Army National Guard History

Army National Guard History

The National Guard, which was founded on December 13, 1636 in Massachusetts, is the oldest component of the Armed Forces of the United States and one of the nation's longest-enduring institutions. Four of the oldest units in the U.S. Army serve in the Massachusetts Army National Guard today: the 181st Infantry Regiment; the 182nd Cavalry Regiment; the 101st Field Artillery Regiment; and the 101st Engineer Battalion. The men and women of today’s Massachusetts Army National Guard will continue the proud legacy of the Citizen-Soldier as they serve and protect the people of Massachusetts.

The first militia companies were organized in the Plymouth Colony in 1621 and in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 in Salem. As new towns were settled in both colonies, one of the first matters of business was to form a militia unit for local defense. The colonists organized the militia using the English model that required all men between the ages of 16 and 60 to enroll in the militia, to acquire weapons and equipment, and to muster for training when required. Initially, officers were appointed by colonial authorities, but within a few years, militiamen elected their officers and non-commissioned officers.

During the early years of settlement, musters were held weekly and then monthly as threats lessened. Militiamen carried their weapons to church on Sunday, served on guard duty at night, and kept a careful watch on out-lying farms.

As the number of companies increased, colonial authorities realized that a larger military organization was needed to command and control the militia. On Dec. 13, 1636, the General Court ordered the organization of the North, South and East Regiments. The formerly independent companies were assigned to one of the geographically based regiments. These three regiments still serve today as the 181st Infantry Regiment and the 182nd Cavalry Regiment (both descended from the North Regiment), the 101st Field Artillery Regiment (South Regiment), and the 101st Engineer Battalion (East Regiment). These are the oldest units in the U.S. Army.

The first military action by the Massachusetts Militia took place in 1637, when a provisional battalion, organized from the three regiments, took the field against the Pequot Indians. Another campaign against the Niantic and Narragansett Indians took place in 1645. King Philip’s War (1675-1676) was the largest campaign ever conducted by the militia. Several thousand militiamen took part in dozens of battles and skirmishes that pitted English colonists against Native Americans in a desperate war for survival.

From 1680-1763, French Canada was the chief threat to Massachusetts. Militiamen served in four wars against the French and their Indian allies. Provisional regiments, organized from the militia, participated in campaigns in Maine, New York, Quebec and Nova Scotia. The crowning achievement of the militia was the capture of the French fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia in 1745. Massachusetts militiamen took part in the French and Indian War (1755-1763) that ended French dominance of North America. With little threat of attack, the militia sunk into peacetime doldrums.

From 1765 to 1775, Massachusetts colonial relations with Great Britain worsened due to the imposition of taxes and import duties. A shadow American government, created in 1774, authorized a Committee of Public Safety responsible for military affairs. In October 1774, at a meeting in Worcester, the committee purged all royalist militia officers, ordered renewed militia training, and created a quick reaction force designated as the Minutemen.

During the winter of 1774-1775, veterans of the French and Indian War trained their units with greater vigor than ever before. Minute companies and regiments were organized all over Massachusetts. The minute companies were commanded by veterans who recruited younger men, usually in their 20s. The units practiced marksmanship and tactical training several times a week. The Minute companies had an alarm system that notified Minutemen, within a relatively short period of time, to muster. By the spring of 1775, the training of the Minute companies made them roughly equal to the British regiments in garrison in Boston. By April 1775, there were some 50 Minute and militia regiments ready to respond to any threat.

Lt. Gen. Thomas Gage, the British military governor and commander in Boston, decided to send a 600-man force to seize militia gunpowder and cannon stored in Concord. At 6 a.m., on April 19, 1775, the Lexington Company stood on the town muster field as the British force marched through the town. Shots were exchanged and 15 militiamen were casualties. The war had begun. As word raced through Massachusetts that the British were on the march, both Minute and militia companies mustered and immediately began marching to Concord.

At the North Bridge in Concord, militia units engaged the British and forced them to fall back. The British realized that they were outnumbered and retreated back to Boston under fire most of the way. Some 14,000 militiamen responded that day and later surrounded the British garrison. The regiments that fought that day still serve in the Massachusetts Army National Guard. The Lexington-Concord battle streamer is affixed to the colors of the 181st Infantry Regiment (1st Middlesex Regiment) and the 182nd Cavalry Regiment (2nd Middlesex Regiments). The 101st Engineer Battalion colors also carry the Lexington streamer for action by the Essex Regiments at Arlington.

In the spring of 1775, new regiments of the Massachusetts Army were created from the militia. These regiments and others, for a total of 37, were later inducted into the Continental Army and became the basis of the U.S. Army. Massachusetts recruited more regiments than any other state.

Massachusetts Soldiers inflicted heavy casualties on the British during the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. As the war spread to New York, both militia and Continental regiments fought at Long Island in 1776 and at Saratoga in 1777. Massachusetts Militia regiments took the field to reinforce the Continental Army as well as providing units for local defense and expeditions against the British in Rhode Island.

In 1785, two years after the Revolutionary War ended, the militia was reorganized and expanded into ten divisions. In 1786, the militia faced a serious rebellion, led by Capt. Daniel Shays, when Western Massachusetts farmers revolted against state authority. Loyal militiamen from the Eastern counties suppressed the insurrection and arrested the rebels. Shays’ Rebellion directly led to the Constitutional Convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution and gave the federal government authority to call up the militia for national defense and law enforcement. Under the federal and state militia acts, all men between 18 and 45 were required to serve in the militia.

For the next 30 years, the training status of the militia waxed and waned as threats of war with France in 1798 and Great Britain in 1807 arose. In 1812, war did break out with Britain but Massachusetts had no role until September 1814 when 20,000 militiamen mobilized to defend the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine in anticipation of British landings.

After the War of 1812, the enrolled militia fell into decline. The legislature realized that the militia had to be reorganized, albeit on a much smaller scale, and composed of volunteers. In 1840, the enrolled militia was disbanded and replaced by the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia (MVM). Volunteer units were made up of younger men who voluntarily enlisted in uniformed militia companies. The volunteers drilled on a regular basis and were better trained and equipped than the old enrolled militia. The MVM fielded 6,000 men organized into ten regiments.

The MVM enforced federal and state law, suppressed riots, took part in parades and ceremonies, and attended drills and two-day camps. Part Soldier, part policeman, the volunteers were noted for their ornate uniforms, discipline and drill.

Cities and towns were required by state law to find suitable quarters for volunteer companies as only a few units had the luxury of their own armories. Most units were assigned quarters in town halls and commercial buildings.

By 1860, the MVM was, perhaps, the best trained and equipped state militia. In January 1861, all militiamen were ordered to prepare for possible national service.

On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln called on the states to provide 75,000 militiamen for federal service to suppress the insurrection of the Southern states. Gov. John Andrew received telegrams from the War Department that day and within hours had alerted the commanders of the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th Regiments of the MVM to immediately muster their regiments. By late in the day on April 17, the 3rd, 4th and 6th Regiments had left Massachusetts for Washington, D.C.

On April 19, 1861, eighty-six years to the day that it first entered action at Lexington and Concord, the 6th Infantry was attacked by a pro-Southern mob in Baltimore during its movement to Washington. The 6th returned fire but incurred 40 casualties becoming the first Union regiment to shed blood in the Civil War. MVM regiments were the first Northern militia units to mobilize, deploy and reach Washington in order to protect the capital from Confederate attack. Days later, the 5th mobilized and deployed to Washington, later taking part in the Battle of Bull Run.

Under federal law at the time, the militia was limited to 90 days of active duty. MVM regiments returned to Massachusetts, mustered out of service, and promptly began recruiting for three-year volunteer regiments. In addition, the MVM provided 27 separate companies and 20 regiments for short-term service. Massachusetts considered all of its 69 regiments were components of the militia.

During the Civil War, the MVM played three key roles: it provided the first regiments for the defense of Washington; it provided the leadership and cadre for dozens of three-year volunteer organizations; and it returned to active duty to reinforce the Union Army during critical campaigns.

Under one of the provisions of the Militia Act of 1862, the first African-American militia unit was organized in Boston in 1863 as well as the first authorized African-American volunteer regiments. The 54th and 55th Infantry Regiments and the 5th Cavalry Regiment were composed of African-American Soldiers.

After the Civil War there was a period of rebuilding and reorganizing after four years of hard service. Within several years, the MVM had a strength of 5,500 men and was made up of four separate battalions and seven regiments assigned to two brigades.

Brigades attended five days of annual training at Camp Framingham, the state training camp. The officers, many who had served in the Civil War, took a great interest in military affairs and trained their units as close as possible to Army standards, so there was a greater emphasis on tactical training and marksmanship.

While there was a steady movement toward better training, state officials realized that MVM units needed permanent quarters to drill and store their weapons and equipment. Other states began building massive Gothic-Revival armories to house their National Guard units. Under the Armory Act of 1888, Massachusetts began building large armories in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield. The Armory Commission, the state agency charged with armory construction, built nine large armories within ten years.

In April 1898, President McKinley called on Massachusetts to furnish six regiments for service in the war with Spain. Virtually the entire MVM, some 6,000 men, reported for duty. The 1st Heavy Artillery occupied coast artillery installations in Boston Harbor; the 2nd and 9th Infantry Regiments took part in the Santiago Campaign in Cuba; and the 6th Infantry took part in the Puerto Rico Campaign. The 8th Infantry served on occupation duty in Cuba while the 5th Infantry remained in the U.S. Although the war was very brief, MVM units served and fought well.

The MVM reorganized in 1899 after its active duty service and, led by combat veterans, MVM units concentrated on tactical training. The Army issued new weapons and the traditional blue uniforms gave way to olive drab. As part of the many Army reforms, Congress passed the Militia Act of 1903 that began bringing the National Guard, as the organized militia was now called, increasingly under Army supervision. In 1907, the MVM was re-designated as the Massachusetts National Guard.

While the Guard’s primary mission was to serve as the reserve of the Army, it was still required to perform state duties. National Guard units provided assistance after disasters, such as the great Chelsea fire in 1908, and maintained the peace in Lawrence in 1912 during a strike of 30,000 textile workers. Nonetheless, the Guard’s attention was now centered on its federal mission.

Units began taking part in joint maneuvers with Regular Army units. Annual field training was more realistic as better weapons and equipment were issued. Commanders were assisted by Army advisors who were assigned to units on a full-time basis. The Armory Commission also built 40 new armories during this period. It was a time of growing professionalism of the National Guard.

New equipment was put to use when President Wilson called the National Guard into service in June 1916. Some 8,000 Massachusetts Guardsmen headed to Texas and New Mexico to seal the border from incursions by Mexican insurgents. The five months of rigorous field service toughened up the Guardsmen and improved their tactical skills as well.

Massachusetts Guardsmen did not have a long time to enjoy their return to civilian life. In March 1917, the 2nd, 6th and 9th Infantry Regiments were ordered into federal service to protect vital installations prior to the declaration of war with Germany. During the next several months, units recruited to full war strength so that by July 25, 1917 some 18,000 Soldiers entered active duty.

In August 1917, the 26th Division was organized from National Guard units of the New England states. Massachusetts contributed the 101st and 104th Infantry Regiments, the 101st and 102nd Field Artillery Regiments, the 101st Engineers and a number of division support units. The 26th, dubbed as the “Yankee Division,” was the second U.S. Army division to deploy to France, and the second to enter combat. The 26th was rated as one of the top divisions of the American Expeditionary Forces and fought in six campaigns. Boston’s African-American unit, Company L, 372nd Infantry, fought with the French army and along with the 104th Infantry was awarded the Croix de Guerre for collective unit gallantry.

The Massachusetts National Guard began to reorganize soon after the demobilization of the 26th Division in April 1919. When the 26th Division was fully reorganized in 1923, it was composed completely of Massachusetts National Guard units. Added to the 26th were the 181st and 182nd Infantry Regiments and the 101st Observation Squadron, which was transferred to the Air National Guard in 1947. The African-American unit expanded and became the 3rd Battalion, 372nd Infantry. Also added to the Guard were the 110th Cavalry and the 211th and 241st Coast Artillery Regiments.

The Guard returned to its weekly drills and two weeks of annual training that were conducted at Fort Devens until 1935. Starting in 1936, units began to train at the Guard’s Camp Edwards on Cape Cod.

As part of the Army’s expansion, the 26th Division was ordered into active service in January 1941 and was stationed at Camp Edwards through 1942. After America’s entry into World War II, the “YD” spun off a number of units that were used to activate the Americal Division.

The 26th remained in the U.S. for two years as it continued to train for the war in Europe. The Americal Division, the first U.S. Army division to enter offensive combat in the war, landed on Guadalcanal in the Pacific Theater in November 1942. The 211th and 241st Coast Artillery Regiments remained in the U.S. at coast artillery and antiaircraft artillery sites defending vital harbors. The 3rd Battalion, 372nd Infantry played an important role in the war by training thousands of African-Americans for service overseas.

The 26th landed in France in September 1944 and entered combat the following month. As part of Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army, the “YD” participated in four campaigns, fighting in France, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. The 26th was one of the spearhead divisions of the Third Army’s attack into the German flank during the Battle of the Bulge. The 26th returned to the U.S. in December 1945.

The Massachusetts Army National Guard reorganized once more in 1946 after five years of active duty. The 26th Infantry Division was the largest unit; however, there were now two major non-divisional units in the state: the 182d Infantry Regimental Combat Team and the 104th Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade.

The Guard was still in the process of rebuilding when the Korean War broke out in June 1950. The 26th was considered for active duty, but eight non-divisional units were ordered into active duty as part of the Army’s expansion instead. The Korean War became a benchmark for active duty; never again would the entire Guard mobilize for general war, instead selected units mobilized and deployed as Army war planners needed specific units.

The next mobilization occurred in 1961 when four units mobilized for service during the Berlin Crisis. As the Vietnam War grew in intensity, one brigade of the 26th was assigned to the Selective Reserve Force for possible mobilization. In 1968, the Army mobilized the 1st Battalion, 211th Artillery for service in Vietnam. Although the unit did not deploy, many of the Guardsmen served in Vietnam as replacements.

After the war, the Guard went through a number of reorganizations that modernized units but reduced force structure. In 1972, women were allowed to serve in the National Guard. As the Department of Defense implemented the Total Force Policy, which made the Army rely on the Guard for all contingencies, Massachusetts units began deploying to Europe for annual training.

The Total Force Policy was validated in 1990, when the Guard was tasked to provide units for the Gulf War. Five Massachusetts Army National Guard units mobilized and deployed to the Gulf. The 181st Engineer Company, the 1058th Transportation Company, and two military police companies, the 772nd and the 972nd, were awarded the Army Meritorious Unit Citation for their outstanding service in Operation Desert Storm.

With the end of the Cold War, the Massachusetts Army National Guard underwent a series of reorganizations that greatly reduced its size. In 1993, the 26th Infantry Division was inactivated followed by six battalions and a number of smaller units. The force structure of Massachusetts consisted of the 26th Brigade of the 29th Infantry Division, Headquarters of the 42d Infantry Division Artillery, and a number of separate companies and battalions. Massachusetts fielded an even mix of combat, combat support and combat service support units.

In 1995, Guard units began supporting peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, including the 65th Public Affairs Detachment, the 126th Military History Detachment, Battery E of the 101st Field Artillery, and companies from the 104th and 181st Infantry Regiments.

The events of September, 11, 2001 propelled the Massachusetts Army National Guard into a new era. Homeland defense, which had been the militia’s primary mission for its first 200 years of service, now became a primary mission again whether in state or federal service. In October 2001, the 211th Military Police Battalion and its three companies were ordered into active state service to provide security as the state’s five major airports. Other units secured Camp Edwards, the Quabbin Reservoir and the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant. The 1st Battalion, 104th Infantry and companies from the 181st and 182nd Infantry Regiments were ordered into active federal service to guard military installations such as Hanscom Air Force Base, Westover Air Reserve Base, Natick Soldier Support Center, and Fort Monmouth, N.J.

After the U.S. attack on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, a number of Massachusetts Army National Guard units were ordered into active service; C Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne); the 211th Military Police Battalion; and the 747th, 772d and 972nd Military Police Companies. Early in 2003, as preparations for war in Iraq began, seven additional units entered service: the 110th Maintenance Company; the 125th Quartermaster Company; the 180th Engineer Detachment; the 220th Quartermaster Detachment; the 379th Engineer Company; and the 1058th and 1166th Transportation Companies. Many of these units served in Kuwait and Iraq. In August 2003, the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry entered active service and deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for base security operations.

Since 2001, virtually all Massachusetts Army National Guard units and most of its Soldiers have served in Iraq or Afghanistan with several units and many Soldiers having served twice or more.

The Massachusetts Army National Guard also continues to protect life and property during natural disasters not only at home in Massachusetts but around the nation, as in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The Massachusetts Army National Guard is a professional and versatile military force that continues to serve the commonwealth and the nation.


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