A Proper Sense of Honor

Service and Sacrifice in George Washington's Army

By Caroline Cox

A Proper Sense of Honor

368 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 11 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5861-5
    Published: August 2007

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Awards & distinctions

2004 LTC Richard G. Trefry Award, Army Historical Foundation

Starting with the decision by patriot leaders to create a corps of officers who were gentlemen and a body of soldiers who were not, Caroline Cox 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, Cox illuminates not only the persistence of hierarchy in Revolutionary America but also the ways in which soldiers contested their low status.

Intriguingly, Cox 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, Cox shows that change crept slowly into American military life.

About the Author

Caroline Cox (1954-2014) was professor of history at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
For more information about Caroline Cox, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"[Illuminates] the cultural and political assumptions of those Americans who did not or could not leave written accounts of their experiences and beliefs. . . . Challenges the image of the American Revolution as an engine of social and political change that liberated Americans from Old World conventions and constraints."--William and Mary Quarterly

“A pathbreaking book, perhaps the most conceptually up-to-date of its type in American military historiography.”--Journal of the Early Republic

"A very important study of the Continental Army's social organization. . . . Effectively bridges 18th-century military and civilian societies to produce a better view of Revolutionary War America. Highly recommended."--Choice

"A thoughtful, challenging book that reckons with major social assumptions and cultural constructions as they applied to Continental forces in Revolutionary America. . . . Represents a valuable edition to our ever expanding comprehension of the realities of fighting, as well as of those who fought, for independence during the American Revolution."--Journal of Military History

"Cox's writing is concise and graceful throughout, her organization is admirably clear, and her argument is compelling. . . . The entire volume represents deep and convincing scholarship, matching genuinely exhaustive original research with a thorough command of the literature of the patriot armed forces. It is no stretch to call this book one of the most compelling and significant works on the revolutionary military to appear in the last decade."--American Historical Review

“Cox has written a thoughtful, challenging book that reckons with major social assumptions and cultural constructions as they applied to Continental forces in Revolutionary America. . . . A Proper Sense of Honor represents a valuable addition to our ever expanding comprehension of the realities of fighting, as well as of those who fought, for independence during the American Revolution.”--Journal of Military History