The History of the Maryland National Guard
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The Maryland National Guard traces its roots to 25 March 1634, when two militia captains were amongst 150-odd colonists who disembarked in the new world to form the first European settlement in what would become Maryland. Although all able-bodied males were obligated to serve in the militia, the captains also called upon volunteers to establish a professional armed force known as the “trained bands.”
As the Maryland colony grew and expanded, so too did its militia. These militiamen not only guarded the colony against Indian raids, but sometimes fought each other. When civil war broke out in England in 1642, Maryland was deeply affected. Fighting between royalists and parliamentarians in Maryland dragged on intermittently for nearly 20 years. Other European wars also affected the colony. The Seven Years’ War was also fought in North America, where it was known as the French and Indian War. Maryland militiamen, including several volunteer companies known collectively as the “Maryland Forces,” fought alongside the British to secure the frontier during the conflict, which lasted from 1756 to 1763.
But relations between the colonies and mother country soon soured. The coming of the American Revolution found numerous Maryland militia units serving with Washington’s Continental Army. Indeed, at the Battle of Long Island in 1776, several companies of the Maryland Battalion, later remembered as the “Maryland 400,” gained immortality by making repeated bayonet charges against a vastly superior British force, thereby saving the Continental Army, and probably the entire Revolutionary cause as well. Washington is reported to have exclaimed, “My God, what brave men must I lose today!” as he witnessed the attack. The Maryland Line, as the Maryland regiments later came to be collectively known, went on to fight in both the northern and southern campaigns of the Revolutionary War. Maryland’s official nickname, “The Old Line State” is derived from the Maryland Line.
Maryland maintained a militia force after the revolution. The wisdom of this course became clear when the War of 1812 broke out. Although routed at the Battle of Bladensburg on 24 August 1814, the militia was able to redeem itself two and a half weeks later at the Battle of North Point. The British commander, General Robert Ross, had confidently declared, “I will take Baltimore if it rains militia.” But by the time the smoke cleared, the British advance had been frustrated and General Ross lay dead, shot down by two Maryland riflemen, Daniel Wells and Henry McComas.
Although large numbers of Maryland militiamen voluntarily enlisted in the Army to form a Maryland Battalion during the 1846-48 Mexican-American War, for the most part the militia suffered from serious neglect and many units dwindled in size. Maryland’s militia forces’ most significant call-ups were to deal with riots and other civil disorders. In 1859, Maryland militiamen were amongst the troops that cornered abolitionist John Brown in Harper’s Ferry, Va. This incident would help spark a far bloodier conflict: the Civil War.
A border state with strong southern sympathies, Maryland nonetheless remained with the Union when war broke out in April 1861. But as with many states, the sons of Maryland fought on both sides. Many Maryland militiamen – including Baltimore’s 5th Regiment, the lineal descendent of the unit that had saved the Revolution at the Battle of Long Island – went south to join the Confederates. Other units remained loyal to the Union and fought with the federal forces. The fratricidal nature of the war was illustrated on 23 May 1862 when the Confederate 1st Maryland fought the Union 1st Maryland at Front Royal, Va.
Following the Civil War, veterans from both sides of the conflict took the lead in forming volunteer militia units. Although militia service was initially popular, a lack of government support frustrated many members of what was now known as the National Guard. Soon the Maryland National Guard had shrunk to little more than two under-strength regiments. The National Guard was saved from oblivion by unfortunate circumstances: in the summer of 1877 a railroad strike broke out and the Guard was called out to restore order. For three days the troops were besieged in Camden Station by 15,000 rioters until federal troops arrived on the scene. Although one regiment – the 6th Maryland – was disbanded, the prestige of the other regiment, the 5th Maryland, soared and new recruits joined in droves. In 1899, the 5th Maryland adopted a regimental color consisting of four quadrants drawn from the coat-of-arms of George Calvert, Lord Baltimore. Five years later, the State of Maryland adopted the 5th Maryland’s colors as the official state flag. By the end of the century, a number of new units had formed, including the Monumental City Guards, an all-black unit organized in Baltimore in 1879. Maryland also gained its first Naval Militia forces when a Naval Battalion was organized in 1896.
When war with Spain was declared in 1898, the Maryland National Guard was mobilized. Only the Naval Militia saw action, its members serving aboard two Navy ships that captured several Spanish prizes and accepted the surrender of the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico. The 5th Regiment, which made it as far as Tampa, Fla., lost a score of men to illness but never saw combat. Other units served on garrison duty in the United States.
The Maryland National Guard remained busy into the new century. In 1904 the Guard was called out to help maintain order when the Baltimore Fire gutted the city’s downtown district. In response to Pancho Villa’s cross-border raids, the Maryland National Guard was called up in 1916 and deployed for seven months to the town of Eagle Pass, Texas, on the Mexican border.
When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, the Guard was quickly called up to prevent sabotage. One unit, the 117th Trench Mortar Battalion was promptly deployed overseas, where it became the first Maryland National Guard unit to see combat and went on to participate in nearly every major campaign in which U.S. forces fought. Before long, much of the remainder of the Guard was on its way to France. The 1st, 4th and 5th Maryland regiments were combined to form the 115th Infantry, which served as part of the newly-created 29th Division and fought in Alsace and the Meuse-Argonne. While serving with the 115th, Private Henry Costin became the first Maryland Guardsman to earn the Medal of Honor. The all-black Monumental City Guards, now known as the 1st Separate Company, served with great distinction as part of the 372nd Infantry, earning the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for its valor in action. The Naval Militia was also mobilized, serving aboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri during the war.
With the end of the “war to end all wars,” the mobilized Guardsmen were discharged en masse, and the Maryland National Guard had to be reformed from scratch. The post-war Maryland Guard was substantially smaller than prior to the war. One area where the Guard did expand was in the nascent field of aviation. In 1921, one of the National Guard’s first post-war flying units was formed when the 104th Observation Squadron was organized in Baltimore. But with economic troubles at home during the Great Depression, military preparedness received scant attention. The outbreak of fighting in Europe in 1939 changed this outlook and in February 1941, the entire Maryland National Guard was mobilized for a year of intensive training. But with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that December, the mobilization became “for the duration.”
During World War II, Maryland National Guard units served with great distinction. As part of the 29th Infantry Division, Marylanders took part in the D-Day landings of June 1944 and fought their way across France, Holland, and Germany to link up with the Russians at the Elbe River. During the war, the 29th Division suffered one of the highest casualty rates of any American division. The still-segregated 1st Separate Company was again assigned to the 372nd Infantry and became the only Maryland Guard unit to serve in the Pacific, while the 104th Observation Squadron flew anti-submarine patrols along the East Coast. The Maryland Naval Militia, which since World War I had been a dual-status organization of the Navy reserve, was also mobilized, although it would not be re-established after the war.
Following the allied victory in 1945, the American military was nearly totally demobilized. From 1946 to 1948, dozens of Maryland National Guard units were reorganized and gained federal recognition. Among these was the 104th Fighter Squadron, which became the first post-war Air National Guard flying unit to stand up. Another was the 1st Separate Company – now known as the 231st Transportation Truck Battalion. When war broke out on the Korean Peninsula in 1950, the two companies of the 231st became the first National Guard units to arrive in Korea. With U.N. forces fighting a desperate holding action along the Pusan Perimeter, the 231st was immediately put to work ferrying supplies and materiel to the front. While in Korea, the unit – along with the rest of the Army – was desegregated by Presidential order. Ironically, the unit would again become segregated when it returned to National Guard control. It would not be finally and permanently integrated until later in the 1950s.
But although no other Maryland National Guard units were mobilized to fight in Korea, or later in Vietnam, the Guard was far from inactive. During the late 1950s and early 1960s the 104th Fighter Squadron – now part of the newly created Air National Guard – was reorganized as a fighter-interceptor squadron and tasked with defending the Baltimore-Washington region against possible Soviet bomber attack. Beginning around the same time period the Maryland Army National Guard’s 70th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment provided ground based defense against bomber attack. This unit was initially armed with World War II era anti-aircraft guns but soon upgraded to Nike-Ajax surface-to-air missiles. By the time the unit ceased operation in the 1970s, it was armed with nuclear-tipped Nike-Hercules missiles at air defense sites across the state. The air defense crews of Maryland and the other Nike-equipped states remain the only National Guard troops to have ever been entrusted with operational nuclear weapons.
The Cold War brought other changes to the Maryland Guard, including expansions in unconventional warfare units. Maryland became one of the first states to create an Army Special Forces unit when Company B, 16th Special Forces Group stood up in Towson in 1963. This complemented the Maryland Air Guard’s 135th Air Commando Group, which had been in existence since 1955. Other changes including the inactivation of the famed “Blue and Gray” 29th Infantry Division in 1968 as part of a National Guard reorganization. The 29th Division would not be brought back to active status until 1985, when it was reorganized as a light infantry division, in recognition of the Army’s need to have forces that could be deployed quickly and fight in difficult terrain.
Social unrest at home also kept the National Guard busy. Simmering racial tension in Cambridge, Md., kept the Guard on duty there for nearly the entire decade of the 1960s. Likewise, repeated antiwar riots at the University of Maryland resulted in multiple deployments to the campus into the 1970s. Perhaps the National Guard’s biggest test came in 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Across the country rioting broke out, and the city of Baltimore was no exception. Nearly the entire Maryland National Guard was deployed to contain the disturbance. Ultimately the Guard was federalized and reinforced by active Army troops before the rioting subsided.
The Maryland National Guard’s final federal call-up of the Cold War came shortly after the Baltimore Riots ended. In May 1968, portions of the 175th Tactical Fighter Group were mobilized in response to North Korea’s seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo. The unit remained deployed at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, until December.
But the Cold War had barely ended when the National Guard found itself being called to arms. In response to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait, the Maryland National Guard had a number of units mobilized, several of which were deployed to the Middle East. In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, Maryland Air National Guard units deployed repeatedly to enforce U.N. sanctions against Iraq. In addition, Maryland Army Guard units have served on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia and Kosovo.
The terror attacks of 11 September 2001 have brought the largest and most sustained call-ups of the National Guard since World War II. The 115th Military Police Battalion mobilized and on 12 September was ordered to help secure the Pentagon attack site. Elements of this unit would go on to serve in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Since then, nearly every unit of the Maryland National Guard has served overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere. In 2007, elements of the 58th Brigade Combat Team, including the 175th Infantry and the 158th Cavalry Regiments, were deployed to Iraq, the state’s the largest single mobilization since 1968 and its largest combat deployment since World War II.
When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, the Maryland National Guard deployed some 13 separate task forces to the region and flew numerous relief missions into the area. The Katrina mission was but one of many humanitarian relief missions the Maryland National Guard has participated in over the years, both at home and abroad.