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David L. Ward


Advisor: Paul Mapp
Current Research: Early American Republic, Continental Army, Medieval Europe


David Ward defended his dissertation, entitled "The Continental Army: Leadership School for the Early Republic," at William & Mary in 2019. It examined the role played by Continental Army Veteran junior leaders in the expansion of the early Republic west of the Appalachian Mountains.David also holds the following graduate degrees: a MBA from James Madison University (1995); a Masters of Military Arts and Science from the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), US Army Command and General Staff College (1999) Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and a Masters of Strategic Studies from the US Army War College (2010), Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

Upon graduating from the University of Mississippi with BA in History and French in 1985, David L. Ward served as an US Army Officer for 28 years in the Military Intelligence Corps and retired at the rank of Colonel in 2013.

Research Interests

I study Continental Army veterans who moved westward and used the skills acquired in their military training to establish communities in the new territories and states of the early Republic. Historians have long overlooked the effect of junior officers’ and sergeants’ hard-won wisdom and experience in the War for Independence. These former soldiers often migrated westward, and became law enforcement personnel, local politicians, and religious leaders in newly formed communities in the Old Northwest and Southwest. This important institution building and community service does not generally appear in pension applications, tax records, or wills, but it was vital to expansion in the early Republic. My work tracks the soldiers’ lives from their demobilization in 1783 to their pension applications in 1819 and 1832.  The results of my research upend the current narrative, which concentrates on soldiers’ resentment at their treatment during the war and their poverty in later life.  Instead, I argue, the benefits of service in the Continental Army were seen for many decades afterwards. By understanding these soldiers’ experiences during one of America’s longest wars and their contributions after the war ended to expansion in the early Republic, we gain insight into the effect of extended volunteer military service in the construction of an American empire, and the key role that military veterans have played in economic and geographic expansion, especially after long and bitter wars.