Militia System

The use of volunteers during the Civil War tested the nation’s militia system. Established by the U.S. Constitution following the success of the Revolutionary War, the militia system relied on volunteers from each state to enlist in the U.S. Army as needed to “suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.” President George Washington quickly realized that the militia system, while based on a democratic ideal, was not an effective way to protect the country from a trained army, and he advocated strongly for a U.S. Military Academy. Although each town maintained a militia, the troops typically mustered only once a year and had little, if any, formal training. The ineffectiveness of an untrained militia was a recurring problem during the decades leading up to the Civil War.

The standing army in 1860 consisted of about 16,000 troops. By the time hostilities began, that number had been reduced, as soldiers defected to join the Confederate Army. Lincoln’s call for 75,000 militia members to join the regular army for three months, the maximum number of troops and length of service permitted by the Militia Act of 1795, quickly proved inadequate.

 

The volunteers here... are few, I take it, & will probably go off to other companies. There may be four or five, I do not now hear of more who are really in earnest. A dozen or twenty started up at first – fired guns & beat drums... for two or three nights, then subsided, the rowdy element having let itself off sufficiently for the present, Dr. North’s sons included.

~ Rev. Stephen Fenn to his brother, Cornwall, May 6, 1861 (Courtesy of The Connecticut Historical Society)

 

Cornwall with a few names got into The [Litchfield] Enquirer - & that was a safe way to glory. All talk with a little outrageous noise so as to disgust decent men. Flags are plenty.

Capt. Alexander, our military engineer, has been called to Washington. His wife is a rabid secessionist & he is none too reliable I fear.


The Prussian officer named in Enquirer is a reality, & a French teacher in boarding schools – but his Cavalry in Cornwall is a fable. He has tried to drill a few of our heroes in learning their left foot from their right in trying to march – but, I think it is given up now or a hopeless task.

~ Rev. Stephen Fenn to his brother, Cornwall, May 6, 1861 (Courtesy of The Connecticut Historical Society)

 

After the Civil War, Connecticut became one of the first states to restructure its militia as a National Guard. On July 9, 1865, the Connecticut National Guard was created to replace the obsolete Connecticut State Militia.

 

 


© Cornwall Historical Society, 2014

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