Class and Race in the Frontier Army
Military Life in the West, 1870–1890
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
296 Pages | 6 x 9 | 11 b&w illus., 3 maps
Historians have long assumed that ethnic and racial divisions in post–Civil War America were reflected in the U.S. Army, of whose enlistees 40 percent were foreign-born. Now Kevin Adams shows that the frontier army was characterized by a “Victorian class divide” that overshadowed ethnic prejudices.
Class and Race in the Frontier Army marks the first application of recent research on class, race, and ethnicity to the social and cultural history of military life on the western frontier. Adams draws on a wealth of military records and soldiers’ diaries and letters to reconstruct everyday army life—from work and leisure to consumption, intellectual pursuits, and political activity—and shows that an inflexible class barrier stood between officers and enlisted men.
As Adams relates, officers lived in relative opulence while enlistees suffered poverty, neglect, and abuse. Although racism was ingrained in official policy and informal behavior, no similar prejudice colored the experience of soldiers who were immigrants. Officers and enlisted men paid much less attention to ethnic differences than to social class—officers flaunting and protecting their status, enlisted men seething with class resentment.
Treating the army as a laboratory to better understand American society in the Gilded Age, Adams suggests that military attitudes mirrored civilian life in that era—with enlisted men, especially, illustrating the emerging class-consciousness among the working poor. Class and Race in the Frontier Army offers fresh insight into the interplay of class, race, and ethnicity in late-nineteenth-century America.
“This well-written and skillfully researched study is a fascinating account of the social history of a significant American institution….[Adams] clearly proves that the frontier army might have been physically isolated from American society, but culturally it was part of the same milieu.”— American Historical Review
“Kevin Adams’s fine study of the frontier army in the West ranks among the best books on the subject in decades…..Adams uses the army as a laboratory for a better understanding of American society during the Gilded Age…. [Class and Race in the Frontier Army] is readable, coherent, well organized, meaningful, and enjoyable….Adams should be congratulated for this significant contribution to our understanding of the frontier army in the crucial period from 1870 to 1890.”— Montana: The Magazine of Western History
“Based on an impressive array of primary sources and statistical information, this well-argued and well-written book should be read by all students of the frontier army, Gilded Age society, and American labor and immigration history.”— Pacific Historical Review
“In this ambitious and provocative blend of social, cultural, and military history, Kevin Adams uses the experiences of the western army to emphasize the importance of class, and to deemphasize the significance of ethnicity, in Gilded Age America. As Adams shows, the egalitarian, often communal worldview of enlisted men contrasted sharply with the elitist attitudes of officers, whose celebration of leisure and habits of conspicuous consumption suggest a distinctly unprofessional attitude toward soldiering.”—Robert Wooster, author of Frontier Crossroads: Fort Davis and the West
“Here is a history of the nineteenth-century frontier army for the twenty-first century. With graceful prose, Adams presents the military as part of American life, not distinct and isolated from it. This study is smart—and long overdue.”—Sherry L. Smith, author of The View from Officers' Row: Army Perceptions of Western Indians