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Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War

Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War

4.3 56
by Jeff Shaara

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In Gone for Soldiers, Jeff Shaara carries us back 15 years before the momentous conflict he has so brilliantly chronicled, to a time when the Civil War's most familiar names are fighting for another cause, junior officers marching under the same flag in an unfamiliar land, experiencing combat for the first time in the Mexican-American War.

In March 1847,


In Gone for Soldiers, Jeff Shaara carries us back 15 years before the momentous conflict he has so brilliantly chronicled, to a time when the Civil War's most familiar names are fighting for another cause, junior officers marching under the same flag in an unfamiliar land, experiencing combat for the first time in the Mexican-American War.

In March 1847, 8,000 soldiers landed on the beaches of Vera Cruz, led by the army's commanding general, Winfield Scott-a heroic veteran of the War of 1812, short tempered, vain, and nostalgic for the glories of his youth. At his right hand is Robert E. Lee, a forty year-old engineer, a dignified, serious man who has never seen combat.

In vivid prose that illuminates the dark psychology of soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, Jeff Shaara brings to life the familiar characters, the stunning triumphs and soul-crushing defeats of this fascinating, long-forgotten war.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Shaara's most recent Civil War novel is seen through the eyes of Robert E. Lee. It received our highest score, introducing readers to the most famous war heroes as they taste combat for the first time. "Gives life and color to one of the most significant wars of the U.S., and to the great names in connected to it."
This historical novel rips off the polite mask of "Manifest Destiny" and shows us the blood and guts of the Mexican War of 1846-1848. It would be impossible to praise too highly Shaara's work. He tells the story of an unpopular war from the perspectives of those involved: Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Winfield Scott, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Stonewall Jackson, and others who are well known to students of the Civil War. Shaara's gift is the ability to put the reader there, to recreate the history. The novel reads at times like an action film, with explosions, body parts, screaming horses and bayonet thrusts. At other times Shaara takes us into the minds of those who fought and died. We share the arrogance of Santa Anna, the cunning of Scott, the ingenuity of Grant, and the growing competence of Robert E. Lee. We know, as the characters do not, what is to come in the near future and how their relationships will change. We also learn about the politics of the war, about the hidden motives of Washington and the President. As Lee comes to understand, the war was not about bravery or saving Mexicans from a dictator. It was about land: the land of Texas and New Mexico and California, land that the U.S. finally paid for at more advantageous terms because of the American occupation of Mexico City. Highly recommended. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Ballantine, 426p., $15.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Janet Julian; English Teacher, Retired, Grafton H.S., Grafton, M , November 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 6)
Library Journal
This is Shaara's successful prequel to his father Michael's Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War novel, The Killer Angels. Many of the same characters inhabit its pages but before their allegiances have been fatally strained by the tensions of an impending Civil War. The protagonists are Gen. Winfield Scott, who created our first modern army, and young engineer Robert E. Lee, being tested for the first time as soldier and leader in the little-known Mexican War. Add Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Jeb Stuart, Joe Johnston, Beauregarde, Mexican general Santa Anna--what a cast of characters! The book is simply wonderful, populated with eminently human heroes who are called upon to perform Herculean tasks in a war muddied beyond redemption by the ambitions of back-home and battlefield politicians. Like Patrick Rambaud's The Battle (LJ 5/1/00) this is first-rate military historical fiction. Well worth reading. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/00.]--David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus, CA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
Lg. Prt.: 0-375-43057-1 Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Shaara's son (who followed his late father's classic The Killer Angels with his own Civil War-set Gods and Generals, 1996, and The Last Full Measure, 1998) moves into new historical territory with this impressive fictional account of the comparatively lesser-known Mexican War (1846-48). The novel's (almost exclusively military) actions are presented in parallel stories primarily featuring US Army commander Winfield (`Old Fuss and Feathers`) Scott, a decorated veteran of the War of 1812, and Scott's more-than-efficient subordinate, a 40-year-old engineer and artillery specialist named Robert E. Lee. To the younger Lee, the war is a welcome test of his still-developing tactical skills and his resolve; to the grizzled, unillusioned Scott, it's `a nasty little fight all about land,` and further evidence of catastrophic interference contributed to the war effort by the ill-judged `diplomacy` of President James Polk. The (invariably interesting) thoughts and experiences of both men are buttressed—and illuminated—by intermittent segments of the narrative presented from the viewpoints of such other combatants as roughhewn Captain Joe Johnston, brother officers Thomas J. `Stonewall` Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant (in these antebellum years, Lee's comrade-in-arms), and, notably, Mexico's defiant military leader Santa Anna (a richly drawn character who probably deserves his own novel). Shaara offers superb impressionistic descriptions of such crucial campaigns as the (early) naval attack on the port of Vera Cruz; the battles of Cerro Gordo, the `lava field` known as the Pedregal, and Churubusco; and the triumphantconquest ofMexico City, after which Scott is offered the position of `dictator of Mexico.` Parallels to Viet Nam aren't forced, but are strongly felt throughout this simultaneously stirring and deeply cautionary saga. Another fine historical novel from a new master of the genre.Author tour

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Read an Excerpt

IN 1844 THE UNITED STATES IS VERY MUCH A NATION FEELING ITS youth. Since the country was doubled in size by the Louisiana Purchase, there has been a passion for expansion, for pushing the boundaries farther west, a mission to bring the new enlightenment of the "American Ideal" to the entire continent. To politicians in Washington, this expansion is justified not just by an enthusiasm for our system of government, but by official policy. The document is the Monroe Doctrine, and the rallying cry becomes Manifest Destiny, as though it is not only in the nation's best interests to expand our influence, but the best interest of anyone whose culture we might absorb. This practice has already resulted in bloody conflict with several Indian Nations, notably the Seminoles in Florida. It also leads to a showdown with the British over the Oregon Territory, a threat the British defuse by backing away.

In summer 1844 the independent nation of Texas is annexed by the United States. The territory of Texas had been part of Mexico itself, only became independent in 1836 when Mexican leader Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was defeated by Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. This defeat followed Santa Anna's highly publicized massacre of the defenders of the Alamo, in San Antonio.

To the Mexican government, led by the moderate General José Joaquin de Herrera, the loss of Texas is a severe blow to Mexican pride. While Herrera favors negotiation to resolve differences, specifically the growing border disputes, loud voices of ultrapatriotism within his country consider the loss an outrage, an assault on the sovereignty of Mexico, which must be avenged.

In December 1844, Texas is officially granted statehood. The decision is controversial. Because it was admitted as a slave state, many in the north opposed Texas's inclusion. However, as a necessary ingredient of Manifest Destiny, even opponents concede that the land, and the passion for expansion, make Texas a valuable treasure.

The Texans consider their border to extend to the Rio Grande River. To the Mexicans, Texas stops at the Nueces River, some one hundred miles farther north. The land in between the two rivers is mostly barren and uninhabited, but both sides begin making moves to secure the land for their own cause.

To protect the new wave of citizens that move into the disputed area, President James K. Polk sends a military force of nearly three thousand men, under the command of General Zachary Taylor. This so inflames the spirits of many Mexicans that Herrera cannot hold power, and he is replaced by General Mariano Padredes, an ultrapatriot who immediately declares that Mexico is in a state of "defensive war" with the United States.

As the wheels of war grind forward, neither side seems to understand the forces driving the other. The Mexicans are far from accepting Manifest Destiny as legitimate, and the Polk Administration has no grasp of the nationalism and fiercely proud protectionism that so motivates the Mexicans.

As Taylor's forces move into the disputed territory between the two rivers, Mexican General Ampudia marches troops northward, intending to turn Taylor away. While politicians in both capitals seem helpless to find some middle ground, some way of avoiding the inevitable war, Taylor confronts a sizable Mexican force at Palo Alto, a small crossroads village. The resulting fight is the first engagement of the war, and is a decided victory for Taylor and the Americans. The Mexicans retreat to a strong defensive position at an old riverbed called Resaca de la Palma. Taylor pursues, and defeats the Mexicans again. The Mexican forces have no choice but to retreat below the Rio Grande.

With the spilling of blood, the disputes move beyond the angry protests of politicians. The diplomatic wrangling gives way to the harsh reality that the dispute over boundaries and the inability of each culture to understand the customs and needs of the other, has but one possible outcome. Even the voices of reason in both capitals are powerless to stop the momentum. On May 13, 1846, President Polk convinces Congress to declare war on Mexico.
1. Lee

March fifth, 1847

THEY HAD SAILED EARLY, CUTTING SOUTHWARD THROUGH THE quiet water, the rugged coastline barely visible to the west. Lee had moved to the bow of the tall ship, staring out quietly, tasting the salt air, the cool wind that pushed into the great sails above him. At first he was alone, but then more of the officers were moving forward, and like Lee, they stared to the front, watching for any sign, the first glimpse of the rest of the great fleet.

Lee glanced to one side, saw a small figure, thought, My dear friend Joe ... you look awful. He would never say that to the man's face, knew Johnston was embarrassed, sensitive about his seasickness. The agony had been on Johnston's face even before the ship had left Tampico, and it made no difference if the weather rolled them about or, like this morning, was ghostly calm. Joe Johnston would never be a sailor.

Lee moved toward him, eased along the heavy wood rail. "You all right, Captain?"
Johnston, weary, his eyes heavy, looked at Lee, nodded, said nothing. Lee glanced at the dome of exposed scalp on Johnston's head, looked away, would not let his friend catch him staring. He knew Johnston was a vain man, frustrated with the baldness that had shown itself when he was still young. He had a small frame, thin, and some at the Point had even used the word fragile to describe him. It had made Johnston furious, and Lee knew his vanity had been a form of self-defense. Johnston had begun to comb his hair straight forward, covering his high forehead. But today there was none of the self-consciousness, and Lee could not be pleased about that, knew it meant that Johnston was feeling sick indeed.

Lee, still looking away, pointed out beyond the bow. "We'll be there soon I think. The masts should come into view first."

Johnston nodded, looked now toward the horizon, his expression a mix of hope and a silent plea for the trip to end.

Lee put a hand on Johnston's shoulder, felt the rough wool of Johnston's coat, felt Johnston sag beneath his grip. He pulled his hand away, thought, Maybe best to just let him be. He leaned out again on the rail, and now the sun had come up, full above the flat ocean to the east. He looked toward the warmth, felt the energy, felt a light salty breeze drifting across the deck. There was a new sound now, birds, the high call of the gulls, gathering, dancing in the air, near the stern of the ship. He looked up, smiled slightly, stared into the deep blue of a cloudless perfect morning. Suddenly there was a voice, behind him, high up on the lookout.

"Ship ho!"

The men around Lee pressed forward, and Lee stared again to the front, saw now a fleck of orange, a brief flicker of sunlight reflecting on ... something. The others saw it as well, the soldiers betraying their excitement, while all around them the sailors seemed only to do their work, and if they paid any attention at all to what lay in front of them, they would not reveal it to these men who fought on land.

Lee saw more reflections now, and someone had a pair of field glasses, passed them along the rail, and as each man took his turn, there was a smile, a small sound, recognition. Now the glasses came to Lee, and he raised them up, and the flecks of light were suddenly clear. He felt his heart thump hard in his chest, could not help but smile, thought,Yes, a ship! He lowered the glasses, offered them to Johnston, who took them and without looking, passed them along. Lee wanted to say something, encourage his friend, to help him put the sickness aside somehow. Still Lee's attention was drawn to the front, where there were a great many more reflections, and it did not take the glasses to see that before them, spread across the wide gulf, was an enormous fleet.

The first big ship was plainly visible now, and Lee could feel the Massachusetts turning, the helmsman steering General Winfield Scott's flagship to a path closer to the warships. Lee was still feeling the excitement, examined the big ship as though he were a small child. He was stunned by the size, the great rows of small black eyes, the enormous firepower of the big man-of-war. He had seen ships like this before, near the forts in the East, but this was very different, moving past so close, the view from the deck of another great ship, so near the mouths of all those guns. Lee stared into the open gun ports, felt a sudden chill. My God, he thought, the pure power. So much artillery in one place. He had never seen a naval bombardment, certainly had never seen two great ships at war, swirling around each other in a violent fury of sound and smoke. He blinked, thought, No, you have never seen much of anything to compare to this.

Meet the Author

Jeff Shaara is the New York Times bestselling author of A Chain of Thunder, A Blaze of Glory, The Final Storm, No Less Than Victory, The Steel Wave, The Rising Tide, To the Last Man, The Glorious Cause, Rise to Rebellion, and Gone for Soldiers, as well as Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure—two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s Pulitzer Prize–winning classic, The Killer Angels. Shaara was born into a family of Italian immigrants in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and graduated from Florida State University. He lives in Gettysburg.

Brief Biography

Kalispell, Montana
Date of Birth:
February 21, 1952
Place of Birth:
New Brunswick, New Jersey
B.S. in Criminology, Florida State University, 1974

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Gone for Soldiers 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
Jack25OH More than 1 year ago
Since the Mexican War happened so close to the War Between The States, not as much has been written about that war. This is a typical Jeff Shaara book that tells the story through the mouths of those who were there. I learned a lot that had been unknown to me previously.
Woodcutter38 More than 1 year ago
As usual I was not disappointed with Jeff Shaara; his look at all these people in their earlier years before the Civil War is enlightening.
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Old_Ranger_Fan More than 1 year ago
This is another one of the excellent Shaara historical novels. While the Mexican War is not one of the biggest or longest wars in our history, The author does a very good job of chronicling the Mexican War through the major soldiers involved. I only began reading historical novels in the last 2 years and the Shaara's have to rank up there with the best.
Tom_H More than 1 year ago
This was the 9th novel written by Mr. Shaara that I have read. Once again he brings history to life. We learn of the early days in the careers of soldiers who play critical roles in the American Civil War. Amongst those are Robert E' Lee, U.S. Grant, George Pickett just to name a few. I heartily recommend this book to anyone intersted in American History.
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alexanderaly98 More than 1 year ago
Jeff Shaara took you into the heart of the battles. He made you feel what the characters were feeling, and made you see what the soldiers saw around them. It shows you that battles aren't all about the victories, it's also about your friends and comrades that have risked and sacrificed their lives. At some points in the book, I was actually getting nervous about what would happen next.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the 5th book by Mr. Shaara that I've read recently and he continues to amaze me how interesting he makes the events and characters come to life. I didn't know much about the Mexican-American War before this book and didn't realize how important the outcome was to our history. Also you see how future Civil War leaders began their military careers working together not knowing years later many of them would face each other on the battlefield. A really great read with plenty of action and a great insight into Robert E Lee as a young officer.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This protrayes and excellent view into the Mexican war as seen through the eyes of a Young Robert E. Lee. It also gives aus a peek as to his development that made him such a powerful leader in his later years during the Civil War.
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Silveradventurer More than 1 year ago
Jeff Shaara has done all who have loved the Civil War series he and his father gave us a great service with "Gone for Soldiers". Not only does this book offer us the same almost-personal view of the Mexican War, it introduces the people who played such an enormous role in the later Civil War. All of these books have given me a much better sense of history than even more detailed military history books have given, and I find I'm now able to read those other more scholarly works with more enjoyment, having finally grasped the context and the sweep of events.
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