A Short Review: The Rogue’s March: John Riley and the St. Patrick’s Battalion, 1846-48
The Rogue’s March: John Riley and the St. Patrick’s Battalion, 1846-48 by Peter F. Stevens, (Potomac Books 2005) is a book that should be read by anyone who loves Irish history and heroes. This very fine read is much more than just an historical account—it is an expose and condemnation of individual, philosophical, and governmental actions and policy during a crucial and volatile period of American history. Stevens’ research reveals many facts, files and other evidence that were previously unknown or denied in the myth-making that followed our “victory” in the Mexican War.
The back cover has this summary: “The Rogue’s March is the controversial true story of the U.S. Army deserters—the majority of them Irish immigrants—who fought valiantly for Mexico during the Mexican War.”
This book is also a vindication, a story of the Irish in America—of their suffering and persecution in their immigrant experience. It is a book that will make you rethink what you’ve been taught about the building of America, the people of Mexico, our war with Mexico, and especially the plight and predicament of the Irish-American in the mid-19th century. The book is rich in allusions and in historical details that make John Riley and the men of the St. Patrick’s Battalion come alive. The 301 page book does include some photos, an appendix listing the men of the brigade, and excellent notes and bibliography.
I’ve already made a previous post concerning the St. Patrick’s Brigade, but once again I must say that this is a story that should be told, a story that has touched my own heart deeply. I wonder: If I had been an Irishman of those days, persecuted for my faith, denied citizenship in the U. S. assaulted, abused and even tortured almost daily by Nativist officers, if I had been offered a commission, land, and freedom to worship, would I have taken the deal Mexico offered them? Perhaps I too would have gone over the hill to “march into the war’s major battles beneath a green silik banner emblazoned with gold-threaded images of St. Patrick, the harp of Erin, and a shamrock” (2). Here’s an interesting fact that Stevens brings out: “Of the nearly 40,000 regulars who saw duty during the conflict, a stunning 5,331, nearly 13 percent of the ranks—deserted” (3).
Of course, the U.S. won the Mexican War. Concerning the captured Irishmen serving as Mexican soldiers, the fifty who were hanged, and the fourteen who were whipped savagely and branded with D’s on their cheeks, (Riley had both cheeks branded) I would have to agree with Mexico that these men were heroes and deserve to be honored—not only in Mexico, but wherever the stories of Irish heroes are told.