Grant, Sherman, Lee, Longstreet. These are all names familiar to people who have studied the CIvil War. These were the men who fought each other in the most devastating war in United States History. In Training Ground Martin Dugard reminds us that these men were not always enemies. In the war with Mexico these men and many others fought side by side. Training Ground is not a full history of the Mexican War, it is more of a history of the men who fought the war together as young officers and would later command opposing armies. Dugard traces the early biographies of US Grant, James Longstreet, William Sherman, and Robert E. Lee. We see how these men went to West Point and entered into an army that promised very little in the way of a career and promotion.
The primary character in the story is a young US Grant. Each chapter is introduced with a quotation from Grant’s Memoirs. In his later life Grant was highly critical of the actions of the US Government in both provoking a war and then in the way that the Democratic leadership sought to run the war in a highly politicized manner. Of course the young Grant that we meet in these pages is less concerned with the political implication of the war. He is far more interested in getting back home to his love Julia.
The Mexican War was indeed the Training Ground for the Civil War. If you are familiar with the history of the Civil War you can’t help but feel a little sad as you read this book. You know the history of these young, anxious, promising young officers. You know how they will end up opposing each other. Reading this book I couldn’t help but wonder what the US Army would have looked like had the Civil War not occurred. What would have happened if an army commanded by Lee with Grant, Longstreet, Jackson, Sherman, and the others have been able to do. With that much brilliance they could have stood against any army in the world. Instead they were forced by political forces to fight each other.
Training Ground gives a good overview of the Mexican War. It also gives an insight to men who would shape history only thirteen years later. This is something that a lover of American History or the Civil War should enjoy.