Days Gone By - stories from the past

In early Alabama, every free white male – 16 to 50 was subject to serve in the military

{Can you imagine being forced to serve in the militia until the age of 50?}




(written in 1920)

Patron $2+ member story –Click…/ to see how to Become a Patron and unlock this story now.

The militia is one of the most venerable of the state institutions. Its history as a general organization on a definite plan began with the Mississippi Territory “Militia Law1 of 1807.’

Served in the milita

Under this law every free white male citizen from sixteen to fifty years of age was subject to enrollment, except the territorial officers, judicial and executive, licensed ministers of the gospel, keepers of the public jails and of public ferries. As illustrative of the character of equipment use those days, the following extract from the original act is given:

“That every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, or as soon as such can be had in the territory, provide himself with a good musquet (sic) or fire-lock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints and a knap-sack, a pouch, with a box to contain therein not less than twenty- four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musquet or fire-lock, to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powde ; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out, to exercise, or into service, except when called out on company days to exercise only, when he may appear without a knapsack. The commissioned officers severally shall be armed with a sword or hanger…,”

One regiment of two battalions in each county

The general plan of organization was based upon one regiment of two battalions in each county, to consist of as many companies of forty-five members, rank and file, as could be formed, the whole comprising one brigade.

The officers were a brigadier-general, with one brigade inspector who served also as brigade major; and for each regiment, a lieutenant, colonel commandant; for each battalion, a major; for each company, a captain, a lieutenant, an ensign, four sergeants, four corporals, a drummer, a fifer or bugler; the non-commissioned officers to be appointed by the captain.

The regimental staff officers were: an adjutant, a quartermaster, a paymaster, a surgeon and a surgeon’s mate, a sergeant major, a drum major, and a fife major, all appointed by the commanding officer. At present the Alabama National Guard is officered (sic) the same as similar grades of service in the United States army.

Muster required every three monts

At the outset a muster of every company was required to be held every three months; a battalion muster in February, and a regimental muster in October of each year, but in 1821 the law was changed so as to require only two company musters each year, one in April, the other in October. The Governor was empowered to call out such number of militia troops as he might think necessary to quell insurrection or repel invasion, and while in active service they were governed by the United States articles of war and received the same pay and rations as United States troops.

Drawing of the Montgomery True Blues at Camp Owen, near old Augusta, Alabama. ca. 1836 An independent militia (ADAH)

Drawing of the Montgomery True Blues at Camp Owen, near old Augusta, Alabama. ca. 1836 An independent militia (Alabama Department of Archives & History)

The organization also provided for a “patrol” to regulate and discipline roving or unruly slaves and other disorderly persons, and a system of fines and forfeitures to insure enrollment and attendance at musters and drills. The administration of the disciplinary system was in the hands of courts martial composed of designated militia officers.

Governor gave commissions in case of emergency

In 1814 the Governor was authorized to accept volunteers from exempted classes of citizens and commission them to act in defence (sic) of their counties in cases of emergency. Companies so formed were subject to the same rules and regulations as the rest of the militia.— Toulmin’s Digest, 1823, p. 586.

In the same year a section was inserted in a law governing various details of militia service, providing for the use of the territorial troops when needed in the service of the United States; also a clause exempting the members of the territorial legislature from militia duty.—Ibid. pp. 587-588.

In 1816 the command of each regiment consisting of two battalions was vested in a colonel, a lieutenant colonel, and a major. Where there were two counties, neither sufficiently populous to form a regiment, they might form one by uniting their battalions, but each battalion had to muster separately and was not permitted to leave its own county to attend regimental muster.

Exemption clauses modified

The exemption clauses were modified so as to provide that coroners, justices of the peace, practicing physicians, and keepers of public jails should not be subject to ordinary militia duty but might be drafted for actual service.—Ibid, pp. 589-590. The law providing for the consolidation of the militia into one brigade and the appointment of a brigadier-general was repealed in 1818 and the Governor was empowered to arrange the respective regiments, battalions and companies as he saw fit, and call out any portion of it that he deemed proper when the public safety required, or upon requisition of the United States government.—Ibid, pp. 590-91.

Militia members in front of the old Oxford College building in Calhoun County, Alabama (Alabama Department of Archives & History)Militia members in front of the old Oxford College building in Calhoun County, Alabama (Alabama Department of Archives & History)

The Constitution of 1819 empowered the General Assembly of the State to provide by law for the organization and discipline of the militia, and provided that “Any person who has conscientious scruples to bear arms shall not be compelled to do so, but shall pay an equivalent for personal service.

State militia law passed in 1820

The first State militia law was passed in 1820. It changed the former exemption clauses so as to make liable for service “all free white men and indented servants between the age of eighteen and forty-five years/’ and exempted judges, solicitors and clerks of all State and county courts, licensed ministers of the gospel, justices of the peace, postmasters and postriders, “except in cases of imminent danger, insurrection or invasion.”

In 1822 millers were added to the exempted list, and by 1830 the list had been further extended to embrace commissioners of revenue and roads, the directors, cashier, teller, and clerks of the State Bank, land office employees and all officers, servants and students of the State university.

Four military districts

The State was divided into four military divisions composed of nine brigades, each commanded by a brigadier-general. A brigade consisted of not less than two or more than five regiments, each commanded by a colonel. A regiment consisted of two battalions, the first commanded by a lieutenant-colonel, the second by a major. Battalions contained not less than two nor more than five companies, of not less than forty privates, each commanded by a captain, lieutenant, ensign, four sergeants, four corporals and two musicians.

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1)

All officers above the rank of captain were elected by the commissioned officers of their respective commands until 1832 when they were made elective by all the members of their commands; captains and subalterns by the enlisted men in their respective companies. All officers held their commissions during good behavior and could not resign under two years except by permission of a court martial.

Discipline system

The discipline system was administered by courts martial which, in the cases of privates or non-commissioned officers, might inflict the death penalty for failure to respond to drafts, but no sentence of such a court which affected the life of a commissioned officer could be executed until approved by the Governor and four-fifths of both houses of the General Assembly.

Provision was made for one troop of cavalry and one company of artillery in each regiment, and one company of volunteer light infantry or riflemen. The higher officers were first supplied with copies of the United States infantry tactics in 1831, and in 1835 officers who should serve five years were declared exempt from road and military duty except in cases of invasion or insurrection.2

Military Code adopted

In 1837 the General Assembly formally adopted a “System of Militia Laws” or “Military Code” prepared by Generals George W. Crabb and J. T. Bradford. This code permitted the purchase of exemption by payment of five dollars a year, but this provision was repealed two years later. The list of persons legally exempt was extended to include, in addition to those exempt under formal laws, all United States officials and members of Congress with their clerks, pilots, mariners actually in service, professors, teachers and students of every public school in the State.

The service was divided into two general classes: militia and volunteers, both governed by the same regulations, and differing mainly with respect only to the method of their original organization and equipment. The militia was equipped by the State, the volunteers largely at their own expense before mustering in. In other respects organization provided for in the Military Code was much the same as that previously existing.—Aikin’s Digest Supplement, 1841, pp. 123-169.

Revision of the old Military Code

In 1852 a revision of the old Military Code was adopted, but it involved no radical departures from the former general plan. When the War of Secession began most of the militia joined the regular or volunteer forces either by companies or individually and the militia was relegated to a subordinate and inconspicuous position.

The legislature enacted a law in 1863 organizing a militia to take the place of the State troops transferred to the Confederate service. The new troops consisted mainly of men under seventeen and over forty-five years of age, formerly exempt, and those physically unfit for service in the volunteer forces. These men formed a “home-guard” and could be ordered out by the Governor in cases of invasion or insurrection and for the enforcement of the laws, including the suppression of illicit distilleries, in any part of the State.

Members of the Capital City Guards in uniform -ca. 1900 - The Guards were the only African American militia for the city of Montgomery (Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Members of the Capital City Guards in uniform -ca. 1900 – The Guards were the only African American militia for the city of Montgomery (Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Governor given wide discretionary powers to raise troops during the Civil War

The Governor was given wide discretionary powers in raising these troops, but in other respects the law followed closely the provisions of previous military codes save for an extension of the limits to include the ages of fifteen to sixty years and relaxation of the physical standard for recruits. The cadets of the university, previously exempt from all military service were organized into a corps under this act and made subject to the Governor s orders for service within the State. A section of the law provided: “the enumerating officer shall note which of the persons enumerated has an efficient gun, and which has not, and which of them will furnish his own horse, saddle and bridle, and serve as mounted men.”

Members of the Montgomery Greys, Company A, 2nd Regiment of the Alabama State Troops, at Oak Park, Montgomery, Alabama (Alabama Department Archives & History)

Members of the Montgomery Greys, Company A, 2nd Regiment of the Alabama State Troops, at Oak Park, Montgomery, Alabama ca. 1890 (Alabama Department Archives & History)

. . . The Governor was authorized to have “efficient guns'” supplied to persons who had none; and to carry out the purposes of the act, an appropriation of half a million dollars was made.-Acts of Alabama, pp. 3-11. At the same time another law was enacted to provide for exemptions from militia service, in which numerous classes of persons formerly subject were excused.— Ibid. pp. 12-13. Later in the same year these laws were amended so as to provide for drafting the militia into the Confederate service.— Ibid. pp. 95-96

Restoration of State militia in 1877

A general restoration of the State militia organization was provided for by legislative enactment in 1877, dependence for recruits being placed mainly upon the enrollment of entire companies of volunteers having their own elected officers.— Ibid. 1877, pp. 82-90 In 1881 a thorough reorganization of the entire military establishment was undertaken which contemplated the retention of the volunteer companies already in service, but provided for placing the whole service under the regulations and tactics used by the United States army. This act repealed the law of 1877, cited above, and all previous conflicting legislation. The official designation was changed from “Alabama State Militia: to “Alabama State Troops.”-Ibid. 1880-81, pp 103-117


Commissioned officers of the Second Infantry Regiment, Alabama State Troops ca. 1890 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Alabama National Guard dates to 1897

Since 1897 the State’s military forces have been known as the Alabama National Guard,” and active members have been exempt from the payment of poll tax and from jury duty- Ibid 1898-97 pp. 1308-1324.

Another general law was passed in 1899 but made only minor changes in the regulations; among them, the exemption of guardsmen from road duty and street tax as well as from poll tax and jury duty and the regulation of their pay when in active service.

Commissioned officers were to receive half the pay allowed United States officers of similar rank and non-commissioned officers and privates, double the pay and the same allowances provided by law for men of similar rank in the United States army.

Brigadier General William C. Oates and staff on horseback at a camp during the Spanish-American ca. 1898 (Alabama Department of Archives & History)Brigadier General William C. Oates and staff on horseback at a camp during the Spanish-American ca. 1898 (Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Other provisions of National Guard

Other provisions of the new law were: the annual encampment of the National Guard for the purpose of drill and discipline; the authorizing of commanding officers to prevent the sale or giving away of liquors of any sort in or within one-eighth of a mile of military camps, and to suppress the sale of arms, ammunition, dynamite, or other explosives in the vicinity of camps or headquarters of troops on active duty.—Ibid. 1898-99, pp. 136-153.

In 1909 the pay of commissioned officers of the Alabama National Guard was by law made the same as that of officers of similar rank in the United States army.—Ibid. 1909, pp. 326-327. The legislature, at its extra session in 1911, passed a general law regulating the National Guard, but as most of its important features were retained in the law of 1915, which governs the present establishment, it is unnecessary to discuss it in detail. (See Acts of Alabama, 1911, pp. 651-673).

Governor is commander-in-chief

The present law (1920) provides for one division of which the Governor is commander-in-chief, except when called into the service of the United States, but he does not command personally in the field except by resolution of the legislature. Its organization, armament and discipline are the same as the regular and volunteer forces of the United States. The active administration and supervision of military affairs is the duty of the adjutant general and his assistants, although general orders are issued upon the authority of the Governor as commander-in-chief. The law prescribes in detail the daily rate of pay of each class of service, both rank and file, when on active duty. The minimum numerical strength of a company, troop or battery is sixty-one officers and men.

Camp Sheridan - 26th Machine Gun Battalion at Camp Sheridan, Alabama (ADAH)26th Machine Gun Battalion at Camp Sheridan, Alabama ca. 1920 (Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Appropriations from State funds defray expenses

Small appropriations are made from State funds to defray the expenses “necessary and incident to the upkeep of” each company, troop, battery, hospital corps, and band, and the governing body of each county is authorized to make similar appropriations for the same purpose.

At least two drills or practice marches each month are required and the men are subject to fine, at the discretion of a court martial, for nonattendance. No organization may go out of its home county except by permission of the Governor.

WHERE DO I START? Hints and Tips for Beginning Genealogists with On-line resources

Physical examination before enlistments is required and enlistments are for three years. Exemptions from taxes and jury duty remain as before, and provision is made for retirement without pay or allowance after ten years active service. Discrimination against members of the Alabama National Guard at public places of entertainment or amusement on account of the uniform is prohibited and penalized.— Ibid. 1915, pp. 745-7G6.

1*The dates of the commission of the Territorial Governor of Mississippi of which Alabama was then a part were Winthrop Sargent May 1798- W C C Claiborne, May 25, 1800; Robert Williams, Marach 1, 1805; David Holmes, March 7, 1809. The latter was still in office in 1817 when the Territory was divided. William Wyatt Bibb a former U. S Senator from Georgia, was appointed Governor of the Alabama Territory by President Monroe in 1817 and when the Territory passed into statehood, Dec. 14, 1819, Bibb was elected Governor by popular vote.

2Gov. Gayle took the field as Commander-in-Chief of State troops in the Creek Indian disturbances.


  1. Thomas M. Owen, L.L.D, History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1920 ( from Aikin, Digest, 2d ed., 1836, p. 315; Aikin, Digest Supplement, 1841, pp 159-160; Code, 1907, sees. 930, 935; General Acts, 1915, pp. 745-766.”Toulmin, Digest, 1823, pp. 591-622; Aikin, Digest, 2d ed., 1836, p. 314, and Digest Supplement, 1841, pp. 123-174; Code, 1907, sees. 930-931; Acts, 1859-60, p.41; General Acts, 1915, pp. 745-766; Ordinances and Constitution of Alabama(1861), pp. 13-15; Adjutant General, Reports, 1871-1910; Owen, “Bibliography Of Alabama,” in American Historical Association, Report, 1907, p. 782)

History Of Alabama And Incidentally Of Georgia And Mississippi From The Earliest Period; Annals Of Alabama 1819-1900

Buy Now
See larger image

Additional Images:Img - 1161656464

History Of Alabama And Incidentally Of Georgia And Mississippi From The Earliest Period; Annals Of Alabama 1819-1900 (Hardcover)

By (author):  Pickett, Albert James, Owen, Thomas McAdory

List Price: $67.95
New From: $67.95 In Stock
buy now

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

Liked it? Take a second to support Alabama Pioneers on Patreon!


  1. We’d be in sad shape if that were the case today!

  2. One of my GG Grandfathers was over 50, captured at Missionary Ridge.

  3. a privilege in my humble opinion… It should be required that all High School graduates should serve in the National Guard for two years to finalize their HS diploma … now that would make some great citizens… wouldn’t it?

  4. When you think about the average life span 150 +/- years ago, 50 would have been getting fairly old!

  5. Ought to be that way now

  6. I wish It had names in it.

  7. One of my great grandfathers was a state senator in AL and conscription officer during the civil war charged with drafting many of the men that fought. As the laws were changed he and most other large land owners were exempted from sercice

  8. It cost him his life as a man whom he’d drafted 3 separate times shot and killed him rather than return to service. My grandfather was Noah Fountain and his killer was called “Speckled” Ward.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.