Discussion Militia Act weapons requirements

Carronade

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The predates the Civil War but still has some relevance, and I'm hoping some of the knowledgeable folks here can help out. The Militia Act of 1792 required men aged 18-45, with some stated exceptions, to be enrolled into the militia, and that each such man "...shall within six months thereafter, provide himself..." with a musket, bayonet and belt, two spare flints, a box able to contain not less than 24 suitable cartridges, and a knapsack: or a rifle, powder horn, ¼ pound of gunpowder, 20 rifle balls, a shot-pouch, and a knapsack." Granted, many men would have guns for hunting or protection anyway, but for others, a firearm would be a significant investment, especially in an era when cash money was often scarce. Nor would the typical farmer have much need for military gear like a bayonet. Were people able to comply with these requirements? Were they punished if they did not?

Individually procured weapons would be of varying types and calibers, complicating logistics in the field, although there might be some particularly popular models. Presumably most owners would have bullet molds and have to bring those with them if sent on campaign.

The proportion of riflemen in the militia would appear to depend on individuals' choice rather than sound military organization.

Did the government make any effort to standardize weapons? Or to help those who had no other need for firearms to procure them? How long did these haphazard provisions remain in effect? Thanks to anyone who can provide information.
 

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major bill

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Many states still had these militia laws on the books right up to the Civil War. These laws were not usually tightly adhered to. By the Civil War few states had yearly musters and often the fine for not having the proper equipment was less than the cost of purchasing the proper equipment. In my state one could pay a tax to not have the proper equipment or attend the militia muster. The money raised was susposablely used to fund uniformed militia companies.
 
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Did the government make any effort to standardize weapons? Or to help those who had no other need for firearms to procure them? How long did these haphazard provisions remain in effect?.
Individual States began contracting for military arms very early on to remedy this problem. The results were mixed, as most of the earliest State and US contractors had little to no experience manufacturing arms on the scale required by their contracts, and a large number of contractors failed to delivery all of the weapons required by their contracts.
Europe was even sourced for arms, and a variety of continental flintlock weapons were purchased by States, Virginia in particular, in the late 1780s and 1790s. Virginia attempted to streamline the process even more by establishing a State owned manufactory for arms in 1798.

The biggest leap forward came in 1808 when, under the provisions of The Militia Act of 1808, Congress made an annual appropriation for $200,000 to arm the militia of the United States. The Federal Government contracted with private armories to manufacture arms of the same patterns that the Federal Armories at Harpers Ferry and Springfield were manufacturing. These arms were then supplied to various States via an apportionment system based on their annual militia returns.
This system proved superior to individual States contracting for arms, since larger parcels could be ordered at once, keeping the costs down, and Ordnance Department inspectors were sent to view the weapons prior to their acceptance. Although weapons prior to this point had been proved and inspected prior to acceptance, the streamlining in arms production alleviated a number of problems with ammunition procurement since bore sizes, especially for rifles, were standardized under Federal contracts.
By the 1840s the system had expended well beyond muskets, and states were able to draw all manner of arms and accouterments with each specific item's worth being factored as a percentage of a musket due the State; eg 1 rifle might equal 2 muskets.
States continued to supply their militias with this system right up through the start of hostilities. I am not familiar with militia supply systems following the War, but I believe the same general program applied afterwards for some time.

After 1859 there was a resurgence in the use of outside contractors delivering arms for specific States, particularly in the South. With the threat of war setting in a number of States purchased patent arms outside the confines of the Federal Armory system to supplement their militia's weaponry. Whitney, Maynard, Colt, and Sharps all did brisk business with agents in Southern States prior to, and in some cases immediately after, the War started. During the same time, States were also able to purchase surplus arms from the Federal Government, although at that time the Ordnance Department was only selling off stocks of flintlock weapons, cone-in-barrel altered muskets, and other "old pattern" guns that were no longer wanted.

I'm sure others will be able to add to that, but I hope it is of some help.

Cheers,
Garrett
 

James Brenner

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The Militia Act of 1808 will answer many of your questions. From there, you'll have to research each state's militia laws for how the units were organized and in what proportion. In Ohio, for example, fines were levied for a variety of offenses, but rarely collected. Theoretically, money thus collected would be used to purchase company equipment: drums, colors, camp equipage - all those things the state did not provide.
 

Don Dixon

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Individually procured weapons would be of varying types and calibers, complicating logistics in the field, although there might be some particularly popular models. Presumably most owners would have bullet molds and have to bring those with them if sent on campaign.

The proportion of riflemen in the militia would appear to depend on individuals' choice rather than sound military organization.

Did the government make any effort to standardize weapons? Or to help those who had no other need for firearms to procure them? How long did these haphazard provisions remain in effect? Thanks to anyone who can provide information.
Within five years of enactment of the Second Militia Act, all militia muskets were to be standardized with bores capable of accepting “balls of the eighteenth part of a pound.” This was effectively .69 caliber, which was the standard U.S. military caliber of the time. The private arms held for militia service were exempted from “all suits, distresses, executions or sales, for debt or for the payment of taxes.”

In 1808 Congress recognized some of the problems associated with arming the militia; particularly the issues of compelling poor men to purchase arms at their own expense and the expense to the states in procuring heavy weapons. On 23 April 1808 President James Madison signed An Act Making Provision for Arming and Equipping the Whole Body of the Militia of the United States. In this act, Congress appropriated $200,000 per annum for the purpose of arming and equipping the militia. The funds were to be divided between the states and territories in proportion to the “number of the effective militia” in each. The arms were to be either manufactured at national government facilities or purchased by the national government from contractors for the states and territories. The purchases from contractors served to help establish a base of private arms manufacturers who could expand the nation’s arms manufacturing capacity in time of war. Each year the appropriation was divided among the states and territories in the form of a number of musket equivalents. The state or territory could take that number of muskets as its allocation, or it could take an equivalent value in other arms and equipment. If the value of its request exceeded its allocation, the state was indebted to the national government for the balance. Once the arms were disbursed to the states and territories, they became the property of the states and territories and were distributed “under such rules and regulations [or lack of them] as shall be by law prescribed by the legislature of each State and Territory.” There were several flies in the ointment. The appropriation was only made when there was a surplus of otherwise unappropriated funds in the Treasury. And, the appropriation did not increase until 1887, despite the increase in the number of states and territories and the overall population of the United States.

By the time of the Civil War there were approximately 3 million men in the enrolled militia, and consequently thousands of theoretical regiments and the requisite number of political militia colonels, brigadiers, and major generals to command them across the United States. In Virginia, for example, Adjutant General William H. Richardson stated in his 1859 report to the governor that the Commonwealth’s militia consisted of five regiments of cavalry, five regiments of artillery, and 194 regiments of infantry. Although the Commonwealth’s militia was one of the best equipped in the Union, Richardson reported at the same time that he had only 4,965 small arms on-issue to the militia and 53,947 small arms of all types and conditions on-hand for potential issue at the Commonwealth arsenals at Richmond and Lexington [VMI]. The vast majority of these weapons were flintlock.

Americans have always been resistant to compulsion. As the Indian Peoples were pacified, pushed further west, or exterminated, the perceived threat from that source was reduced, as was the perceived threat from foreign powers after the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Consequently, citizens resisted active participation in the militia, and the state legislatures and Congress failed to adequately control or fund it. In “The American Militia and the Origin of Conscription,” Jeffrey R. Hummel observed that “Jacksonians condemned militia fines [for failure to appear for mandatory training or to appear improperly equipped] because they fell unfairly upon laborers and the poor. The common militia also became the butt of an effective campaign of ridicule and civil disobedience. Men would muster for mandatory training with cornstalks, brooms, or other silly substitutes for weapons, giving rise to the derisive sobriquet ‘cornstalk militia.’ In some locations disgruntled militiamen would elect the town drunk their commander. As a result of these attacks, the compulsory features of the common militia began to ease.”

A practical example of the problem may be seen in the records of the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment in Frederick County covering the period 1813 to 1821. At the end of each year the company captains reported their troops who had defaulted by failing to appear, or to appear properly equipped, for mandatory militia drills. The regimental court then assessed fines on the defaulters for each failure to appear. These ranged from $2.00 per drill in 1815 to $.75 in 1819. The judge of the Circuit Court then dispatched the county sheriff to seize the defaulters’ property to settle the fines. In most instances, the sheriff found that the defaulter had no property to seize. Since the sheriff was an elected official, it may also have been that he had no wild enthusiasm for outraging his constituents.

In consequence the militia system had largely collapsed well before 1860, except for small numbers of uniformed and equipped organized militia units – the “uniformed militia” - which largely functioned as social clubs.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

Carronade

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