Naval Militia

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Naval Militia. A late nineteenth‐century offspring of the National Guard and “New Navy” movements, the naval militia championed a place for the citizen‐sailor in national defense. The resurgence of the National Guard ensured a positive reception in coastal and Great Lake state legislatures to the idea of training a citizen‐based naval reserve. Massachusetts formed the first state Naval Battalion in 1890. By the Spanish‐American War, fifteen states had naval militia to quell waterfront strikes and defend coastal areas. Interest in developing a world‐class New Navy also contributed to the popularity of the naval militia concept. Accordingly, the navy, beginning in 1891, provided funds and equipment for training and did not hesitate to call upon these forces when war came with Spain in 1898. Four thousand militiamen served on auxiliary cruisers performing scouting and blockade missions—which included providing cover for the Marine landing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—or manned stateside coastal signal stations.

In 1914, the naval militia received federal recognition as an official reserve force comparable in status to the National Guard. During World War I, however, naval militia units lost their state designation when members were assigned indiscriminately to U.S. Navy ships. The Naval Reserve Act of 1938 permanently federalized the naval militia as a training unit for the U.S. Naval Reserves. Unlike National Guardsmen, naval militiamen now volunteered to serve first in the reserves, then the militia. Reflecting the trend toward federal supervision and the emphasis on billet over unit training, only three states continued their naval militia units by 1960.
[See also Militia and National Guard; Navy, U.S.: 1866–1898; Navy, U.S.: 1899–1945.]


Jim Dan Hill , The Minute Man in Peace and War, 1964.
Kevin R. Hart , Towards a Citizen Sailor: The History of the Naval Militia Movement, 1888–1898, American Neptune, 33 (October 1973), pp. 258–79.

Jennifer D. Keene