A Short Offhand, Killing Affair: Soldiers and Social Conflict during the Mexican-American War

Article excerpt

A Short Offhand, Killing Affair: Soldiers and Social Conflict during the Mexican-American War. By Paul Foos. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Pp. 223. Introductions, maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, acknowledgments, index. $49.95, cloth; $18.95, paper.)

In A Short Offhand, Killing Affair, Paul Foos uses firsthand accounts from eyewitnesses and newspapers to take a non-conventional look at the Mexican-American War. He concentrates on letters and newspaper articles that highlight many controversial aspects of the use of state volunteers as soldiers. During the war, many volunteer units were accused of committing atrocities against Mexican civilians. Others were victimized by unsavory camp followers and sometimes even their own leaders. Foos hopes to counter the "heroic mode so common in personal and public accounts of the 1840s" (p. 4), present a more balanced view of the Mexican-American War, and offer readers glimpses of antebellum society in a nation struggling with opposing ideals of republican and imperialist thought brought forth under the auspices of manifest destiny.

Foos begins his work by looking at regular army life in the years leading up to the Mexican War and then examines the initial enlistments of volunteers and how their initial expectations of the war in Mexico differed greatly from the realities of their military service. He points out that when soldiers, particularly the volunteers, did not realize their personal expectations of promised land and the glories of war, they took their frustrations out on the Mexican population in the form of rape, pillage, and murder or simply deserted and went home. Foos continues by viewing social and religious conflict within the military as well as within antebellum society. He explains how anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment within the army and the nation effectively prevented the annexation of all of Mexico and ultimately reduced the spoils of manifest destiny. In the final chapter, he examines the homecomings of volunteer soldiers and how their experiences in the army and Mexico decidedly changed an American political system based on the socially and religiously biased ideas and practices of Jacksonian democracy. …