Wartime state militias

Churchill said (I think) that the Balkans have so much history, they need to export much of it. In the same sense, Georgia's Civil War militias have so much history, it will take a series of books to survey it all.

Appendix 1 of Joe Brown's Pets, The Georgia Militia, 1861-1865, gives a nice enumeration of all the militias of the war. The title of this work, however, is misleading: it concerns mainly the First Division, Georgia Militia, formed in 1863 and recounts its adventures in and after the Atlanta campaign.

At 385 pages (richly illustrated, many nice appendices), the reader gains a sense how how large the subject of Georgia militias might be.

A shorter but similarly thorough book, issued in 1987, is Joe Brown's Army, The Georgia State Line, 1862-1865. The State Line might be considered railroad defenders and some of the interest here is how Brown fended off attempts to conscript these men into CSA service.

These being rich militia histories, they raise some interesting points.

The first is from a general theme from William B. Hesseltine's important work, Lincoln and the War Governors. Hesseltine showed us a power struggle between the states and Lincoln for control of the early war (and as I have mentioned here before, bringing McClellan east was Lincoln's way of capturing the governors' chief war strategist and planner).

To generalize from Hesseltine's concepts, a federalized war places the states at the mercy of national defense forces, concentrating power in the executive. This was more the case with the CSA because it implemented a draft early and conscripted whatever militiamen could not be protected by Joe Brown's out of state counterparts. Meanwhile, with conscription coming later in the North, the Union militia retained a complementary purpose in the war effort.

It seems that Davis intended to have militarily weak states dependent on a strong, national military force. Perhaps a state-by-state militia survey will prove this view wrong. For the moment, Georgia appears an exception.

The second issue that strikes one in reading these Georgia militia books is how politicians misunderstood military effectiveness. To an outsider, it appears that they thought organization equals effectiveness after a dash of experience was added. This is also true of the North where in my research I see one long-standing, mature military unit after another cannibalized into total rubbish during the mobilization.

Which leads to my final point. We look at these wartime militias, Pennsylvania's, Georgia's and others, and we tend to retrofit what we see onto the pre-war militias ... a terrible mistake.

Often, the wartime militias were scratch forces with no cohesion, little or no training, a jumble of strangers.

In a separate post, I'll recount the destruction politicians inflicted on the mature, experienced prewar militias, North and South.