Academic journal article Military Review

The Mexican War Correspondence of Richard Smith Elliott

Academic journal article Military Review

The Mexican War Correspondence of Richard Smith Elliott

Article excerpt

THE MEXICAN WAR CORRESPONDENCE OF RICHARD SMITH ELLIOTT edited by Mark L. Gardner and Marc Simmons. 304 pages. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK. 1997. $20.97.

This amazing work, depicting a little-known military expedition in an under-studied war, brings to life a 19th-century campaign as seen through a junior officer's eyes. Richard Smith Elliott, a newspaper writer and editor who, at the start of the Mexican-American war, was elected a lieutenant in a company of Missouri volunteers, used his military duty as an opportunity to report on the progress of General Stephen Watts Kearny's Army of the West as it marched from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory. Described by a historian as "one of the earliest American war correspondents," Elliott did his job well, writing dispatches for the St. Louis, Missouri, Reveille. His 70 field reports shed insight on the expedition and are richly entertaining. They combine to form a sort of military travelogue.

Although it would strike any modern-day soldier as a strange arrangement, Elliott intended all along to report on the expedition's progress while also serving as a volunteer officer, which he did mainly to "acquire a sort of right to talk against the war in the future." His reports begin early in his company's-the Laclede Rangers-formation. He described the hasty nature of the raising and outfitting of the mostly volunteer army (the only regular forces attached were several companies of the First US Dragoons). He honestly discusses the volunteers' shortcomings in discipline and military knowledge, which he found wanting when compared with regulars.

Although a volunteer himself, he leaves no doubt about which side he takes in the l9th-century debate about the quality and use of volunteers. …

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