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The Union and Confederate Volunteer Junior Officer Corps in the American Civil War

Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

352 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 10 halftones, 3 charts, 10 graphs

ebook available

Civil War | Southern History

  Hardcover / 9780807160701 / November 2015
From the time of the American Revolution, most junior officers in the American military attained their positions through election by the volunteer soldiers in their company, a tradition that reflected commitment to democracy even in times of war. By the outset of the Civil War, citizen-officers had fallen under sharp criticism from career military leaders who decried their lack of discipline and efficiency in battle. Andrew S. Bledsoe’s Citizen-­Officers explores the role of the volunteer officer corps during the Civil War and the unique leadership challenges they faced when military necessity clashed with the antebellum democratic values of volunteer soldiers. 
Bledsoe’s innovative evaluation of the lives and experiences of nearly 2,600 Union and Confederate company-grade junior officers from every theater of operations across four years of war reveals the intense pressures placed on these young leaders. Despite their inexperience and sometimes haphazard training in formal military maneuvers and leadership, citizen-officers frequently faced their first battles already in command of a company. These intense and costly encounters forced the independent, civic-minded volunteer soldiers to recognize the need for military hierarchy and to accept their place within it. Thus concepts of American citizenship, republican traditions in American life, and the brutality of combat shaped, and were in turn shaped by, the attitudes and actions of citizen-officers.
Through an analysis of wartime writings, postwar reminiscences, company and regimental papers, census records, and demographic data, Citizen­-Officers illuminates the centrality of the volunteer officer to the Civil War and to evolving narratives of American identity and military service.
Andrew S. Bledsoe is assistant professor of history at Lee University.

Praise for Citizen-Officers

“A rich and well-designed study that develops categories for understanding why these men fought, how they became leaders, and how they were changed by their wartime experiences. . . . As the first scholarly work to study these men as a distinct group with certain defining characteristics, it will be a starting point for all future discussions of officers in the Civil War armies.”—Journal of Military History

“Commendations go to Bledsoe in tackling junior officers in both blue and gray, who had differences but shared points in common. . . . Bledsoe examines a large variety of sources from the Civil War era, and he is familiar with several studies by modern historians. His work also offers valuable appendixes with information on officers’ backgrounds, employment, and other characteristics.”—Journal of Southern History

“Bledsoe’s contribution is valuable to all who study Civil War soldiers, providing numerous primary sources as evidence to sustain an argument that shows how junior officers were the mortar that held together both armies in the American Civil War. . . . It is a book that engages readers in the heart of the Civil War, preferring to allow the voices of the soldiers to drive a narrative of significance to both national and regional history.”—Civil War Book Review

“No other book better captures the challenges of command during the Civil War and the transformation of volunteers into a cadre of effective officers. . . . late in the war junior officers were former privates or noncommissioned officers who possessed extensive experience in the ranks and who provided a nucleus of resilient and effective leadership at the end of the war. Thanks to Bledsoe’s book, we have our first vivid portrait of how that leadership actually worked.”—Civil War History

Extras for Citizen-Officers

LISTEN: Author Andrew Bledsoe on Civil War Talk Radio (15 March 2017)

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