Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 1
Men who joined the National Guard in the late nineteenth-century United States had two primary duties—to represent their communities and to maintain law and order. This panel explores the ways these two functions came into conflict and the choices made by government officials and individual guardsmen as they responded to riots and disorder in their communities.
Guardsmen on riot duty were forced to decide if they were willing to fire on rioters—who often were their neighbors and co-workers. The localized nature of these projects uncovers the tensions militiamen faced as they determined whether to uphold governmental authority or sustain their own personal loyalties and networks. In the case of some Pennsylvania guardsmen in 1877, the bonds between citizen soldiers and the workers in their city were stronger than their allegiance to the state. The presence of women and African Americans forced the Illinois National Guard to grapple with their own attitudes toward race and gender in their decisions to use force. The Louisville militia preferred to work only in their own community, but eventually responded to government pressure to serve the entire state. Through militia service, men interacted with their communities, expressed their expectations for social behavior, and shaped the relationship of the National Guard to interest groups.
Following the Civil War, states took varied approaches to organizing a state militia. These papers demonstrate the process of formation in three different states, and how those procedures changed over time. Institutions evolved based on the choices and behaviors of individual guardsmen. Changes to militia laws frequently followed periods of civil disorder, so riots played a role in the development of the National Guard. These new studies of military organizations build on recent advances in labor and regional history, as well as social and cultural history.
By analyzing transformations in the National Guard, this panel explores important aspects of social organization, community development, and personal identity at the turn of the twentieth century. Historians with an interest in the military, race and labor, Reconstruction, the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, and the impact of public policy at the local level will find this panel valuable.