Doniphan's Epic March
The 1st Missouri Volunteers in the Mexican War
Modern War Studies
Sales Date: June 28, 1999
344 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: June 1999
In 1846-1847, a ragtag army of 800 American volunteers marched 3,500 miles across deserts and mountains, through Indian territory and into Mexico. There they handed the Mexican army one of its most demoralizing defeats and helped the United States win its first foreign war. Their leader Colonel Alexander Doniphan, also a volunteer, was a “natural soldier” of towering stature who became a national hero in the wake of his wartime exploits.
Doniphan was a small-town Missouri lawyer untrained in military matters when he answered President Polk’s call for volunteers in the war with Mexico. Working from a host of primary sources, Joseph Dawson focuses on Doniphan’s extraordinary leadership and chronicles how the colonel and his 1st Missouri Mounted Regiment helped capture New Mexico and went on to invade Chihuahua. Contending with wildfires, sandstorms, poor provisions, and the threat of attack from Apaches, they eventually came face-to-face with the formidable cannon and cavalry of a much larger Mexican force. Yet, at the Battle of Sacramento, these hardy volunteers outflanked General Jose Heredia’s army and claimed a stunning American victory on foreign soil.
Dawson explores and analyzes the many facets of Doniphan’s exploits, from the decision to proceed to Chihuahua in the wake of the Taos Revolt to the tactics that shaped his victory at Sacramento, describing that battle in heart-stopping detail. He tells how Doniphan’s legal expertise enabled him to supervise America’s first military government administering a conquered land at Santa Fe and highlights Doniphan’s remarkable cooperation with U.S. Army officers at a time when antagonism typified relationships between volunteers and regulars. He also introduces readers to other key personalities of the campaign, from fellow officers Stephen W. Kearny and Meriwether L. Clark to James Kiker, the controversial scout whom Doniphan reluctantly trusted.
Dawson’s thorough account captures the expansionist mood of America in the mid-nineteenth century and helps us understand how American soldiers were motivated by the idea of Manifest Destiny. His portrait of Doniphan and his troops reinforces the importance of the citizen-soldier in American history and provides a new window on the war that changed forever the hopes and dreams of our border nations.
"A compelling and well-researched study of a forgotten hero of one of America’s forgotten wars."—Kirkus Reviews
"Dawson’s careful study should be a valuable addition to the literature of the volunteer soldier in the Mexican War."—Army History
"Dawson has produced a welcome addition to the historiographic record of the Mexican War that should appeal to specialists and interested readers alike."—Southwestern Historical Quarterly
"Dawson is particularly strong in his descriptions of the battles of Brazito and Sacramento, but his book is much more than a traditional ‘battles and leaders’ military history. He does an excellent job, as well, of placing the campaign and its participants firmly in the context not only of the greater war, but of America’s love affair with Jacksonian democracy and the lure of ‘Manifest Destiny.’"—Journal of Arizona History
"Solidly researched and well written, analyzing in depth the military experience of one volunteer commander in the Mexican-American War. Most important, it offers broad conclusions about the role of volunteer officers in American military history."—Journal of the Early Republic
"Dawson articulates and relates the challenges of leading a volunteer force, the importance of good civil-military relationships, and the problems of setting up successful military governments throughout a long military campaign."—Armor
"Reclaims Doniphan’s military reputation and provides insight into the significance of the war with Mexico, a conflict that too often is neglected in the history of the United States."—New Mexico Historical Review
"Alexander Doniphan was a major player in the story of American territorial expansion in the mid-nineteenth century, and here he finally gets his due. This book should appeal to general readers as well as scholars."—Robert W. Johannsen, author of To the Halls of Montezuma: The Mexican War in the American Imagination
"Sheds new light on the significant contributions of Doniphan, a politician-turned-soldier who achieved fame as a bona fide nineteenth-century American hero. This book is a must for historians interested in the politics of conquest and expansionism."—Richard Bruce Winders, Historian and Curator at the Alamo and author of Mr. Polk’s Army: The American Military Experience in the Mexican War
List of Illustrations
Prologue. Two Tall Men: A Legendary Meeting
1. Going Off to War
2. Assembly at Fort Leavenworth
3. Down the Santa Fe Trail to Invade Mexico
4. Military Government in Santa Fe and the Indian Treaties
5. The Battle at Brazito
6. “In the Midst of the Enemy’s Country”
7. The Battle of Sacramento
8. From Chihuahua to the Coast
9. Coming Home a Hero: “American Xenophon”
10. The Hero in the Crisis of the Union
Epilogue. After Doniphan’s Wars