The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 331
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acknowledgments, introduction, prologue, conclusion, abbreviations, notes,
bibliography, index. ISBN 0-8-61-3312-0. $34.95, cloth.)
Durwood Ball's Army Regulars on the Western Frontier, 1848-1861 represents an
ambitious new contribution to the oft-ignored subject of the antebellum army.
Unlike Robert M. Utley's classic Frontiersman in Blue: The United States Army and
the Indian, 1848-1865 (1967), which focuses on the army's Indian campaigns,
Ball examines "the full continuum of martial force in the American West" (p.
xii). As such, only three of Ball's ten chapters focus on the wars against the Indi-
ans. A fourth deals with army life, with the remainder describing the army's deal-
ings with San Francisco vigilantes, real and potential conflicts on the Rio Grande
and over San Juan Island, the Mormons in Utah, Bleeding Kansas, and seces-
Conclusions about the army's role in these enterprises are balanced and well-
reasoned. The regulars, Ball argues, maintained an ambivalent stance about
most of their activities. Most officers "sought an honorable solution to Indian-
white friction" (p. 18), but their belief in Anglo superiority made them willing to
conduct harsh war against the tribes their government deemed hostile. Success-
ful improvisation rather than official doctrine characterized the most successful
of the army's leaders in the resulting conflicts. Wildly inconsistent executive poli-
cy and the overtly political actions of Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock and Brig. Gen.
John E. Wool rendered their constabulary duty in San Francisco "a futile exer-
cise" (p. 106). Strongly held beliefs about manifest destiny guided military ac-
tions along the Rio Grande and in the San Juan Island disputes, but officers
tended to temporize on internal matters. "Shooting down Anglo or white citi-
zens," even if they were Mormons, "was forbidden territory" (p. 171). Likewise,
military commanders in Kansas tempered the pro-slavery tendencies of presi-
dents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, refusing to use troops to intimidate
the growing free-soil majority. Treading "lightly on and around states' rights" (p.
202), officers, with the notable exception of the fiery Capt. Nathaniel Lyon in
Missouri, also refused to decisively intervene against secessionists on the eve of
the Civil War.
The organizational structure is sometimes a bit foggy, but Ball successfully
makes the case that "the regular army was the most active federal agent of politi-
cal and cultural incorporation" (p. 205) on the frontier. Because the federal
government could turn nowhere else, the United States Army inevitably filled
the resulting vacuum-sometimes in a fashion not entirely satisfactory to the ad-
ministration in power. Although officers on the scene rarely defied orders, they
"often mediated the president's political agenda" (p. 207) according to their
own views of the limits of federal authority, their individual political beliefs, and
their perceptions of local conditions. Thoroughly researched and engagingly
written, Army Regulars on the Western Frontier marks a significant advance in our
understanding of the army's role in nineteenth-century America.
Texas A&M Universzty-Corpus Christi
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003, periodical, 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/m1/383/: accessed April 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.