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Beyond the battlefield: Post-war careers of middle -rank Civil War generals

Mark Enrique Van Rhyn, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Focusing on senior generals and the enlisted men, Civil War historians have barely examined a wide segment of the American experience. A significant group of second- and third-tier leaders remains largely unexplored, the officers who led the brigades and the divisions and carried out senior command's orders. In later life they were often the middle managers, providing the professional competence that was the nation's foundation. They serve as a mirror to the latter half of the nineteenth century, that special time when the United States moved from infancy into the community of great nations. These men fought the wars, pushed the rails across the continent, policed the frontier, served their nation, and invested their fortunes and lives in the American dream. ^ The rare junior generals known to the public are invariably famous for negative reasons. George Pickett entered the realm of American mythology for a charge he did not lead. George Custer, a far better Civil War cavalryman than Indian fighter, earned immortality for a disaster. The bulk of middle-rank general officers faded into obscurity, known only to historians and Civil War buffs who search them out, but their stories provide another insight into the American nineteenth century experience. ^ Nine case studies illuminate the influence of second-tier generals on American history by tracing their careers through Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. Thomas Rosser, Alexander Terrell, Thomas Clingman, Thomas Logan, Lunsford Lomax, Henry Carrington, Walter Gresham, Louis Parsons, and David McMurtrie Gregg are a small segment of some eleven hundred Civil War generals. For most, the Civil War was but four years in a long, productive lifetime, and some never rose above their wartime service, vanishing into well-deserved obscurity, but for many their later careers hold much greater historical significance. Their postwar lives are examined within the context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an era instrumental in setting the stage for American greatness, as their endeavors contributed to the nation's development. ^

Subject Area

Biography|History, United States

Recommended Citation

Van Rhyn, Mark Enrique, "Beyond the battlefield: Post-war careers of middle -rank Civil War generals" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3092604.