[TEXAS]. THORPE, Thomas Bangs. Our Army on the Rio Grande. Being a Short Account of the Important Events Transpiring from the Time of the Removal of the “Army of Occupation” from Corpus Christi, to the Surrender of Matamoros; With Descriptions of the Battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, The Bombardment of Fort Brown, and the Ceremonies of the Surrender of Matamoros: With Descriptions of the City, etc. etc. Illustrated by Twenty-Six Engravings. By T.B. Thorpe, Author of “Tom Owen, the Bee Hunter;” “Mysteries of the Back Woods,” etc. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1846. , [i-v] vi-ix,  12-196, 1-19  pp. (final 20 pp. are inserted ads), illustrated title with view of Fort Brown, frontispiece, 8 engraved plates, engraved text illustrations (including full-page map). 12mo (18.7 X 12 cm), modern half tan smooth calf over black cloth, spine with raised bands and brown morocco label. Top blank margin of title missing, paper friable with some leaves moderately browned, last few leaves lightly waterstained.
Our Army on the Rio Grande [illustration entitled Interior of Fort Brown. The Graves of Major Brown and Lieut. Stevens at the Foot of the Flagstaff]. Philadelphia: Carey And Hart, 1846. 9.5 x 7.8 cm. Kelsey 3.94
Plan of Matamoros, Fort Brown, and Surrounding Country. 10.6 x 8.8 cm. Page 50. Kelsey 3.98
 Fall of Major Ringgold. [inside image area] Gilbert & Gihon. 8.8 x 15.5 cm. Frontispiece. Kelsey 3.93
 Point Isabel, from Brazos Santiago. [inside image area] Gilbert & Gihon. 9 x 15.3 cm. Kelsey 3.95
 Brasos Santiago—Entrance to the Bay of Point Isabel. [inside image area] Gilbert & Gihon. 8.6 x 15.4 cm. Kelsey 3.96
 Battle Field, Palo Alto—Mexican Army Drawn Up in Battle Array. [inside image area] Gilbert & Gihon. 8.7 x 15.1 cm. Kelsey 3.99
 Battle Field of Resaca de la Palma. [inside image area] Gilbert & Gihon. 8.6 x 15.1 cm. Kelsey 3.100
 Gen. Taylor’s Head Quarters, Near The City of Matamoros. [inside image area] Gilbert & Gihon. 8.7 x 15.4 cm. Kelsey 3.102
 View of Matamoros, From Fort Brown [inside image area] Gilbert & Gihon. 8.3 x 14.1 cm. Kelsey 3.103
 Window of a Private House. Family Looking out at the American Troops Marching by. [inside image area] Gilbert & Gihon. 9.8 x 7.5 cm. Kelsey 3.106
 Unfinished Cathedral, Plaza Matamoros. [inside image area] Gilbert & Gihon. 8.7 x 14.4 cm. Kelsey 3.107
First edition. This work was published in two separate issues. The one here is known as the “Cheap Edition.” The so-called “Fine Edition” contained 300 pages, with everything past p. 196 made up of official reports Thorpe had gathered. Both are from the same setting of type through page 196. According to an ad in the back of this copy, the “Cheap Edition” is about 200 pages, in paper covers, at 50 cents; the larger edition was 300 pages, 16mo, in gilt cloth, for a dollar, or in paper covers at 75 cents. An unspecified issue on fine paper is also advertised. The book was published about October, 1846. BAL 20303. Basic Texas Books 205. Braislin Sale 1784. Connor & Faulk 109. Garrett & Goodwin, pp. 143-144. Haferkorn, p. 53. Howes T236. Raines, p. 204. Sabin 95665. Tutorow 3447. On Thorpe, see: DAB; Groce & Wallace, pp. 628-629; Lamar, Reader's Encyclopedia of the American West, pp. 1179-1180.
Thorpe was a non-combatant in the Mexican-American War, merely following the Army as a reporter. He had ready access, however, to the highest levels of the United States’ officer corps, who provided him with much of the material found in this work, which covers only the battles on Texas soil and action up to the surrender of Matamoros. Despite its value as a reportage of the War, the work is at bottom almost anecdotal and telegraphic. Many incidents are told with humor, and his view towards the Mexican soldiery is obvious even in the Index, where one finds such entries as “Mexican valor” and “Glory of the Mexican arms,” both of which are ironic references. Other flashes of humor are present in his surprise upon first seeing a hairless Mexican dog (p. 154) and his description of the largest “deer” in Mexico, which was in fact a cow the soldiers killed against orders but which was adjudged by a court martial to be a huge deer with smooth horns (p. 168).
The humor is sometimes almost appalling. Despite the grimness of his fate, the death of one Sergeant Weigart is related with some relish. After having been killed by a cannon ball to the head, Weigart is removed to a hospital tent, which itself is almost immediately struck by a cannon round that succeeds in finishing the job by blowing the unfortunate sergeant’s head completely off without injuring another person. As Thorpe remarks, as if the lesson isn’t obvious enough: “An incident so strange, is hardly recorded in history” (p. 54). On the other hand, Thorpe does expend much ink relating the honorable and brave deaths of many United States officers, all of which is done with appropriate solemnity. (Eight text illustrations show graves, and one appendix contains obituaries, including Major Jacob Brown, namesake of Brownsville Texas.) He does not extend the same courtesy to the Mexican foe, however, even deriding one unnamed officer as a coward and skulker (pp. 163-164).
Thorpe’s book contains fairly early engravings of scenes in Texas, including Resaca de Palma and Palo Alto, the two battles fought on Texas soil. In addition to his writing and journalism, Thorpe painted landscapes and portraits, exhibiting at the American Academy as early as 1833. Gilbert & Gihon engraved the plates in this book after Thorpe’s original art work. Except for the frontispiece, the author sketched his subjects “from nature.” Hamilton (Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers, p. xxxiv) comments that Gilbert & Gihon produced excellent work in the 1830s and 1840s. Most of the text illustrations are unsigned, but at least one is signed by Baker, who went on to create California letter sheets and Sacramento Illustrated (the first illustrated history of Sacramento).
Although originally aspiring to be an artist and painter, Thorpe (1815-1878) turned to writing after he moved to New Orleans in 1836 to recover his health. He remained there until 1854, when he removed to New York City, where he lived out his life except for a brief period of service with the Union Army back in Louisiana. He is remembered today principally as an originator of Southern humor, particularly the tall tale and the hunting story. Much of the nuance for detail and shading that he brought to his art work may also be found in his writing, and he is a skilled portrayer of scenes and people.
Sold. Hammer: $325.00; Price Realized: $398.12.