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The American Military Frontiers

The United States Army in the West, 1783-1900

Robert Wooster

Publication Year: 2009

As the fledgling nation looked west to the land beyond the Appalachian Mountains, it turned to the army to advance and defend its national interests. Clashing with Spain, Britain, France, Mexico, the Confederacy, and Indians in this pursuit of expansion, the army's failures and successes alternately delayed and hastened western migration. Roads, river improvements, and railroads, often constructed or facilitated by the army, further solidified the nation's presence as it reached the Pacific Ocean and expanded north and south to the borders of Canada and Mexico. Western military experiences thus illustrate the dual role played by the United States Army in insuring national security and fostering national development.

Robert Wooster's study examines the fundamental importance of military affairs to social, economic, and political life throughout the borderlands and western frontiers. Integrating the work of other military historians as well as tapping into a broad array of primary materials, Wooster offers a multifaceted narrative that will shape our understanding of the frontier military experience, its relationship with broader concerns of national politics, and its connection to major themes and events in American history.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-x

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pp. xi-xviii

“To give protection to the citizens of the frontier against the Indians and to guard the long line of our Mexican border against robberies by Mexican citizens and Indians living in Mexico,” wrote Major General Philip Sheridan in his 1873 annual report...

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1: Defeat and Victory in the Ohio Valley

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pp. 1-19

“The peacemakers and our Enemies have talked away our Lands at a Rum Drinking,” complained one Cherokee leader upon learning of the Treaty of Paris, whose provisional terms representatives of Great Britain and the newly recognized...

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2: Sword of the Nation

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pp. 20-38

The Legion of the United States had demonstrated that the new government could, for the time at least, control a regular army and meet the military challenges posed to its expanding frontiers. But with the conclusion of the immediate threat, would the republic still want a standing army? If so, how large would...

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3: Sharpening the Nation’s Sword

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pp. 39-56

War with Britain in 1812 would severely try the nation’s armed forces. Over-optimism, a woefully inadequate infrastructure, and dismal leadership characterized the army’s performance in the conflict’s first eighteen months. Neither regulars...

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4: Asserting National Sovereignty

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pp. 57-77

With the War Department now headed by the innovative, energetic, and ambitious John Calhoun, the army seemed poised to assume an ever-larger role in asserting national sovereignty across the borderlands. Seizing on a series...

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5: The Wars of Indian Removal

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pp. 78-95

Andrew Jackson’s presidential victory in 1828 accelerated the process of Indian removal. Hardened by the violence that had so often beset the nation’s borderlands, the new president believed that the tribes represented a barrier to the spread of white civilization. Those Indians still living east of the Mississippi...

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6: Agent of Manifest Destiny

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pp. 96-117

The late 1830s had seen an unparalleled articulation of comprehensive plans for frontier defenses. Although no consensus regarding the particulars of such proposals had been reached, they shared several common principles...

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7: Constabularies in Blue

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pp. 118-142

Despite President Polk’s pronouncements, volunteers did not replace the regulars following the war against Mexico. In general, states and territories had little desire to spend their own money on rangers or volunteers. They were happy...

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8: Frontier Regulars and the Collapse of the Union

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pp. 143-162

In recommending the consolidation of small, isolated western posts into larger garrisons, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis had seized on a refrain; indeed, such an approach had been, and would remain, fundamental to assumptions about western...

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9: Civil Wars in the Borderlands

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pp. 163-187

Life on the nation’s frontiers profoundly changed during the Civil War. Ignoring or fleeing the awful carnage in the East, farmers, miners, adventurers, and entrepreneurs flooded the West by the thousands. Spectacular prewar...

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10: The Regulars Return

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pp. 188-215

As Washington demobilized the armies that had preserved the Union and helped to end slavery, regulars replaced volunteers and resumed their vital role in western nation building. With them came a renewed infusion of federal dollars in military and ancillary projects, as well as the expansion in infrastructure...

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11: Testing the Peace Policy

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pp. 216-237

“Get out, gentlemen, get out—the orders are to close our doors!” shouted a midlevel manager to a panicked crowd at Jay Cooke and Co.’s Washington branch office on September 18, 1873. That morning, the firm, having overreached itself...

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12: Conquest of a Continent

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pp. 238-267

With Congress out of session and the army without its appropriations, hopes for a permanent borderlands peace were shattered in mid-June 1877, when young men among the Nez Perces (who called themselves the Nee-Me-Poo, or the real people...

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Epilogue: The Long Frontier

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pp. 268-276

Eight months following the tragedy at Wounded Knee, Nelson A. Miles, who in 1895 would succeed John Schofield as commanding general, predicted that “the old theory that the destruction of a vast herd of buffalo had ended Indian wars, is not well...


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pp. 277-278


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pp. 279-316


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pp. 317-350


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pp. 351-361

Back Cover

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p. 362-362

E-ISBN-13: 9780826338457
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826338440

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2009