Monday, August 11, 2014


[The U.S.-Mexican War: A Complete Chronology by Bud Hannings (McFarland, 2014). Softcover, illustrations, bibliography, index. Pp. 208. ISBN:9780786476480 $55]

Bud Hannings, the author of numerous chronological event registers of American wars (including a massive Civil War tome), sets his sights on another 18th Century conflict with The U.S. – Mexican War: A Complete Chronology. He begins the book long before 1846, with yearly sections stretching all the way back to 1816. Much of this material is not directly related to U.S. – Mexican relations and the subsequent war fought between the two countries, but it does highlight other American foreign military adventures in other parts of the world and contemporaneous Indian fighting on the continent. While the utility of some of this toward understanding the subject at hand is debatable, Hannings’s coverage of the 1830s Texas troubles clearly provides essential background context to the 1846-48 war.

Entries for the war years average one every few days and can be quite extensive in nature, addressing various military, political, and diplomatic matters. Most consist of brief, paragraph length summaries (every once in a while, historical documents are reproduced in their entirety) but the most important battles are accorded special attention. Their headings are in all-caps for ease of discovery while browsing and their descriptions are often chapter length narrative affairs. Numbers data, as well as order of battle information, is recorded. Those U.S. officers that would play prominent roles in the Civil War are singled out for special recognition for their services on particular Mexican battlefields.

All of the major war fronts are covered, including California, New Mexico, Texas, and the vast areas of northern and central Mexico directly affected by the conflict. Hannings focuses a great deal upon the lesser appreciated naval aspects of war, which stretched up and down the Pacific and Gulf coastlines. The reading experience will be an eye opening one for those believing the war, outside of the Vera Cruz landing, to have been conducted almost entirely on land. The famous campaigns – Zachary Taylor in northern Mexico, John C. Fremont and Commodore Stockton in California, Doniphan’s March, and the saga of the Mormon Battalion – are well documented, but so are countless other less well known skirmishes battles and guerrilla actions.

The book is abundantly illustrated with reproductions of period lithography, such as one would find in the newspapers of the day. What’s missing are maps. Not only are none of the battles accompanied by tactical scale drawings, no campaign or even general area maps are included. 

Readers perusing the bibliography will find a collection of secondary sources published almost entirely during the 19th and early 20th centuries. None of the many excellent modern military studies were consulted, nor were any Mexican sources utilized. Given the latter, it is no surprise that the entries are very U.S.-centric in content and perspective.  With those limitations in mind, The U.S. – Mexican War: A Complete Chronology does have real (though high priced) value as an unusually comprehensive register of land and sea engagements.

(edited version of review first published in On Point magazine)

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