Sunday, August 9, 2015

"Sabers on the Rio Grande"

If you read a lot of books and articles about the Civil War in Texas, Jerry Thompson's Sabers on the Rio Grande (Presidial Press, 1974) appears with some frequency in the notes. With copies on the secondary market running into three figures and making an impulse buy out of the question, I recently decided to borrow a copy through interlibrary loan.

The impression that the book is primarily a Civil War study proved to be a greatly mistaken one. The formal title presented in the introduction, Sabers on the Rio Grande. Laredo: A Military History, 1755-1865, better informs readers of content coverage but it generally doesn't appear that way in citations (or at least that's how I recall it). The volume is a set of revised historical articles that Thompson submitted to the Laredo Times newspaper between September 1973 and August 1974. Together, the pieces comprise a military history of Laredo, Texas from the colonial period through the end of the Civil War. It begins with Spanish Conquistadors and colonizers and covers a broad array of armed conflicts involving at one time or another Spaniards, Mexicans, Indians, Texians, and the U.S. military.

Actual Civil War content is very limited (less than 10% of the book), with Thompson only briefly profiling Confederate officer Santos Benavides, the "battle" of Laredo, and the Rio Grande Expedition. The material isn't sourced but bibliography and bibliographical essay both indicate scholarly research was applied to the project. Even so, for today's reader the Civil War subject matter presented in Sabers on the Rio Grande is better covered elsewhere in the literature by the later writings of Thompson and others.

The book itself is a handsome 10.25x10.25 in. square cloth hardcover [note to publishers: white or off-white cloth might look great just off the presses but doesn't hold up to the shelf and finger grime of the decades!] released in a numbered edition, 500 in total. There are no maps but a full color art print is pasted in between each chapter.  It's an interesting collectible Texas military history title but high price paired with paucity of Civil War content certainly impacts its desirability to specialists.

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