Citizens More Than Soldiers: The Kentucky Militia and Society in the Early Republic

Citizens More Than Soldiers: The Kentucky Militia and Society in the Early Republic

Citizens More Than Soldiers: The Kentucky Militia and Society in the Early Republic

Citizens More Than Soldiers: The Kentucky Militia and Society in the Early Republic

Synopsis

Historians typically depict nineteenth-century militiamen as drunken buffoons who stumbled into crooked lines, poked each other with cornstalk weapons, and inevitably shot their commander in the backside with a rusty, antiquated musket. Citizens More than Soldiersdemonstrates that, to the contrary, the militia remained an active civil institution in the early nineteenth century, affecting the era's great social, political, and economic transitions. In fact, given their degree of community involvement, militiamen were more influential in Kentucky's maturation than any other formal community organization. Citizens More than Soldiersreveals that the militia was not the atrophied remnant of the Revolution's minutemen but an ongoing organization that maintained an important presence in American society. This study also shows that citizen-soldiers participated in their communities by establishing local, regional, and national identities, reinforcing the social hierarchy, advancing democratization and party politics, keeping the public peace, encouraging economic activity, and defining concepts of masculinity. A more accurate understanding of the militia's contribution to American society extends our comprehension of the evolutionary processes of a maturing nation, showing, for example, how citizen-soldiers promoted nationalism, encouraged democratization, and maintained civil order. Citizens More than Soldiersis not a traditional military history of campaigns and battles but rather the story of citizen-soldiers and their contribution to the transformation of American society in the nineteenth century.

Excerpt

In Requiem for a Nun, William Faulkner introduces the fictional town of Jefferson, Mississippi, located in the equally fictitious Yoknapatawpha County. Central to his story, set in the 1830s, is the capture of a gang of ruffians: “A gang—three or four—of Natchez Trace bandits … [was] captured by chance by an incidental band of civilian more-or-less militia and brought in to the Jefferson jail because it was the nearest one, the militia band being part of a general muster at Jefferson two days before for a Fourth-of-July barbecue, which by the second day had been refined by hardy elimination into one drunken brawling which rendered even the hardiest survivors vulnerable residents.” the story continues as Jefferson's residents struggle to find a suitable place to secure the “bandits,” but of greater historical significance is the brief appearance of the local militia. Faulkner's portrayal of the volunteer soldiers conforms to popular perceptions of the early national militia. Incompetent at best, dangerous at worst, militiamen are usually depicted as drunken buffoons who stumbled into a crooked line, poked each other with cornstalk weapons, and inevitably shot their commander in the backside with a rusty, antiquated musket. Caricatures of the over-accoutered captain and his clownish part-time charges are familiar to even casual scholars of the new republic.

Yet even in Faulkner's amusingly inept company of Yoknapatawpha “more-or-less” citizen-soldiers, there are hints of something more at work. His militia had mustered in preparation for the upcoming July Fourth celebration, an occasion that typically included men in uniform. Militiamen frequently organized the day's activities, made patriotic speeches at the afternoon barbecue, and concluded the day with a long series of toasts. the Jefferson militia company had also deemed it necessary to curtail further celebration to capture the wandering felons, car-

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