Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bound Treasures

A notice came to all members of Western Union here in Japan. It said there were several English language books available from a member who had decided to give them away. Free books! I took one look at the list and said I wanted them all. Others wanted some of them, too, so we had a lottery. To make a long story short, Lady Luck smiled. For me, she smiled. I got ten books. I will blog about some of them, and some of them will be worth more than one blog. The first is one of those.

Half the books I received.
Some are old enough to be very interesting, too. 

It’s a relatively new book, published in 2009, from University of Oklahoma Press. And it’s an important one. Perhaps our own Dr. Troy Smith knows of it already, if not, he should.

The author is Dr. Kevin Adams, associate professor at Kent State. Here’s what he says about himself on the Kent State website.

Kevin Adams
Associate Professor
 I specialize in the history of the United States from 1607 to present, with particular interests in War & Society in the United States, Gilded Age America, and the History of the American West. My recently published first book, Class and Race in the Frontier Army: Military Life in the West, 1870-1890 (University of Oklahoma Press, 2009) argues that a Victorian class divide and period racism bifurcated the United States Army in the decades after the Civil War. (Ethnicity, meanwhile, had a very small impact on the society and culture of the Army, a finding that is somewhat surprising given the prevalence of immigrants in the enlisted ranks.) My next monograph will engage the existing literature concerning the strength and extent of federal power in the late nineteenth century by investigating the U.S. Army's attempts to implement that power from Reconstruction to the labor wars of the 1890s. My teaching interests are wide-ranging: in any particular semester you might find me teaching courses on the post-Civil War survey, the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, American Immigration History, the Historian's Craft, or a half of Kent's two semester sequence in the history of War & Society in the United States. In the future, I hope to add courses in Gilded Age America and the History of the American West to this roster. A native of California's Central Valley, both my undergraduate and graduate training came at the University of California, Berkeley.
Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities
American Historical Association
Organization of American Historians
Western History Association

I will quote liberally from Adams’ book, not to further my own work, but to pique the interest of those who read this blog. He tells of events and conditions that we as Western Fictioneers should be very aware of. Of course the book is available from Amazon and surely from the University of Oklahoma Press.

In the beginning

Adams says he took some classes at Berkley on the perceptions of frontier soldier’s perceptions of American Indians. “Not long after I commenced reading various accounts by enlisted men, I realized that they had precious little to say about Indians, and quite a bit to say about their officers. At that moment, the chase began.”

He also makes a lucid (I would not expect less) statement of the value of studying the military. “On a broader level, I hope that what follows will also stake a claim to the importance of researching and studying war and society in the United States from the colonial period to the present, and persuade at least some historians of the need to more fully consider the impact of the military as an institution in their studies of society, culture, politics, and the economy in the United States, and vice versa.”

The first sentence of the book almost says it all. “The Army of the United States provides a valuable window into daily life in the late nineteenth century. Relatively small, it was nonetheless a national institution that produced detailed official records and accounts of daily life for a demographically diverse population.”

I will pick up statements and questions that I felt were important and interesting as it is neither the intent nor the purpose of this blog to give you the entire content of any specific book.

Adams says: In the first quarter-century after the Civil War, the army filled its ranks with men from the social and economic margins of American life. Approximately 40 percent of these men were foreign born. They and their native-born peers tended to fit a distinct demographic profile: working-class men from the urban Northeast. As one might expect of unskilled, largely immigrant labor, the pay was poor.

“Officers, in contrast, only 10 percent of whom were foreign born, could be described as Victorian aristocrats. Often college-educated in an era when college was still a bastion of the elite, officiers sought to bring a sense of cultured refinement to the western frontier.”

Adams describes the frontier army, defines it so we can understand what is to come. “The frontier army was small, poorly trained, and often beset by command indecision and dissention. . . . . the force was hard-pressed to maintain the esprit de corps cultivated by professional armies elsewhere—so much so that a third of enlisted men deserted during the late frontier period.”

He continues a few lines later: “In actuality, the ‘Indian-fighting army’ did not do much fighting at all.” And he states that one of his major purposes is to “move historical understanding of the army’s role in the West away from a focus on the Little Big Horn, and to argue that the role of American culture and private citizens in the conquest of Native America must be engaged more seriously.”

Well said.

Finally, he states: “. . . this study argues that currently popular declarations of salience of ethnicity and whiteness exaggerate their importance in the period between 1865 and 1890, while understating the power of class and race.”

More next month. This is a most interesting book!

The latest Chuck Tyrell book from Western Trail Blazer


  1. What a treasure you received. Even now, living in an area with five military installations you notice how the culture permeates the area around it. I agree this book offers interesting concepts that beg investigation. Thank you for bringing it to our attention and the discussion it can generate. Doris

  2. I, too, highly recommend the Kevin Adams book. I have found it very helpful in my own research.

    1. I thought you'd probably have it, Troy. I lucked out. Got it free. A very well researched and written book. Wonder why he's not one of us?

  3. Dagnabbit, Charlie! $32 from Amazon. And me a poor boy. But it does sound good. Thanks for tipping us to it.

  4. I'll keep doing excerpts, Frank, for a few more times. Really good stuff in it and from a viewpoint we need to know.