Generations of Volunteers
Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, commander of the Tennessee Militia, who eventually became the seventh U.S. president, penned those words to Pvt. David Crockett, Lt. Sam Houston and 5,000 other militiamen as they mobilized for the War of 1812. With little notice, these citizen-soldiers left their jobs and families, laying the cornerstone for Tennessee's "volunteer" tradition. The Tennessee Military Department serves a duel federal and state mission to provide the President of the United States and the Governor of Tennessee with units capable of performing their wartime missions and also supporting civil authorities during times of domestic emergencies.
Tennessee's Early Military History
The state's official military history dates to June 1, 1796, when Tennessee became the 16th state admitted into the Union. But its actual history reaches farther back. The first Tennessee militia was organized in 1774 in Sullivan and Carter counties (then North Carolina) to face a threat from Shawnee Indians, resulting in the battle at Point Pleasant.
In 1780, during the American Revolution, John Sevier and Isaac Shelby, leading 240 militiamen from Sullivan and Washington counties in North Carolina (now Tennessee), joined other colonial militiamen at Sycamore Shoals.
These "Overmountain Men" marched south to attack Maj. Patrick Ferguson's Corps, which was protecting the left flank of Lord Cornwallis' army. Known as the Battle of Kings Mountain, it was the turning point against Britain's southern campaign during the Revolution.
Following independence, Gov. William Blount organized a territorial militia that included 14 infantry companies and a cavalry troop to protect settlers from local Indian tribes. Warfare erupted, and by the fall of 1794, Tennessee militiamen had secured the territory.
As settlers pushed west and south toward the Tennessee River in 1812, hostilities resumed with the Creek Indians. That same year, Tennesseans also mobilized for another war with Great Britain.
In 1813, Governor Blount immediately called for 3,500 militiamen and volunteers to avenge the Fort Mims massacre in Alabama. Five thousand answered and fought with Andrew Jackson in the Creek War. Numerous victories ensued, including the Battle of Horseshoe Bend that destroyed Creek military power.
General Jackson and his army then secured Mobile and drove the British out of Pensacola. Next, Jackson's army hurriedly marched to New Orleans and rendezvoused with other Tennesseans to defend the city. On Jan. 8, 1815, Jackson's troops defeated a veteran British Army at the Battle of New Orleans, catapulting him to national prominence.
But he wasn't the only Tennessee militiaman to return home a hero. In March 1818, David Crockett was elected lieutenant colonel of the 57th Regiment of Militia, furthering his political aspirations. Sam Houston became adjutant general that same year.
During the 1830s, many Tennessee militiamen even contributed to Texas' independence. Numerous militiamen, including Crockett and his band of Tennessee Mounted Volunteers, died defending the Alamo in 1836.
President James K. Polk, a Tennessean, requested a 2,800 volunteer-soldier quota for Tennessee in the Mexican-American War in 1846. Instead, 30,000 Tennesseans offered their services, solidifying Tennessee as the "Volunteer State."
A lottery system determined which volunteers would serve in the newly formed 1st and 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiments and a contingent of dragoons.
The regiments fought at Monterey, Mexico, and during an assault on Fort Teneria, an enemy bastion guarding the city. It was here the 1st Tennessee earned the nickname, "Bloody First." Both Tennessee regiments would see combat in Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo and other battles in the Mexico City campaign.
War Between the States
Tennesseans served on both sides of the Civil War as well. Gov. Isham G. Harris raised the Provisional Army of Tennessee, the largest and best-organized southern force, comprised of militia units and volunteer companies.
The forces transferred to Confederate service under the command of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston and became the core of the Confederate Army in the western theater.
In the opening days of the Civil War, the soldiers defended the northern frontier of the Confederacy along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Tennessee was often referred to as the "Shield of the South." Tennesseans fought at every major battle in the Civil War.
But roughly 31,000 Tennesseans, primarily from eastern Tennessee--also joined the Union Army. The state provided more soldiers to the Union cause than all other Confederate states combined.
During Reconstruction, Tennessee was the first state admitted back into the Union. In March 1867, Congress abolished the state militias in all former Confederate states except Tennessee.
State militiamen mobilized in 1867 and 1869 to monitor election sites against hostility from the Ku Klux Klan. It was also during this time that the state created 12 African-American militia companies.
Tennessee's 45th General Assembly in 1887 established the Tennessee National Guard, as it is known today. State lawmakers set up the basic conditions under which the force would operate.
Tennessee was among the first states to offer her full quota of soldiers for the Spanish-American War. The equipped Tennessee Guard units were mobilized. Four regiments were created, but only the 1st and 4th Regiments deployed overseas.
The 4th Tennessee deployed and occupied Cuba for five months. The 1st Tennessee deployed to the Philippines and fought in Manila where it helped capture Iloilo, the Philippines' second largest city. It was one of the most honored Spanish-American War volunteer regiments and the last to leave federal service.
In 1916, nearly every Tennessee Guard unit served along the Mexican border to defend against incursions by bandits under Pancho Villa.
World War I
Federalized as part of the 30th Division in World War I, Tennessee units organized as the 117th Infantry, 114th and 115th Artillery and 114th Machine Gun Battalion. The Soldiers nicknamed the 30th "Old Hickory" in honor of Andrew Jackson. (The 30th then also included Soldiers from North and South Carolina.)
During the war, the 30th earned fame as the first to break the Hindenburg Line, hastening the end of the war. Guard soldiers in the 30th received 12 Medals of Honor (five were Tennessee Guardsmen), more than any other division in the theater.
Following World War I, Tennessee units reverted to their original designations. In 1923, federal recognition made the 117th Infantry and 115th Artillery permanent units. Tennessee's first aircraft squadron, the 105th Air Observation Squadron, was also organized.
World War II
During World War II, the 30th Division landed in Normandy shortly after D-Day. At Saint Barthelmy near Mortain, France, the 117th Infantry defended against Adolf Hitler's 1st SS Panzer Division, preventing the Germans from driving to the Sea at Avranches and splitting the 1st and 3rd Allied Armies.
The regiment received two presidential unit citations. Three top German generals stated that this was one of two critical engagements that led to the defeat of Germany in the west. The German High Command regarded the 30th as "Roosevelt's Shock Troops."
Next, the 30th broke through the Siegfried Line with the 117th Infantry to become the first unit in the entire XIX Corps to capture its objectives. It earned three more presidential unit citations over a two-week period. Tennessee’s regiment also made a stand at Stavelot, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge, once again defeating Hitler's 1st SS Panzer Division.
The 117th Infantry Regiment, primarily Tennessee Guardsmen, received five presidential unit citations by the end of the war, making it one of the most decorated Army infantry regiments.
During the Korean War, Tennessee mobilized 11 units, with four seeing combat in Korea. The 196th Field Artillery Battalion received a presidential unit citation for helping to repulse the massive Chinese invasion in 1951.
In 1954, Tennessee and North Carolina agreed to split the 30th Infantry Division, each state maintaining its own division.
As a result, Tennessee organized the 30th Armored "Volunteer" Division. The unit served with distinction until 1973 when it was converted into the 30th Armored Brigade.
The first use of Guard troops to enforce school integration occurred in Clinton, Tennessee, in September 1956. The Ku Klux Klan rallied in Clinton to maintain the segregation of a local school, but Gov. Frank Clement enforced the new integration laws.
In 1968, many units from the 30th Armored Division quelled riots in Memphis and Nashville after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Many Tennessee Guardsmen also volunteered to serve with the active-component in Vietnam.
More than 3,600 Tennessee Guardsmen responded to Operations Desert Shield and Storm. The 196th Field Artillery Brigade (including the 1st Battalion, 181st Field Artillery) was one of only two Army Guard combat units to see actual combat. The Tennessee Air Guard deployed six units and the Army deployed 17 during the conflict. A few days prior to G-Day, Tennessee’s 212th Engineer Company, attached to the 101st Airborne Division, broke through the border berm into enemy territory, building a six-lane road.
The unit traversed six miles before the ground war began, becoming the first unit of the 101st into Iraq and one of the first U.S. units to breach the Iraqi defensive zones.
Global War on Terrorism
On September 11, 2001, National Guard units responded quickly to secure Tennessee. Following the attack, soldiers and airmen secured local armories, patrolled the state capitol and six major airports.
In March 2003, Tennesseans were some of the first units to cross into Iraq. The 730th Quartermaster Company fought alongside the forward elements of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 267th Military Police Company and C Company, 46th Engineer Battalion, forged ahead in the first days of the war to establish Camp Bucca, the theater internment facility.
Since 2001, nearly 28,000 Tennesseans have deployed for the war on terror. Back home, more than 1,200 Tennessee Guardsmen responded in the first days of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to provide humanitarian relief. Soldiers secured damaged areas, provided humanitarian assistance and conducted rescue operations. From Kings Mountain to the war on terror, the Tennessee National Guard has given true meaning to the Volunteer State.