On Volunteers in the Mexican War
George B. McClellan, USA
5 December 1846
...I was perfectly disgusted coming down the river. I found that every confounded Voluntario in the "Continental Army" ranked me-to be ranked and put aside for a soldier of yesterday, a miserable thing with buttons on it, that knows nothing whatever, is indeed too hard a case. I have pretty much made up my mind that if I cannot increase my rank in this war, I shall resign shortly after the close of it. I cannot stand the idea of being a Second Lieutenant all my life. I have learned some valuable lessons in this war. I am (I hope and believe) pretty well cured of castle building. I came down here with high hopes, with pleasing anticipations of distinction, of being in hard fought battles and acquiring a name and reputation as a stepping stone to a still greater eminence in some future and greater war. I felt that if I could have a chance I could do something; but what has been the result-the real state of the case? The first thing that greeted my ears upon arriving off Brazos was the news of the battle of Monterey-the place of all others where this Company and its officers would have had an ample field for distinction. There was a grand miss, but, thank heaven, it could not possibly have been avoided by us. Well, since then we have been dodging about-waiting a week here-two weeks there for the pontoon train-a month in the dirt somewhere else-doing nothing-half the company sick-have been sick myself for more than a month and a half-and here we are going to Tampico. What will be the next thing it is impossible to guess at. We may go to San Luis-we may go to Vera Cruz-we may go home from Tampico we may see a fight, or a dozen of them-or we may not see a shot fired. I have made up my mind to act the philosopher-to take things as they come and not worry my head about the future-to try to get perfectly well-and above all things to see as much fun as I can "scare up" in the country.
I have seen more suffering since I came out here than I could have imagined to exist. It is really awful. I allude to the sufferings of the Volunteers. They literally die like dogs. Were it all known in the States, there would be no more hue and cry against the Army, all would be willing to have so large a regular army that we could dispense entirely with the volunteer system. The suffering among the Regulars is comparatively trifling, for their officers know their duty and take good care of the men.
I have also come to the conclusion that the Quartermaster's Department is most wofully conducted-never trust anything to that Department which you can do for yourself. If you need horses for your trains, etc., carry them with you. As to provisions (for private use) get as much as possible from the Commissaries-you get things from them at one-half the price you pay sutlers. Smith has ridden over to Brazos de Santiago to endeavor to make arrangements for our immediate transportation to Tampico. Captain Hunter went with him on my mare. They return in the morning. Whilst at Camargo, Smith had a discussion with General Patterson about his (General Patterson's) right to order us when en route to join General Taylor, under orders from Head Quarters at Washington. The General was obliged to succumb and admit the truth of the principle "That an officer of Engineers is not subject to the orders of every superior officer, but only to those of his immediate chief, and that General (or other high officer) to whom he may be ordered to report for duty."
There goes Gerber with his tattoo-so I must stop for the present.
William Starr Myers, ed. The Mexican War Diary of George B. McClellan. (Princeton: 1917), pp. 16-21.