Few historical figures are as inextricably linked as Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. But less than two decades before they faced each other as enemies at Appomattox, they had been brothers -- both West Point graduates, both wearing blue, and both fighting in the same cadre in the Mexican War. They were not alone: Sherman, Davis, Jackson nearly all of the Civil War's greatest soldiers had been forged in the heat of Vera Cruz and Monterrey. The Mexican War has faded from our national memory, but it was a struggle of enormous significance: the first U.S. war waged on foreign soil; and it nearly doubled our nation.
At this fascinating juncture of American history, a group of young men came together to fight as friends, only years later to fight as enemies. This is their story. Full of dramatic battles, daring rescues, secret missions, soaring triumphs and tragic losses, The Training Ground is history at its finest.
Dugard (The Last Voyage of Columbus) offers a fast-paced, colloquially written account of the Mexican War of 1848, constructed around the experiences of the U.S. Army's corps of junior officers. Shaped by the common experience of West Point and tempered by battle, these comrades in arms (including Lee, Grant, Davis and Sherman) matured into the leading generals and statesmen on both sides of the Civil War. Dugard introduces others as well, from Union artilleryman Henry Hunt to Confederate icon Stonewall Jackson, who also learned their craft fighting the Mexicans. At the war's end, commanding general Winfield Scott saluted West Point's graduates as the key to America's victory over Mexico. The image of a band of brothers transformed into enemies by conscience and politics is a familiar trope of the Civil War, but Dugard's spirited narrative animates a group of men whose force of character, professional skill and ability to think outside conventional limits revitalized the sclerotic army. Readers will conclude this book with reinforced awareness of why the Civil War was so long and so bitterly fought: because, as Dugard shows, the contending armies were shaped and led by a remarkably capable and experienced body of officers.