Indiana Militia in the Antebellum Era
A militia system was instituted for the Northwest Territory in the earliest Territorial legislation. Perhaps the earliest militia in Indiana was formed by William Henry Harrison in 1789, which took in all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 though excluding preachers. (Buley, The Old Northwest, 2:6).
The 1816 Constitution of the new state of Indiana provided for a state militia. Article VII retained the 18 to 45 age limits. It was, however more explicit in exempting from service Negroes, mulattoes and Indians, and persons "conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms." The latter individuals, who would now be called conscientious objectors were required to pay a fee in lieu of military service; this fee amounted to the lowest fine assessed a private for failing to perform militia duty. (Indiana Constitution of 1816, Art. VII, Sect.2). Until about 1840, this fine, by law could vary from six to one hundred dollars; in 1840 the maximum fine was set at three dollars. (Smith, "Militia of the U.S. from 1846 to 1860," Ind.Magazine of History, Mar.1919, p. 40)
In terms of organization, the state militia had an officer corps similar to that of the national army, except that the militia officers were elected. Subalterns, captains, majors and colonels were elected by the troops, while brigadier generals and major generals were chosen by the commissioned officers. The adjutant general and quartermaster generals were appointed by the Governor. Commissions were issued by the Governor to all officers, "during good behavior, or until they arrive at the age of sixty years." (Const. 1816, Art. VII, Sects. 3,4,5,7,8,9).
Troops and squadrons of cavalry, and companies of artillery, riflemen, grenadiers and light infantry could also be formed, each with its own officers elected in the same manner.(Art.VII, Sec.6)
The Indiana militia was equipped with ordinance from the federal government. In 1832, the U.S. Arsenal in Pittsburgh sent to the Indiana militia 200 muskets, 150 pistols, 75 sabers and belts, 75 pair holsters, and 800 rifles. (Riker and Thornbrough, Noble Papers, p.119) In 1835 and 36, 120 pistols, 60 sabers and accoutrements, and 200 muskets and accoutrements were issued to Indiana leaving the state with a credit due of the value of 490 2/13 muskets. (Noble Papers, pp 460-461)
There was no one prescribed uniform for the Indiana militia; each company was left to adopt its own design. An artillery company in Corydon chose, in 1823, a relatively simple uniform with a blue coat, white pants, black stocks and black hats. In 1837, a company of volunteers in Indianapolis chose gray uniforms with black velvet trimmings and grenadier style black leather hats, but whether the uniform was ever universally adopted is unknown. Evidently primping for muster day, a number of men in Princeton in April 1819 bought plumes, cockades, "appulets," and sword belts (along with a little gold lace "for the General"). In later years, as the militia itself went into decline, the uniform became more and more a custom of only the officers, while rank and file militiamen wore their regular clothing. Logan Esarey (The Indiana Home) notes that some companies possessed similar jackets, caps, or belts. The officers' uniforms were occasionally quite elaborate.
State of the Militia in 1836
In general it appears that most militia companies in Indiana were in decline during the 1830s. Militia uniforms were replaced by usual work clothes. The women came along to muster, using the time to gossip and socialize. The officers, still attired in some sort of uniform, often spent more time electioneering than drilling. Instead of guns, some of the troops carried canes, sticks, hoe handles, or cornstalks; corn tassels often imitated the plumes of the officers. In short, muster day was becoming more of a social occasion than a military exercise.
Territorial law had provided for musters to be held in April and September. While these spring and fall dates may have been retained for regimental musters, some local companies were, by the 1830s, also mustering on July 4, their muster adding to the celebration of the holiday. In general, all of the musters of the period were attended by "large and motley crowds, more intent on frolic and roistering than improvement in military discipline."
Problems with the militia system came early, when Gov. Harrison "did not conceal his contempt" for the Quakers exempt from military service. (Buley, The Old Northwest, 2:6). Factionalism within the ranks developed early as well. A rifle company in Indianapolis in 1823, but a few dissatisfied members soon abolished the company's constitution, changed the uniform and thereby effectively forced out anyone unwilling to obtain another new uniform. (Douglass Maguire letter to James B. Ray, March 1826; Ray Papers, pp. 119-120). Noah Noble, in an 1831 campaign speech, complained that current militia performance was inferior to that of twenty years before. He attributed this to the variation in mustering days (different state militias mustered from two to fourteen days each year). He argued that mustering should be standardized, that the number of militia should be reduced in times of peace, and that those called up should be paid for their services. Noble felt that until such reforms were made, it was useless to take the citizens of Indiana away from husbandry for three days per year, resulting in a yearly loss of 150,000 days and $37,000, more than the net revenue of the state. (Noble Papers, pp.57-58)
Perhaps the major reason for the decline of the militia was the absence of important tasks and duties. The Indians, against whom the militia served as the state's early defense, were all but gone. The Black Hawk War of the early 1830s had involved very few Hoosiers. The other two wars of the 1830s were far away in Texas and Florida. Indiana was at peace, so the militia may have seemed at least as a military force, somewhat unnecessary. In the northern counties the militia was called out to quell the Irish riot on the canal line. In a letter to Governor Noble in December 1835, David Burr described the situation and the militia's involvement in the following manner:
"In conformity with your request in relation to the disturbance amongst the Irish laborers on the canal, it is proper to state, that many persons of the two parties into which they are unfortunately divided `Corkonians and Fardowns,' who had been engaged in those bloody affrays at Williamsport in Maryland, and at the `high rocks on the Potomac' within the last two years, had come since September in '34 to the Wabash and Erie Canal, with, as it is said, many of their leaders, and of course brought their animosities with them. And from that time up to the 12th of July last, when the general riot took place, manifested their ill will to each other by merciless beatings on such of each party as chanced to fall in the power of the other... The length of the line occupied by these belligerent parties was nearly fifty miles; and on the 10th of July the parties hastily collected, or rather left their work and commenced a march towards the centre of the line for a general battle.
"...one of the engineers informed (me) that all the workmen on the lower end of the line were armed and marching to the reputed battle field. I met them about half a mile from my residence in very orderly array, well armed and not a noisy or a drunken man amongst them. They were forced, as they considered, to fight in order to protect themselves and prevent their being slain and their property burned at night; that the civil authority did not or could not protect them; that their families could not stay in their shantees, had to sleep in the woods; and they had no resource left but a battle, that the weaker party might leave the line; that they wished to work and remain peaceable, could not, but would rather fight fairly in open day than be subject to these depredations at night. On assurance that order should be restored and that I would negotiate a suspension of hostilities with the other party, I prevailed on them to wait until I could see their belligerent friends. I then went to the reputed battle field with three or four persons whom I supposed had influence with the, found them fully prepared, well disposed in a strong military position, exceedingly exasperated, and had some difficulty to save those who went with me from being killed. They expressed the same fears of the others, and after some persuasion consented to appoint persons to agree on terms of peace with the Fardowns and suspend hostile operations until the result of the meetings between the persons deputed to negotiate the peace could be known. In the meantime, the citizens at Huntington had become exceedingly alarmed at seeing this hostile array of so many men in arms with the avowed intention of meeting in battle with three or four hundred on a side -- the civil completely controlled, and fearing their persons and property would not be safe, sent to Fort Wayne for aid of the militia. A company immediately was collected and in a few hours sent to their relief; they came to Huntington, the citizens had collected and organized a company also. By this time the citizens of Lagros became alarmed; they sent to Huntington for troops to come there and protect them and aid the civil authority. So soon as I learned that the militia had turned out from 60 to 100 in number, I thought the force altogether too small to do any good amongst seven or eight hundred armed men: I therefore sent to Logansport and requested their assistance, which was promptly rendered. The militia at Lagros, at my request, marched to Miamisport and met the two volunteer companies from Logansport, and all marched back to Lagros. Two magistrates and an associate judge were collected, and with the sheriffs of Huntington and Wabash counties, aided by the militia, arrested and committed eight of the ringleaders. ...these men were sent under strong guard to Indianapolis for safe keeping, where they were confined until liberated by a writ of habeas corpus for some informality in the proceedings.
"There were more than 600 armed men of the Irish, and I am satisfied that no other course than the one pursued would have been sufficient to have restored order by this prompt movement and bringing in so strong a body of men, in such short time arresting the ringleaders. The commissioning of justices of the peace and organizing militia companies at Wabash, Lagros, and Huntington has restored, and I trust will preserve order."
Beyond this short-lived civil disruption, the Indiana Militia saw little other opportunity for service in the thirties except its occasional appearance at treaty negotiations with the Indians and during Indian payments. One company of the Indiana militia however was called up in 1836. The "Peru Blues" were called up on Sept. 25, 1836 on the report of Col. G.W. Ewing that the Potawatomi Indians had allegedly risen against the government. Another company joined the Blues near Logansport, where the real reason for the call-up was discovered. Col. Ewing had appropriated all the money to have been paid as annuity to the Potawatomi, claiming that the Indians owed the full amount of their annuity to his firm. The captains of the militia sided with Col. Pepper, the paymaster, against Ewing, and forced him to return the money to Pepper. The Indians were given their annuity, and the militia returned home on Oct. 1. (Bodurtha, History of Miami County, pp.204-205). This was the only evidence found of any actual militia activity in the 1830s, outside of the involvement of some individuals in the Black Hawk War. Though some units were involved in a minor way with the 1838 Indian removals.
The militia experienced a resurgence during the Mexican War; however it appears that, through the 1830s, militia musters may have served more as social occasions than as serious military drills. These were the only evidence found of any actual militia activity in the 1830s, outside of the involvement of some individuals in the Black Hawk War.