Major John Henshaw, a dutiful regimental officer in the American invasion of Mexico, was one of only a handful of eyewitnesses to describe the two major theaters of that war from start to finish. But unlike most of his peers, he did not see himself as a conquering warrior and took pride in never having taken a life. He even wrote, “If I were alone, no earthly power could induce me to lend a helping hand in this base and infamous war.”
This book presents Henshaw’s recollections for the first time, covering all the action from the first skirmish in southern Texas to the collapse of Mexico City. As a member of the Seventh Infantry Regiment, this pugnacious line officer from New England served under both of the war’s principal generals, Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, and survived seven major battles. His writings constitute a virtual “minority opinion” report on the Mexican War.
Henshaw’s recollections include a rare and highly descriptive account of the siege of Fort Texas (later Fort Brown), plus rich new details of the storming of the Bishop’s Palace at Monterrey, the bombardment of Veracruz, the assault on Cerro Gordo, and the savage fighting outside the capital. His records of battles, marches, and maneuvers greatly augment what is already known about the campaign, but in addition to reporting daily occurrences and describing combat in graphic detail, Henshaw also reflected on the strategies and tactics—and what he saw as shortcomings—of officers on both sides.
Bitingly critical of those in command, of American volunteers, and of the war’s glory hounds, Henshaw admired the valor of ordinary soldiers on both sides of the fighting. And in the midst of the carnage, he also found time to describe Mexico’s cities and scenery in rhapsodic prose and express considerable empathy for its people. In addition to the “Recollections,” the volume includes vivid passages from letters Henshaw sent back to his wife, which supply additional details of the campaign. Editor Gary Kurutz provides an extensive biography of Henshaw, as well as comprehensive annotations to the text.
What Henshaw may have lacked as an unquestioning officer he more than made up for as an astute observer. Offering a decidedly different view of this war of American expansion, these writings with their balanced approach lend a fresh perspective among other primary sources and paint a startlingly honest picture of both Americans fighting abroad and those they fought.