Birth of the Modern Kentucky National Guard, March 1912

By John Trowbridge, Kentucky National Guard

Guardsmen with Company E, 2nd Kentucky Infantry in Owensboro, Ky., 1915. (Photo courtesy of William Lunsford)

“The time is now near at hand when by Federal statute the organization, armament and discipline of the Organized Militia in the several states and territories shall be the same as that prescribed for the Regular Army of the United States.” – Ohio Senator Charles Dick, 1910

In his 1909 annual Report of the Adjutant General, Philip P. Johnston made the following recommendation to then Governor Augustus E. Wilson, “The militia of nearly all the States are now called the National Guard. Kentucky should fall in line in this particular.”

Since statehood in 1792, the Kentucky National Guard had been known by various names, Kentucky Militia, Kentucky State Guard and Kentucky National Legion. The official title, Kentucky National Guard, became law on 19 March 1912, when newly elected Governor James B. McCreary, signed into law, Chapter 142, An Act to provide for the organization, armament, equipment, discipline, and government of the militia.

The first Federal laws regulating the states’ Militia were the Militia Acts of 1792, the same year Kentucky became a state. Following John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859, numerous Southern states realized their militia laws needed revision, Kentucky was one of these. The Kentucky Legislature passed an Act for the Better Organization of the Kentucky Militia, also known as the Kentucky State Guard Act March 5, 1860.

This changing of the Guard was due in effect to the American Military experience during and after the Spanish-American War of 1898, which demonstrated a need to reform and update the U.S. Military, especially the states’ militia organizations. In an attempt to appease competing interests of those who wanted the United States to maintain a much larger standing army and those who felt an expanded peacetime army was both too expensive and contrary to American tradition, Congress passed “The Efficiency in Militia Act of 1903”, also known as the “Militia Act of 1903”, or the Dick Act (named after Ohio Congressman (later Senator) Charles Dick), enacted by the U. S. Congress on 21 January 1903. This landmark legislation repealed the antiquated Militia Act of 1792 and converted the volunteer militia into the National Guard, the Army’s primary organized reserve. This law codified the circumstances under which the National Guard could be federalized, provided federal funding to the Guard to pay for equipment and training, including annual summer camps. In return, the National Guard had five years to organize its units along the same standards as the Regular Army, and took steps to meet training, education and readiness requirements of the Regular Army.

Additionally, it recognized two classes of militia; the Organized Militia (National Guard) under joint Federal-State control and the Reserve Militia, consisting of males 18-45 years of age otherwise available for military service. The law required Guardsmen to attend twenty-four drill periods per year and five days of summer camp. For the first time, Guardsmen received pay for summer camp but not for drill periods. The law called for Guard units to conduct maneuvers with the Regular Army and to receive training assistance and formal inspections from Regular Army officers and NCOs. The Guard was subject to federal call-ups for nine months, though its service was restricted to within U.S. borders (this stipulation would change with the National Defense Act of 1916). The participation of Guard members in national call-ups was no longer discretionary; any soldier not reporting to his armory during a federal mobilization was subject to court martial.

In 1933, federally recognized State National Guard units were required to join the National Guard of the United States, a reserve component of the U. S. Army.

The significance of this legislation cannot be overstated for the National Guard as a whole. The previous established practices and policies of a volunteer militia as a self-supporting and largely independent entity gave way to a new military force with significant federal funding and subject to the administrative controls of the War Department, establishing the modern National Guard’s dual-role status.

Click here to download and read the original 1912 Acts of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Please visit our eMuseum for more history of the Kentucky National Guard.

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