An American Profession of Arms
The Army Officer Corps, 1784-1861
William B. Skelton
Following the formation of a regular army in 1784, a popular distrust of military power and the generally unsettled nature of national administration kept the army in a continual state of fluctuation, both in terms of organization and size. Few officers were making a long-term commitment to military service.
But by 1860, a professional army career was becoming a way of life. In that year, 41.5 percent of officers had served 30 years, compared to only 2.6 percent in 1797.
“Skelton has successfully recast our understanding of the officer corps in antebellum America. Broadly conceived, thoroughly researched, and well written, his book gives depth and insight into the nineteenth-century effort to build a military establishment.”
—American Historical Review
“Well organized, smoothly written, massively documented, and persuasively argued. It is safe to say the topic will not need the same sweeping treatment again in this generation and probably beyond.”
—Reviews in American HistorySee all reviews...
“Skelton has made an invaluable contribution to the sociology of the American armed forces. His work is admirably researched, well written, and essential reading for all those interested in its subject matter.”
—Journal of Military History
“An unusually rich and rewarding book. . . . This is one of those rare authoritative and original books that all students of military history should read.”
—Civil War History
“Skelton’s book sets a high standard for subsequent studies of the nineteenth-century army.”
—Journal of Southern History
“A model for future studies of the military profession.”
—Journal of American History
“This book is a major work of scholarship, filled with thoughtful evaluations based on broad research. Skelton’s judgments are worth of careful consideration.”
—Armed Forces & Society
“Remarkably insightful and surely definitive. A convincing corrective to Huntington's Soldier and the State, it will take its place beside such classics on the American officer corps as Janowitz's The Professional Soldier and Coffman's The Old Army.”
—Peter Karsten, author of The Naval Aristocracy
“The richness of William Skelton's portrait and the coherence of his analysis meet and exceed the best standard in military history and historical sociology. His work becomes immediately indispensable for understanding the military profession in America.”
—Richard H. Kohn, author of Eagle and Sword: The Beginnings of the Military Establishment in America
“This book advances understanding of the origins of American military institutions a giant step.”
—Christopher McKee, author of A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794–1815
“The definitive study of the early years of an important institution.”
—Edward M. Coffman, author of The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784–1898
“Insightful, sensible, and thoroughly researched. It incorporates existing works—Cunliffe, Coffman, Weigley, Prucha, and others—but adds real depth. Skelton persuades me (and I began with some doubt) that the ante-bellum period was indeed formative of the modern American military profession.”
—John Shy, author of A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American IndependenceSee fewer reviews...
Historians, while recognizing the emergence of a pre-Civil War professional army, have generally placed the solid foundation of military professionalism in the post-Civil War era. William Skelton maintains, however, that the early national and antebellum eras were crucial to the rise of the American profession of arms.
Although tiny by today's standards, the early officer corps nevertheless maintained strong institutional support and internal cohesion through a regular system of recruitment, professional training and education, and a high degree of leadership continuity. Through socialization and lengthening career commitments, officers came to share a common vision of their collective role with respect to warfare, foreign policy, Indian affairs, domestic politics, and civilian life.
The result, Skelton shows, was the formation of a distinctive military subculture rooted in tightly knit garrison communities across the frontier and along the seaboard, from which prominent Civil War leaders would emerge and whose essential character would persist well into the twentieth century.