History, Department of


Date of this Version

April 2006


Paper delivered at the 1st Annual James A. Rawley Graduate Conference in the Humanities, Lincoln, NE. April 8, 2006. Copyright © 2006 Nathan B. Sanderson.


Historians have produced a number of full-length monographs on the Mexican War, yet virtually all of them cover the military action between the capture of Mexico City in September 1847 and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in February 1848 in just a few pages. Overlooked are the soldiers who enlisted for military service, yet did not experience combat. Unnoticed are those whose lives were shaped by time spent in camp, on the march, and fighting boredom, instead of enemies. Many soldiers who dreamed of honor and prestige failed to find even a hint of their naïve dreams. Men who yearned for battlefield glory or the grandeur of heroic service often found themselves pulling garrison duty in a poor, boring, insignificant Mexican village instead. John Towner was one of these men. Seeking fame and adventure, he enlisted in the fall of 1847, though he could never guess how his term of service would turn out.

Towner did not win glory, honor, or treasure. He did not fight in any major battles, engage in any key military movements, speculate about the political ramifications of the army’s actions, advocate Manifest Destiny, or provide outstanding leadership to his fellow troops. Towner’s experiences reflect those of many soldiers who did not see combat, and thus defined war by their time spent in camp and on the march. A study of John Towner’s experiences will demonstrate how non-combat service significantly shaped the lives of many American soldiers in the Mexican War.

Included in

History Commons