Regionalism and the Military
In the colonial era, the whole eastern seaboard faced European and Native‐American threats. In the South, however, the danger of hostilities lasted several decades longer, and outbreaks of warfare were more frequent than in the North. Until the Spanish crown received Louisiana in 1763, the French had long threatened southern borderlands. Thereafter, Spanish occupation of Florida, Mexico, and Louisiana posed a constant threat until Florida's annexation in 1821. Beginning with a series of Anglo‐Powhatan wars in seventeenth‐century Virginia, campaigns against southeastern Indians did not cease in the South until the Seminole Wars ended in 1842. Most Indians successfully resisted dispossession until they were forcibly removed to Oklahoma in the 1830s. Black slavery and the concomitant necessity for whites to control black slaves sustained violence in the culture and the need for active militia as slave patrols. The southern landowning aristocracy's emphasis on martial virtues also contributed to the inclination for the army tradition.
Northerners faced entirely different circumstances. After a series of colonial wars with French Canadians and Indians, the Seven Years' War (1754–63) ended the threat. Lacking a need for slave patrols, and with Indians already removed from their domain, the northern militia lost its chief functions. After the Revolutionary War, volunteers for the newly formed national army and navy drew upon their past experiences. In New England, this prior training occurred as Atlantic seafarers—fishermen, whalers, and merchant seamen—pursued their livelihoods on the open seas. Although the American navy was small, its ranks were largely drawn from these New England sources. In like fashion, southern militiamen and aristocrats were natural candidates for army service. With their stress upon the ethic of honor, southerners often aspired to the titles of general and colonel, and considered leaders such as Andrew Jackson to be the highest representation of military valor. To that end, southerners attended college military academies such as the Citadel in South Carolina.
Until the Civil War, the two traditions became ever more entrenched in regional life. Army officers were predominantly southern or western, while navy officers were mostly from the Northeast. In proportion to their percentage of the national population, southerners were overrepresented by a third at West Point. Southerners and westerners also had regional interests in supporting the military. They rejoiced at the chance to support Texan independence in the Revolution of 1836 and eagerly joined the U.S. Army to conquer territory from Mexico in 1846 to expand the borders of a slaveholding empire. The tendency of southerners to outnumber northerners in the army continued to the outbreak of civil war. In the 1850s, southerners served as two of the three brigadier generals and all but one of the commanders of the army's geographical divisions.
Once the Civil War began, the regional divergence of military interests became apparent. Several army officers who were trained at West Point and raised in the South, such as the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, chose between the competing loyalties created by birth and fostered by training. Few naval officers faced such a conflict. With rare exceptions, the officers and enlisted men of the navy swore their allegiance to the Union. Not surprisingly, the first Confederate cities to fall were taken from the water, and the Northern strategy relied heavily on blockades of Southern ports.
Unlike the North, the West initially followed a pattern similar to the South. With concerns for Indians and western outlaws continuing throughout the nineteenth century, the West and its cycle of conquest became a society deeply embedded in the military. Army forts and posts, crucial to the defense and settlement of the frontier, dominated the region's social and economic life. Often they served as trading posts and points of defense. The military was not only a solution to the violence associated with the frontier—it was also a respectable outlet for it.
In the twentieth century, regional correlations to the armed forces continued, but they have not remained as strong. In 1910, however, 93 percent of army generals' officers still had a southern heritage, and during World War II, southern enlistment in both the army and navy exceeded the national average. New Englanders continued to serve disproportionately in the navy, but their commitment to the military remained weaker than the South's. In the West, where the aviation industry refocused the region's martial spirit, a new regional tendency has emerged. When the Air Force Academy was established in Colorado in 1954, westerners turned to the air force in disproportionate numbers.
Recently, the regional connection to particular branches of the military has diminished. The nationalization of American culture, increased migration among regions, the modernization of the South, and the desegregation of the military have all diminished if not eliminated the old regional patterns. The federal government has ended many of the sectional divisions through its intervention into regional development, and its recruiting quotas and strategies.
[See also Academies, Service; Militia and National Guard.]
John Hope Franklin , The Militant South, 1956.
Marcus Cunliffe , Soldiers and Civilizans: The Martial Spirit in America, 1968.
Bertram Wyatt‐Brown , Southern Honor, 1982.
Richard White , “It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own”: A History of the American West, 1991.
Andrew K. Frank