The Mexican conflict would catapult a general into the White House as the ongoing campaign saw young officers such as U.S. Grant and R.E. Lee sharing headlines with a deserting Cannoneer, John Riley.
Cursed as a traitor by West Point Southerners who’d eventually desert the Union themselves, Riley, with his Irish blood and age-old religion, proved too strong. He joined the Mexicans, taking along hundreds of Irish-Catholic soldiers. This story is told by two teenage eyewitnesses on opposite sides of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. The reader participates in the birth of the historic Saint Patrick Battalion and endures its stalwart defenses and even glorious defeats. With that defeat, dozens of Riley’s men were tortured, hanged and branded for life. When the reporter Padraic Quinn, the young original American diarist, comes to Mexico in 1860, he has a serendipitous meeting with a survivor of the Chapultepec Cadets who also knew Riley. But where that heroic, battered and branded hero went, neither ever knew. —William Garwood