The Old Army in War and Peace: West Pointers and the Civil War Era, 1814-1865

Hsieh, Wayne, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Gallagher, Gary, Department of History, University of Virginia
Ayers, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia
Holt, Michael, Department of History, University of Virginia

Wars do not fight themselves. Soldiers require some kind of machinery not only to feed, clothe, and equip themselves in the field, but also to go about the business of killing under conditions of extraordinary confusion and stress. Military organizations make all these tasks possible by using methods that are neither obvious nor easy to learn. Before 1861, a political culture that did its best to obscure questions of military policy with paeans to the citizen-soldier militia had allowed, even compelled, a small cadre of regular army officers to monopolize military competence in the United States. When a sectional war broke out, the raw and disorganized state of the adversaries' volunteer military forces dictated that both combatants draw generals and drillmasters from the old army's leadership cadre. West Pointers then proceeded to channel the course and conduct of the Civil War through the military machinery they had created, maintained, and operated in the old army, and which they bequeathed to the citizen-soldier hosts that contended between 1861 and 1865.

This dissertation focuses on the internal logic of an antebellum past that both imprisoned and empowered Civil War field commanders. The dissertation argues that there is such a thing as military expertise, and that its presence or lack thereof has profound implications for a society in wartime. It hopes to examine the content of American military expertise between 1814 and 1865, ranging from questions of tactics to issues of administration. All in all, American military professionals made impressive achievements in difficult circumstances, hut their isolated state in American society hindered their abilities in a war effort as vast as the Civil War. However, even during that war, the possessed indispensable knowledge that catapulted West Pointers to a station far beyond their regular peace-time eminence.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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