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MINUTEMEN OF »61: The Pre-Civil War Massachusetts Militia Robert F. McGraw When in April 1861 the soldiers of the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment fought their way past the "plug-uglies" of Baltimore to reach Washington , they not only furnished the beleaguered national capital with its first significant armed force but their timely arrival also had momentous consequences back in Massachusetts.1 The reputation of Governor John A. Andrew as the famous "War Governor" received its initial boost. Henceforth he would be regarded by many as a man of prescience and capacity, one who foresaw the coming of the war, who labored mightily during his few weeks in office to prepare the Massachusetts militia for the call he knew would soon come, and who was vindicated when the well armed and trained Massachusetts troops were the first to answer Lincoln's call.2 While it is quite true that Massachusetts was indeed the first state to respond effectively, one may reasonably question the assumption that the efficient mustering and rapid dispatch of such a task force without undue confusion and delay could be attributed solely, or even in large part, to the efforts of a state executive who had been in office for only thirteen weeks. This is not to deny the enormous contributions made by Governor Andrew; indeed his exertions to prepare the militia in the short time available were simply astonishing. However, a century of military experience garnered by this nation since 1861 indicates that effective military forces are not created overnight—or in thirteen weeks. That the Massachusetts militia was effectively prepared in April, 1861, was due not so much to last minute individual efforts as to a long military tradition in that state, a tradition fostered over the years by a group of militia enthusiasts who were willing to devote an inordinate share of their time and energy to its betterment as a military force. And if the flame of this enthusiasm occasionally flickered low under the chilling drafts of public apathy, legislative penury, or pacifist re1 Some Pennsylvania militia had reached Washington earlier, but their numbers were few and, more important, they were unarmed. See Margaret Leech, Reveüte in Washington (New York, 1941), p. 59. 2 Henry G. Pearson, Life of John A. Andrew, Governor of Massachusetts 18611865 (Boston, 1904), I, 136, 139; Frederic G. Bauer, "The Massachusetts Müitia," in Albert B. Hart (ed.), Commonwealth History of Massachusetts (New York, 1930), V, 578; James K. Hosmer, The Appeal to Arms 1861-1863 (New York, 1907), p. 31. 101 102civil war history formism as was the case in the 1830's, there seems always to have been men with the ability and drive to fan it back to life and to make it blaze anew. Rather than give exclusive credit to Governor Andrew and his administration for the speedy mobilization of the state's militia, perhaps it is more accurate to say that the weapon which he honed to a cutting edge during his thirteen weeks had in reality been forged and shaped over the course of the previous twenty years. A "well-regulated militia" had been a matter of concern to both national and state governments from the earliest days of the nation. Although the Militia Act of 1792 attempted to draw federal guide lines for the various state militia forces,3 eleven years before that date Massachusetts had already made provisions for a permanent militia. On March 3, 1781, the state enacted legislation that organized its militia in two parts: first, the Train Band which comprised most of the able bodied males (with certain exceptions) between the ages of sixteen and fifty; and second, the Alarm List, composed of all males from sixteen to sixty-five, who were required to turn out only in case of dire emergency .4 Militia service in the Train Band was obligatory, and absence from the semi-annual training days could lead to a fine or imprisonment. Popular resentment of the militia fine seems to have been as common as resentment of the imprisonment of debtors, with which it was closely associated in the public mind. The reform movement of the early nineteenth century curtailed both these practices...


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