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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.
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.
List of Figures, Tables, and Illustrations
Part One—Roots of the American Military Profession, 1784–1815
1. Army Organization in the Early National Period
2. Recruiting an Officer Corps, 1784–1815
3. Military Careers in the Early Republic
4. A Frontier Constabulary: Civil-Military Relations, 1784–1815
5. Seeds of Military Professionalism
Part Two—Emergence of the American Military Profession, 1815-1861
6. The Era of Army Reform, 1815–1821
7. The Organizational Setting, 1821–1861
8. The Stabilization of Officer Recruitment
9. Social Origins and Career Motivations
10. The West Point Experience
11. Military Careers in the Antebellum Era
12. The Emergence of the General Staff Officer
13. Professional Thought and Institutions
14. Officers and Enlisted Men
15. Officers, Politicians, and Citizens
16. Officers and Indians
17. Officers, Foreign Affairs, and War
18. The Officer Corps in the Sectional Crisis