on January 5, 2012
I liked this book, maybe not as much as I wanted too. It was a good telling of a story I didn't know a whole lot about. I knew about the Mexican War, Kearny, Kit Carson, etc., but this book pieced them all together for me. There was one thing that really bothered me about the book though. There are no notes! The book is full of quotes, but no reference as to where the quotes came from. Not only that, but there are alot of quotes where Groom doesn't even tell who said it. Because of that problem this book ranks a low 4 for me. If that doesn't bother you then I recommend the book. It is otherwise very good.
Question: What was "Kearny's March"? I would wager a tidy sum that most Americans haven't a clue. Answer: In May 1846, President James K. Polk sent orders to Stephen W. Kearny to march his Army of the West down the Santa Fe Trail from Kansas to New Mexico, then a province of Mexico, and capture it in the name of the United States. (This was immediately after the U.S. had declared war against Mexico.) Kearny did so, entering Santa Fe with his Army on August 18, 1846. "For the first time in its history the United States had taken by military conquest a territory belonging to a foreign nation." From there, Kearny and his Army headed west, towards California, where they were instrumental in securing the conquest of that Mexican province for the U.S. as well.
Kearny's March is but one strand of the story Winston Groom (better known as author of "Forrest Gump") tells in this book. Other strands that weave in and out of the narrative are assorted campaigns and battles of the Mexican-American War; John Charles Fremont and his Third Expedition to the West (with Kit Carson as guide); the Mormon Battalion, comprised of 500+ Mormons who served as a sort of adjunct army to Kearny's Army of the West and blazed a significant wagon trail across what is now the American Southwest; and the star-crossed Donner Party, many of whom were marooned in the Sierra Nevada the winter of 1846-1847 on their way to California, and some of whom survived only by eating the flesh of others who had already died from starvation (or were a few of them deliberately killed before being cannibalized?). More generally, the book surveys a critical fifteen months in the implementation of "Manifest Destiny."
KEARNY'S MARCH is very much a work of popular history. It tackles quite a bit of historical material, and there a few organizational difficulties. There are no footnotes to source materials. Groom tends at times to be simplistic and superficial. I caught a few factual errors, albeit relatively minor in nature. But the writing is fast-paced and engaging, and, in the end, I believe the book to be a good overview of an important slice of American history. If you already are fairly knowledgeable about the matters covered in the book, you might be disappointed with it. If you are not, I recommend the book as a decent and readable introduction.
on December 4, 2012
I bought this book with great expectations that finally a little known part of the War with Mexico would be discussed in some detail. I had a special interest in the idea of exploring Kearny's March because my high school in San Diego was named for him and whenever I would tell someone the name I always got a Who was that? response. Alas, the book has precious little about Kearny or the march across New Mexico and Arizona. It is largely a re-hash of previous books particularly Bernard DeVoto's The Year of Decision which is a far, far better book. Save your money on this one and buy a copy of DeVoto.
on February 18, 2012
The detail in this book is amazing. I could not put it down; I learn a lot and enjoyed it very much.
Kearny's March from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in June 1846 was like sending troops to the other side of the moon. They marched to Santa Fe, New Mexico (750+ miles) and then to California (another 750+ miles. But they are only part of the story. Dealing with Mexico achieving their independence from Spain in 1820s went through 32 governments with Santa Anna being President or Dictator 7 times. In Alta California, there are only 5,000 people of which 1,000 are not Mexicans but Americans or Europeans. After, Kearny takes Santa Fe without firing a shot, and leaves for California, there is a ghastly revolt in Taos.
This is happening when Zachary Taylor is down by the Rio Grande River with the main US army and the Mexican War starts. Commodore Stockton has a US fleet along the California coast even after his fiasco with the "Peacemaker". The Pathfinder John C. Fremont leads a harden group of irregulars into California then is later court-martialed. The Missouri volunteers (1,000 vs the Mexican army's 3,800) take the Mexican state of Chihuahua even though the main US army under general Wool had to turn back.
Is that it? No, President Polk sent a spy into Mexico City. The Mormons have a regiment to finance their trek to Utah using army pay. Oh, and yes, meanwhile there is a group of pioneers trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Donner party. What a story!
I am quite knowledgeable of US history, but much was new to me.
on April 5, 2016
I grew up in Nebraska and was always aware of the territory where this event began. This is a book you really need to read if you want to understand how the West was won. President James K Polk is a figure in history where you got a lot of bad ideas of what he failed at.
The facts are that he envisioned America from sea to shining sea. (the song came later) Polk directed the acquisition of the land between the Missouri river and the Pacific Ocean and from the Rio Grande to Canada as it is now. There is no way to guess how many decades it might have taken otherwise but just try to imagine Mexico and Britain STILL owning all of what is Texas California Arizona New Mexico Oregon and Washington.
They did when he took office but not when he left. This book is a somewhat day to day history of how this huge land grab came about and the men who were loosely told what was wanted and went ahead and got it done.
on December 29, 2011
This book is well done history, but it is not scholarly. No research notes, no revelations, no new interpretations. Mr. Groom himself states that he relied on the research performed by other historians to write this book. "Kearney's March" tells the story of legends such as the Donner Party, John Fremont, and the suffering of the Mormons, and he gives us the hard facts about them. So many famous people were on the move and going to war in the years 1846 and 1847. Dozens of books have been written about them and their time. What Mr. Groom does is bring those famous people, those legends, together in one fast paced book and tells us what was going on. In the John Ford/John Wayne movie "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" the editor says, "This is the West. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
Mr. Groom gives us both. We get the facts about the legends.
on July 8, 2014
This book is about President James K. Polk's initiative to extend the United States to the Pacific Ocean. It is a story about war with Mexico, a remarkably feat of American arms executed across thousands of miles of both Mexico and the current American Southwest. It is the story of the completion of America's Manifest Destiny.
I have read many good works on this period of American history. John Eisenhower's So Far From God, Bernard De Voto's Year of Decision:1846, and Robert Leckie's From Sea to Shining Sea are just a few. The story is, obviously, always the same but I have never read a better interpretation of those events than this fine work by Winston Groom. He just does a much better job of weaving the parts and pieces of this story into an integrated whole. As a result, regardless of your personal view of what occurred (whether you are for or against what transpired) or your previous familiarization with this story, Groom delivers a much better understanding of the immediacy and materiality of not just what occurred but the speed with which it all came about.
In four short years the United States added California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada and parts of Utah and Colorado to its country. Never once did Mexico's armed forces win a major engagement. As the author states in his last sentence, from the day Stephen Kearney rode out of Fort Leavenworth, wherever he went became the United States of America.
Very well done.
As a Kerney myself (Stephen Watts Kearny is a relative of mine), I bought this book as soon as I saw it on a bookshelf.
Overall, I'd characterize the book as being a very exciting read, with Groom putting a human face on all the different threads of history going on at once during the "Year of Decision" (1846) the book covers. I'm reasonably familiar with the events of the Mexican-American War, but I learned a great deal of new information reading this book.
That said, the book is very strangely biased. Groom comes across as, strange as it sounds, a credulous observer writing from 1800s America himself. He stylizes the Americans as "having steel in their eye" whereas the Mexicans possess "strange tentacles of Catholicism" and have "crypto-Jews who light candelabras without knowing its meaning". Which is a pretty odd bias to have, honestly, in this day and age. At least he treats the Mormons well.
My biggest beef with him, though, is over his treatment of John C. Fremont. My suspicion is that because he has a relative named after Fremont, and was therefore his hook into this entire story, he buys into all the doggedly self-promoted hype that Fremont built up about himself over the years. The honest fact is, however, "The Great Pathfinder" was a terrible pathfinder. He had no wilderness survival skills to speak of, ignored people who told him he was going the wrong way, and twice brought expeditions manned by himself into complete disaster, getting lost and stuck in the mountains in winter. He only had a great reputation because he had a powerful father-in-law, and because he relentlessly promoted his image as a bold explorer to a credulous American public. Every single time he had a position of power he screwed it up - 1) the conquest of California turned into him getting arrested for mutiny, 2) he twice (as I mentioned) nearly killed everyone on his expeditions due to his stupidity, 3) his presidential bid was a loss and he dropped out halfway the second time, and 4) he was forced to resign as governor of Arizona for incompetence, and 5) his Civil War record was a complete disaster. Yet Groom blithely ignores all of this, openly wondering why someone with such a 'brilliant' record could do so poorly? (Answer: Because John C Fremont was not brilliant. He was a vainglorious idiot who kept getting put into leadership positions above his ability level due to nepotism.) I went to John C. Fremont elementary - we learned all about this guy.
on June 5, 2012
Most histories of the Mexican War focus on Taylor's and Scott's campaigns since these were the determining actions. Some mention is made of others (such as Wool's or Kearny's), but usually in passing. This books largely ignores the two major thrusts into Mexico commanded by Taylor and the second, Scott's march from Veracruz. In that sense, this book brings balance to some of the more prominent history's such as Polk's Army.
What makes the writing entertaining detracts from it as history. The work is not footnoted for source and simplifies ideas to make it more palatable to uninformed readers. For example, early in the book Groom refers to the mounted unit as the First Cavalry, not the First Dragoons. The confusion over the First Dragoons, the First Cavalry, and then the evolution of the First Dragoons into the First Cavalry and the evolution of the First Cavalry into the Fourth Cavalry can be a distraction, but it is critical to understanding the history of the mounted elements of the U.S. Army of the Nineteenth Century.
I would recommend the book, but do so recognizing its shortcomings.
on April 24, 2014
A major story of the famous March across southwest that sealed the deal with Mexico for New Mexico (including what became Arizona) and California.. The entire U S Army and U S Navy was really involved in this time frame and is one of the great stories about the Manifest Destiny of the U S in settling the west. A major historical story of that region and its impact and the growing USA.