Book Review: Riding for the Lone Star: Frontier Cavalry and the Texas Way of War, 1822-1865


by Nathan Jennings

Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2016. Pp. vi, 404. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1574416359

Defending Texas

An active duty Armor officer and former instructor at West Point, Jennings, who has written extensively on contemporary and historical military issues, argues that the American settlers in what became the Republic and then the State of Texas developed a “distinctive way of war” based on mounted forces supplemented by volunteers and emergency militia, in order to cope with the dual threats of Native American raids and, from the Revolution of 1835 onwards, conventional Mexican forces, which served well through the end of the Civil War.

Jennings devotes one chapter to the American colonists in Mexican Texas in the period from the early 1820s through 1835, who were invited in partially to bolster the defense of the province from Indian raids, and began organizing militia forces to supplement the small Mexican military garrison, which was unable to protect isolated settlements. There follows a chapter on the military experience of the Texas war for independence (1835-1836), a conventional conflict that required a rather conventional mass mobilization, mostly of militiamen supplemented by the Texas Rangers and a small regular army.

Jennings then devoted three chapters to cover the years of the Republic (1835-1845), during which sporadic Indian raids and Mexican incursions required quick response by highly mobile forces. Despite the Rangers and efforts to raise a regular army, reliance was largely on the militia, which was rather less successful than Jennings suggest, given the Republics Native American and Mexican foes were intent on raiding, rather than occupying, and thus real clashes were usually inconclusive.

Jennings then gives us a chapter on the role of Texas forces in the Mexican-American War, another on frontier defense during Texan statehood, a matter which absorbed about a fifth of the U.S. Regular Army as well as the Texas Rangers and militiamen, and one on the role of Texas’s military forces in the Civil War.

Jennings makes a good case for the usefulness of the combination of small bodies of professional troops – the mounted Rangers and the army – supplemented by militiamen and volunteers. There is, however, rather too much Texas pride here. He overlooks the old Spanish presidial frontier security model, with mounted regulars supplemented by provincial militia, which in part resembles the later Texas system. Jennings also ignores the frequent Texian provocations that sparked Mexican or Indian incursions, overlooks atrocities by Texas troops in the Mexican War, and overstates the role of Texas cavalry in the Civil War, during which far too many regiments were raised, and large numbers of Texas cavalrymen, lacking horses, served as infantry.

A volume in the UNT “American Military Studies” series, Riding for the Lone Star is unbalanced. Nevertheless it is a useful read for its accounts of many small actions and for the internal political, economic, and social forces that produced this interesting frontier security system and shaped the Texas military role in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.


Note: Riding for the Lone Star is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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