Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to next section]
Talk 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Soldiers Unmasked
William Addleman Ganoe

published by
The Military Service Publishing Company
Harrisburg, Pa. 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Talk 7

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p51  VI

The uphill game

How about giving our imaginations a little exercise for a minute before we start in on the evening's story. Are we set for the effort? Well, here's the picture. Just suppose a great plague of flu were to sweep this country from end to end. And suppose there were not a single doctor or nurse in the United States. Now suppose that Congress, all excited, voted great numbers of doctors and nurses to stem the scourge. Well, how many people would die, and how much neglect and horror would visit our doorways, while the doctors and nurses were being trained and educated? Just go over in your mind that little chaos and you have almost a view of the War of 1812 — almost — for then we went this fancied epidemic one better. We didn't provide training and education at all for the doctors and nurses — the officers and men of that calamity. The plague of war just went along from bad to worse — and then from worse to awful. There was much excuse for our slips before and during the Revolution, when we were a loose lot of colonies and were divided into Whigs and Tories. But by 1812 we had  p52 been a nation for over twenty years. Few realized then, and some don't now, that the soldier needs just as much preparation and education as the doctor and the nurse. For preparedness against war and shortening a war amount to a vast science and art which cannot be trusted to quacks without undue loss of life to our sons. After our narrow escape from this plague of 1812, when our enemy providentially was called back to Europe, we didn't do away with our preventive medicine, as we did after the Revolution. No sir, we kept that training for three whole months. Then we reduced it to ten thousand men on paper. Five years later, in the face of protests by such men as John C. Calhoun, we cut it to six thousand men. Then the Seminoles, Creeks and Black Hawk promptly entered into the gentle art of taking scalps. Settlers were slain. Dade's Command of one hundred seven officers and men marching on a peaceful errand were massacred. Other officers and civilians were mowed down. Cholera attacked the troops against Black Hawk, and yellow fever took its toll of those against the Seminoles. In the Florida, Georgia and Alabama country a force of less than a thousand trained troops tried to keep safe a vast unexplored country against three thousand Indians. By 1834, for the whole of the United States, less than four thousand troops attempted to guard over  p53 ten thousand miles of seacoast and frontier for fifteen million people. Two years later, after these killings had been going on for some time, our legislators with frenzied haste voted our army to be raised back to ten thousand. But the troops could not be had or trained in time. So the slaughter went on. Mr. Hearst quotes Alfred Henry Lewis as saying that a Congressman is like a man riding backwards in a train. He never sees anything till after it has passed. Well, that may be a little unfair to our legislators, but it surely applied to these enactments. For what happened afterwards? The usual waste and ineffectiveness. General after general on the frontier asked to be relieved of command because of the impossibility of the task, the smallness of the force and the wholesale, needless deaths. Of the trained men in this Seminole War over forty‑one per cent perished — nearly half of all the troops — and to little purpose. One hundred seventeen of our best officers, in one year, seeing the fruitlessness of their services resigned from the army rather than to be a party to stagnation. Among them were such prominent men as Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Horace Bliss, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.W. C. Young, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.R. P. Parrott,º Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alexander D. Bache, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Albert Sydney Johnston, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.N. B. Buford, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Leonidas Polk, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jefferson Davis, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Joseph E. Johnston and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George G. Meade. By 1842 the army in the face of the want of a strong national  p54 police force was reduced to eighty‑six hundred and thirteen men. A Congressman on the floor of the house stated in that year: "We have no prospects of war. We have more reason to suppose that the world will grow wiser and that the humane and oft‑repeated wish of the wise and good, that the sword and bayonet may be converted into the scythe and ploughshare, will be realized." We have no prospects of war! Four years after this statement, came the War with Mexico like a bolt out of the red, white and blue. It found our seventeen million people with an army of fifty-three hundred men all told, or what would correspond for a university of seventeen hundred students to a football squad of six men. Six whole men. Think of that. A line, all but one man, no backs and no substitutes. Of course, you couldn't play the game at all, under those circumstances. Well, as the Mexican War was in sight General Zachary Taylor had to. He had to fight with less than that. He had just three thousand troops against a possible fifty thousand Mexicans. Even so, his command was the largest regular force we had assembled since the Revolution. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this war were, Taylor was in a perilous position. When hostilities came, he had to go forward with his little band of trained soldiers. Against superior forces he won the battles of Palo  p55 Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Then he was held up. Untrained volunteers poured in upon him too late — right in the midst of campaign — just as applicants for a medical school might rush in and clog up a busy hospital. Imagine that situation, hundreds of novices running around the corridors and into the wards of a big hospital. Would the doctors be crazy? Taylor's position was worse. The government had forced him to keep these men in his institution and many of them hadn't the inclination to learn, many had come out for a lark, and all of them had to be taught from the ground up obedience, punctiliousness, cleanliness and the technique and character of the soldier if they weren't going to run or be uselessly killed in battle. It took four months' waiting and preparing in a hostile country before Taylor could go into his next engagement. Besides he couldn't get enough transportation. But he had one big advantage over leaders in 1812 and the Revolution. West Point was beginning to account for itself — not because it was West Point, nor because I would emphasize the United States Military Academy unduly, but because it was the only place in the Western Hemisphere then where a man could get four years' training and education toward being a doctor for the plague of war. Five hundred West Pointers — the Grants and Stonewall Jacksons as lieutenants  p56 and captains, made things easier for Taylor, and other West Pointers, like Jefferson Davis, were coming back to the colors with the volunteers. So Taylor, after his green men had been taught something, won the battle of Monterey. But these victories weren't getting us anywhere. They were just scattered first downs. Taylor was much like the hen that pecks, but has nothing to cackle about. Over his advance into nowhere the administration was beginning to be nervous. He could scarcely have been called an educated soldier. On the contrary, Winfield Scott, the commanding general of the army in Washington, was professionally trained and self-educated to the point of brilliance. For a long time Scott had told Polk and Marcy, just what would end the war quickly — a strike at the very heart of Mexico — nothing less. But the powers wouldn't listen to him, scoffed at him, called him visionary. The quacks were ridiculing the doctors. But when Taylor got nowhere more leisurely, the administration threw up its hands and chucked the whole affair into Scott's lap, because the people were becoming restless for a solution. Yes, the President gave permission to Scott, but he had called Scott's plan visionary, and therefore had to prove his point by taking a pot shot at Scott's efforts when he could safely do so from executive cover. In spite of this  p57 double-crossing, Scott finally got enough troops at Vera Cruz to start shoving through to the finish. Meanwhile Taylor, who could scarcely have been accused of planning his battles with knowledge and decision, won Buena Vista. A number of trained subordinates, such as Wool and Jefferson Davis, together with seasoned troops were mainly responsible for the victory. But beyond drawing a large part of the Mexican Army away from Scott, it did not accomplish much toward ending the war. Scott had given it out that he was going to conquer a peace and he was determined to do so with all speed. By skill and energy he took Vera Cruz with only twenty losses to his troops. But then he was met with horrible obstacles. Polk had not kept his part of the bargain — to send the rest of the troops, transportation and supplies. Yellow fever would soon be attacking the forces in this low country. Scott pushed on toward the highlands anyhow with what he had. At Cerro Gordo he faced a natural stronghold in the mountains that was terrifying. With excellent scouting and planning, with the aid of able subordinates such as Robert E. Lee, he pushed through the scowling, fortified barrier and sent the Mexicans flying, pursuing them as far as he could.

But then came the rub. Jalapa. Have you ever heard of Jalapa? Well, it was another Valley Forge  p58 in our history, a Valley Forge in a hostile country far from home. There, seven regiments and two companies of Scott's volunteers went home in a body because their enlistments expired. Over thirty‑six hundred men left him, and nothing could stir their patriotism to remain. His force was reduced to less than seven thousand in the face of twenty thousand Mexicans. Also James K. Polk was continuing his undercutting work at home. Scott was being too successful and would be too strong politically. So money and recruits did not arrive. The troops were not only low in numbers, but in spirits, too. Scott pleaded in vain with the government for the life of his men and honor of our country to send him what he needed. Some of his troops were beginning to feel it was no use trying to go forward. It was all they could do to survive now in the center of Mexico. One of his generals advised going back. Would they have to give up? It was a desperate situation. But Scott meant to go forward. He began by winning over the hostile inhabitants through his kindly, square treatment. They grew to like him better than their own leader, Santa Anna. He kept his troops in hand and generally well-behaved. So he was finally able to barter with the inhabitants and get food for his men. He pushed on toward Puebla without the money and recruits promised him.  p59 Finally, after two months' delay, fresh troops and money came. Even though he had only ten thousand seven hundred eighty‑one effectives, mixed with green men, he went further onward immediately. Came the victories of Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, Chapultepec and Mexico City. The capital was taken and the war was over. In six months, trained troops, trained subordinates and a trained commander had marched through the heart of a hostile country, against vastly superior numbers of the enemy, against a bloodsucking administration at its back, and had conquered a peace, as Scott had said he would. Had his advice in the first place been heeded, the war, the sufferings, the deaths, and the expense could have been cut in less than a fourth. But again the value of training and education for a plague had been flouted. Yet training and training alone had won for us our first successful war on land. And from it came a third of the present area of the United States, which we weren't loath to accept.

And the cause of our success? Well, we must be frank and honest. We must admit that the opposition wasn't really first class. Had it been, dear knows what beatings our paltry number of trained troops would have taken. But the Mexicans were by no means as weak as we were in 1812. If they had been, we could have walked into the Mexican capital  p60 without much more than a loud booh. We mustn't get the idea that the Mexicans couldn't fight. They disputed the way so hotly at Contreras and Molino del Rey, that it looked for a time very doubtful for the United States. It was no afternoon's parade such as the British had had into our capital.

But our quality was superior and we could force our way through the opposition. Why? Well, Scott tells you, Scott, who was not a West Pointer. He said that had it not been for the graduates of the Academy, the war would have lasted four or five years, with more defeats then victories in the first part. At any rate, these young men proved to be a great foundation for efficient leader­ship. Specialized education and training whether or not by West Point had saved money and life in this war, despite untrained inpourings, despite a hampering administration, and despite our pitiful numbers.

But let us hark back to a piece of irony. In the previous years before this war, twice had Congress tried to abolish West Point, and once it made no appropriations for it, so that the Superintendent at his own risk had to borrow $65,000 from a private individual to keep it going. What ugliness would have been added to our history, had the abolitionists been successful? What shame and slaughter would have come had the President not been forced to let  p61 Scott carry out his plan? Is it to laugh or weep at the sentimentalists who would do away with the doctors and squander human life? Well, let's see the Civil War next. Not so pretty — what?

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 18 Sep 20