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Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812

Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812

C. Edward Skeen
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812
    Book Description:

    Winner of the Army Historical Foundation Book Award

    During the War of 1812, state militias were intended to be the primary fighting force. Unfortunately, while militiamen showed willingness to fight, they were untrained, undisciplined, and ill-equipped. These raw volunteers had no muskets, and many did not know how to use the weapons once they had been issued. Though established by the Constitution, state militias found themselves wholly unprepared for war. The federal government was empowered to use these militias to "execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions;" but in a system of divided responsibility, it was the states' job to appoint officers and to train the soldiers. Edward Skeen reveals states' responses to federal requests for troops and provides in-depth descriptions of the conditions, morale, and experiences of the militia in camp and in battle. Skeen documents the failures and successes of the militias, concluding that the key lay in strong leadership. He also explores public perception of the force, both before and after the war, and examines how the militias changed in response to their performance in the War of 1812. After that time, the federal government increasingly neglected the militias in favor of a regular professional army.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4955-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    In a recent work, Donald Hickey enumerated more than a dozen topics on the War of 1812 needing further historical inquiry. One subject he did not mention was the militia. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of the soldiers employed during this war were militia, and their role and contribution during the War of 1812, surprisingly, has never been systematically studied or properly evaluated.¹

    Perhaps the reason for the neglect is the difficulty of preparing a comprehensive study of the various state militia encompassing all aspects of their participation in the War of 1812 (e.g., state-by-state accounts). Such an undertaking would be...

  6. Chapter 1 The Militia before the War of 1812
    (pp. 4-16)

    Two of England’s legacies for the American colonists were a fear of standing armies and a reliance upon citizen soldiers, or militiamen, for defense. The British generally left the local defense to the colonies, and they in turn placed responsibility for local defense on the colonial towns and the towns’ militia. By regarding every man as a trained, armed soldier prepared to respond to any emergency, the colonists sustained a belief that there was no need for a professional, standing army. Consequently, there was no organized intercolonial militia system, no central command, and no permanent commissariat.¹

    During the Revolutionary War...

  7. Chapter 2 Congress and Military Mobilization
    (pp. 17-38)

    On the eve of war with Great Britain in 1812 it was clear to many that Congress had failed to provide for a uniform militia. North Carolina's legislature passed a resolution in December 1811 complaining that state militias were disciplined “according to the notions that prevail in different parts thereof; thereby tending to create disorder, rather than an uniformity of Discipline.” Its representatives in Congress were instructed to work to establish “one detailed and general system ... to make an improved uniform organization in Military Tactics throughout the United States.” Kentucky’s legislature suggested classification in a resolution of February 8,...

  8. Chapter 3 Militia Organization
    (pp. 39-61)

    Federal utilization of militia was based upon the idea that each state militia was organized, armed and equipped, and capable of turning out quickly for duty upon the call of the government. Sadly, this was rarely the case in any state. The disorganized state of the militia was not unknown when war was declared on June 18, 1812, but no doubt few understood or anticipated the myriad problems that would be encountered in using militias to prosecute the war. Senator Obadiah German (N.Y.) was one who pointed out that those who counted upon using the militia to prosecute the war...

  9. Chapter 4 The States and Militia Mobilization
    (pp. 62-76)

    Problems relating to the utilization of state militias by the federal government caused state leaders many frustrations during the War of 1812. State governors had to cope with the innumerable details of organizing, equipping, and arming their militia—problems compounded by a lack of assistance from the federal government. Militiamen called out had to be mustered, reorganized, and inspected by a regular officer to ensure that they conformed with federal requirements. Often the federal government could offer little in the way of arms or equipment to meet militia needs and even lacked money to pay those called out. Although state...

  10. Chapter 5 The Militia and the War in the West
    (pp. 77-95)

    While Congress debated the merits of militiamen versus regulars on the eve of the declaration of war, a spirited discussion on the same issue occurred in the Indiana Territory after the Battle of Tippecanoe in November 1811 between Col. John P. Boyd, commander of the Fourth Regiment, U.S. Infantry, and Governor WIlliam Henry Harrison, commander of the forces at Tippecanoe. Boyd was addressed by a group of citizens in Vincennes who referred to the “brave Regulars” and called the militiamen “spirited but untutored.” Harrison’s supporters viewed this as an attempt to take away some of the credit due to Harrison....

  11. Chapter 6 The Militia and the War on the Northern Front
    (pp. 96-125)

    The northern front, the St. Lawrence and the Niagara peninsula, was the most active and critical front during the War of 1812. Here the British contested Americans more severely and over a longer period than in any other region. Here also, more than in any other area of the country, the mettle of the militia was tested. Sadly, the performance of the militia reflected in microcosm its general lack of effectiveness throughout the war, weak discipline, poor leadership, and lack of supplies. Occasionally, when the circumstances were right, the men performed adequately when they were properly motivated and properly led....

  12. Chapter 7 The Atlantic Front and the Battle of Bladensburg
    (pp. 126-140)

    The entire Atlantic coast lay open to British incursions during the War of 1812. The American government, lacking money, did virtually nothing to raise fortifications for the protection of the inhabitants. The tiny American navy was spread too thin to offer much resistance or protection. Nor were the state militias much of a deterrent to British raids along the coast. During the war great turmoil was caused by the frequent threats, which necessitated militia callouts to respond to a menace that often failed to materialize, and the militiamen were sent home. When the attack proved real, the militiamen almost always...

  13. Chapter 8 Federal-State Relations
    (pp. 141-156)

    The very nature of the militia system, as discussed earlier, depended upon cooperation between the state and federal governments. Given state wariness about federal intrusion in the constitutional division of responsibility over the militia, it is perhaps not surprising that federal-state relations during the first declared war under the Constitution should have been strained. Clearly, however, there was a political element in the objections of the New England governors to the federal use of their militia. In the other regions there was willing cooperation, but state leaders confronted with innumerable problems in meeting federal requisitions of militia, like their counterparts...

  14. Chapter 9 War in the South and the Battle of New Orleans
    (pp. 157-174)

    While militiamen and their officers frequently confronted professional British soldiers in the North, militiamen in the South were called upon to fight a different kind of war against Indians. The Indians were a traditional enemy, and the militias should have been better prepared to fight them. Nevertheless, the results were mixed. Southern militias encountered many of the same problems plaguing their counterparts in the North and some that were new. When Gen. James Wilkinson called upon Louisiana governor William C.C. Claiborne for assistance after war was declared in June 1812, for example, Claiborne, apparently considering the territorial law of April...

  15. Chapter 10 The War’s End and the Decline of the Militia
    (pp. 175-184)

    The end of the war coincided with the news of the victory at New Orleans. Some critics of the militias now turned to praise them. ThePhiladelphia Aurora,for example, declared that the British, “on the very threshold of a spot which they had selected as the weakest and most disaffected portion of the union ... , have been met, beaten, and disgraced, with the loss of their most valued and distinguished commanders, by a raw militia, hastily collected together from the adjoining country, and commanded by farmers and planters.” TheBoston Yankeesimilarly exclaimed, “His veterans fall before the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 185-214)
  17. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 215-220)
  18. Index
    (pp. 221-229)