Unpreparedness for War, Part II

The sole practical preparation for war that had been made was the order for Commodore Sloat to seize the California ports if he should learn that war with Mexico had broken out. There had been some conversations between department heads and the appropriate committees of Congress. They had anticipated a war with Great Britain, however, and little action had come from them. Although Polk and his Cabinet had envisaged the possibility of war with Mexico from March 4, 1845, on to May, 1846, they had done nothing to prepare for it. They suffered the illusions of a nation that had not fought a war since 1814, had only fought foreign wars with the navy, and had never fought a war of conquest. The expected the irresistible sharpshooters of Yorktown and New Orleans to spring to arms; in Robert Dale Owen’s phrase, ‘two companies of Kentucky rifles’ could do the job. In June of ’46 the Americans were springing to arms all right, far more of them than could be used, but no one had any idea what to do with them.”