Many of men of the 30th came from the great state of North Carolina and I profiled a few of those men from my home in Wayne County. The common thread for many was their National Guard service leading up to the war.
Birth of the US National Guard
The US regular army in the 18th and 19th centuries was a small force numbering only in the tens of thousands. In 1914 that number was just 98,000 men. From the Revolutionary War through the 19th century the United States relied heavily on local, volunteer militia forces under the authority of each state. This system was flawed to say the least.
There was no consistency in training, education, weapons, or doctrine, not just from one state to the next but among units in neighboring counties. Some units were little more than a social club not unlike the Odd Fellows or Kiwanis, just with rifles and live ammunition. Funding also varied wildly and often depended on wealthy benefactors. Looming over all this was also the unresolved tension between the states and federal government over authority. By the early 20th century it was evident to Congress and the regular army that state militias could not be counted on in the event of war.
The Militia Act of 1903 resolved the dispute over authority by laying out, legally, the conditions under which the state militias could be federalized when needed. It also opened the door for federal funding. The term “National Guard” was not new but the militia act cemented its usage, which was then formalized in the National Guard Mobilization Act of 1933.
First Test of the National Guard
In 1910 Mexico erupted into a civil war lasting ten years with a death toll between one and two million civilians and combatants. The federal government, worried about the fighting spilling over into the US, sent the regular army to the border amid rapidly deteriorating relations between Mexico and the US.
Relations reached their nadir on March 9, 1916 when legendary revolutionary Pancho Villa led hundreds of men in a raid on the town of Columbus, New Mexico. Regular US Army troops crossed into Mexico to capture him while National Guardsmen streamed to the border to take their place.
This was the first major test for the Militia Act and the ability of state and federal agencies to work together in a large-scale operation. The operation was an overwhelming success and a turning point not just for the National Guard, but the US military as a whole. Thousands of men from all over the country arrived along the border in a timely fashion, with the necessary supplies and chain of communication.
In less than two years many of these men of the National Guard would arrive in Europe at the closing stages of a war costing the lives of millions and devastating the entire continent. The Mexican border campaign proved that the new National Guard was a flexible, long-distance military force and a more than capable compliment to the regular army. Today, the US National Guard Army numbers nearly 350,000 men and women serving admirably all over the globe.
The NC National Guard heads to Texas
The following photos are of the 2nd North Carolina National Guard just prior to their deployment to the Mexican border near El Paso, Texas. Many of the men below would later serve in World War I, most in the 30th Division, “Old Hickory”.