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Gone for Soldiers:
Having chronicled the Civil War in Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, Jeff Shaara casts his eye on the earlier proving ground of the Mexican War in his third novel, Gone for Soldiers. Although it secured the Southwest for a nation emboldened by Manifest Destiny, this two-year conflict has nearly faded into oblivion, eclipsed by the subsequent domestic dispute a dozen years later. Shaara's hallmarks--the deliberations of leaders and the brutal facts of battle--illuminate his engaging diversion into an oft-overlooked struggle in which men who would come to oppose one another fought under a single flag.
The veteran major-general Winfield Scott and an upstart Robert E. Lee anchor Gone for Soldiers. Headstrong, brilliant, and generally distrustful of his less able subordinates, Scott leads the U.S. troops slowly and inevitably toward Mexico City, imparting martial lessons along the way. "The worst consequence of fighting a war is not if you lose, Mr. Lee," he sighs. "The worst thing you can do is win badly." Lee distinguishes himself throughout the campaign, his meticulous scouting and shrewd inferences winning both Scott's admiration and the jealousy of officers whose ambition surpasses their experience. Lee, too, frequently assesses his place in the hierarchy, but he--like Scott--remains more bemused than seduced by the glitter of fame.
This sympathy between the two men grows as Lee observes Scott embroiled in the distracting politics of war: officers salivating for promotion, enemies more preoccupied with saving face than lives, distant legislators issuing directives. If Gone for Soldiers occasionally bogs down during its many lengthy battle scenes, unexpected and delightful small touches arise nearly as often--the "capture" of Mexican leader Santa Anna's wooden leg or the chance encounter between Lee and a young Ulysses S. Grant. Duty-bound and humble, Lee cultivates a perpetual stoicism. "Now we're out here in some place God may not want us to be. It's hard to believe He is happy watching us fight a war," he muses, a sobering coda to the grim calculations of victory. --Ben Guterson [via]