Some 11 years before Wisconsin attained statehood, its citizens began forming what would become the Wisconsin National Guard. March 5, 1837, marks the organization’s official birth date – and now in its 177th year, the Wisconsin National Guard remains true to its Citizen Soldier roots.
In 1837, Wisconsin was a backwater territory of the rapidly expanding United States. On March 5 of that year, Henry Dodge, the governor of the Territory of Wisconsin, commissioned Morgan L. Martin, of Green Bay, Wis., as a captain and the commander of the Green Bay Rangers volunteer company of mounted riflemen.
In reality, Wisconsin’s militia and National Guard developed over a period of time – not with a single government decree. Other significant dates dot the Wisconsin Guard’s historical timeline – like in 1879 when Wisconsin’s Adjutant General first referred to the state’s militia as the “National Guard.”
But Wisconsin’s Citizen Soldiers left their mark on military history long before 1879. When the Civil War began, the Union Army was made mostly of federalized state troops. The vaunted Iron Brigade, which went on to great fame in the annals of Civil War history, was made up largely of Wisconsin’s volunteer infantry.
Wisconsin ultimately sent 91,000 of its native sons to fight for the Union Army – a figure that represented almost 12 percent of the state’s total population at the time.
As they were in 1837, Wisconsin’s Citizen Soldiers remain ready to serve the people of Wisconsin and the nation. Whether they were militiamen protecting Wisconsin frontier settlements, charging through the cornfields at Antietam, piercing enemy lines in France, fighting the Japanese in New Guinea or protecting America from terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Wisconsin National Guard has been always ready and always there since its inception.
Wisconsin Soldiers and Airmen have served in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, on the Mexican Border during the border dispute of 1916, and in France during World War I. Wisconsin’s famed Red Arrow saw more days of combat during World War II than any other American division as its Soldiers fought through the jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines. During the Cold War, the Red Arrow once again mobilized during the Berlin Crisis. The Wisconsin Air National Guard served in the skies over Korea in the 1950s, and Guardsmen from the Badger State would go on to serve in Iraq in 1991 and again during the Global War on Terror.
All the while, our National Guard served simultaneously at home – responding to floods, tornadoes, forest fires and crippling snow storms. They’ve done it all while remaining members of their own communities and working as teachers, laborers and businesspeople. The Wisconsin National Guard remains the epitome of the Citizen Soldier, and likewise, it remains ready to serve the people of Wisconsin and the nation.