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History of the Army National Guard

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The Army National Guard predates the founding of the nation and a standing military by almost a century and a half - and is therefore the oldest component of the United States armed forces. America's first permanent militia regiments, among the oldest continuing units in history, were organized by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. Since that time, the Guard has participated in every U.S. conflict from the Pequot War of 1637 to our current deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq).

Today's National Guard is the direct descendent of the militias of the thirteen original English colonies. The first English settlers brought many cultural influences and English military ideas with them. For most of its history, England had no full-time, professional Army. The English had relied on a militia of citizen-soldiers who had the obligation to assist in national defense.

The first colonists in Virginia and Massachusetts knew that they had to rely on themselves for their own defense. Although the colonists feared the traditional enemies of England, the Spanish and Dutch, their main threat came from the thousands of native Americans who surrounded them.

Initially, relations with the Indians were relatively peaceful, but as the colonists took more and more of the Indians land, war became inevitable. In 1622, Indians massacred nearly one quarter of the English settlers in Virginia. In 1637, the English settlers in New England went to war against the Pequot Indians of Connecticut.

These first Indian wars began a pattern which was to continue on the American frontier for the next 250 years - a type of warfare that the colonists had not experienced in Europe.

By the time of the French and Indian War, which began in 1754, the colonists had been fighting Indians for generations. To augment their forces in North America, the British recruited regiments of "Provincials" from the militia. These colonial regiments brought to the British Army badly-needed skills in frontier warfare. Major Robert Rogers of New Hampshire formed a regiment of "rangers" who performed reconnaissance and conducted long-range raids against the French and their Indian allies.

The Making of a New Nation

Barely ten years after the end of the French and Indian War, the colonists were at war with the British and the militia was poised to play a crucial role in the revolution. Most of the regiments of the Continental Army, commanded by former militia colonel George Washington, were recruited from the militia. As the war progressed, American commanders learned how to make use of citizen-soldiers to help defeat the British Army.

When the fighting moved to the southern states in 1780, successful American generals learned to call out the local militia for specific battles, to augment their full-time Continental troops. At the same time, these Southern militiamen were fighting a brutal civil war with their neighbors loyal to the King. Both the Patriots and Loyalists raised militias, and on both sides, joining the militia was the ultimate test of political loyalty.

Americans recognized the important role played by the militia in winning the Revolutionary War. When the nation's founders debated what form the government of the new nation would take, great attention was paid to the institution of the militia.

The framers of the Constitution reached a compromise between the opposing point of view of the federalist's and anti-federalists. The federalists believed in a strong central government and wanted a large standing Army with a militia firmly under control of the Federal government. The anti-federalists believed in the power of the states and small or non-existent regular Army with state controlled militias. The President was given control of all military forces as Commander-in-Chief, but Congress was provided the sole power to raise the taxes to pay for military forces and the right to declare war. In the militia, power was divided between the individual states and the Federal government. The Constitution gave the states the right to appoint officers and supervise training, and the Federal government was granted the authority to impose standards.

In 1792, Congress passed a law which remained in effect for 111 years. With a few exceptions, the 1792 law required all males between the ages of 18 to 45 to enroll in the militia. Volunteer companies of men who would buy their own uniforms and equipment were also authorized. The Federal government would set standards of organization and provide limited money for weapons and ammunition.

Unfortunately, the 1792 law did not require inspections by the Federal government, or penalties for non-compliance with the law. As a result, in many states the "enrolled" militia went into a long decline; once-a-year musters were often poorly organized and ineffective. Nevertheless, during the War of 1812, the militia provided the infant republic's main defense against the British invaders.

War with Mexico

The War of 1812 demonstrated that despite its geographic and political isolation from Europe, the United States still needed to maintain military forces. The militia component of that military force was increasingly filled by the growing number of volunteers (as opposed to mandatory enrollment) militia. Many states began to rely completely on their volunteer units, and to spend their limited Federal funds entirely on them.

Even in the mostly rural South, these units tended to be an urban phenomenon. Clerks and craftsmen made up most of the force; the officers, usually elected by the members of the unit, were often wealthier men such as lawyers or bankers. As increasing numbers of immigrants began to arrive in the 1840s and 1850s, ethnic units such as the "Irish Jasper Greens" and the German "Steuben Guards" began to spring up.

Information Courtesy of the Army National Guard

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