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The Society of Descendants of Militia Officers

serving from 1607 to 1861

The Organizational Table:

Throughout the period 1607 to 1861 many of the same organizational levels of units that survive today in the United States Army were in general use in the various Colonial and State Militias.  However, it is important to understand that the terms did not necessarily mean what they mean today. 

Types of Militia units reflected the linear tactics in general use during this period.  As the term implies, linear tactics were distinguished by the deployment and movement of units on the battlefield in two or three ranks that allowed the maximum volume of fire from relatively inaccurate smoothbore muskets.  At the same time linear formations controlled the maximum practical frontage and preserved the ability to employ not only shock by fire, but also shock by the bayonet charge. 

DIVISION - the term Division has a number of meanings.  For example, in the case of the organization of General Andrew Lewis's Army in Lord Dunmore's War, the approximately 1100 man force was divided into two divisions, one commanded by General Lewis and the other by Colonel Charles Lewis.  These divisions appear to have been primarily based on the rendezvous from which the units were marching, and approximated Regiments in strength, and in the number of Companies that formed them.  By the War of 1812, as the North Carolina detached militia records show, the Division was the statewide organization formed of Brigades organized on a geographic basis.  Division commanders were generally Major Generals.  

BRIGADE - larger, contiguous, geographical areas served as the basis for incorporating several Regiments into Brigades.  As an example, in North Carolina in the Revolutionary War, judicial districts were used to form 6 Brigades, ranging from 6 (the Wilmington District) to 17 (the Salisbury District) Regiments in strength.  Brigades were generally commanded by Brigadier Generals.

REGIMENT - the basic county level unit, formed of a number of Companies (ranging from 8 to 10 or more), was the Regiment.  Given the variability of actual manning of Militia units, this might represent 400 to 500 men or 100 to 200.  In linear tactics the major combat unit was the Regiment.  We see in the surviving maps and order books of the War of the Regulation a clear example of how the Regiment was employed on the march, in camp organization, and in the field.  In some cases Regiments were actually present as formed units on the battlefield, in some cases ad hoc Regiments were formed by amalgamating companies from several counties, and in some cases the Militia fought by Company with no higher organization (the case in both the Lexington and Danbury alarms).  Regiments were typically commanded by Colonels.

BATTALION - the term Battalion was either used (1) as the standard designation for a county level unit equivalent to a Regiment or (2) as a unit with fewer Companies (in one case 6 Companies is mentioned) than a Regiment.  In general Regiments were not formed of Battalions; a state or colony either organized by Battalions or by Regiments (although there do appear to be occasional exceptions to this rule).  Battalions were commanded in most cases by Lieutenant Colonels or by Majors.

COMPANY - the Company was the basic tactical unit of the Militia, drawn from individuals subject to militia service within a geographical area.  In most cases a Company drew its members from a district, town, village, or even neighborhood within a county, or equivalent jurisdiction, of a state or colony.  The district which provided a Company was generally sized to be able to reliably produce enough Privates to meet the desired strength (varying from 40 to 100 men) when the Company was called to active service.  Companies were commanded in most cases by Captains, although there are cases of Lieutenants in command, and of Colonels volunteering to serve as Captains.

PLATOON - in the modern Army the Platoon is a maneuver element, capable of independent operations on the battlefield, and modern platoons typically are larger than many of the Militia companies that actually deployed in battle.  This is not true of a platoon in the 1700s.  Platoons in Colonial companies were simply divisions of the company line for better control by officers and non-commissioned officers, and for disciplined volley fire.  Instead of the three or more platoons of a modern company, a Militia company using von Steuben's drill regulations (and in other contemporary drill manuals) formed in two platoons.  One Platoon would be led by the Captain, and the other by the senior Lieutenant.

SOURCES:

Lewis, J. D.; "The American Revolution in North Carolina: The North Carolina Militia;" [Internet database]; at http://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_patriots_militia_nc.html; accessed 2015-11-13.

McAllister, J. T.; "The Battle of Point Pleasant;" [journal article]; The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography; Volume 9, Number 4, 1902-04; pp. 395-407. 

Hambrick-Stowe, Charles E. and Smerlas, Donna D.; Massachusetts Militia Companies and Officers in the Lexington Alarm; [monograph]; three publishers, The Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, The Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Archives Division, and The New England Historic Genealogical Society, no place; 1976.

North Carolina, The Adjutant General; Muster Rolls of the Soldiers of the War of 1812 Detached form the Militia of North Carolina in 1812 and 1814; [book]; The Times, Raleigh, North Carolina; 1851.

Roach, Hannah Benner; The Pennsylvania Militia in 1777; [monograph]; reprinted from The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, Volume XXIII, Number 3, 1964; Diane Publishing Company, Darby, Pennsylvania; no date.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University Library; Colonial and State Records of North Carolina;  Volumes 8, 10, and 19; [Internet website, transcription from original documents]; at http://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.html; 2010-03-24. 

United States, Second Congress; An Act more effectually to provide for the National Defense, by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the United States; [legislative act];1792-05-08.

Wright, Robert K.; "Massachusetts Militia Roots: A Bibliographic Study;" [extended article]; National Guard Bureau, Washington, District of Columbia; at http://www.history.army.mil/reference/mamil/Mamil.htm; 1986-07-19.