A Proper Sense of Honor: Service and Sacrifice in George Washington's Army

TitleA Proper Sense of Honor: Service and Sacrifice in George Washington's Army
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsCox, Caroline
Number of Pages338
PublisherUniversity of North Carolina Press
CityChapel Hill

Starting with the decision by patriot leaders to create a corps of officers who were gentlemen and a body of soldiers who were not, the author examines the great gap that existed in the conditions of service of soldiers and officers in the Continental army. She looks particularly at disparities between soldiers' and officers' living conditions, punishments, medical care, burial, and treatment as prisoners of war. Using pension records, memoirs, and contemporary correspondence, the author illuminates not only the persistence of hierarchy in Revolutionary America but also the ways in which soldiers contested their low status. Intriguingly, the author notes that even as the army reinforced the lines of social hierarchy in many ways, it also united soldiers and officers by promoting similar conceptions of personal honor and the meaning of rank. In fact, she argues, the army fostered social mobility by encouraging ambitious men to separate themselves from the lowest levels of society and giving them the means to enact that separation. At a time when existing social arrangements were increasingly challenged by war and by political rhetoric that embraced the equal rights of men, the author shows that change crept slowly into American military life.

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