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Popular historian Joseph Wheelan recounts James Polk’s strategy of last resort for prying California away from Mexico. He had tried to buy it; he had instructed his agents to encourage a settlers’ revolt. When these measures failed, the impatient president, while cynically condemning Mexico’s anger over America’s annexation of Texas, sent General Zachary Taylor’s army to the Rio Grande River, into territory that Mexico claimed as hers. By provocatively sending Taylor there, the president got his war — and, as bitter corollaries, the scathing criticism of congressional leaders on moral grounds, and Mexico’s lasting distrust of its powerful northern neighbor.
The Mexican War was America’s first truly modern war. Steamships ferried troops, daguerreotypes captured the spectacle of infantry and cavalry marching off to battle, newspapermen reported from the front lines for the first time, and telegraphs helped speed news of victories to eager readers back home. For the first time, large numbers of the regular Army’s field-grade officers were West Point-trained. Weapons technology advances such as the mobile field artillery, the Colt six-shooter and the Sharp’s Rifle gave the U.S. Army daunting firepower. These advantages ensured victory even when Mexican troops outnumbered Americans by as much as 4-to-1.
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Joseph Wheelan, a graduate of the University of Wyoming and University of Colorado, Denver, was for twenty-six years an editor and reporter for the Associated Press and the Casper Star-Tribune (Wyoming). He is the author of Jefferson's War and Jefferson's Vendetta, each available from Carroll & Graf. He lives in Cary, North Carolina, with his wife, Pat.From Booklist:
The ostensible cause of the Mexican War (1846-48) was a dispute over the precise border between Texas and Mexico, but the actual cause was the desire of many Americans, led by President Polk, to acquire California and vast territories of the Southwest, thus fulfilling our "Manifest Destiny" to extend to the Pacific. Wheelan prepares an easily digestible account of the war itself as well as a useful analysis of its causes and effects. As Wheelan illustrates, the launching of the war generated intense domestic opposition, led by such notable figures as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and an obscure Illinois congressman, Abraham Lincoln. The American victory did not unify the country with patriotic fervor; instead, it intensified North-South antagonism. Polk is seen here as an intriguing combination of Jeffersonian idealist and cynical expansionist. Jay Freeman
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