The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 81, July 1977 - April, 1978

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

American Artillery in the Mexican War, r846-1847. By Lester R.
Dillon, Jr. (Austin: Presidial Press, 1975. Pp. xi+ 12o. Introduc-
tion, acknowledgments, preface, maps, illustrations, biographical
sketches, glossary, bibliography, index. $7.95.)
The Mexican War was the first conflict in which the United States
Army had the opportunity to put into action its concept of "flying
artillery" (p. 9). Until the presidency of James Monroe (1816-1824),
little attention had been paid to developing the "long arm" of the
military forces. Monroe's Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, estab-
lished an artillery School of Practice at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. In
1840, Secretary of War for Martin Van Buren, Joel R. Poinsett, ordered
the Ordnance Department "to develop or procure a whole new family
of artillery weapons of the most advanced design" (p. ix). From this
order stemmed the family of artillery weapons used in the war against
Mexico and the publication of the Ordnance Manual of 1841. The
light field artillery battery, one of the results of the emphasis placed
upon the development of the artillery arm, was capable of rapid fire
and speedy maneuver. It played an important role in Zachary Taylor's
victories in northern Mexico. Although flying artillery batteries ac-
companied Winfield Scott on his campaign against Mexico City, they
were found less useful (due principally to the terrain) in the battles
of Central Mexico.
The author discusses only in very general terms the North Mexico
and Central Mexico military campaigns, and he dismisses completely
the Far West campaign, probably because of the minor role that the
artillery played in the California engagements and on Stephen Kearny's
march west from Fort Leavenworth. This reviewer does not dispute
the author's contention that the "United States artillery. . . . proved
itself the most efficient arm in determining the outcome of battles [in
the Mexican War]" (p. 60).
A brief description of the organization of the U.S. Artillery at the
time of the Mexican War precedes the discussion of the military cam-
paigns. The crown jewels of the artillery arm were the five companies
of light field artillery, generally referred to as "flying artillery." These
elite batteries of 6-pounder bronze smooth bores were commanded
by Captains Braxton Bragg, James Duncan, Samuel Ringgold, Francis
Taylor, and John M. Washington. One of the most famous utterances
of American history has been attributed to the general, addressing
the commander of one of these flying batteries, Braxton Bragg, at the
battle of Buena Vista in February, 1847. When Bragg asked army

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 81, July 1977 - April, 1978. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101205/. Accessed July 29, 2014.