The Rogue’s March : John Riley and the Saint Patrick’s Battalion by Peter F. Stevens is the true story of the US Army deserters who fought valiantly as a Mexican Army unit during the American – Mexican War of 1846 – 48.
Mr. Stevens does a good job of detailing this particularly dark time in the nation’s history, providing plenty of general context and individual examples, all of it evoked from official military reports and the even more telling letters of soldiers, both loyal and deserter. While the anti-Catholic bigotry was widespread throughout the officer class of the military, there were notable exceptions. Lee and Sherman, two young men who would eventually face off during the American Civil War, were two of these more noble-minded officers who refused to engage in the bigoted cruelties of their fellows.
What really struck me about this particular slice of history however was not what the Americans did and didn’t do. I was appalled at the utter incompetence of the Mexicans. It was, by any metric, their war to win. The Mexican forces had the numbers, the training, the arms, the supply lines and several hundred hundred American deserters (scores of excellent canon teams among them) ready, willing and eager to make their former comrades pay dearly for the abuses they suffered at their hands – and still, the Mexican forces were roundly defeated!
(I suspect that same class-entrenched incompetence is still running things in Mexico today, forcing so many of their citizens to try their luck north of the border.)
At any rate, this controversial and tragic tale of John Riley and his Saint Patrick’s Battalion was nearly forgotten due to a combination of suppression by the US government and its eclipsing by the American Civil War that followed it. You couldn’t really blame the government for wanting to forget the whole scandalous affair which plagued Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott with a stunning 13% desertion rate. Neither could you blame Americans for wanting to forget the ugly, anti-Catholic and Nativist movement which found its cruelest expression in the US military.
Fortunately however, Peter F Stevens’ The Rogue’s March does an admirable job of rescuing this episode from obscurity.
On a related note, modern day historical revisionists are working hard at convincing Americans to “Forget The Alamo!”
Let’s not allow them to get away with it.