In Gone for Soldiers, Jeff Shaara carries us back 15 years before the momentous conflict he has so brilliantly chronicled, to a time when the Civil War's most familiar names are fighting for another cause, junior officers marching under the same flag in an unfamiliar land, experiencing combat for the first time in the Mexican-American War. In March 1847, 8,000 soldiers landed on the beaches of Vera Cruz, led by the army's commanding general, Winfield Scott-a heroic veteran of the War of 1812, short tempered, vain, and nostalgic for the glories of his youth. At his right hand is Robert E. Lee, a forty year-old engineer, a dignified, serious man who has never seen combat. In vivid prose that illuminates the dark psychology of soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, Jeff Shaara brings to life the familiar characters, the stunning triumphs and soul-crushing defeats of this fascinating, long-forgotten war.
Shaara's latest historical novel abandons the Civil War era of his two previous works, Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, which completed a trilogy begun by his father with the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels. Striving this time to reimagine the Mexican-American War of 1847, Shaara paints a respectable if uneven group portrait of the men who fought south of the border. Gen. Winfield Scott--accompanied by future Confederacy leaders Robert E. Lee, George Pickett and Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, and soon-to-be Union Army Gen. Ulysses S. Grant--lands at the port of Vera Cruz, intent on piercing straight through to the heart of Mexico and defeating General Santa Anna. Shaara is at his best when describing the all-too-real horrors of hand-to-hand combat, enveloping the reader in the sounds, smells and realities of battlefield carnage. "Now, when a man dies by your side, you don't expect the man who replaces him to survive either, you don't even want to learn his name. And now, when you march into the guns, you accept that this time it might be you, as if it's already decided." The author sometimes tries to hard to distinguish his characters by their traits, interjecting superfluous details verging on caricature, such as Scott's distaste for veal. "Try never to eat the stuff... Horrible, barbaric. Baby cows." However, a scene describing the delayed hanging of a group of American deserters so that they may watch and cheer the raising of the Stars and Stripes over the castle of Chapultepec is gripping and all too believable. Though the stilted, "in the mind of the soldier" narrative becomes a wearisome contrivance at times, the action scenes are fluid and compelling. 15-city author tour; Random House Large Print, BDD Audio. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 01, 2000
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Excerpt from Gone for Soldiers by Jeff Shaara
IN 1844 THE UNITED STATES IS VERY MUCH A NATION FEELING ITS youth. Since the country was doubled in size by the Louisiana Purchase, there has been a passion for expansion, for pushing the boundaries farther west, a mission to bring the new enlightenment of the "American Ideal" to the entire continent. To politicians in Washington, this expansion is justified not just by an enthusiasm for our system of government, but by official policy. The document is the Monroe Doctrine, and the rallying cry becomes Manifest Destiny, as though it is not only in the nation's best interests to expand our influence, but the best interest of anyone whose culture we might absorb. This practice has already resulted in bloody conflict with several Indian Nations, notably the Seminoles in Florida. It also leads to a showdown with the British over the Oregon Territory, a threat the British defuse by backing away.
In summer 1844 the independent nation of Texas is annexed by the United States. The territory of Texas had been part of Mexico itself, only became independent in 1836 when Mexican leader Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was defeated by Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. This defeat followed Santa Anna's highly publicized massacre of the defenders of the Alamo, in San Antonio.