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The smooth faces of boy soldiers stand out in Civil War photography, their spindly physiques contrasting with the uniformed adults they stood alongside. Yet until now, scholars have largely overlooked the masses of underaged youths who served as musicians, carried wounded from the field, ran
messages, took up arms, and died in both the Union and Confederate armies.
Of Age is the first comprehensive study of how Americans responded to the unauthorized enlistment of minors in this conflict and the implications that followed. Frances M. Clarke and Rebecca Jo Plant offer military, legal, medical, social, political, and cultural perspectives as well as demographic
analysis of this important aspect of the war. They find that underage enlistees comprised roughly ten percent of the Union army and likely a similar proportion of Confederate forces-but these enlistees' importance extended beyond sheer numbers. Clarke and Plant introduce common but largely unknown
wartime scenarios. Boys who absconded without consent set off protracted struggles between households and the military, as parents used various arguments to recover their sons. State judges and the US federal government battled over whether to discharge boys discovered to be under age. African
American youths discovered that both Union and Confederate officers ignored their evident age when using them as conscripts or military laborers. Meanwhile, nineteenth-century Americans expressed little concern over what exposure to violence might do to young minds, readily accepting their presence
in battle. In fact, underage soldiers became prevalent symbols of the US war effort, shaping popular memory for decades to come.
An original and sweeping work, Of Age convincingly demonstrates why underage enlistment is such an important lens for understanding the history of children and youth and the transformative effects of the US Civil War.
Frances M. Clarke is Associate Professor of History at the University of Sydney. She is the author of War Stories: Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North.
Rebecca Jo Plant is Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America.
Table of Contents
A Note on Terminology
Part I: Parental Rights and the Duty to Bear Arms: Congress, Courts, and the Military
Ch. 1: Competing Obligations: Debating Underage Enlistment in the War of 1812
Ch. 2: A Great Inconvenience: Prewar Legal Disputes Over Underage Enlistees
Ch. 3: Underdeveloped Bodies: Calculating the Ideal Enlistment Age
Part II: The Social and Cultural Origins of Underage Enlistment
Ch. 4: Instructive Violence: Impressionable Minds and the Cultivation of Courage
Ch. 5: Pride of the Nation: The Iconography of Child Soldiers and Drummer Boys
Ch. 6: Paths to Enlistment: Work, Politics, and School
Part III: Male Youth and Military Service in the Civil War Era
Ch. 7: Contrary to All Law: Debating Underage Service in the United States
Ch. 8: Preserving the Seed Corn: Youth Enlistment and Demographic Anxiety in the Confederacy
Ch. 9: Forced into Service: Enslaved and Unfree Youths in the Confederate and Union Armies
Ch. 10: A War Fought by Boys: Reimagining Boyhood and Underage Service after the Civil War
Coda: Young Veterans in Postwar America
Appendix A: Counting Underage Soldiers
Appendix B: Using the Early Indicators of Later Work Levels, Disease, and Death database to Determine Age of Enlistment in the Union Army, by Christopher Roudiez
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