Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Wyoming National Guard and the Punitive Expedition

I'll confess, in making this post, that I have a soft spot for the National Guard.  In no small part that may be because I was in the Army National Guard for six years.  From 1981 to 1987, I was a member of the HHB 3d Bn 49th FA.  It is, in my view, one of the unqualified smart things I did after turning 18 years old, i.e., in my adult life.

 I've repeated this photograph of mustered Wyoming National Guardsmen from Powell several times, but its' the only such photo I have ready access to.  There are other photos of the Wyoming National Guard from this period, but not which I'm certain as to the rights to publish to.  This photo is quite interesting. The Guardsmen are dressed in the what appears to be the current pattern of Army uniform including the newly adopted M1911 campaign hat. They carry M1903 Springfield rifles which were then quite new (and in this case probably almost brand new manufacture).  They carry bed rolls rather than back packs, however, showing the retention of a Frontier Army method of carrying personal equipment.

Having been in a Guard unit, however, does make you cognizant of how unfairly they are sometimes viewed.  My unit, the 3d Bn 49th FA, was rated as combat ready the entire time I was in it and it often had the highest combat rating that the Army recognized, higher than many Regular Army units.  That it was highly rated isn't a surprise when it is considered that everyone who was in the unit wanted to be there. Moreover, in the early to mid 1980s the unit was really still in the wake of the Vietnam War and it was full of Vietnam War combat veterans.  The unit even had some Korean War combat veterans still in it, including a couple who had served with the Guard in the Korean War, and there was one remaining World War Two veteran, although he wasn't a combat vet.  Suffice it to say, the depth of knowledge in the unit was vast.  If we were, on average, older than a comparable Regular Army unit, we were also a lot more experienced as a unit as well.  Not too many Regular Army artillery units had men who wore Combat Infantry Badges nor did very many Regular Army units have NCOs who had been officers in the Marine Corps or Navy.  We did.

So, in that context its  hard not to feel a little insulted by the term "weekend warrior", although admittedly you don't hear that much anymore given that so many Guard units have served overseas in our recent wars.  Even so, its definitely the case that the Guard hasn't received its due over the years, sometimes simply by default, but sometimes because its been unfairly slighted.

Anyhow, given as we've been posting nearly daily here for awhile on the Wyoming National Guard in 1916, it  might be nice to fill that story out a bit.   What was the unit?  What was it like?  What became of it?  It's a story we haven't really told here.  And for that matter, it's a story we haven't told on our companion site on Wyoming history, This Day In Wyoming's History.  We really should.  

Indeed, we thought about posting this as a sidebar there, and we in fact will, but we will post it first here, as this blog is the one that's really been looking into 1916.

But in order to do that we need to go back a bit further, indeed, all the way back.  Prior, that is, to 1776.  If we don't, we can't really understand the story of the National Guard in any context.

For most of this nation's history the bulk of our military manpower hasn't been in the Regular Army, it's been in the militia.  And that was both by accident and design.  Few now realize it, but every American had a militia obligation prior to the 20th Century, an obligation that has been transferred over to the Federal government by statute but which many state's still retain as an uncalled upon obligation as well.  Prior to at least the Civil War, however, the obligation was very real indeed.

In the Colonial era all men of military age, which was generally men over 16 up until age 60, were members of the militia.  The militia mustered at least once a year to drill; not much training, but it was an era when not much training time was available and such training as there was often took little time.  Failure to make muster was a crime, but then generally most people somewhat looked forward to the muster as it was the occasion for a community party as a rule.  Colonial militias, early on, did a lot of fighting however, almost all of it in brutal Indian wars the nation has more or less forgotten.  Some spectacularly violent Colonial wars, such as King Philips War, were entirely fought, on the colonist side, by militias.

When the Revolution broke out it was militia that really filled the ranks of the American forces, keeping in mind that state units were little removed from militia even if purpose raised for the conflict.  This would be the pattern all the way through the Civil War.  A Continental, i.e., regular, Army was raised, but it was state units that formed the ranks everywhere.  Units raised by the individual thirteen colonies and dedicated to the conflict alongside the national army, and local militias called out for individual fights.  Indeed, the term "Continental Army" doesn't even make sense until a person stops to consider that it was drawn from, and fought for, the entire continent (ignoring the fact that the Spanish on the continent and the French, and well even 1/3d of the English colonist in the thirteen colonies didn't agree with that suggestion).  This army defeated the British army on the continent although its worth noting that the British also used a militia system, although they did not attempt to deploy mustered English militiamen beyond their shores, at least not until World War One.  They did deploy colonial militia, however, during the Revolution themselves, something that's often somewhat forgotten, and some Minute Men mustered for the Crown, not the Congress.

 American troops evacuating New York, 1783.

Following the Revolution, Congress sought to  avoid having a large Regular Army, so it didn't.  The founding fathers were well aware that standing armies were a threat to a democratic government, and indeed to any government. They all knew the example of the Praetorian Guards in Rome well.  And if, in hindsight, that example seems remote, France reminded us of how current it remained when the French Army deposed the Republic and ultimately put a new Emperor, Napoleon, on the thrown of allegedly Republican France.   The US didn't want a big standing Army.  It needed a standing Navy, but navies, being deployed or deployable at sea, rarely pose a threat to their government.  So a small army it would be.  The land forces of the United States would be principally vested in the state militias with it being acknowledged that "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  In the event of war Congress would rely mostly on state troops, was the thinking, and state part time troops wouldn't pose a threat to the republic and might even form its guardian in the event of undemocratic impulses somewhere.

Only in really big wars was it necessary to go much beyond that.  It proved necessary to do so during the War of 1812, although the Federalized militias formed the bulk of the US forces then. Ironically, in Canada, it would be mustered Canadian militias that would toss the  American forces back out, proving that a force nearly entirely made up of militias, the Canadian one, was adequate to defeat a force made up mostly of militias, the American one.  The Mexican War also saw the mustering of state troops, some raised just for the war, the latter of which were nearly a species of militia.  

This latter example was the rule for the Civil War in which both sides fought with regular armies, but which also saw both sides commit the bulk of their forces in the form of state forces.  That's forgotten by some but the Union and Confederate armies were not simply national armies by quite some measure.  The Confederate regular army was actually quite small.  The Union one was bigger, but the bulk of the Union forces were state troops raised for the conflict, a type of mustered militia.  Pre war militias also fought as Federalized units during the war, and quite often non Federalized militias, in both the North and the South, were mustered when the war came to their areas. The Battle of Gettysburg, for example, provides a classic.  The Union forces included units that were Regular Army units as well as many state units, but even the militia from Gettysburg itself fought on the first day (successfully, it might be noted).

New York militia in camp, Harper's Ferry.

The Civil War was the high water mark of the old militia system. By that time war was becoming increasingly more complicated and hence required increasingly more formal training.  Pre Civil War militia varied enormously in every measurable respect, although Congress had sought to provide some uniformity, and some equipment, right from the onset. After the war the United States government sought to impose more uniformity on state militias so that they would match more closely the United States Army.  Generally, state militias were happy to cooperate and conform to Federal requirements wherever they could, with Federal assistance.  In some rare instances, however, state units would actually exceed the Army in some respect, such as the New York National Guard, which was equipped with better arms than the U.S. Army was in the late 19th Century.

 Rhode Island Zouave, Civil War.  Popular with some New England states (and there being at least even one Confederate such unit) these units were regarded as elite and patterned their dress after French North African troops.  In Union service they tended to be issued the M1863 .58 variant of what had been the M1841 .54 rifle which ad the advantage, if it was one, of taking a huge sword bayonet.

By the Spanish American War most states had a National Guard that was equipped with Federal equipment, although it was often the case that the Guard's equipment was older than the Army's.  Federalized National Guard units in the Spanish American War, for example, often had old Army uniforms rather than the current ones.  Nonetheless they were brought up to Army standards for the war and the following Philippine Insurrection.

 8th Illinois, 1899.  This was a black Illinois militia unit.  The uniforms are correct for the period but are a pattern that was being phased out of the Army at that time and wouldn't be around much longer.

The Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurrection were the last instances in which states raised forces specifically for the war, although this was done within the context of mustering the National Guard.  Wyoming, for example, sent over 1400 men to those wars which was far more than served in its very small pre war National Guard.  Indeed, while Wyoming had a National Guard dating back to territorial days, it had been minuscule and the ranks of its state units, raised just for the war, swelled during the Philippine Insurrection.

 By the Spanish American War and Philippine Insurrection war photography had begun to take on a more modern appearance.    California and Idaho troops in churchyard at San Pedro Macati, Philippines.

During the Philippine Insurrection Wyoming contributed the 1st Wyoming Infantry Battalion and the Wyoming Light Battery to the war, units that were formed principally from mustered Wyoming National Guard units.  This is complicated, however, by the fact that the Army was authorized (or more properly instructed) to raise volunteer cavalry units and these units were in fact organized on a regional basis.  In Wyoming's case Wyoming volunteers to these units went to the 2nd United States Volunteer Cavalry and the 36th United States Volunteer Infantry.  While units within the Army's establishments, these were not really Regular Army units in practice, existed only during the conflicts and were really basically an extension, or perhaps more accurately an evolution, of the Civil War state forces system.  The Wyoming Army National Guard today still uses a unit patch for some units of a cavalryman of the 2nd United States Volunteer Cavalry, showing how close the connection was.


After the Civil War a struggle broke out between backers of the National Guard and the Army over incorporating the Guard officially into the Army as its reserve.  While this is fairly clearly an aspect of what the Guard was, up until that time that last formal link had not been established and some in the Army establishment resisted it even giving thought to forming a separate Army reserve.  The reasons that can be debated but there were individuals who were quite partisan on either side of the debate  They failed in their effort, however, and the Dick Act, named after a Congressman who supported it and who served in the National Guard, became law in 1903 and the Guard was officially made the reserve of the Army, bringing the ties even closer.  By 1908 Congress authorized deploying the Guard outside of the United States although Woodrow Wilson's Attorney General would opine that to be illegal, which resulted in a Congressional act providing for simply conscripting  Guardsmen into the Army should that be necessary.

This is the Guard that existed in 1916 when Columbus New Mexico was attacked in Villa's raid.  It was officially a reserve of the Army, but its quality varied by state.  In some rare instances small units were still very much the province of a local community or even individual, who contributed funding to the unit and who sometimes even purchased non standard arms.  Some units were social units, made up of social elites, who actually spent more money being National  Guardsmen than they received back in the form of drill pay.  Others were made up of rough and tumble locals who needed the drill pay, in an era when drills tended to be weekly, on a week night.  Pay was provided, as noted, but retirement, which is now a feature of long Guard service, was not.

The Wyoming National Guard (there was no "Army" National Guard at the time, Army units were National Guard, states with Naval units had them Naval Militia) between the Spanish American War and World War One were infantry.  This often surprises people but there are real reasons for it.  People want to believe that a state like Wyoming must have had cavalry but even by the Spanish American War that was not true.

Early on, even before statehood, Wyoming had militia units that were in fact cavalry, but that was in the context of contemplating deploying them against highly mobile Indians. After statehood the expense, probably, and difficulty, of keeping mounts for cavalry would likely have made that impractical.  Infantry was much easier to keep.  Indeed, while I do not know a great deal about the early cavalry units chances are very high that the horses used by those units belonged to the individual troopers and not to the state.

The forces committed by the state to the border in the Punitive Expedition were to be eight companies of infantry. Wyoming had nine on paper.  One was to be kept home, something fairly typical for big deployments.  But that didn't mean that nine full strength companies actually existed.  They did not.  So, after the Guard was called up the state spent weeks recruiting to bring the unit up to full strength.  We've read about that in the newspaper articles that have been posted on this site.

The mustered  Guard assembled at Cheyenne but it wasn't allowed by the  Army to to use Ft. D. A. Russell as a training ground, a raw deal really that was fairly inexcusable as the post's training range was enormous.  Instead, the state formed Camp Kendrick which is where Cheyenne's Frontier Park is today.  The Guard trained there all summer long. By late summer there were constant rumors about immediate deployments, and as we have seen, when the official orders came it was at first thought the unit would be deployed to San Antonio, but it was instead sent to Deming New Mexico.

At Camp Cody outside of Deming it trained further and took up the role of patrolling and garrisoning as infantry.  By the time the Wyoming Guard was deployed other Guard units had been on duty on the border for quite some time and were rotating back home.  Principally the unit trained, however, until the Regular Army returned from Mexico and the Guard was released on January 17, 1917, to return home.  In a real sense its mere presence was its mission as it served as a ready force, along with many other units, if Villa became fully resurgent or if war broke out with Mexico.

Their return in January 1917 would be brief.  The United States would enter World War One in April of that year and the recently mustered out National Guard would be called back into service.  In 1917, prior to the call up, the strength of the active Army was 200,000 men, 80,000 of which were still serving  Guardsmen. During the Great War 40% of the combat soldiers in the U.S. Army were Guardsmen who were formed into nineteen divisions.  While the U.S. Army balked at relying heavily on the Guard at the start of the formation of the Allied Expeditionary Force in 1917 the truth of the matter is that the Army would have been incapable of deploying when it did but for the Guard.  This didn't keep the Army from looking down on Guardsmen, particularly on National Guard officers, but during the war the Guard proved its mettle and served very ably.

The Punitive Expedition service, therefore had served as a nearly year long training period for the Guard that would serve it well.  In Wyoming's case that service would not be as infantry, however, and the Guard would experience a phenomenon that's not atypical for Guard units of being re-formed into some other type of unit at the start of war.  The Wyoming National Guard was converted into heavy artillery, predicting a role that it would resume after World War Two.  That conversion is a bit surprising, really as conversion into artillery during the Great War was common for cavalry, but not really infantry.  However, the Wyoming National  Guard was not a large unit and the Army created for World War One was an enormous Army, so the conversion of a unit about 600 men in strength into artillery made some sense. The bucking horse symbol came into military use at that time, as the Wyoming National Guard painted that symbol on its artillery pieces, something that they would do again during the Korean War.

Bad photograph of World War One era Wyoming National Guard symbols on monument in Cody Wyoming.

After being re-formed following World War One; the Wyoming  Guard would in fact become cavalry during the the 1920s, and remain so until converted into Horse-Mechanized Cavalry just before World War Two, and then armored cavalry during the war, and finally to artillery after World War Two.  Various designations have come and gone, but its been the Wyoming Guard all along.  Just recently, infantry returned to the Wyoming Army National Guard in the form of a small infantry unit; the first one the state has had since the 1920s.


Further reading and partial sources:

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