To many, history can overwhelm, and in the information age of instant news and events, history can crush you quicker than a tweet. Yet, ironically, as we speed through our daily lives, the appreciation to slow down one’s pace and actually pause to study, breathe, and absorb history has never been more gratifying.
With a renewed interest in the 150th anniversary of The Civil War and the countless of books that chronicle and dissect it, another 19th century war —the Mexican American War (or the First American Intervention)— has begun to gain more scholarly attention. The reasons for this are simple: as the United States of the 21st century grapples with a nation that is clearly getting more Latino and more Spanish-speaking, learning more about the Mexican American War could provide a better historical perspective of our country’s complex relationship with our southern neighbor.
Michael Hogan, author of the exceptional THE IRISH SOLDIERS OF MEXICO —a 1998 edition that is now available in a 2011 e-book and paperback formats— and a foremost expert on the US-Mexico conflict, achieves what very few scholarly historians can accomplish: examine historical events and seamlessly synthesize those events into a prose that is readable, informative, thought-provocative, and perspective-changing.
Hogan’s chronicles of the famed San Patricios, a battalion of mostly Irish Catholic soldiers who deserted the US Army to fight for Catholic Mexico, with an attention to fact and historical detail. Yet at the same time that the reader learns of this heroic group of fighters who valiantly defended the Mexican side even during defeat, Hogan weaves some of the most concise and comprehensive history of the war, from its origins of new Texans rebelling against the Mexican government and exploiting the United States’ belief in expansion to the chronicles of a bloody struggle that claimed thousands of lives.
Not only do we learn of how the San Patricios were seen as heroes to the Mexican forces but betrayers and traitors by the United States (leading to the execution of most San Patricio survivors), we are treated to a glimpse of a time when pre-Cvil Wat America was at a crossroads.
Hogan’ style is direct and to the point. Although he writes like a history professor (just the facts, please, then we can analyze the what), his story does not drown in a wave of references and theories. Instead, Hogan just tells the story and respects his readers to think about those facts. As this paragraph suggests:
Thus it is that little is known in the United States about the group of Irish soldiers who fought for the Mexicans during this war. Shadowy and obscure figures, a barely legible footnote in American history, they enjoy widespread acclaim as heroes in Mexico. They were known as the San Patricio Battalion and they carried in battle a green banner with the Mexican eagle on one side and the image of St. Patrick and “Erin Go Bragh” on the other. These “Soldiers of St. Patrick” were decorated for valor after capturing American cannon at the Battle of Buena Vista, and for a last ditch defense of the Convent of Churubusco in Central Mexico in the final days of the War.
With paragraphs like these, Hogan leads the reader to explore the overarching themes he covers so eloquently in such a brief book (268 pages, notes including): religion, culture, allegiances, politics, ambition (see Santa Anna), anti-war sentiment (see Abraham Lincoln), and loyalty. And his reasons to write about Los San Patricios couldn’t be any clearer:
While the unit was not exclusively Irish nor Catholic, its distinctive flag, its name, the idealism of the group and its esprit de corps was central to the values of both Catholic and Irish which included among others: (a) defending a weaker country against a powerful aggressor; (b) defending a Catholic nation against a Protestant invader; (c) feeling comfortable in the ritual and symbolism of Catholicism as expressed in Mexico; (d) inspired by shared values to transcend whatever individual weaknesses they exhibited prior to their acceptance in the group; (e) willing to fight to the death for what was obviously the losing side.
Hogan delivers with a historical masterpiece, one of the best books about US-Mexican History since John Womack’s ZAPATA AND THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION.
The affinity between Mexico and Ireland is a special one. Just ask The Chieftains and Los Tigres del Norte.
THE IRISH SOLDIERS OF MEXICO can be found on the Condor Books Bookstore.
This post is an official stop during the Irish Soldiers of Mexico Condor Book Tour from Condor Book Tours. Visit Condor at http://condorbooktours.com
FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review from Condor Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.