Book Review: Citizen-Officers: The Union and Confederate Volunteer Junior Officer Corps in the American Civil War


by Andrew S. Bledsoe

Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015. Pp. xx, 322. Illus., tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $47.50. ISBN: 0807160709

Finding Company Officers for the Civil War

Prof. Bledsoe (Lee University), addresses the question of how the two armies in the Civil War recruited company level officers – the men who actually led the troops at the front – and how did these men perform under fire. One would think so obvious a question would have been the subject of scholarly attention long ago, yet it is a surprisingly very neglected topic, barely touched upon in histories of the war.

Bledsoe opens with a chapter on the “Ideological Origins” of these men, tracing the concept of the “citizen-soldier” – and thus also the “citizen-officer”– back to Ancient Greece and Rome, and then looking at the American tradition from earliest colonial times to the eve of the Civil War, most notably the example of Washington, demonstrating how community and regional ties provided motivation for service.

Bledsoe then looks at how each side initially went about recruiting lieutenants and captains for the war, often by election, which it turns out was not as bad an idea as is sometimes thought, as the troops usually picked men of some standing in their communities, often with some military experience, though he doesn’t discuss the proportion of officers who had peacetime militia or wartime volunteer service, or those who may have had some military training in college or secondary school drill companies, but never actually served.

The following four chapters cover the experiences and service of these new officers. Bledsoe looks at the challenges these largely untrained men faced in assuming their duties, trying to manage their troops while often literally leading them after only the most cursory training. He follows with a discussion of how as they became more seasoned there arose among a “citizen-officer culture,” one which may have horrified the Regulars and the West Pointers, but worked for the volunteers. There follows a look at how these new officers coped with combat and one on their maturation as leaders and commanders, some rising to surprisingly rank.

Along the way, Bledsoe gives us a number of interesting and illustrative anecdotes, and introduces us to many young officers, some familiar, such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., but many more who are wholly unknown.

Citizen-Officers, a volume in the LSU series “Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War,” is an essential read for the serious student of the Civil War.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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