* American history Mexican War northern campaign

Mexican War: Future Civil War Commanders

Figure 1.--Here is one of the many Civil War figures who served in the Civil War. This 1846 Daguerreotyoe portatit shows newly commissioned Brevet Second Lieutenant George B. McClellan in uniform fresh out of West Point posing with his father and brother before shipping out for the Mexican-American War.

The Mexican War was a major factor in the outbreak of the Civil War. It provided cast Western kands that Southern Planters wanted to expand slavery. Cotton could not be grown in the northern states formed from the Louisiana Purchase. Cotton could be grown in Texas and the states ro be formed in the southwest could provide new slave states to ballance out the increasing majority of Free states. Many planters also understood the need for western land because of the degree to which intense cotton cultivation reduced the fertility of the soil. And the growing anti-slavery forces, including Congessman Abragam Lincoln recognized this and opposerd the War. The Mexican War thus undermined the Missouri Compromise which had deescalted sectional discord. The Mexican War is also notable because of the roles played by key figures in the coming American Civil War. Many of the senior figures of the Civil War fought in the Mexican War. It was in Mexico that they got their first taste of combat. Much of what they knew about war was learned in Mexico. It was the Mexican War provided these career ifficers with vital combat experience --somthing which can nit be learnedvin a West Point classroom. Confederates included: Braxton Bragg, Jefferson Davis, Henry Heth, Thomas Jackson, Joseph Johnston, Robert Lee, James Longstreet, and George Pickett. Federal officers included Ulysses Grant, Winfield Hancock, George McClellan, and George Meade. Most of these men seved in minor roles as junior officers. This was not the case of Lee. He was an engineer on Winfield Scott’s staff, becoming part of Scott’s inner circle of officers which became his 'little cabinet'. Scott significantly influenced Lee abd much of his command style came out of his relationship with Scott who at the onset of the Civil War commanded the U.S. Army, aithoring the war-winning Anacinda Plan. One source explains Scott's omprint on Lee. "Scott taught Lee how to command an army in addition to teaching him important tactics and strategies. In Mexico, Lee learned that superior numbers did not guarantee a victory, that one could win with smaller forces by using superior tactics which included creative use of the terrain, surprise, flexibility, and adaptability. Lee took these lessons to heart during the Civil War as he won numerous victories despite inferior manpower by creating a tactical advantage. Scott believed risk-taking was the best way to maximize an advantage. While Scott did not like to throw his troops into battle haphazardly, he preferred offense to defense. Lee matched Scott’s boldness and became a very aggressive and calculated general." Lee admired and respected Scott, not only during the Mexican War, but throughout his career. Scott was convinced that there would not be a civil war. It seems likely that this influenced Lee's decision to side witth Virginia and the Confederacy. That of course is speculation. What is not soeculation is that most of the many of thevCivil War's most effective commanders were the commanders who had fought in Mexico.


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Created: 5:20 AM 10/3/2006
Last updated: 5:20 AM 10/3/2006