Academic journal article Parameters

From the Archives

Academic journal article Parameters

From the Archives

Article excerpt

Citizen-Soldiers, circa 1835

The common, or enrolled, militia--every able-bodied male citizen between the ages of 18 and 45--though an institution on the laws of every state, was not quite what one might expect it to be during the period 1820-1850. To say it was loosely organized and trained would be, in most cases, an understatement. For the general male population, the working class was not interested in military affairs or in the pomp and circumstance of war. In the East, where the enrolled militia was hardly necessary since the frontier had been conquered at least to the Mississippi River, the enrolled militia met rather irreligiously once or twice a year for militia muster and drill, according to the law. If one had "the common defense of the nation" in mind when he came to view such musters, it was quickly dispelled as the day turned from muster to picnic to drunken brawl in rather too rapid succession. Accounts of common militia musters are myriad in newspapers and writings of the period; we shall savor a sample from Georgia histo rical fiction:

At twelve, about one third, perhaps one half, of the men had collected, and an inspector's return of the number present, and of their arms would have stood nearly thus: I captain, 1 lieutenant; ensign, none; fifers, none; privates, present, 24; ditto, absent, 40; guns, 14; gunlocks, 12; ramrods, 10; rifle pouches, 3; bayonets, none; belts, none; spare flints, none; cartridges, none; horsewhips, walking canes, and umbrellas, 10.

[In going through the manual:] "'Tention the whole! …

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