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[13] could to-day discharge with ease the duties of a common soldier in any arm of the service; and in the shock of encountering steel, few men would be more formidable, whether on horseback or on foot.

At the close of his student-life, a new impulse had been given to the military spirit of the country, and of the army especially, by the breaking out, a few weeks previously, of the Mexican War. The brilliant victories of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma (May 8 and 9, 1846), gained against immense odds, had shed new lustre upon American arms, and opened to the officers of the army the prospect of a more congenial and animating employment than the dreary monotony of a frontier post or a harbor fort. McClellan went at once into active service as brevet second lieutenant of engineers, and was assigned to duty as junior lieutenant of a company of sappers and miners1

1 Sappers and miners form a part of the Corps of Engineers. They are employed in building and repairing permanent fortifications, in raising field redoubts and batteries, in making gabions and fascines, in digging trenches and excavating galleries of mines during sieges, and also in forming bridges of rafts, boats, and pontoons. Their duties require higher qualities, mental and physical, than those of the common soldier. A sapper and miner must have a strong frame, a correct eye, steady nerves, and a certain amount of education. It may be well to add, for the benefit of civilians, that gabions are baskets made of twigs, which are filled with earth and used as screens against an enemy's fire; that fascines are bundles of twigs, fagots, and branches of trees which are used to fill up ditches, form parapets, &c.; and that pontoons are a kind of flat-bottomed boat carried along with an army for the purpose of making temporary bridges.

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