Very Rare Account of the Life of a Common Soldier
in the Mexican-American War
398. [MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR]. HARTMAN, G[eorge] W. A Private’s Own Journal: Giving an Account of the Battles in Mexico, under Gen’l. Scott, with Descriptive Scenes, and a Roll of Company E, 2nd Pa. Regiment, with the Age, Height, Occupation and Residence of Officers and Men, also, a Table of Heights and Distances from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico. By G.W. Hartman, a Youth Who Volunteered in His 19th Year. Greencastle, [Pennsylvania]: Printed by E. Robinson, 1849. [1-5] 6-35 [1, blank] pp. (final leaf in expert facsimile). 12mo (17.8 x 10.8 cm), stitched. Professionally washed and restored, edges of first and penultimate leaves neatly reinforced, and facsimile wraps supplied. Exceedingly rare. Copies are located at the Library of Congress and the Wisconsin Historical Society (lacks wraps). Other reported copies (at Yale and at Barry University in Florida) are a photocopy and a microform respectively.
First edition. Cambridge History of American Literature, p. 700. Gardiner, C. Harvey, “Foreign Travelers’ Accounts of Mexico, 1810-1910” in The Americas, Vol. VIII, No. 3, January, 1952, #176 & pp. 321-351. Haferkorn, p. 45. Handley, An Annotated Bibliography of Diaries Printed in English, p. 810. Howes H268 (“aa”). Sabin 30703. Not in Garrett & Goodwin (The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848), Tutorow, and other standard sources in English and Spanish.
This account covers the period January 6, 1847-July 14, 1848. The author, a tailor by trade, volunteered for service when he was nineteen and served until the end of the war in the Westmoreland Guards, which served as Company E, 2nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Of the ninety-four original men in Hartman’s company, only forty-three lived to see the final victory at Mexico City.
The entries are done in typical diary fashion with diurnal entries rather than as a connected narrative. They range from fairly brief entries to more elaborate ones that give considerable detail about events. After landing at Veracruz and participating in the siege, his company went on to fight at Cerro Gordo, Churubusco, Chapultepec, and Mexico City itself. His accounts of those battles constitute valuable eye-witness testimony from a man who was literally in the trenches and on the front lines. Although only a private, he was a literate, wry observer with a good appreciation of overall battle strategy and tactics and of how his unit fit into the greater scheme of the actions he describes. In one caustic comment, Hartman remarks of a troop configuration near Veracruz: “Here Brig. General Pillow exposed his consummate skill by placing one half of the regiment opposite the other, and not more than twenty yards from each other; if we should have fired, doubtless more of our own men would have fallen than the enemy. This was the first and only time I felt like holding my fire in presence of the enemy” (pp. 7-8; original emphasis). However, his long entry for April 18, in which he describes the Battle of Cerro Gordo, is considerably less humorous: “This day we met and routed the enemy with great slaughter; this is one of the bloodiest battles that has been fought since the commencement of this war…. This victory is a bloody one, but still it is glorious” (pp. 11-12). That opinion rapidly changed at Churubusco, which he describes in equal terms as “doubtless…the most bloody, but not the least glorious battle than has been fought in Mexico” (p. 17).
The diary is also quite valuable for the insights it offers into the sometimes difficult life of the everyday soldier during the Mexican-American War. Despite the overall success of U.S. efforts, the individual soldiers themselves were often hungry, hot, tired, and in many ways downright miserable. Frequently they had to sleep in the open and were soaked by rain because there were no tents. Hartman showed admirable patience and fortitude in the face of such situations. At times, appalling accidents occurred. In one instance on September 10, Hartman notes that not even sleeping was safe: “As we were laying down to rest awhile, Edward Hansbury was run over by a cannon wagon; his feet were both severely mashed” (p. 18).
Hartman’s relief at the end of the fighting is palpable: “The glorious stars and stripes are floating triumphantly over the Palace Nacional and the city of the Astecs [sic]. It is a proud and gratifying sight to us poor, used up boys, who have left home and country and everything dear, to witness this sight” (p. 20). But even in peace, the dying continued, some soldiers succumbing to typhus and others murdered by Mexicans. Hartman expresses even greater relief in his final words upon being mustered out: “Happy I do assure you that I am once more a Free Citizen of the United States” (p. 28).
A detailed, interesting history of the author’s regiment can be found in John N. Boucher’s History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906, Vol. I, pp. 271-278).
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