Trailing Clouds of Glory: Zachary Taylor’s Mexican War Campaign and His Emerging Civil War Leaders

by Felice Flanery Lewis, University of Alabama Press

As Felice Flanery Lewis makes clear in the notion that the Mexican War Trailing Clouds of Glory, served as a training ground for future Civil War commanders needs to be reevaluated. The soldiers who fought in both conflicts provided very little explanation of how their service in the former prepared them for the latter. Most served in Mexico as second lieutenants and captains, many of them as engineers, in their early- to mid-20s, with virtually no experience in leading large forces and no experience in orchestrating battles. The Mexican War, then, was not so much a training ground for them as a springboard for future distinction in the Civil War.

To be sure, their service in the previous war left a strong impression on these young soldiers. Some, such as Robert E. Lee and George McClellan, saw the conflict south of the border as a way to advance professionally. But as Lewis shows, the relationships forged between these young soldiers in Mexico may be the war’s most important legacy.

Trailing Clouds of Glory is an excellent account of Taylor’s 1846-47 campaign in northern Mexico. Most important for Civil War students, however, Lewis tells the story of these battles from the viewpoint of the soldiers themselves. More than 800 of Taylor’s warriors would later serve in the Civil War, and 173 would become generals. While there’s an emphasis on such future luminaries as Ulysses Grant, George Meade and Daniel Harvey Hill, the text also reads as a virtual “Who’s Who” of other commanders, including John Reynolds, John Sedgwick and Dixon Miles.

Exhaustively researched and well written, Trailing Clouds of Glory is an important contribution to the military history of mid-19th century America. It makes the perfect companion piece to Timothy Johnson’s A Gallant Little Army: The Mexico City Campaign, but it’s also a sorely needed addition to Civil War historiography.

 

Originally published in the June 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.