Academic journal article Military Review

SOLDIER-ARTIST OF THE GREAT RECONNAISSANCE: John C. Tidball and the 35th Parallel Pacific Railroad Survey

Academic journal article Military Review

SOLDIER-ARTIST OF THE GREAT RECONNAISSANCE: John C. Tidball and the 35th Parallel Pacific Railroad Survey

Article excerpt

SOLDIER-ARTIST OF THE GREAT RECONNAISSANCE: John C. Tidball and the 35th Parallel Pacific Railroad Survey, Eugene C. Tidball, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2004, 226 pages, $39.95.

Eugene C. Tidball, a distant relative of Lieutenant John C. Tidball (1825-1906)-the prime subject of this book-is a lawyer by trade, and an extensive biographer. A careful and meticulously written history, Soldier-Artist is a refreshing reexamination of the 1853 Arkansas-to-California railroad expedition conducted under the guidance of a survey team headed by Amiel Whipple.

Following the 35th parallel, the expedition set out to map feasible routes and note potential obstacles to a transcontinental railroad. Tidball was assigned to provide security for the team, which consisted of scientists, soldiers, artists, and guides. Tidball's talent as a sketch artist and memoirist proved an unexpected windfall for one of the most important explorations of the American Southwest.

Amplifying our interest in a book about an expedition from two centuries ago is Tidball's newly discovered memoirs. Many of the book's chapter titles are taken from incisive remarks in Tidball's writings: "We Will Be on Mule Meat Before We are Through"; "The Clothes of the Murdered Mexican Were Riddled with Arrows." Yet the author is not solely retelling Tidball's experiences; he also examines and redacts the works of several other participants. The result is a multifaceted history.

Throughout the text, the author features John Tidball's amazing descriptions of weather, topography, flora and fauna, and the responses of Native Americans to this odd conglomerate of men. …

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