The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999

Book Reviews

borderland studies. The book, though, has broader appeal, and should also be
included in historical/sociological and oral history collections.
Silver City, New Mexico Daniel Mitchell
Shavetails and Bell Sharps: The History of the U.S. Army Mule. By Emmett M. Essin.
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997. Pp. xvii+245. Illustrations,
acknowledgments, introduction, notes, bibliographical essay, index. ISBN o-
8032-1819-2. $37.50, cloth).
The army mule has always been much less glamorous than the cavalryman's
horse, but the pack mule was much more important, even after being chal-
lenged by nineteenth- and twentieth-century mechanical innovations. The mule
has played an honorable and significant role in the military history of the United
States, and Essin's study is an essential contribution to understanding the logis-
tics of the U.S. Army in its wars against native Americans, as well as in other, larg-
er conflicts that preceded the army's mechanization.
Beginning in Florida during the Second Seminole War, a seven-year conflict
that required ten thousand regulars and thirty thousand volunteers to subdue
not more than a thousand male Seminole Indians, the U.S. military learned
many valuable lessons on how to supply troops in the field. The workhorse in
that supply equation was found to be not a horse at all, but the lowly mule.
During the Mexican War, Gen. Zachary Taylor's march on Monterrey was sup-
ported by supplies hauled by nineteen hundred hired pack mules, along with
18o five-mule wagons. Logistics required precise allocation such as "one pack
mule for every eight soldiers, three for company officers, and four to regimental
headquarters. ... Fifty-three wagons carried ammunition; four were reserved for
the medical department and one for the engineers" (p. 23). In all major cam-
paigns in the Mexican War, pack and wagon mules proved themselves to be
superior beasts of burden.
As the army moved West and Southwest over the vast territory acquired from
Mexico, it became readily apparent that infantry troops were ill-equipped to suc-
cessfully combat mounted Plains Indians. Although Congress provided legisla-
tion in 185o authorizing infantry companies to be mounted, companies of foot
soldiers assigned to scouting duty in Texas were mounted on mules as early as
The book's primary thrust, however, is on the use of the mule as a pack ani-
mal, and from the Mexican War through World War II we learn much about mil-
itary procurement, transport, and supply, the bedrock on which military mobili-
ty depends. The last U.S. Army mules were formally mustered out of the service
in December 1956, thus ending 125 years of military reliance on the virtues of
this singular animal. There were abortive efforts in the 1980os to reestablish
"mule units," to be used by special forces; the attempt failed, and its proponents
argued that "image" was the reason for the failure. It was feared too many would
laugh at the notion-but an old mule man from World War II might reply:
"Image be damned ... we have yet to win a war without mules" (p. 202).



Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed November 28, 2015.