In March 1847, the U.S. Navy delivers eight thousand soldiers on the beaches of Vera Cruz. They are led by the army's commanding general, Winfield Scott, a heroic veteran of the War of 1812, short tempered, vain, and nostalgic for the glories of his youth. At his right hand is Robert E. Lee, a forty-year-old engineer, a dignified, serious man who has never seen combat.
Scott leads his troops against the imperious Mexican dictator, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. Obsessed with glory and his place in history, Santa Ana arrogantly underestimates the will and the heart of Scott and his army. As the Americans fight their way inland, both sides understand that the inevitable final conflict will come at the gates and fortified walls of the ancient capital, Mexico City.
Cut off from communication and their only supply line, the Americans learn about their enemy and themselves, as young men witness for the first time the horror of war. While Scott must weigh his own place in history, fighting what many consider a bully's war, Lee the engineer becomes Lee the hero, the one man in Scott's command whose extraordinary destiny as a soldier is clear.
In vivid, brilliant prose that illuminates the dark psychology of soldiers and their commanders trapped behind enemy lines, Jeff Shaara brings to life the haunted personalities and magnificent backdrop, the familiar characters, the stunning triumphs and soul-crushing defeats of this fascinating, long-forgotten war. Gone for Soldiers is an extraordinary achievement that will remain with you long after the final page is turned.
One of the leading writers of historical fiction, Jeff Shaara follows his popular bestsellers, Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, with his latest novel, Gone For Soldiers. This prequel of sorts explores the early careers of several legendary military figures of the Mexican-American War who would achieve prominence 13 years later in the Civil War. Like his Pulitzer Prize-winning father Michael, Shaara relies heavily on information gleaned from the diaries, letters, and journals of his principal characters, Captain Robert E. Lee and Major General Winfield Scott.
While the Mexican War had few major battles, there was substantial loss of life after General Santa Anna's initial confrontation with the American forces under the command of General Zachary Taylor. The outmanned Taylor wisely used his artillery to devastate the Mexican army, especially its cavalry. His victories were eventually trumped, however, by the brutal terrain of northern Mexico and the opposition's knowledge of the territory. At that critical point, Scott offered a bold move to break the impasse by attacking the enemy from the sea, driving a spearhead through the vital port of Vera Cruz to the nation's capital.
Shaara understands that the joy of reading these novels for military buffs and fans of Americana comes in the analytical depiction of battle techniques and the key players involved. He takes his readers into their heads, detailing their strengths and weaknesses and how each of them wrestles with the endless crises of battle.
If Scott proves the old master of tactics, then Lee is shown to be the perfect pupil as a 40-year-old engineer who has never experienced combat. It is to Shaara's credit that he is able to depict the evolving relationship between the pair with such skill and depth.
Gone for Soldiers is an inspiring historical yarn of courage, ingenuity, and sacrifice that depicts the growing pains of young America at a political and military crossroads.
Robert Fleming is a journalist in New York City.