Born in Need: The Army National Guard’s First Muster
The oldest component of the United States Armed Forces, the Army National Guard, has always been the cornerstone of our Nation’s defense. “Always Ready, Always There,” is more than just a motto – it’s the foundation for the role Citizen-Soldiers have played starting with the Nation’s early colonial beginnings up to today’s Global War on Terror. Whether serving during a natural disaster or civil disorder or fighting enemies at war, the Army National Guard has a long and proud history of being there whenever needed. This is not surprising since the force was created, out of necessity, by citizens to protect citizens.
The Army National Guard, originally known as the militia, began in the 1630s. Originally, British settlements in North America were primarily limited to areas along the Atlantic coast. As colonists expanded west into the interior of the country, they often faced armed conflict with local Native American tribes.
Colonists were generally responsible for their own defense, so they organized into separate militia companies made up of the colony settlers in the region.
Because most of the colonists were English settlers, they were influenced by the British militia system and adopted it in the North American colonies. The English believed that every free man that was capable had a duty to defend their country. The colonists, adopting this same mindset, would require all males between the ages of 16 and 60 to possess arms and be prepared to participate in the defense of their communities. Many of the early colonial militias would even drill once a week. Some settlements often provided guards with instruction in the evenings to sound the alarm if the militia was needed.
In the area of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, conflict between the settlers and Native Americans steadily increased, particularly with the Pequot tribe. By 1636, the town militias and the colonial government began enhancing military readiness. The colonial militia forces in Massachusetts consisted of only 10 infantry companies that ranged from 60 to 200 men per unit. With the conflict growing, the General Court in Boston, Massachusetts – which functioned as the colony’s legislature – ordered the militia companies around Boston to form militia “regiments” on Dec. 13, 1636. While most British colonies had organized militia companies before 1636, Massachusetts was the first to organize companies into regiments. The enhanced organization increased the efficiency and responsiveness of the Massachusetts militia.
The Massachusetts General Court created the North, South and East Regiments, organizing units by geography for easier command and control covering the colony. The “regiment” would later become the basic unit structure for the Continental Army and all other colonial military organizations. Today, the lineage of four Army National Guard units can be traced back to those original regiments, and they are the oldest units in the United States military. All still assigned to the Massachusetts Army National Guard, they are the 101st Engineer Battalion, the 101st Field Artillery Regiment, the 181st Infantry Regiment and the 182nd Infantry Regiment.
The Act legislated on Dec. 13, 1636, by the Massachusetts General Court, is widely considered the birth of today’s Army National Guard, and it is the date we officially celebrate.
After the Act became Massachusetts law, the regiments were formed and the first regularly scheduled militia drill, known as the “First Muster,” took place in 1637. Although the exact date is not known, the First Muster of the East Regiment occurred on the village green in Salem, Massachusetts, while the other regiments would also hold musters at later dates throughout the colony. The First Muster event is commemorated by the Massachusetts Army National Guard every year on the first Saturday in April.
At these musters, the colony leaders would teach the latest in military tactics, which the unit members would then practice. The training and preparedness taught the settlements how to successfully war against the Pequot tribes. The regular musters for training also unified the citizens of the settlements under a common purpose, and it enhanced their cohesiveness.
The militia system that began in Massachusetts soon spread to other colonies along the East Coast. Militias in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia were used to defend colony land, each adapting local customs and flavor. By the 1700s, the militias were key organizations in the American Colonies and were critical to the defense of the 13 Colonies. They would also make up the core of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
By the 1800s, militias remained a key component of our national defense, and eventually the term “Army National Guard” came to replace “militia.” The new name came as a tribute to Marquis de Lafayette, Gen. George Washington’s trusted confidante during the Revolutionary War. In 1825, Lafayette visited the United States and was greeted by many of the local militia units, including the 2nd Battalion of the 11th New York Artillery. Holding great admiration for him, the 11th New York decided to adopt the title of “National Guard” in honor of Lafayette and France’s “Guarde Nacional de Paris.” The 2nd Battalion would later become the 7th Regiment and was prominent in the line of march when Lafayette made his final visit to New York before returning to France. As he was leaving, Lafayette noticed that the unit was named after his old command. To honor this, he exited his carriage and shook the hand of each officer present as he walked down the line. The unit naming gained attention and as the United States continued to grow, several State militias adopted the name Army National Guard until it finally became official in the 1880s.
By Contributing Writer MAJ Darrin Haas