Book Review: The Great Call-Up: The Guard, the Border, and the Mexican Revolution


by Charles H. Harris III & Louis R. Sadler,

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 650. Illus., maps, table, appends, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0806146451

The First Test of the National Guard

The authors of several works on the cross-border aspects of the Mexican Revolution take on one of the most important and yet most neglected facets of those incidents, the role of the National Guard on the border in 1916. Although usually seen as ancillary to Pershing’s expedition to get Pancho Villa, the call-up, the first test of the recently reorganized militia, was actually in response to invasion threats by some Mexican leaders and the “Plan de San Diego” Mexican-American insurgency.

The book opens with several chapters that set the scene, including the outbreak and course of the Mexican Revolution, initial border problems and the limited call-up of New Mexico and Texas guardsmen, the rising tensions between the Mexico and the U.S., including Villa’s raid on New Mexico and the unraveling of the Plan de San Diego, which resulted in the decision to call out the National Guard.

The bulk of the book covers the activation of the Guard, concentration, deployment to the border, assignment to various posts from Brownsville to California, and the performance of the troops. Each chapter covers a particular sector of this long frontier, and the experience of the troops assigned there; which conveniently allows the authors to deal with each state contingent on an individual basis. We learn that some states were very ill-prepared, with units understrength, poorly equipped, and often largely untrained; New Mexico, it turns out, had to recruit many Texans to meet its quota, while the Texas Guard had a problem with corruption! On the other extreme, some states, fielded well-equipped, well-trained units, most notably Pennsylvania and New York, which each sent a full division; New York’s division was in fact being the most properly organized and equipped division, Regular or Guard, on the border. 

While covering the military movements, the authors also look at Regular Army hostility to the Guard, civil-military relations, racial interactions, and discipline and health. There’s useful coverage of the increasing motorization of the Army and its first practical use of airplanes, plus the Army’s initial refusal to accept National Guard air units. 

The authors also give us a look at some notable soldiers now largely forgotten, such as Frederick Funston, James Parker, J. Franklin Bell, and John O’Ryan, as well as some would later become rather well known, such as Robert Lee Bullard, Douglas MacArthur, William Donovan, and Dwight Eisenhower. The authors end the book with some comments on the influence of the call-up to the future of the National Guard.

The Great Call-Up, which was a nominee for the NYMAS 2015 Arthur Goodzeit Award, is a valuable work, not just because it covers the first test of the National Guard’s value as a military asset, a tale never before told, but also because of its treatment of a neglected crisis in Mexican-American relations.


Note: The Great Call-up is also available in paperback, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-8061-5592-0    


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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