One of the leading writers of historical fiction, Jeff Shaara follows his popular bestsellers, Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, with his latest novel, Gone For Soldiers. This prequel of sorts explores the early careers of several legendary military figures of the Mexican-American War who would achieve prominence 13 years later in the Civil War. Like his Pulitzer Prize-winning father Michael, Shaara relies heavily on information gleaned from the diaries, letters, and journals of his principal characters, Captain Robert E. Lee and Major General Winfield Scott.
While the Mexican War had few major battles, there was substantial loss of life after General Santa Anna's initial confrontation with the American forces under the command of General Zachary Taylor. The outmanned Taylor wisely used his artillery to devastate the Mexican army, especially its cavalry. His victories were eventually trumped, however, by the brutal terrain of northern Mexico and the opposition's knowledge of the territory. At that critical point, Scott offered a bold move to break the impasse by attacking the enemy from the sea, driving a spearhead through the vital port of Vera Cruz to the nation's capital.
Shaara understands that the joy of reading these novels for military buffs and fans of Americana comes in the analytical depiction of battle techniques and the key players involved. He takes his readers into their heads, detailing their strengths and weaknesses and how each of them wrestles with the endless crises of battle.
If Scott proves the old master of tactics, then Lee is shown to be the perfect pupil as a 40-year-old engineer who has never experienced combat. It is to Shaara's credit that he is able to depict the evolving relationship between the pair with such skill and depth.
Gone for Soldiers is an inspiring historical yarn of courage, ingenuity, and sacrifice that depicts the growing pains of young America at a political and military crossroads.
Robert Fleming is a journalist in New York City.