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A Brief History of the Alabama Citizen Soldier
Taken from “A brief history of Alabama’s Citizen-Soldiers”
written by Colonel John H. Napier, III (ALSDF)

“The militia is certainly an object of primary importance, whether reviewed in reference to the national security, to the satisfaction of the community or to the preservation of order”
-George Washington

In Ancient Rome, “militia” was the Latin word for military service, derived from “miles”, a soldier. Militia refers to citizens of a state who are not in the regular military service, but who are called to bear arms in its defense in emergencies. The later terms of “levee en masse” and “the nation in arms” have much the same meaning. In the English-speaking world the militia began as the “fyrd” of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms by the ninth century.

However, after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, this general levy of all free adult males was replaced generally by a feudal levy based upon landholding and personal obligation by a vassal to a lord. In time “train bands” (trained bands) of burghers and farmers arose in England as local volunteers mustered periodically by each county’s sheriff (shire reeve). Eventually a lord lieutenant replaced the sheriff in each county as its chief military officer, and he was usually a peer answerable to the Crown. In Scotland clan chiefs raised regiments of clansmen, while in Ireland native princes gathered local defense units of knights, gallowglasses and kerns (heavy and light infantry) to resist the Anglo-Norman invaders.

After threat of invasion of England disappeared with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 the general levy decayed. Local volunteer forces officered by the country gentry kept internal peace and provided local defense until the Civil Wars in England and Scotland between 1642 and 1649. Afterwards, Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army supported his military dictatorship of Britain for a decade. This left a distaste among Britons—and American colonists—for standing armies, although after King Charles II’s Restoration regiments had to be raised for overseas service in Tangier on the Continent and in India.

So British North American colonists brought three military attitudes with them: the theory of a general levy of enrolled militia, the reality of local volunteer companies officered by gentlemen in a deferential society and a distaste for regular armies. Despite claims of Northern historians, Colonial America’s first citizen soldiers were not the train bands of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s townships of 1636 (of which the oldest still extant is the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company), but with the military regime the London Company imposed in Virginia after Jamestown’s settlement in 1607. In Virginia, traditional English social norms were replaced by a different social organization, that of company, squadron and file in each county, and accepted English titles and ranks such as baron, knight and esquire by a more military hierarchy, that of colonel, major, captain, etc. and each county’s military was headed by it’s county lieutenant. One’s social status came to reflect partially one’s military rank, rather than one’s social degree, as in the Mother Country.

As the infant colonies struggled to survive Indian hostility the general levy worked both in Virginia and New England. However, as the frontier advanced and the threat receded slowly westwards, the general militia decayed as it had a century earlier in Great Britain. Trained citizen soldiers and local volunteers replaced it, usually the ranger companies in the south and the train bands in the north. For most of the North American colonial period, there were no regular British Army troops present.

In our successful War for Independence from Great Britain our forces were a mix of local volunteer units such as the New England Minutemen, a generally poorly organized and led militia and the Continental Army, the first American standing army. However, after the 1783 peace settlement the latter was disbanded and reliance for defense placed upon the citizen soldier. On March 5, 1792, the US Congress passed a Militia Act, which for more than a century would be the legal basis for the citizen soldiery. It continued old colonial and state practices, providing not only for a general militia of all free white male citizens providing their own equipment and serving without pay, but also for recognized volunteer corps which provided their own arms and uniforms. Such proud old socially elite units as New York’s Veteran Corps of Artillery organized in 1791, the First City Troop of Philadelphia and the Richmond Blues trace their histories from this early period. The result was that only affluent and dedicated men organized themselves into active volunteer companies, while the vast enrolled militia with its rank titles, divisions and brigades existed only on paper and musters decreased or ceased entirely. This happened, despite the fact that the US Census existed at first for two purposes—to determine Congressional apportionment and the number of men of military age in the country.

Meanwhile, the frontier moved ever west and new states entered the Union. The Mississippi Territory, including today’s Alabama, was organized in 1798. In 1807 it passed a Militia Law that prescribed universal military service for each free white male between the ages of 16 and 50, each of whom had to provide his own equipment. This would become the basis later for Alabama’s military organization, after Statehood in 1819. Meanwhile, the Mississippi Territorial Militia saw active service in the War of 1812 and the accompanying Creek War of 1813-1814, including units from the future Alabama counties of Mobile, Madison (two each), Baldwin, Clarke and Washington, in which blacks served.

Alabama became a state in 1819 and enacted its first military legislation in 1821. It followed the Mississippi model in providing for a statewide military organization headed by an Adjutant General (the Governor being Commander-in-Chief) and divided territorially into divisions and brigades. It mandated frequent musters and permitted incorporation of a volunteer company in each militia regiment with the prerogative of choosing its own uniform. The first Alabama Adjutant general, Brigadier Carter B. Harrison, served from 1819 to 1823. Volunteer corps sprang up in the new state, such as the Montgomery Troop and Monroe County’s Claiborne Troop. On paper Alabama was divided into four divisions of nine brigades total, with at least one regiment or battalion in each brigade. Obviously, militia rank titles proliferated!

Alabama volunteer companies in 1835 went to help Texas gain its independence from Mexico and many Alabamians were shot after surrender at the treacherous execution at Goliad. Former Monroe Countian Colonel William B. Travis commanded the garrison at the defense of the Alamo and Sam Houston had first won his spurs as a subaltern at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend near present-day Alexander City. In 1836 a regiment of Alabama volunteers, including the newly organized Montgomery True Blues, fought in Florida in the Second Seminole War, while three Alabama militia regiments contained Indians of the Creek Nation protesting their forced removal, the Trail of Tears, across the Mississippi River to present-day Oklahoma. In 1837 a new Militia Code extended the list of occupations exempt from militia duty and emphasized the division of service between the two classes of enrolled militia and volunteer companies.

The latter proliferated, preening in their military finery, vying with each other militarily and socially: the Wetumpka Borderers, Selma Guards, Tuscaloosa’s Warrior Guards, Catawba Rifles, Catoma Light Horse Mobile Rifles and Mobile Cadets, to name a few. By 1845 there were enough volunteer companies in the Mobile area to organize the First Volunteer Regiment of Alabama Militia, and later in Montgomery the Independent Battalion, which in 1860 became the Second Volunteer Regiment. Meanwhile, in 1846 Alabama furnished three regiments of volunteers for service in the Mexican War from local units.

Tension increased between the North and South over slavery in the 1850’s. Pro-slavery and Free-Soiler forces fought over “Bleeding Kansas”, where a fanatical John Brown became notorious. Major Jefferson Buford of Eufaula led a battalion of Alabama and Georgia immigrant volunteers to Kansas Territory, but the Free-Soilers won out. Then in 1859 Brown tried to raise a slave insurrection in Virginia, and the frightened South began to arm in earnest and Secession loomed. In 1859-60 the Alabama General Assembly, as the Legislature was often called, chartered at least 60 volunteer military companies including the Auburn Guards, Coffeeville Mounted Guards, Eutaw Rangers and the Ramer Grays. In February 1860 out of the militia the Legislature created the Alabama Volunteer Corps (A.V.C.) of 74 organized companies with 8,150 men authorized. In June the Second Regiment was activated in Montgomery, Colonel Tennant Lomax, a Mexican War veteran, commanding. A distinctive A.V.C. uniform was prescribed.

In November 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected US President, southern secession began and Alabama went out in January 1861, the third state to do so. Governor A.B. Moore ordered the First Volunteer Regiment to seize federal military posts in the Mobile area, including the Mt. Vernon Arsenal. He directed the Second Volunteer Regiment to Pensacola to help Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana troops to occupy US installations there. Alabama companies there included Selma’s Independent Blues, Barbour County’s Perote Guards and the Tuskegee Light Infantry. In March the Army of Alabama was organized for 12-month service.

However, the Confederate Provisional Government in Montgomery ordered the attack on Fort Sumter in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor. The Civil War began and all Alabama troops were transferred into the Provisional Army of the Confederate States. During the war, Alabama furnished to the Confederacy 63 infantry and 13 cavalry regiments, several infantry battalions and one of artillery, as well as 18 artillery batteries and several other units. More than 75,000 Alabamians wore the Grey, 35,000 of whom did not return home. Also, two Union cavalry regiments were raised in North Alabama and at the end of the war, in April 1865 four regiments of freedmen at Selma. However blacks also served in Alabama Confederate units as field musicians, teamsters, cooks and servants, and on more than one occasion, picked up muskets to fire on the Bluecoats. On April 23, 1862, Mobile freemen, “Creoles” of mixed blood who were mostly property owners and some slaveholders, volunteered to raise a battalion or regiment of their own to serve the South. On November 20, 1862, the Alabama Legislature accepted the Creole Guards for home defense service in the Mobile area.

By 1862 Alabama was virtually defenseless with all her volunteers at the front, most either in General R.E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia or the Army of Tennessee, commanded first by General Albert Sidney Johnston. Governor John Gill Shorter appealed to Alabamians to form 50-man volunteer companies in each county to “be enrolled as part of the State Guard for home defense”, but there was little response. By 1864 Union forces had occupied North Alabama and began threatening the interior. On February 17, 1864, the Confederate Congress extended the ages of military service from 18 to 45 to 17 to 50, but directed that those under 18 and over 45 should constitute State Reserves, serving only within their State’s borders, classified as First Class Militia. The Second Class was made up of exempt and unfit men. In Alabama former State Treasurer Colonel William Graham commanded the State Reserves under Adjutant General Hugh P. Watson.

Then the Alabama State Reserves came under the command of the Confederate States Army Military District of Montgomery, Major General Jones M. Withers, a West Pointer, Mexican War veteran and former Mobile mayor. Organized were the 1st and 2nd Regiments in Mobile, the 3rd in Selma recruited from the Black Belt and the Montgomery County Reserve Regiment. These four Alabama State Reserve Regiments may be regarded fairly as the ancestors of the four brigades of today's Alabama State Defense Force (A.S.D.F.). As the manpower situation became desperate, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd were drafted into Confederate service as the 62nd, 63rd and 65th Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiments (if there were a 64th, it must have been the Montgomery Reserves, but the records are lacking). These units manned the defenses of Mobile and Blakely and tried vainly to resist Rousseau's Raid of July 1864 and Wilson' Raid of April 1865--boys and old men up against seasoned Union cavalry. The Surrender followed and Union occupation commanders in 1866 ordered reorganized local defense companies disbanded (some seem to have continued disguised as rifle clubs). In 1869, the Alabama Carpetbagger Government tried to organize an elaborate militia system, but it existed mainly on paper because of the racial issue.

In 1874 the Democrats regained control of the Alabama State government and volunteer military companies appeared so quickly that one may suspect that some already existed clandestinely. Reappearing were old elite units such as the Montgomery True Blues, Montgomery Grays, Mobile Rifles and Mobile Cadets, to be joined by units from New South cities, such as the Birmingham Rifles, Jefferson Volunteers, Anniston Rifles and Gadsden's Etowah Rifles. In 1881, the State military establishment became the Alabama State Troops (A.S.T.) and in 1897 received its current designation as the Alabama National Guard.

In the late 19th Century before effective municipal police existed and long before there was any state police, the Alabama volunteer militia was used to maintain law and order. Before the Civil War slave patrols were drawn from the militia; afterwards, it was used to suppress racial disturbances and labor strikes. When the Spanish-American War came in 1898, the Alabama National Guard did not render effective military service. Only two-thirds of its 1,800 members volunteered for active service. The two white and one black regiments mustered did not add to America's military might, nor did much of the rest of the U. S. Army. Clearly reform was urgent.

It came in the turn of the century reforms of Secretary of War Elihu Root. One such action was the Dick Act of 1903, which did more to integrate the National Guard of the States into the national military establishment than any legislation since the Militia Act of 1792. The various state militias were made to conform in organization, discipline, doctrine and uniform with the Regular Army. Further Alabama legislation in 1909, 1911 and 1915 enabled the Alabama National Guard to enter the 20th Century and to prepare for the horrors of its wars.

In 1914, not only did the Great War envelop Europe but also the Mexican Revolution seemed to threaten the U. S. southwest border, particularly after Pancho Villa's raid into New Mexico in 1916. Brigadier General John J. Pershing was ordered to take the U. S. Army 1st Division to the Mexican Border to restore order. Most of the U. S. National Guard was mobilized for the first time to reinforce the Regulars and as it turned out to gain field experience for World War I. The 1st, 2nd and 4th Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiments were mustered into federal service at Montgomery's Vandiver Park (formerly the old State Fair Grounds, later the World War I Camp Sheridan and near the present-day Alabama State Military Headquarters. More than 5,000 Alabama Guardsmen saw five months of field service at San Antonio, Texas, Nogales and Douglas, Arizona.

They were ordered back to Montgomery for demobilization in March 1917, but on 6 April the U. S. declared war on Imperial Germany, and the Alabama Guardsmen were kept on active duty and put to guarding key points in the state. On 5 August 1917, 5,025 Alabama Guardsmen were again federalized. The 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment, reinforced by men from the other regiments, became the U. S. 167th Infantry, Colonel William P. Screws commanding, part of the 85th Infantry Brigade, 42nd ("Rainbow") Division, composed of Guardsmen from 26 states. The other infantry regiments were from New York, 165th (Fighting 69th); Ohio, 166th and Iowa, 168th. It is an interesting coincidence that in 1861, the Alabama Adjutant General's Special Order that activated the old Fourth Alabama was No. 167!

Other Alabama National Guard units went into the 31st ("Dixie") Division, along with other units from Georgia, Florida and Louisiana. However, it did not reach France until a month before the Armistice and served as a depot division. During World War I, there apparently were proposals to form an Alabama Home Guard to replace the National Guard for the duration, but nothing came of it.

The 42nd boasted one of the most distinguished battle records in the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) at Chateau Thierry, St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne, but suffered 50 per cent casualties--14,683--in just over five months of combat! On 9 October 1918 the German General Staff evaluated the Rainbow Division thus: "It is in splendid fighting condition and is counted among the best American divisions." On 10 November 1918, the day before the Armistice, Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, who had been Assistant Division Commander, took command of the 42nd. A quarter of a century later, Alabama Guardsmen would serve under MacArthur again in another world war in another part of the globe.

"Alabama's Own" 167th then helped liberate Belgium and took part in the Occupation of Germany. As the regiment entered the Rhine Valley, its band played "Dixie" as a rainbow appeared in the heavens! On 12 May 1919, the 167th returned home to Montgomery for a great Victory Parade witnessed by cheering thousands up Commerce Street, Court Square and Dexter Avenue before being mustered out at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Ancient veterans of the Blue and Grey rode in the same automobiles in the procession as the victors marched under a Victory Arch at Commerce and present-day Bibb Streets.

The National Defense Acts of 1916 and 1920 effectively combined Regular Army, National Guard and Organized Reserves into a whole (besides authorizing the Reserve Officer Training Corps, or R.O.T.C.). In 1922, the Alabama National Guard was reorganized with strength of 2,830, and the 167th and other units were made part of the 31st ("Dixie") Division. That same year, the first Alabama Air National Guard unit was organized, the 135th (later 106th) Observation Squadron, its cadre "The Birmingham Escadrille" made up of World War I pilots. It worked with the 22nd Observation Squadron, a Regular Army Air Service unit then based at Maxwell Field. In 1923, Fleet Division Three, 8th Naval District was organized in Birmingham and in 1930 was recognized as the Alabama Naval Militia although the Adjutant General did not control it. Its longtime commander was Montgomery banker William 0. Baldwin, an Annapolis graduate. During the Great Depression, beginning in 1935, an extensive National Guard armory building project began in Alabama as part of federal relief public work programs. Guardsmen had to attend drill 48 times a year and two-week summer camp field training. In 1936, the Adjutant General's Office was renamed the State Military Department.

World War II began 1 September 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The next summer France fell, Great Britain stood alone and an alarmed America began to rearm. In the fall of 1940, the first U. S. peacetime draft began, while the nation's National Guard was ordered to active duty. Alabama Guardsmen joined the Dixie Division in training at Camp Blanding, Florida. In April 1944, the 31st went overseas to the South Pacific, serving again under MacArthur and fighting in New Guinea and the liberation of the Philippines. Casualties were much lower than in World War I. The 167th Infantry Regiment only took 539 casualties, killed, wounded and missing, about 14 per cent in 16 months. The Alabama Air National Guard likewise fought in the Southwest Pacific, the 106th Observation Squadron going through several changes of name, aircraft and function before it became the 100th Bombardment Squadron, 42nd Bombardment Group, Thirteenth Air Force, a B-25 outfit that fought in the Solomons, Philippines and China.

During World War II, many states organized a second militia to replace the federalized National Guard for local defense and internal security, generally called State Guard and patterned on Britain's Home Guard (nicknamed "Dad's Army" and originally designated Local Defense Volunteers). In fact, California feared a Japanese invasion1 and placed its State Guard on active service and organized a third-line backup, the California State Militia.

In Alabama in 1940, Governor Frank Dixon (who had lost a leg in World War I in France as an Army major) led in organizing a temporary military force to replace the federalized National Guard. Named the Alabama State Guard, it was recruited mainly from the state's American Legion posts of overage World War I veterans. In 1942, the A.S. G. was authorized 70 companies, each of three officers and 45 enlisted men, plus headquarters and support elements to total 3,400. However, because of shortages of weapons and uniforms, only 25 companies went into state service, with a total strength of 90 officers, 1,372 enlisted men and seven civilians. They were required to take part in a weekly evening drill of two hours without drill pay. Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island was turned over to the A.S.G. for field training and in 1942, two one-week encampments were held. Today the buildings house a U. S. Coast Guard station. A.S.G. companies were called out to maintain order in several labor disputes.

V-J Day brought the end of World War II on 1 September 1945; six years to the day after Adolf Hitler had started it. The Dixie Division returned stateside, as did the 100th Bomb Squadron. Both were inactivated in December at Camp Stoneman, California. The A.S.G. was disbanded, while Adjutant General George Deere led in reorganizing the Alabama National Guard. The 31st again received federal recognition 1 November 1946 as the Alabama and Mississippi National Guard Division, with the 167th part of it. The Alabama Air National Guard was reorganized as a component of the newly independent U. S. Air Force.

The Korean War began 25 June 1950 and soon the Dixie Division was again federalized. It did not go overseas, but trained at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Camp McCall, North Carolina and Camp Atterbury, Indiana. It was released from federal service and returned to its states' control at Greenville, Mississippi 15 June 1954, although reorganization had begun 2 April 1953. Since then, the Alabama National Guard has been called upon to maintain public order. Units were federalized during the Civil Rights struggle in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and Selma in the early 1960's. Since those tumultuous days, the Alabama National Guard has been racially integrated.

During the Korean War, the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Group of the Alabama Air National Guard was also federalized and was sent to Germany to help bolster NATO defenses against a feared Soviet attempt to overrun Western Europe. During the later Berlin Crisis of October 1961, 1,500 Alabama Air Guardsmen were again mobilized for ten months, as were 3,500 Army Guardsmen. The Alabama Air Guard also secretly furnished B-26 crews for covert air support of the ill-starred 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and several airmen were killed by Fidel Castro's air defenses. During the Viet Nam War years of 1965-73 only one small Alabama Guard unit, the 650th Medical Detachment (Dental), was sent to Viet Nam in 1968, but during the Persian Gulf War, more than 3,600 went to Southwest Asia out of more than 5,000 mobilized. By this time, 1991, Alabama, although only 27th in population among American states, had long had the largest National Guard in the U. 5., 24,000, more than the most populous states; California and New York, while neighboring Mississippi had the highest proportionate Guard enrollment. Alabama has the largest number of armories in the nation, 148. One notes also that only half the states and D.C., 26, have State Defense Forces, but in the 11 states of the old Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma, all but one (Florida) do. Thus, the southern martial spirit lives on, and especially in Alabama, where men and women join the Guard or the ASDF to continue family and local traditions of service.

The war with Iraq required the services of over 5,000 Alabama Guard members in a federal active duty status and many others in support roles within Alabama. In the event of emergencies of this nature requiring "partial" or "full" mobilization of the Alabama National Guard, State Defense Force members or units may be called to state active duty by the Governor or Adjutant General. The information in this pamphlet is pertinent to the process of organizing, planning and training a state force for use in state emergencies that occur in the absence of the Alabama National Guard. The Alabama State Defense Force is under the direction of the Adjutant General (TAG), State of Alabama.