Thursday, May 25, 2017

Booknotes: Regular Army O!

New Arrival:
Regular Army O!: Soldiering on the Western Frontier, 1865-1891 by Douglas C. McChristian (Univ of Okla Press, 2017).

Douglas McChristian has certainly established himself within the top echelon of frontier army historians. I had not heard of him before encountering his masterful 2009 study Fort Laramie: Military Bastion of the High Plains (another great Arthur H. Clark publication). Jerome Green and intro writer Robert Utley both rave about this new book being the most complete portrait of Regular Army life on the frontier between the end of the Civil War and the conclusion of the Indian Wars.

"At once panoramic and intimate, Regular Army O! uses the testimony of enlisted soldiers—drawn from more than 350 diaries, letters, and memoirs—to create a vivid picture of life in an evolving army on the western frontier." McChristian "plumbs the regulars’ accounts for frank descriptions of their training to be soldiers; their daily routines, including what they ate, how they kept clean, and what they did for amusement; the reasons a disproportionate number occasionally deserted, while black soldiers did so only rarely; how the men prepared for field service; and how the majority who survived mustered out.

A quick run through the chapters reveals a remarkably comprehensive examination of the soldier experience, including recruitment, enlistment, the journey to the front, garrison life, army material culture, relationships between officers and men, hygiene and medical care, training, and what it was like operating in the field. Also addressed in the study are the darker aspects of the frontier army, to include desertion, disease, alcoholism, suicide, and prostitution/VD. This looks like a must-have addition to the Indian Wars library.


  1. Thanks a lot for bringing this book to my attention. The first couple of chapters will come in handy for writing the conclusion to my study of military recruitment in the Civil War.
    Will Hickox

    1. Will,
      Has anyone ever published a full, standalone study of CW recruiting? Offhand, I can't think of any titles like that.

    2. Will: I second Drew's question. It's a little-studied and -known topic from what I can tell. I have a rather unique angle on recruiting. My ancestor Isaac Foskett enlisted in the U.S. Engineers battalion in Boston (somewhere on State Street). He was recruited by some fellow named James B. McPherson and signed up for three years on October 24, 1861. That was shortly before McPherson headed to St. Louis to join Halleck's staff. (Isaac's first company commander was a gent named Godfrey Weitzel).

    3. No one to my knowledge has written a work covering both volunteering and the draft, either for the USA or CSA. (Let's not give Earl Hess any ideas now!) There are several books and long articles dealing with conscription and with troop-raising in various states, many of them dating from the Centennial. My dissertation will focus on one state (New York). -- Will

    4. "(Let's not give Earl Hess any ideas now!)"



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