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

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Jennings Cover Riding for the Lone Star

On May 6, 1864, during the midst of the Battle of the Wilderness, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s right flank crumbled under a strong Federal attack. As Lee rode about, frantically trying to rally his troops, a new column, wearing gray and butternut, swung into battle formations. Riding up to the force, Lee inquired who the newcomers were and got the reply back they were the famed Texas Brigade. Raising his hat in the air, Lee called out, “Texans always move them!” The Texans surged ahead and stemmed the tide, allowing more reinforcements to be brought up. That martial bearing that brought fame to the Texas Brigade went all the way back to Texas’ founding, and, concerning Texas’ legendary mounted warriors, is the foundation of a new study done by Nathan A. Jennings.

Jennings’ work, Riding for the Lone Star: Frontier Cavalry and the Texas Way of War, 1822-1865, is a survey study that explains how Texans fought and how their warfare changed over the span of about four decades. Jennings focuses on the evolution of mounted Texans, first fighting against hostile Native Americans, and then Mexicans, and finally, in the Civil War, U.S. forces. In the book’s introduction, Jennings explains, “Of all Texan military organizations that fought in the nineteenth century, mounted rangers emerged as the iconic manifestation of their society’s way of war in form, concept, and perception” (4).

Riding for the Lone Star brings early Texan history and the military history of its early fighters to the forefront. Readers are introduced to the likes of Sam Houston, “Deaf” Smith, John C. Hays, Sam Walker, and Ben McCulloch. These men fought, and fought hard, in seven distinct eras of combat.

The bulk of the book focuses on Texas’ fight for independence from Mexico in the 1830s, and the on-going raids between Mexico and Texas in the lead-up of the Mexican-American War. Jennings’ book finishes with the Civil War, when, Jennings points out, “the state potentially held 100,000 to 110,000 eligible recruits at the onset of the Civil War,” of which “between 60,000 and 90,000 Texan men, stunningly large proportions in any era, provided military service during the rebellion” (285).

Jennings’ book doesn’t just give an excellent overview of the large, well-known battles like San Jacinto in 1836 or Palmetto Ranch in 1865, but also spends time going over the plethora of small, individual unit actions where Texans learned the way of war and learned to compete on horseback as well-seasoned cavalry and rangers.

Throughout the book, Jennings is especially poised to analyze the Texans’ way of mounted war, having himself commanded the 21st century equivalent of mounted units and armored forces in recent combat roles in Iraq, as well as having taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

While this book is not a strict study about the Civil War, which we usually review here at ECW, Jennings’ work does give an excellent background and history on how it came to be that “Texans always move them.”

Nathan A. Jennings
Riding for the Lone Star: Frontier Cavalry and the Texas Way of War, 1822-1865
University of North Texas Press, 2016
402 pages
Endnotes, Bibliography, Index

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