Monterrey Is Ours! The Mexican War Letters of Lieutenant Dana 1845--1847

edited by Robert H. Ferrell. University Press of Kentucky, $29.00. Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana, a member of the West Point class of 1842, went off to the Mexican War as a second lieutenant, leaving behind a wife to whom he wrote long letters. His editor admits to cutting about 200,000 words of family gossip, discussions arising from the Danas’ mutual carelessness with money, and endearments, although enough of the last survive to indicate that the lieutenant was little hampered by Victorian prudery. He was not burdened by nineteenth-century stylistic affectations either. Much of his lucid, observant text reads as if written today. Between descriptions of dusty or muddy marches, the setting up of camps, and the violence of battles, Dana speculated quite cannily on strategy, denounced incompetent seniors, denigrated Mexicans, admired scenery, and lamented the condition of his wardrobe. It appears that uniforms were reserved for parades and funerals. Otherwise Dana wore what came handy. Blue-checked pants made by his “dearest Sue” and a purple shirt were prominent items in his inventory. It is surprising that these remarkable letters have never before been published, but fortunate that they are now available, with Professor Ferrell’s admirable footnotes, to devotees of American history.