“We have completed a company of dragoons,” Capt. W. T. Ward of Greenburg wrote to Governor William Owsley in 1846, “numbering eighty four brave stout and chivalrous souls as brave as ever buckled on a sword or mounted a steed. … If ever human beings panted to face the enemy of our common country our cavalry and Capt Maxey['s] Green river boys are those souls…. Maxey['s] company is also complete and all eager for the fray.” As fate would have it, despite their enthusiasm, the commands of Captains Ward and Maxey never had the chance to join the fight. Their offer to “march to the Rio Grande, … the scene of action,” arrived on the governor's desk too late; other units had already filled Kentucky's quota for volunteers to fight in the 1846 campaign in Mexico.1 Despite the inherent dangers of marching off to war in a foreign land, citizensoldiers responded in droves to the government's call for volunteers.
In substance, the response of these militiamen differed little from the reaction of earlier nineteenth-century citizen-soldiers. When the opportunity arose to participate in combat, Kentuckians demonstrated an eagerness to join in the fight. Their enthusiasm, however, seemingly ran counter to common sense, self-preservation, and the well-being of their families, as the possibility of serious injury or death from bullet or disease accompanied every campaign. Nevertheless, the state's citizensoldiers time and again made clear that they were “eager for the fray.” The explanation for their apparent imprudence in part lies in the role that battle experience has played in the construction of masculinity. Peoples across time and cultures have associated combat and the masculine. Western civilization, from the ancient Romans to the American Revolutionaries, accepted participation in armed conflict as proof of manliness. Sociologist Joe L. Dubbert identifies “moral honor and the physical stamina to see the battle through [as] the crucial attributes any