Chapter Three Sent to Committee

Finally, it’s coming to an end. Here’s a taste.


The presence of professional army officers on the frontier presents a new dynamic to Indian relations. Before an officer class subservient to the nation emerged, officers in charge on the frontier who acted according to their own ambitions harmed the nation’s policy of avoiding long drawn out conflicts. Again, Jackson’s actions in Florida during the First Seminole War are an example of officer individualism which led to tension. Another example is William Henry Harrison’s actions prior to the War of 1812. His abrasive treaties against the Natives and individual move to crush an “Indian Conspiracy” led to the Battle of Tippecanoe; a battle which exacerbated anti-British sentiment in America and drove the country into war.[1] The fact is that the officers of the first twenty years of the nineteenth century undermined the nation’s goal to maintain peace domestically. Due to the military reforms after the War of 1812, and the officer class that emerged both out of those reforms and the reforms at West Point, civilian authority in Washington began to rely on the professional military to impose order over the nation’s expansionist policy. As enforcers of peace, officers performed a constabulary role on the frontier and attempted to deescalate tensions between white settlers and native inhabitants. Because of this responsibility, the officer corps became more involved in the suppression and removal of Native Americans than any other form of leadership.[2]

Officers never formed a precise body of thought in regards to subduing Natives on the frontier. That is to say, no definitive military strategy existed in regards to fighting Indians, other than the end result of removal to the West.[3] West Point did not prepare officers to handle relations between natives and encroaching white settlers in its curriculum. Fulfilling the role of diplomat on the frontier became an organic process that evolved from the personal experiences of officers largely influenced by their own martial culture. Cadets honed their martial culture at West Point, a culture that provided the cohesive force and consistency among officers. Moreover, the development of a professional military culture represented their military class. Indirectly, West Point influenced Indian fighting. Because officers of this era were more homogenous and professional, commonalities existed in so much that it provides insight into the officer’s preferences for handling natives. Many officers also shared a martial cultural heritage that many Americans inherited from the colonial era. Early Americans established a tradition that “legitimized” and “encouraged” attacks on “noncomabatants, villages, and agricultural resources.” John Grenier argues that early Americans made use of this “petite guerre,” or small wars of violent annihilation, in order to conquer the enemy. This “First Way of War” was most evident in frontier wars up through the War of 1812.[4] As noted in Chapter one, General Jackson continued that legacy in the First Seminole War, making it his preferable form of warfare against natives. However, after the First Seminole War, professional military officers preferred not to engage in the “First Way of War” due to their self-imposed war preference. Since the regular army served as the nucleus of American combat forces over citizen-soldiers, this by consequence changed the preferred manner of which to conduct warfare.

[1] Hickey, 22-25.

[2] William B. Skelton, “Army Officers’ Attitudes Toward Indians, 1830-1860,” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, vol. 67, no. 3, [July 1976]: 113.

[3] This is not to say that no government policy existed. The Indian Removal Act, 1830, and the opinions of other civilian officials such as Secretary of War Lewis Cass, asserted that natives must be removed to “future prospects” or they would “melt away before our people and institutions.”; Lewis Cass, “Removal of the Indians,” North American Review, vol. 30, no. 66, [January 1830], 121.

[4] John Grenier, The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 10.

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