the Mexican War and before the Civil War. Current military doctrine lists the elements of combat power as maneuver, firepower, leadership, protection, and information (FM 3-0, 4-3). These elements provide a convenient means of grouping the lessons learned from Mexico and describing the military environment. The individuals selected for study in this book were chosen specifically for their ability to illustrate how these elements of combat power existed both in the Mexican...


    • George McClellan and Siege Warfare
      (pp. 37-44)

      As a young lieutenant in Mexico, George McClellan would have two formative experiences. First, he would witness Winfield Scott’s magnificent amphibious turning movement and successful siege of Vera Cruz. McClellan would replicate this maneuver as commander of the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign. Unfortunately for McClellan, his siege of Yorktown would not have the positive results Scott enjoyed in Mexico. Second, McClellan would observe what he considered the political mistreatment of Scott by President James Polk. From this experience, McClellan would gain a contempt for politicians that would negatively affect his relations with President Abraham Lincoln during...

    • Ulysses S. Grant and Logistical Risk
      (pp. 45-50)

      William McFeely writes that though “[v]irtually unnoticed himself in the Mexican War, [Ulysses S.] Grant watched his fellow warriors carefully” (37). During the war, Grant served as the quartermaster and commissary of the Fourth Infantry Regiment. Grant bitterly opposed the posting because he feared it would rob him of combat experience, but it ultimately proved to be very fortuitous. Jean Edward Smith explains that in Mexico, Grant learned

      the intricacies of military logistics from the bottom up. For a man who would go on to command large armies, no training could have been more valuable. During the Civil War, Grant’s...

    • Philip Kearny and Reckless Courage
      (pp. 51-55)

      One of the most aggressive and combative officers in both the Mexican War and the Civil War was Philip Kearney. He certainly was not in the army because he had to be. Kearney had graduated from Columbia University in 1833 and later inherited a million dollars from his grandfather. Kearney was “a soldier for the love of soldiering” (Bill 15).

      Prior to Mexico, Kearny had been sent to Europe to study European tactics and had actually served with the French army in Algiers in 1840. After Mexico, he resigned from the U.S. Army and again fought with the French in...

    • Samuel Du Pont and the Naval Blockade
      (pp. 56-63)

      An early part of the U.S. strategy in the Mexican War was to blockade ports on Mexico’s Gulf and Pacific coasts to prevent arms and ammunition from entering the country from Europe (Carney,Gateway9). Accordingly, in July and August 1846 John Drake Sloat and Robert Stockton, successive commanders of the Pacific Squadron, established control of the Pacific coast from San Francisco to San Diego. On August 19, Stockton ordered Joseph Hull to blockade Mazatlan and Samuel Du Pont to blockade San Blas, about 125 miles south of Mazatlan. Stockton’s aim was to seize Acapulco, about 500 miles south of...

    • Winfield Scott and the Changing Nature of Warfare
      (pp. 64-68)

      John Eisenhower identifies Winfield Scott as “the first truly professional soldier in the American military establishment,” and credits Scott with being “the country’s most prominent general” from 1821 to 1861 (Agentxiii). Scott’s military exploits are truly amazing. Unfortunately, he is most commonly fixed in the popular imagination as the rotund and aged figure depicted in the famous 1861 Matthew Brady portrait. While this image does not do justice to Scott’s lifetime of service, it does provide a hint to the fact that by the time of the Civil War, the nature of warfare had changed, leaving Scott behind.


    • John Pope and the Influence of Zachary Taylor
      (pp. 69-80)

      Besides Winfield Scott, the other major army commander in the Mexican War was Zachary Taylor. While Scott would march from his amphibious landing site at Vera Cruz inland to Mexico City, Taylor’s campaign would lead him from Texas into northern Mexico. Scott was “Old Fuss and Feathers” while Taylor was “Old Rough and Ready.” If Scott epitomized the incipient professionalism of the mid-nineteenth-century officer corps, Taylor was in many respects a throwback to the amateurishness of the War of 1812 (Doughty 83, 87). While Scott was refining the turning movement as the preferred form of maneuver, Taylor saw war as...

    • George Meade and Missed Opportunity
      (pp. 81-85)

      Like Pope, George Meade served as one of Zachary Taylor’s topographical engineers in Mexico and would be influenced by Taylor’s generalship. Meade was with Taylor at Monterey, an American victory to be sure, but not a decisive one. The Mexican army under Pedro Ampudia would be spared to fight another day. Many criticized Taylor for not inflicting more damage on the Mexicans. Meade, however, sided with Taylor’s decision. In the Civil War, Meade would win a great victory at Gettysburg, but his opponent, Robert E. Lee, would also escape to fight another day. Like Taylor, Meade would face severe criticism...

    • Jefferson Davis and the Bad Example
      (pp. 86-90)

      Brigadier General Jefferson Davis, U.S. Army, is an interesting footnote in the study of the Mexican War and the Civil War. The first point of note is obviously the name he shares with his more famous Confederate counterpart. The other unusual condition is that unlike most of the other Civil War generals who served in Mexico as young officers, Davis’s Mexican War experience was as an enlisted man. From that perspective, he bore witness to his regimental commander strike his brigade commander. Uncannily, Davis would go on to murder his own commanding officer in the Civil War.

      Seeking adventure, young...

    • Joe Hooker and the Administrative Side
      (pp. 91-95)

      Joe Hooker is most commonly remembered by the sobriquet “Fighting Joe Hooker.” A series of Associated Press releases during the Seven Days battles were headed “Fighting-Joe Hooker,” and newspapers all over the country simply removed the dash and used “Fighting Joe Hooker” as a subhead. The nickname stuck (Boatner 409). Hooker was an aggressive leader, but perhaps he should be better remembered for his contributions to the Army of the Potomac as “Administrative Joe Hooker” (Hebert 184). Indeed, Hooker’s administrative accomplishments in the Civil War can be traced to his Mexican War experience.

      Hooker certainly saw his share of combat...

    • William Sherman and Room to Grow
      (pp. 96-99)

      In June 1861, William Sherman and several other officers reported in person to President Abraham Lincoln. All had been told to ask for whatever positions they wanted. Sherman asked for and received the relatively low position of colonel of one of the ten new regiments of regulars that Congress had authorized.

      On his way out of the White House, Sherman met his old West Point friend Irvin McDowell. McDowell, wearing his new uniform of a brigadier general, said, “Hello, Sherman. What did you ask for?”

      “A colonelcy,” replied Sherman.

      “What?” exclaimed McDowell. “You should have asked for a brigadier general’s...

    • Henry Halleck and the Military Executive
      (pp. 100-104)

      Like Sherman’s, Henry Halleck’s Mexican War experience would be in California. There Halleck held such political-military and administrative positions as secretary of state, chief of staff, and lieutenant governor in the Mexican city of Mazatlan (Hattaway and Jones 54). His service in California was exemplary, demonstrating “great energy, high administrative qualities, excellent judgment and admirable adaptability to his varied and onerous duties.” Bennett Riley, the military governor, was moved to declare, “Whatever success my administration has attained is mainly owing to the efficient aid rendered by Captain Henry W. Halleck, the secretary of state. To him should be the applause....

    • Henry Hunt and the Organization of Artillery
      (pp. 105-109)

      Napoleon had taught that “it is with artillery that war is made,” and a series of forward-looking secretaries of war had agreed and ensured that at the time of the Mexican War, the U.S. Army had the finest artillery in the world (J. Eisenhower,So Far379–380). Indeed, artillery was such a key factor in Mexico that it single-handedly accounted for victories such as Palo Alto (Bauer 57). Lieutenant Henry Hunt contributed to this pivotal role of artillery in Mexico, and he would apply what he learned there later as chief of artillery for the Army of the Potomac....

    • George Thomas and the Rock
      (pp. 110-114)

      George Thomas’s biographer Richard O’Connor makes a brief survey of the impact of the Mexican War on several Civil War generals and then boldly asserts, “But it is doubtful, on the face of their records, whether any learned their lessons in battle more thoroughly than George H. Thomas” (79). While O’Connor’s conclusion may be somewhat overly enthusiastic, Thomas did have three very important experiences in Mexico that can account for certain aspects of his Civil War generalship. The first is the need for secure lines of supply. Thomas’s close brush with logistic disaster under Zachary Taylor stands in sharp contrast...


    • Robert E. Lee and Turning Movements Based on Reconnaissance
      (pp. 117-121)

      Emory Thomas writes of the Mexican War that “for the first time in American history, United States armies marched on foreign soil and fought battles in an alien land. Maps were few and often unreliable, and Mexican guides for obvious reasons were even fewer and even less reliable. What . . . commanders required of the Engineers was reconnaissance, accurate information about roads, rivers, terrain, and the enemy. Consequently Engineer officers very quickly made themselves indispensable and found themselves not only recommending routes and evaluating enemy positions but also offering informed advice about strategy and tactics” (Lee115). British Major...

    • Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard and the Exception that Proves the Rule
      (pp. 122-126)

      As an engineer lieutenant in Mexico, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard had not been shy about expressing his opinion. He attempted to persuade Brigadier General David Twiggs to concentrate all available forces against Cerro Gordo itself, believing that Twiggs’s plan to focus instead on the Mexican batteries would work but entailed unnecessary risks. Even more boldly and persuasively, Beauregard provided commentary on General Scott’s plan for Chapultepec (J. Eisenhower,So Far276–277, 337–338).

      It was not that Beauregard did not admire Scott. Indeed, he thought him “the best general of the day.” Still, Beauregard thought that Scott “has not...

    • Jefferson Davis and Misplaced Confidence
      (pp. 127-132)

      T. Harry Williams writes that “if modern computer-calculators had been available in 1861, they would have surely forecast that Jefferson Davis would be a great war director and Abraham Lincoln an indifferent one” (History248). Lincoln’s only firsthand experience with military service was during the Black Hawk War in 1832, in which he joined and rejoined the militia three times, serving a total of eighty days and experiencing no combat action at all (Hattaway and Jones 3). Davis, on the other hand, had graduated from West Point in 1828, served as a regimental commander in the Mexican War, and been...

    • Braxton Bragg and Jefferson Davis
      (pp. 133-137)

      With Jefferson Davis at Buena Vista was Braxton Bragg, commanding a battery of artillery. Bragg would go on to be a full general in the Confederate Army, commanding the Army of Tennessee. It would be a tumultuous and controversial command and one in which the relationship between Bragg and Davis would play a key part. Many would conclude that the confidence Bragg earned from Davis at Buena Vista lasted long after it should have in the Civil War. But while Bragg was able to get along well with Davis, he had a very different effect on his men. In Mexico,...

    • John Winder and Wartime Governance
      (pp. 138-142)

      John Winder demonstrated remarkable coolness and bravery under fire in the Mexican War and was brevetted to lieutenant colonel for his meritorious conduct at Chapultepec and Mexico City. However, his most important experience in Mexico, so far as his later Civil War career would be concerned, was his service as lieutenant governor of Vera Cruz. During the Civil War, Winder would serve as provost marshal general of Richmond. His biographer Arch Blakely notes, “Winder gained much experience in Vera Cruz that he would later need in governing Richmond, but not all of that experience was transferable to another situation. ....

    • John Slidell and Doomed Diplomacy
      (pp. 143-146)

      One area in common between the Mexican War and Civil War was the inability to resolve the conflict through diplomacy. John Slidell would play a key part in both of these futile efforts. In Mexico, Slidell would land at Vera Cruz on November 29, 1845, as America’s minister-delegate with what John Eisenhower describes as “an impossible task” (So Far45). On May 8, 1846, Slidell would return to the United States, his mission a failure. But the failure did not mean nothing was gained. Slidell’s biographer Louis Sears notes that in Mexico, “Slidell had broadened an experience which was later...

    • Gideon Pillow and Political Generals
      (pp. 147-153)

      As the Civil War began, the U.S. Army rolls included virtually no general officers fit for arduous duty in the field. The rapid expansion of both the Federal and Confederate armies forced Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis to appoint large numbers of generals. In 1861, Lincoln commissioned 126 generals and Davis 89. Sixty-five percent of those appointed by Lincoln and 50 percent of those appointed by Davis were professional soldiers. The others, 44 Federal generals and 45 Confederate generals, were often appointed for political reasons (Hattaway and Jones 29). Federal Major General Henry Halleck captured the opinion of many...

    • Stonewall Jackson and the Role of Artillery
      (pp. 154-157)

      During the Mexican War, artillery and infantry were employed in unison consistent with Napoleon’s claim that “the better the infantry, the more one must husband and support it with good batteries” (Chandler 179). Thus the United States had organized one company in each artillery regiment as light, or “flying,” artillery, designed for use with infantry. These were placed at the point of greatest danger. Accordingly, John Eisenhower writes that “the outcome of a battle, therefore, might well be decided by the performance of a regular lieutenant commanding an artillery company rather than the infantry lieutenant colonel whose regiment he was...

    • James Longstreet and the Changed Mind?
      (pp. 158-163)

      James Longstreet is one of the more interesting personalities for the student of officers who served in both the Mexican War and the Civil War because information about his personal reflections from Mexico is so scant. In his memoirs, he briefly describes his two major engagements in Mexico but writes nothing about his roles or sentiments about the experience. Instead, he chooses to focus on the exploits of a few of his fellow officers. Late in life, Longstreet returned to Mexico and wrote an unpublished history of the war, but it, too, offers no insight into any personal feelings. Thus...

    • George Pickett and the Quest for Glory
      (pp. 164-168)

      George Pickett is enshrined in Civil War legend and popular imagination as the leader of the gallant but doomed “Pickett’s Charge.” His carefully crafted public image, largely the product of the efforts of his wife, casts him as “the epitome of the mythic Southern soldier” (Gordon 2). Interestingly, Pickett had an experience similar in glory to Pickett’s Charge as a young lieutenant in Mexico.

      The last obstacle between Scott and Mexico City was the grouping of buildings, gardens, and groves called Chapultepec. Sitting high atop a hill, Chapultepec was a former Aztec palace and Mexican military college. Walls and gates...

    • John Pemberton and Inflexibility
      (pp. 169-173)

      John Pemberton would have two experiences in Mexico that would impact on his later fame as defender of Vicksburg. First, he would serve a significant portion of his time in Mexico as aide to Brigadier General William Jenkins Worth. In Worth, Pemberton would find an example of inflexibility and unsatisfactory people skills that would characterize Pemberton’s own personality as a Civil War commander. Second, in Mexico Pemberton would provide a glimpse of his mettle to Lieutenant Ulysses Grant, who would later be Pemberton’s antagonist at Vicksburg.

      Pemberton began his service in Mexico serving as an artilleryman under Zachary Taylor. In...

    • A. P. Hill and the Tendency to Criticize
      (pp. 174-179)

      Fellow Confederate brigadier general James Walker asserted that “of all the Confederate leaders [Ambrose Powell Hill] was the most genial and lovable in his disposition” (Robertson,Hill326). Walker notwithstanding, Hill’s biographer William Hassler notes, “However, beneath Hill’s genial exterior smoldered a nervous and sensitive nature. He was extremely volatile and quick to take offense, especially if an act violated his punctilious concept of justice or protocol” (4). Often this characteristic would manifest itself in criticism of others, and Hill had no fear of differing with his superiors (Waugh 379). Hill’s quick pen and tongue would cause General Robert E....

    • Lewis Armistead and Comrades Becoming Enemies
      (pp. 180-183)

      The shared hardships of war are a fertile ground for the formation of lifelong friendships. Lewis Armistead and Winfield Scott Hancock shared such hardships during their service together as lieutenants in Mexico. Robert Selph Henry writes that at Chapultepec,

      [m]en of all commands, intermingled, leaped into the ditch and fought to get the ladders up, so they could mount them. First into the ditch was Lieutenant Lewis A. Armistead, of the Sixth Infantry. Almost immediately he was wounded. He was to be wounded again on the field of battle sixteen years later as, with hat on the point of his...

  7. Summary of Lessons Learned
    (pp. 184-186)

    What are the general conclusions that can be drawn from this effort to understand the Civil War in light of a man’s experience in Mexico? It is a difficult question because many Mexican War veterans seem to have left the war with different lessons. Robert E. Lee learned to use reconnaissance to find a way to conduct a turning movement, while P. G. T. Beauregard viewed the turning movement with askance and remained true to the frontal attack. Ulysses Grant learned to take logistical risk, while George Thomas learned to be logistically cautious. Confederate Jefferson Davis learned to place too...


      (pp. 187-190)
      (pp. 191-194)
  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 195-202)
  10. Index
    (pp. 203-207)