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HISTORY OF THE MILITIA AND THE NATIONAL GUARD

John K. Mahon

© 1983, John K. Mahon, used with permission.

Chapter One, The English Background
Chapter Two, Militia in the Colonies
Chapter Three, The American Revolution
Chapter Four, Militia in the Early National Period This file
Chapter Five, Jeffersonian Militia and the War of 1812
Chapter Six, Decline of the Militia; Rise of the Volunteers
Chapter Seven, Civil War
Chapter Eight, Reconstruction; Birth of the National Guard
Chapter Nine, The War with Spain
Chapter Ten, Reorganization, 1900-1916
Chapter Eleven, The National Guard in World War I
Chapter Twelve, The National Guard Between World Wars
Chapter Thirteen, World War II
Chapter Fourteen, The Immediate Post War Period
Chapter Fifteen, The Eisenhower Administration
Chapter Sixteen, The Turbulent 1960s
Chapter Seventeen, The Guard in the 1970s
Chapter Eighteen, Conclusion

CHAPTER FOUR

Militia in the

Early National Period

The Continental Congress established a committee to work out a charter of government in 1776, but the document that committee produced was not ratified until 1781 because other issues demanded prior treatment. The delayed document was the Articles of Confederation. It created a decentralized government with sovereignty vested in the states. It was a "firm league of friendship," in which the individual states pledged to defend each other. The bulk of the armed forces of the Revolution had already percolated back into the population; the term "army" appeared only once in the articles. 1 But the document did declare that "Every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutered, and shall provide, and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition, and camp equipage." 2 All officers called to active duty by the Congress of the Confederation below the rank of colonel were to be appointed by the states, but colonels and generals were to be appointed by the United States "in Congress Assembled." Congress had the power to declare war. No state was to maintain an army or a navy in time of peace without the consent of Congress. Yet the Articles authorized no sanctions to enforce these war powers, leaving the situation as it had been in pre-Revolutionary days between the colonies and Great Britain. The central government could requisition men and money from the states, but it could not compel their delivery. The same limitation applied to the responsibility of the states to keep a well-regulated and disciplined militia.

46

Militia in the Early National Period 47

Congress presided over the liquidation of the fast-shrinking Continental Army and in 1784 constituted a small replacement consisting of men drawn from the militias of Connecticut, New York, New and Pennsylvania, to serve for one year unless discharged sooner. It placed Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar, from the Pennsylvania militia, in command. At the end of the first year, Congress voted to sustain the unit for three additional years. Thus, without drawing substantial contemporary notice, a militia force became in 1785 the nucleus of the original regiment of the United States regular army. 3

At the frontiers, fighting with the Indians continued virtually unaffected by the creation of the new government under the Articles. 4 In 1786, Virginia persuaded the Revolutionary hero George Rogers Clark to lead a state force against the Indians in and beyond the Wabash area. Even so notable a leader found it necessary to draft militiamen, with violence and riots resulting. At last he secured some men but found them of such doubtful quality that he took charge only reluctantly. His instincts about them were correct; they refused to carry the campaign through to a decision, and he was forced, in spite of his pleading to the contrary, to turn back with them. 5 Frontiersmen generally felt the need for more aid than they were getting from the central government and were accordingly skeptical of the value of the Confederation.

In 1786, a body of men under Daniel Shays, who had been the efficient captain of a company during the Revolution, rebelled against the foreclosure of their land in Massachusetts. As many as 1,100 of them threatened the Supreme Court, while 800 militiamen, called to defend the court but sympathetic to the rebels, looked on. The mortgage holders resided in eastern Massachusetts, the rebels in the west. Because there was ill-feeling between the two sections of the state, the creditors were able, using influence and money, to gather enough militiamen from eastern Massachusetts to march against the insurrectionists. The eastern force broke the rebellion six months after it had begun. The use of citizen soldiers to suppress rioters became the pattern for dealing with insurrections in the last decade of the eighteenth century. The difficulty in suppressing Shays’ Rebellion was only one episode that convinced former leaders of the Revolution that the Artides of Confederation were too weak to preserve the structure they had fought to bring into being. Pressure from these men led to the calling of the Constitutional Convention which assembled in May 1787 in Philadelphia. 6

A crucial division separating the fifty-five delegates to that Convention appeared between those who favored a strong central


48 History of the Militia and the National Guard

government and those who wanted sovereignty to reside with the states. The advocates of state sovereignty expected the new nation to rely principally on militia, whereas their opponents stressed the need for effective standing forces. Military affairs received little attention in the debate, conducted in secret sessions from May until September, because centralizers were in the majority. The delegates approved the principal military articles of what became the Constitution on August 27, 1787. 7

Military issues comprised a major concern of the conventions called in the states to consider ratifying the new charter. One argument presented by anticentralist delegates— also expressed at the Constitutional Convention— was the pressing need of the states for a military instrument to check the potentially arbitrary power of the central government. Another argument was that the framers had assigned far too much power over the state militias to the center. Patrick Henry concluded, or at least for public effect said, that the framers must have intended to rob the states of their only security. 8 Other critics pointed out that the states would lose their vitality and become political nonentities if they did not retain full control over their own militias. If state power deteriorated, the proposed government of the United States might systematically destroy the personal liberty of men who were liable to militia duty and eventually the liberty of other persons as well 9 A proposal to soften this objection by creating a select corps within the larger militia— to be composed of the ablest men— died because anticentralizers feared an elite corps in the militia as the seedbed of a standing army. 10

Fear of a standing army was one of the principal weapons used by debaters who favored decentralized government and hence militia. Luther Martin referred to a standing army as an "Engine of arbitrary power, which has so often and so successfully been used for the subversion of freedom." 11 Samuel Nason labeled standing armies "the bane of Republican governments. By this have seven-eighths of the once free nations of the globe been brought into bondage." 12 The second portion of this argument was that the United States had no need of a standing force. Without one, reliance upon the militia would be complete, encouraging its development to the point where it could serve all national needs. Elbridge Gerry said: "If a regular army is admitted will not the militia be neglected and gradually dwindle into contempt? and where then are we to look for defense of our rights and liberties?" 13 Governor Randolph told the Virginia convention: "With respect to a standing army, I believe there was not a member in the Federal convention who did not feel indignation at such an institution." 14

Both the framers of the Constitution and a majority of the delegates


Militia in the Early National Period 49

ratifying conventions were more concerned with foreign aggression than with internal subversion. As a result, the ratified Constitution contained adequate legal basis for a standing army if Congress chose to create one. On this matter the anticentralists were defeated But in the clauses pertaining to the militia they came close to achieving their objectives. Here, as in the entire Constitution, the object was to prevent the accumulation of overwhelming power in any person or agency. The method used was to split power into fragments, and no part of the document was this done in more detail than in the militia clauses. Congress received authority to organize, arm, and discipline the militia; the states, the power to appoint officers and to train the citizen soldiers according to the discipline prescribed by Congress. Not the president but Congress acquired the authority to summon the state militias into federal service, for three specific tasks only: execute the laws of the Union, to suppress insurrections, and to repel invasion.

Because the militia clauses, like the rest of the Constitution, were written in general terms, they had to be interpreted to have meaning in specific cases. Only case-by-case interpretation could make it clear what exactly was meant by the power to appoint the officers and to train the militias. likewise, some agency would have to decide in every case whether a federal call for militia to enter national service was for one of the three purposes stipulated. One observer might see an invasion where another saw only a maneuver; an insurrection to one man might be nothing but a harmless gathering to another. In any given situation there could be disagreement over whether or not troops were needed to enforce the laws. The framers did not designate an agency to interpret the Constitution. Over a long period of time, the courts assumed that indispensable task, but not without challenge.

Another clause gives Congress power to govern such part of the militia as maybe employed in the service of the United States. A second says that the president shall be commander-in-chief of the militia when it is called into the actual service of the nation. A third clause, added to the Constitution as the Second Amendment, states that "A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." In the twentieth century, the Second Amendment has become the center of a controversy between those citizens who want to see gun carrying restricted and those who insist that free Americans must have the right to be armed. The authors of the Amendment left no clues as to their intentions; but it seems likely that they felt scant concern about firearms in the hands of people and that they had the militia in view when they wrote the clause.

In the central issue— centralization in government versus the


50 History of the Militia and the National Guard

reverse— which side prevailed in military matters? During the pre-Civil War period, the decentralizers seem to have gained the most. The standing forces were small, and when expanded for short wars were supplemented by drawing citizen soldiers of one sort or another into federal service, using state mechanisms. Control of the militia rested almost totally with the states. Indeed, the emphasis did not shift until the twentieth century. In the two World Wars and in the intervals of peace, the federal government steadily assumed power over the successor of the militia, the National Guard. The lean wording of the Constitution, of course, made it possible for the generations succeeding the framers to adopt any interpretation that seemed at the time to satisfy the competing interests and assure national security. Even though the historical process forced the United States to move toward centralization, the existence of the militia, and later the National Guard, insured retention in military affairs of involvement of the states, as mandated in the Constitution.

Government under the new charter went into operation in April 1789. Its problems were legion, one of the first being relations with the Indians of the Old Northwest The hostility of these Indians was causing the loyalty of the frontiersmen to the central government to waver. Those citizens appeared to be willing to turn toward other attachments if they could obtain security. Accordingly, late in the summer of 1790, President Washington ordered a column commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar to advance against the Northwest Indians and punish them. Its nucleus was his First American Regiment carried over from Confederation days. Harmar led approximately 1,775 men, three-quarters of them militia from the frontier. In October this federal force was roughly handled by the red foe and was forced to return to Fort Washington. The Indians were encouraged, the local settlers disgusted. Harmar ascribed the outcome to the miserable quality of the citizen soldiers with him. Kentucky, for example, had sent him only old men and young boys. He reported to his government about the "shameful, cowardly conduct of the militia, who ran away and threw down their guns without firing scarcely a single gun." 15 The militia commanders, of course, disputed this assessment

Wherever the truth lay, it was plain to the president and his advisers that the United States must make a better showing or risk secession of the Northwestern frontier. Accordingly, it prepared a second expedition under the command of Major General Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory. Very late in the season for campaigning in 179 1, St. Clair moved north from Fort Washington with 2,700 men, of which only 625 were regulars. A large proportion of the rest were


Militia in the Early National Period 51

known as "levies," similar to militia because of their short (six months) tour of service and similar to regulars because they had no relationship to any state government. 16 In spite of Washington’s warning of the danger, St. Clair led his men into an ambush on November 4, 1791, losing one-third of his men. In proportion to numbers involved, this was the severest disaster to American arms up the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. St. Clair defended his loss by emphasizing the lack of experience and the insubordination of the militia and the levies. 17 Congress, not satisfied with this explanation and horrified by the result of the campaign, conducted its first investigation into the operations of the commander-in-chief. Washington turned over all related papers, and on the basis of these the investigators found some errors in judgment, but they did not heavily censure anyone. The precedent set for thousands of subsequent hearings was of far more importance than the findings. Two defeats and an investigation, coupled with indignation on the frontier, caused the Washington administration to prepare more carefully than before to send out a third punitive expedition. The result was a reorganization in which the United States Army was reshaped into the Legion of the United States; and the Legion, commanded by Major General Anthony Wayne, defeated the Northwest Indians in 1794, with little support from the citizen soldiery.

When George Washington became president he had had at least thirty-five years’ experience with citizen soldiers. He knew, and often voiced concern, about their faults, but he also appreciated the new nation’s commitment to reliance on them. Even before he became president, he had requested from several general officers of the Revolutionary conflict their opinions on the future role of the militia. All of them considered the prevalent fear of a standing army to be unwarranted, but they recognized that the country would support at most only very small army in peacetime and would continue to place ultimate reliance upon militia. They agreed, too, that the only way to establish an efficient militia force, available for national use, was by classifying eligible men by age. Young and active men, intensively trained, would be called first. Training for the rest would be scaled down with their increasing age, the oldest would be called only in the gravest sort of national crisis. All of Washington’s respondents recognized the need to use the several militias somehow as an efficient national reserve.’ 18

During his first term as president Washington relied on Henry Knox to prepare a comprehensive proposal for the national use of the militia. In spite of the fact that Knox spoke in his treatise of the need for a strong Corrective arm," certain to be unpopular, Washington


52 History of the Militia and the National Guard

approved the Knox plan and submitted it to Congress on January 21, 1790. He and the secretary of war both felt the need for urgent action on the militia, but the Congress repeatedly set the Knox Plan aside to address other pressing issues. 19 Despite intermittent and sometimes sharp debate, two years and four months elapsed before Congress passed An Act more effectually to provide for the National Defense by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the United States on May 8, 1792. This law gave the militia whatever slight central direction it was to have for 111 years. It stated that all free, able-bodied white men, aged 18-45, owed military service to both state and nation. It further directed the eligible males to furnish themselves with proper firearms and accouterments. Certain categories of men were exempt from service and the law authorized the states to expand further their own lists of exemptions. 20

If there was to be a truly uniform militia, the units of the several states would have tobe interchangeable. To this end the law stipulated that the militias must be divided into brigades and regiments but it added the unfortunate phrase, "if the same be convenient" If such subdivision was inconvenient for the states, as it often was in the future, then the units would not be interchangeable, and the several militias would not function effectively as a federal reserve.

The act acknowledged the existence of specialized infantry, including riflemen, light infantry, and grenadiers, and stipulated that there should be one elite company for each standard line battalion. Cavalry and artillery units were to be filled by volunteers within brigades, not less than one company of each per division, but the size of a division was not established. The ratio of all noninfantry troops to infantry was established at a maximum of one to eleven. 21

Each state was to have an adjutant generals the key person to maintain uniformity among the several militias. He was to report the condition of his militia once a year to the governor and to the president of the United States. For every brigade there was to be a brigade major, who, in conjunction with the adjutant general, was to insure the inter changeability of the troops. The act did not create the select Corps recommended by the planners but provided instead for the organizing, arming, and training of all men aged 18-45. Since they numbered in the vicinity of half a million, this provision was unrealistic, made more so because there were no penalties for failure to comply. The act included no sanctions against either states or individuals. The Uniform Militia Act had the weight not of law but of a recommendation to the several states. 22 In passing this act, Congress made a choice that was to shape American military affairs for a century. President Washington pre-


Militia in the Early National Period 53

sented Knox’s plan to Congress to create from the diverse militias a workable national reserve. This reserve might be called to active rice for any of the three missions stipulated in the Constitution. Congress rejected this objective and in effect remanded control of the militias to the states. Future application of the law to supplement the lar army proved it to be haphazard and uncertain in its results. 23 On May 2, 1792, Congress passed another statute vital to the future the militia. Entitled An Act to Provide for Calling Forth the Militia to Execute the Laws of the Union, Suppress Insurrections and Repel Invasions, 24 it delegated to the president some of Congress’s power to call the militia into federal service. Upon invasion or the threat of it, it empowered the president to summon as many troops from areas adjacent to the danger as he deemed necessary and to issue orders to any officer so summoned, bypassing the governor. In addition, the law transferred part of the power in cases of insurrection or for execution of the laws from Congress to the president. Here, however, the chief executive might not act alone, he could summon militia for internal disorders only if a federal judge notified him that civil authority was insufficient When insurgents were involved, the president was required to order them to disperse and allow adequate time for compliance before resorting to militia force. Clearly, the antiFederalists in Congress feared interference by the federal government in their internal affairs more than its help to repulse an invasion. Unlike the Uniform Militia Act, this one provided sanctions for failure to answer summons from the president. Why, then, did Congress make this law enforceable and the other one unenforceable? The answer is probably that the legislators felt no strong objection to the president’s involvement in affairs too difficult for the states to handle (repelling invasion), but were, on the contrary, most unwilling to create a national militia capable of being turned against the states and thus leaving the states a prey to possible federal despotism. The act confirmed long-standing custom in limiting the compulsory term of any militiaman in federal service to three months in a year.

All fifteen states enacted laws in response to the Uniform Militia Act. They confirmed the right of the people to keep and bear arms; made the governor commander-in-chief of the militia and uniformly exempted conscientious objectors from service although some states required them to pay a commutation fee. All states reaffirmed the power to draft but without exception permitted a drafted man to procure a substitute. This affirmed the power of the state to put a militia force in the field, yet at the same time deprived it of any control Over the quality of that force. 25

State laws differed on many vital points. Some permitted people of


54 History of the Militia and the National Guard

color to serve in secondary capacities, usually not to bear arms. Most provided for the election of company officers, but they varied on the ways in which higher officers were selected. Also diverse were provisions requiring the frequency of training. The Uniform Militia Act had left that entirely to the states. In states where there was clear and present danger as well as in those which had long-established systems, training days were frequent. In other cases, training might not be required more than once a year. All states affirmed the duty of the individual to arm himself, but some made provision to supply those persons who could not do so. The New England states in particular had maintained arsenals since colonial times. The slave states continued to require militiamen to do patrol duty to discourage slave insurrections. 26

State laws triggered by the Uniform Militia Act were often quite thorough. If enforced these laws would create vigorous state militias; but neither they nor the federal statutes were capable of integrating the several militias into a reliable force for federal purposes. 27

The method to subdue Shays’ Rebellion in 1786 was repeated during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. Western Pennsylvanians, considering the whiskey tax to be discriminatory, resisted it. The Washington administration, for its part, determined to force their compliance. The militia of the rebellious area was sympathetic to the rebels, and militia from the eastern seaboard was drawn together to do the work. The administration deliberately chose militia rather than regulars to act against the insurrectionists because It recognized the feeling among its political opponents that the regular army was a menace to them. Accordingly, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland produced 12,950 men for the excursion. But even in eastern Pennsylvania it was necessary to draft men to raise the quota of 5,200. In spite of riots in Philadelphia over the draft, the Pennsylvania detachment was finally raised and marched off toward the disaffected area. The governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia personally led their contingents. With a minimum of looting and the accidental deaths of only two civilians, this army of newly organized citizen soldiers carried out its mission in a responsible way. 28

A variation of the Shays pattern occurred in the Fries Rebellion of 1798, in which insurrectionists in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, rebelled against the federal assessors, who were evaluating their properties for one of the two direct taxes ever levied by the United States government on real property. The purpose of this tax was to raise money for war with France which seemed imminent. Both, England and France were violating the rights of neutral shippers— at least as the United States interpreted those rights— but in 1798 France


Militia in the Early National Period 55

appeared to be the most serious threat. 29 The militia of Bucks County gathered, not to enforce the law but to hunt down the assessors. A the nucleus of which was militia, marched toward Bethlehem to free prisoners taken by a federal marshal. John Adams, unlike Washington, reacted to this threat by sending a small detachment of regulars and volunteers to subdue the rebels. William Duane denounced these for their brutality, whereupon some of them dragged him into street and flogged him. 30

The French Revolution was unsettling the world at this time, and both Federalist and Republican leaders in the infant republic were sensitive to its influence. As long as France seemed to present the principal menace, Congress gave the president power to alert detachments of militia, as large as 80,000 men, to be in a state of readiness. More important to the Federalist administration was the enlargement of the regular forces. Most of the leaders of the Federalist Party had been officers in the Continental Army, whereas the Republican leaders, if they had had any military connection at all, had more often been officers in the militia. The Federalists were centralizers, the Republicans the opposite. Each party came to regard the other not as loyal opposition but as traitorous. Alexander Hamilton went so far as to assert that the Republicans intended to make the United States a dependency of France. As the Federalists slowly built up the army and navy, the Republicans became convinced that they intended to use it in the long run to displace the militia and to destroy the opposition party. 31

By 1798, the regular army had grown from 700 men to an authorized strength of 12,696. It was no fault of the Federalists that this strength was largely on paper. Military expenditures were twice as much as they had ever been before, consuming dose to 50 percent of the federal receipts. The following year, Congress authorized up to 41,000 men, a provisional army to be raised if France invaded. No more than 5,100 of these were ever enrolled. 32 To the Republicans it seemed that this was an army without an enemy, since a French invasion could never bypass the British navy. They suspected that its true purpose was to reduce them, the Republicans, and they became more convinced of this when Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, probably aimed at destroying the political opposition. 33

The right wing of the Federalist Party, known as the High Federalists, considered war with France indispensable to national survival. Initially, President John Adams sided with them, even though he saw no need for the Provisional Army. Gradually, his position changed until in 1799 he sent a peace mission to France without consulting influential members of his party; the commission secured a peaceful


56 History of the Militia and the National Guard

convention with the French Directorate, which ended the threat from France. The convention with France split Adams’s party and in effect sustained the Republican position. George Cabot, a High Federalist, said ruefully: "The whole world is becoming military, and if we are wholly otherwise we shall be as sheep among wolves." 34 Adams did not agree that the United States was otherwise. He believed that four institutions had made his own New England great: militia, towns, schools, and churches. 35 Although a member of the right wing of the Republican Party, John Randolph of Roanoke agreed with the president about the militia:

* * *

Despite the policy of the Federalists to enlarge the regular services, the era following the American Revolution stands out as a high point in the history of the militia, a time when it was performing particularly well. The Uniform Militia Act amounted to virtual abdication by the federal government of all authority over the state militias. As a consequence, the states acted upon the recommendations of Congress according to their diverse needs. An effective militia was easiest to develop in areas of dense population. Though the frontiersman did more fighting than his urban brothers, he did it most often in ad hoc groups that were short on military characteristics. Like his chief adversary, the Indian, he was usually an individual fighter. When necessity caused him to join others, the resulting combined action was unsystematic. If his operations happened to have true military cohesion, it was because of dynamic leadership. Even such leadership seldom overcame the pervasive lack of organization for supply. This lack was most likely to be overcome in densely populated areas where men were more used to cohesive action. 37

Everywhere men sought avidly to become generals in the militia because there was genuine prestige in it. The move from general to governor or senator was not uncommon. 38 In addition, a general had patronage to dispense, especially if the state activated some sort of military expedition.


Militia in the Early National Period 57

Since federal law ignored the rank of colonel, lieutenant colonels commanded regiments. Majors therefore filled the role of lieutenant colonels in the regular service, that is as second in command, while captains commanded companies. If there were brigades in the state organization, the brigade major, appointed by the brigadier general, required to inspect and instruct his brigade and to report to the adjutant general the condition of the unit. A few states allowed this officer some compensation. 39

As in the colonial militia, the captain of a company was the lynchpin the system. When a company failed to elect a captain, more often not it deteriorated. Sometimes men purposely left the office vacant in order to avoid having to train. 40 In such cases the states made laws for filling the captaincy. At the end of the eighteenth century, there were about 28,000 militia officers in the system. No scholar has yet compiled figures showing the proportion of these who were attentive to their duties. Court martial records reveal extreme cases only, such as the captain in South Carolina who was cashiered for gouging out of its socket the eye of one of his men at a muster. 41

The laws of all the states required that a captain give adequate notice of a muster or a training day, either by leaving summons at houses or by running a newspaper notice a prescribed number of times. Once the men were properly notified, it was their responsibility to be there with firearms. City men had scant difficulty in assembling; elsewhere the process could be laborious. Frequently, drills took place on greens around courthouses, but they were forbidden there when the courts were in session and when there was an election. 42

Company training consisted of practice in the manual of arms and in performing the simplest company evolutions. The quality of training varied widely in the cities there were expert units that maneuvered with precision, a rare thing in the country. Training days for battalions and regiments were less frequent, but when they did occur they were like festivals. Entire families traveled long distances to reach them, and peddlers and roving entertainers appeared. Local folk sold cold drinks and sweets; gingerbread was a muster-day specialty. The men were apt to get quite drunk, disorderly and pugnacious. 43

Men of the standing companies seldom had uniforms, but their officers did. In contrast, the volunteer companies turned out as Splendid as peacocks. The Salem Light Infantry, for example, sported a blue uniform coat with scarlet facings, brass buttons and gold lace, a Waistcoat and breeches of pure white, and a shiny brass helmet with horsehair plumes falling to the right.

The training day started with drill, first company, and then, if numbers warranted it, battalion exercises. Officers inspected all


58 History of the Militia and the National Guard

firearms, but were lenient since many a yokel had only a shotgun. Toward noon the general or even the governor might arrive, and then all units would combine for regimental maneuvers. At the appropriate break, local folk often served a heavy repast accompanied by much imbibing. After a rest period, there would be more drill, and finally, the day's c1imax, a sham battle. The cavalry charged, the infantry rattled away with blank cartridges; even the artillery, wadding their guns with rags, blasted until their pieces were hot. With the noise and smoke, ladies screamed and children yelled. When all was over at sunset, the crowd, desperately tired, straggled home.

Except in New York and New England, militiamen were generally short of arms for training purposes. One reason was that some men who owned guns would not bring them to drills because there was no regular channel for compensation if a weapon was broken. This meant a replacement cost to the owner of about $13.00. Only the legislature, by special enactment, could give him relief. 44

Several seaboard states abandoned the principle that every militiaman must arm himself. By the end of the eighteenth century, a few states were systematically acquiring small arms. In some cases they sent agents abroad to buy weapons; in others they found in-state manufacturers to patronize. But as states were forced into this expenditure, they began to complain that the federal government was not adequately providing for the common defense. Under pressure, Congress gradually modified the stipulation in the Uniform Militia Act that every man must arm himself It authorized the loan of some arms to the militia in 1798. Later it directed the president to sell or loan arms to volunteer companies and sell, if he deemed it expedient, 30,000 firearms to the states. 45 Militia cavalrymen usually provided their own horses and horse furniture, but artillerymen could scarcely afford cannon. Some artillery pieces from the Revolution lay here and there rusting. Certain states collected, rebored, refitted, and then issued these old pieces to their units. 46 During the French scare, the federal government itself authorized the loan of up to two guns to any accredited militia artillery outfit. Only Massachusetts and Virginia undertook to supply every bona fide artillery company with guns. 47 Even when the guns were provided, another heavy expense remained. horses. To own the necessary teams was expensive; so was horse hire. Companies urged the states to pay this cost, but only Massachusetts complied. 48 Supply was the weakest point in the militia system. One reason was that the federal government left it up to the states except when the militia was in national service. The states for their part usually did not concern themselves with supply problems until an expedition was in


Militia in the Early National Period 59

the field and was short of needed items. Once again, Massachusetts and Connecticut were exceptions to this general indifference. They each town to keep on hand specified quantities of powder, flints, lead, and camp equipment. Selectmen were responsible for ring these requirements and could be fined individually if their were delinquent. 49 In other states the governor and the adjutant had only themselves to rely on in supply matters until the governor appointed an officer for some special excursion. When the United States summoned militia into United States service, either the state or the federal government entered into contracts with private suppliers for food. Such contracts stipulated the price per ration, that is food per man per day. Suppliers entered the agreements for profit, but they were often frustrated. To avoid loss or increase profit, some of them cheated on quantity and quality. 50 All in ill, the contract system for food supply was unsatisfactory to everyone Involved. It demonstrated the fallacy of habitually waiting until a crisis arose, then trying to improvise a food supply.

Only Massachusetts had a quartermaster in peacetime. Elsewhere, even in time of conflict, a unit in the field supplied itself as well as it could and let the bills trickle back to the state authorities. The following receipt is an example: "I acknowledge the receipt of a good Dinner and liquor for my party consisting of 50 men . . ." 51 The tavern keeper forwarded this to the governor, praying that he would be reimbursed.

A citizen’s failure to discharge militia duty made him liable to be fined. There were scores of offenses that produced a fine: striking an officer, failing to enroll in the local unit, failure to turn Out for drills, appearing improperly uniformed and armed, refusing to accept an appointment as a noncom, failing to answer any call to active duty, careless firing, and many others. Size of the fine varied with the nature of the deficiency; it could be 75¢ for missing company training, $2.00 for failure to arm, and $10.00 for refusing to become a noncommissioned officer. Fines against officers were a great deal higher. If the fines are compared with the cost of living, they appear punitive enough to have obtained results. In Virginia, for example, beef brought 5¢, mutton and pork 7¢, and butter 20¢ to 25¢ per pound, a dozen eggs cost 8¢, and a chicken 8¢. The authorities could seize and sell all of a man’s goods to satisfy a militia fine; but in such cases the property owner had a right to a hearing before special boards. These boards, composed of militia officers, met soon after training days to hear excuses and assess fines. 52 The fine system clearly favored the well-to-do. Since they could pay Without hardship, they often avoided the nuisance of militia duty. The


60 History of the Militia and the National Guard

poor objected to this discrimination, and the thoughtful rich objected to it because it meant entrusting their property to men who had no property. 53 But in spite of complaints, the laws, modified by experience, remained in effect. In practice, however, fines were carelessly collected and failed to achieve their purpose.

State or federal ability to make full use of the militias depended on knowledge of their strength and organization. Yet in at least half of the states, this information was not available. Distance and bad roads handicapped reporting. These and other factors made reporting from state to nation worst of all. In spite of the provisions of the Uniform Militia Act, states were careless about their annual reports, and the Federalist administrations did not press them. In 1801, President Jefferson could find figures for only six states and one territory. He thought it was clear that the Federalists did not count on the militia as a national resource. 54

The real test of the militia system occurred when detachments were called for state or federal use. Within a state it was the governor who had the power to call Out the militiamen, but in some cases he could delegate his power to division or brigade commanders. Local officers could bypass the hierarchy and call out their own men in case of sudden invasion or imminent danger of invasion. Rarely, though, did any exigency require the summons of the entire militia of an area." 55

If the call passed down the chain of command, the governor set the numbers assigned to each area and stipulated how the detachments were to be organized once assembled. He usually appointed the officers as far down as the field grades, that is, major and lieutenant colonel The governor’s order went first to the adjutant general, who probably had joined the commander-in-chief in allotting numbers to areas. Then the adjutant general sent the orders on to the next level of commanders beneath him. It was up to the recipients, whether generals or colonels, to split the quota up among the units under them. Finally, the. mobilization order reached the company commanders, I who were required to give their men advance notice of a special I muster. At this muster the captain explained the situation, revealed his company’s quota, and asked for volunteers. If more men were needed than volunteered, compulsory mechanisms went into operation. Certain states divided their companies into classes, calling the first class first, and so on down the line. All states exempted a militiaman from serving twice, as long as there were eligibles who had not served once. If a company was not classified, the men drew lots to see who had to-serve. Any drafted man had the right to hire a substitute. As with the system of fines, the right of substitution favored people of means and placed a burden on the less well-to-do.


Militia in the Early National Period 61

A company’s quota was, as a rule, only a small fraction of the whole. When it was completed, one of the company officers would have to lead the selectees to the point of rendez-vous. There they would join detachments from other companies to form a new company under an officer they did not know and had not worked with previously. That ad hoc company would in turn be associated with other new companies to form a new regiment. Through this mechanism, detachments from all parts of a state ultimately formed into regiments and higher units to serve for the duration of a particular mission, to be dissolved afterward.

The new units either trained together or, more probably, marched off at once to carry out their mission. If, as was rare, they had time to train for an extended period, the men might overcome some of the strangeness they felt at serving with persons they had not known under officers with whom they had never worked. In any case, they left behind whatever esprit de corps they might have generated in their conventional units. Certain elite corps volunteered en masse, thus preserving their cohesion and spirit, but companies from the standing militia seldom did.

When large detachments were alerted— 80,000 in 1794 and the same number in 1797— simply to be ready, a different sort of erosion undermined efficiency. 56 New units formed as described above and were directed to train together. But the men detached from the standing companies found it nearly impossible to gather to train in the new units. Distance alone made their presence at battalion exercises almost impossible. Since the detached men were excused from training with their old companies in order to train with the new ones, they in fact stopped drilling altogether. They were thus less rather than more ready. This manipulation appeared to give the nation at low cost a substantial ready force, but in reality it did no more than produce an ill-organized body of men, not as well trained as the mass of the militia.

Militiamen served their states far more than they ever did the United States; indeed, the states could not have carried on government without them. They were an indispensable part of ceremonies and parades; they turned out when the police could no longer keep order; they manned coastal forts, for example, during the pseudo-war with France; they guarded criminals; and enforced quarantines against infectious diseases. In slave-holding areas they also functioned as patrols. Sometimes, however, the states found it necessary to hire "state troops" to serve longer than militiamen could. Massachusetts employed some for three years in 1795; so did South Carolina. 57 Even though the Constitution forbade any state to keep troops other than militia in time of peace, such soldiery did from time to time appear. One reason for it was that the federal government simply could not


62 History of the Militia and the National Guard

carry out its Constitutional obligation at all times to protect the several states from invasion. But the states, in protecting their own borders during the 1790s, sought to pass the costs on to the federal government. After long delays and much bickering, Congress usually authorized payment, 58 and in this indirect manner, at least, fulfilled its obligation to defend the states. The method was expensive, but at the same time it magnified the role of the citizen soldier and minimized that of the army.

If state interests clashed with those of the United States, the militia system underwent severe strain. This occurred in 1794 when Georgia disagreed with the federal government over the treatment of the Indians inside Georgia. In that year, regulars and Georgia militiamen faced each other with firearms loaded and cocked. In the end, local commanders kept cool, the United States yielded its position, and the issue was resolved without conflict between state and nation. 59 In 1798, the Old Dominion was so deeply opposed to the Alien and Sedition Acts that it began to prepare its militia for action. 60 This tension, like that in Georgia, passed. The eighteenth century ended and the nineteenth began without open conflict between militiamen of the states and regulars of the U. S. Army.


1. Don Higginbotham, The War of American Independence (Macmillan, 1971), pp. 206, 438. text@note1

2. The Articles of Confederation are printed in most anthologies of documents on United States history. See, for example, Documents of American History to 1898, Henry Steele Commager, ed. (8th ed., AppletonCentury-Crofts, 1968), pp. 111-116. text@note2

3. John K Mahon, "Pennsylvania and the Beginnings of the Regular Army," Pennsylvania History (Jan. 1954), pp. 33-43; James Ripley Jacobs, The Beginnings of the U. S. Army, 1783-1812 (Princeton, 1947), chap. 2, pp. 13-39. text@note3

4. Richard G. Stone, Jr., The Brittle Sword: The Kentucky Militia 1776-1912 (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1977), p. 21. text@note4

5. John Bakeless, Background to Glory: The Life of George Rogers Clark (Lippincott, 1957), pp. 319-321; Temple Bodley, George Rogers Clark (Houghton-Mifflln, 1926), pp. 199-206, 282-286. text@note5

6. For detail on Shays’ Rebellion, see Marion L. Starkey, A Little Rebellion (Knopf, 1955); see also Richard H. Kohn, Eagle and Sword; The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America, 1783-1802 (Free Press, 1975), pp. 74, 75. text@note6

7. For general information on the division of opinion, see Merrill Jensen, The New Nation (Knopf, 1950). text@note7

8. Kohn, Eagle, p. 83. text@note8

9. Higginbotham, Independence, pp. 455 -456; Charles A. Lofgren, "Compulsory Military Service under the Constitution: The Original Understanding," William and Mary Q., XXXIII (Jan. 1976), pp. 61-88. text@note9

10. Arthur A. Ekirch, The Civilian and the Military (Oxford Univ. Press, 1956), p. 2. text@note10

11. Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention, 3 vols. (Yale Univ. Press, 1911), vol. 3, pp. 207-209. text@note11

12. Jonathan Elliot, ed., Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution..., 5 vols. (reprint, New York, 1901), vol. 2, p. 136. text@note12

13. Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, 8 vols. (Carnegie Inst. of Wash., D.C., 1921-1938), voL 7, p. 604. text@note13

14. Farrand, Records, vol. 3, p. 318. text@note14

15. American State Papers, Indian Affairs, 2 vols. (Wash., D.C., 1832), vol. 1, p. 23; for the detailed story of Harmer’s campaign, see Jacobs, Beginnings, chaps. 4 and 5. text@note15

16. John K. Mahon, "The Citizen Soldier in National Defense, 1789-1815" (unpublished PhD. diss., UCLA, 1950), pp. 37, 38. text@note16

17. Arthur St. Clair, A Narrative of the Campaign Against the Indians in the Year 1791 (Philadelphia, 1812), p. 183. For an account of the battle, see Jacobs, Beginnings, chaps. 4 and 5. text@note17

18. John McA. Palmer, Washington, Lincoln, Wilson (Doubleday, Doran, 1930), part I, "Washington’s Legacy." text@note18

19. Ibid., chaps. 8, 9, 10. text@note19

20. I WSL, 8 May 1792, p. 271. text@note20

21. Ibid. text@note21

22. John K. Mahon, The American Militia: Decade of Decision, 1789-1800 (Univ. of Florida Press, 1960), chap. 2. text@note22

23. Ibid. text@note23

24. I USSL, 2 May 1792, p. 264. text@note24

25. Mahon, Decade, chaps. 3 and 4. text@note25

26. Ibid. text@note26

27. Ibid. text@note27

28. Leland D. Baldwin, Whiskey Rebels. . . (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1939). For briefer treatment with emphasis on the use of militia, see Mahon, "Citizen Soldier," chap. 7. text@note28

29. William Watts H. Davis, The Fries Rebellion, 1798-1799 (Doylestown, Penna, 1899). text@note29

30. John Bach McMaster, History of the People of the United States, 8 vols. (Appleton, 1902-1913), vol. 2, pp. 435-438. text@note30

31. Kohn, Eagle, pp. 12, 193, 212, 219, 279. text@note31

32. See chart in The Army Lineage Book Infantry (GPO, 1953), pp. 58, 59. text@note32

33. Kohn, Eagle, pp. 260, 263. text@note33

34. Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., 4 vols. (Belknap Press, Harvard, 1961), vol. 3, p. 195. text@note34

35. Kohn, Eagle, pp. 260, 263. text@note35

36. Annals of Congress, 6 Cong., 1 sess., 1799-180 1, p. 306. text@note36

37. For data to prove this thesis, see John K Mahon, "Anglo-American Methods of Indian Warfare, 1676-1794," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XLV (Sep. 1958), pp. 254-275; see also Stone, Brittle Sword, p. 38. text@note37

38. For example, a news item announced a new major general in North Carolina because the previous one was elected governor, North Carolina Minerva and Fayetteville Gazette, 15 Dec. 1798. The rise of Andrew Jackson through his position as major general of the Tennessee militia is the most conspicuous case; see Marquis James, Andrew Jackson. The Border Captain (Bobbs-Merrill, 1933). text@note38

39. The New Hampshire legislature voted sums, not fixed, periodically; Virginia, $200 per year; Massachusetts, sums at the discretion of the legislature; North Carolina, 25 shillings a day when on active service; Georgia, $1.75 per day when on active militia duty. text@note39

40. Brigade Inspector, Philadelphia County, toAG, 16 Feb. 1797, MS, Harmar Papers, Clements Library, University of Michigan. text@note40

41. Court martial of Capt. Joab Blackwell, 22 Oct. 1802, MS, Military File, South Carolina Historical Commission. text@note41

42. For an example, see Davis, Fries Rebellion, p. 45. text@note42

43. The account of training days, given here and in the next two paragraphs, is a composite drawn from the following accounts: H. Teller Mook, "Training Day in New England," New England Q., XI (Dec. 1936), pp. 675 -697; "Extracts from the Diary of the Reverend William Bentley of Salem...," Danvers Historical Society, Historical Collections, I (1913), pp. 72, 73; Guion G. Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1937), pp. 102-104; Andrew D. Mellick Jr., The Story of an Old Farm or Life in New Hampshire in the Eighteenth Century (Somerville, NewJersey, 1889), pp. 577-580; Mary H. Northend, Memories of Old Salem (NewYork, 1912),pp. 278-289; J. W. Dearborn, ed., A History of the First Century of Parsonsfield, Maine (Portland, 1888), pp. 228-230; John J. Dearborn, ed., History of Salisbury, New Hampshire (Manchester, New Hampshire, 1890), pp. 280ff.; George Mays, "Battalion or Training Day at Schaefferstown in the Olden Time," Historical Papers and Addresses of the Lebanon County Historical Society, 1(1899), pp. 148-168; William H. Zierdt, Narrative History of the 109th Field Artillery, Pennsylvania National Guard (Wilkes-Barre, 1932), p. 43. text@note43

44. Brigade Inspector of Huntington County to Adjutant General of Penna., 24 Oct. 1795, MS, Harmar Papers. text@note44

45. Act of 28 May 1798, Sections 11 and 12; Act of 22 June and Act of6 July 1798, I USSL, pp. 563, 569, 576. text@note45

46. Adjutant General to Governor, 10 Dec. 1788, MS, Letterbook of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, No. 1, Military Archives, AGO, Mass. text@note46

47. Act of 22 June 1798, Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Samuel Shepherd, The Statutes at Large of Virginia, 1792-1806 (Richmond, 1835), p. 365. text@note47

48. Adjutant General to Governor, 12 June 1789, MS, Letterbook of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, No. 1. text@note48

49. Act of 22 June 1793 and Resolve of 24 Feb. 1792, Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. text@note49

50. For examples of chiseling, see Georgia Military Affairs, 9 vols. covering 1789-1842 (typed from the original manuscripts and bound in 1940 under the direction of Mrs. J. E. Hays, State Historian), vol. 1, pp. 248,249, 251, 280, 281, 283, 285. text@note50

51. Receipt signed by Peter Grey, Captain, Goose Creek Company, 2 May 1793, MS, Military File, South Carolina Historical Commission. text@note51

52. Data on militia fines drawn from: Act of 1794, chaps. 2, 5; Act of 1796, chap. 8; Act of 1798, chap. 5, Act of 1800, chap. 28, Laws of North Carolina, George and Robert Watkins, Digest of the Laws of the State of Georgia (Philadelphia, 1800), p. 458; Act of 10 May, 1794; Benjamin Elliott, The Militia System of South Carolina (Charleston, 1835); Act of 22 June 1793, Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Act of 25 July 1788, Theodore C. Pease, Laws of the Northwest Territory (Illinois State Historical library Collections, XVII, Springfield, 1925), p. 1; Act of 2 Dec. 1793, Shepherd, Virginia Statutes, p. 203; Act of 28 Dec. 1792, ConstItution and Laws of the State of New Hampshire (Dover, N. H., 1805). See also Lena London, "The Militia Fine, 18301860," MilitaryAffairs,XV (Fall l95l),pp. 133-144. text@note52

53. Memorial of Officers of 28th and 29th Regiments, South Carolina Militia to the S. C. Senate, 11 Dec. 1798, MS, Military File, South Carolina Historical Commission. text@note53

54. Returns of the Militia of the United States transmitted to Congress, 5Jan. 1803, ASPMA, voL 1, p. 159. text@note54

55. The operation of the mechanism described in this and the next four paragraphs has to be reconstructed from many, many spedfic instances or laws. Examples can be found lit Act of 22 Dec. 1792, William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania, Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia....from 1619, l3 vols. (Philadelphia, 1823),vol. 13; Act of 20 March 1780, James T. Mitchell & Henry Flanders, compilers, Statutes At Large of Pennsylvania 1682-1801, 16 vols. (Harrisburg, 1896-1911 ), vol. 10; Muffin to Harmar, 25 Aug. 1798, MS, Muffin Papers, Pennsylvania Historical Commission, vol. 52; Col. Campbell to Governor Muffin, 15 Jan. 1792, Pennsylvania Archives, series 2, vol. 4, p. 580. text@note55

56. Act of 9 May 1794 and Act of 24 June 1797, I USSL, pp. 367, 522. text@note56

57. General Order, 28 Feb. 1795, General Orders, vol. 1, MS, Military Archives, AGO Masa, p. 119; Items 37,39,782, MSS, Military File, South Carolina Historical Commission. text@note57

58. An example is Georgia’s claim pressed year after year for defense carried out in 1794 which was fmally settled in 1827, HR Report Number 77, 10 Feb. 1827, 19 Cong., 2 sess. text@note58

59. John K Mahon, "The Defense of Georgia, 1794," Georgia Historical Q., XLIII (June 1959), pp. 138-155. text@note59

60. Henry Adams, The Life of Albert Gallatin (Philadelphia, 1879), p. 211; McMaster, History, vol. 2, p. 494. text@note60


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