Trace Brusco

Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department or School

History and Philosophy

Committee Member

Steven Ramold, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jessie Kauffman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brian Egan

Committee Member

Jim Johnson


The frequently disorganized command structure which dictated American Civil War battles often resulted in direction of military strategy being passed over into the junior officer ranks. These volunteer leaders fought directly with the regular volunteer soldier that filled the ranks of both Union and Confederate armies. In exchange for their position amongst the common volunteer, the junior officers shared the same dangers in combat as their subordinates. In this study, junior officers Rufus Dawes and James Cooper Nisbet serve as the focus of a study that reveals what attributes contributed to the success and failures of command. Dawes, who served in the Union Army, ascended the junior officer ranks and eventually achieved a higher command as the war reached its zenith. A similar direction was also taken by Nisbet, who served in the formidable Confederate Army, and in the closing months of the war, found himself in regimental command, as well as an interim brigade commander. These young men can owe their success in high-command to their time in the junior officer ranks. The lessons learned in the early battles of the Civil War, assisted in their understanding of what characteristics and ideas worked in leadership, and what choices were appropriate for present combat situations.