Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

William V. Bartleson

Mexican-American War

Despite taking place in the American Southwest and Central America, the Mexican-American War (1845-48) had significant ties to the Philadelphia area. As one of the most populous urban centers in the country, the Delaware Valley became a hotbed of activity for one of the most controversial wars in American history.    

[caption id="attachment_29615" align="alignright" width="300"] General Winfield Scott (depicted on horseback) presented the 1st and 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments with their own regimental colors to show his appreciation for their efforts and sacrifice at the Battle of Puebla and the Siege of Mexico City. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

War between the United States and Mexico followed the admission of Texas as the twenty-eighth state of the United States in December 1845. This exacerbated preexisting tension with the Mexican government, which never recognized Texas independence, American annexation of Texas, nor the proposed border of the new state at the Rio Grande River. After an armed clash between U.S. forces led by General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) and Mexican troops in the disputed area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, Congress declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846, and authorized President James K. Polk (1795-1849) to call up fifty thousand volunteers to join the existing U.S. Army.

In Philadelphia and elsewhere, the controversy surrounding the coming and course of the Mexican-American War illustrated the widening divide in American society over the issues of territorial conquest and the expansion of slavery. Initially, support for the war was strong in the mid-Atlantic states, and Philadelphia’s historic ties to the American Revolution made it a centerpiece for pro-war patriotism by politicians and cultural figures who viewed Manifest Destiny as the legacy of American independence. The Philadelphia North American, a “penny press” newspaper owned by George R. Graham (1813-1894), reported news from Mexico and supported “Mr. Polk’s War” in editorials. However, Philadelphia’s active abolitionist community opposed the war as a vehicle for expanding slavery into new territory. In June 1846, The National Anti-Slavery Standard, published in Philadelphia, strongly opposed the war based on its abolitionist views against expansion of slavery into the West.

The war was equally controversial in New Jersey and Delaware. In New Jersey, a strong Whig Party presence in state politics made unified action difficult. In October 1847, a convention of New Jersey Whigs condemned the Polk administration’s drive for territorial annexation. Niles’ National Register reported that their resolutions “strongly denounced the present national administration for violations of the liberties of the people and interests of the Union, especially in having made war without consulting the people or their representatives, and that too, for party purposes.” This sentiment was common across New Jersey. When New Jersey Governor Charles C. Stratton (1796-1859) responded to President Polk’s call to organize volunteers for service, the turnout was so meager that only a New Jersey Battalion of Volunteers could be formed, not a regiment. In Delaware, opposition to the war ran so strong that only a dozen residents volunteered to serve.

During the opening stages of mobilization, Philadelphia joined other cities in holding a pro-war rally, but this fervor was not universal. In response to impassioned opposition speeches delivered by Whig politician Henry Clay (1777-1852) in the autumn of 1847, anti-war rallies took place in Philadelphia and Trenton, New Jersey.

The “Killers” in the Ranks

Following the declaration of war, Pennsylvania Governor Francis R. Shunk (1788-1848) called for forming six regiments to serve in the U.S. Army. In contrast to the tepid response in New Jersey and Delaware, patriotic enthusiasm quickly satisfied the quotas, and several full companies had to be turned away. Recruits from the Keystone State were organized into the First  and Second Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments. Of the ten companies constituting the First  Regiment, six hailed from Philadelphia, including the City Guards of Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Light Guards, and the Cadwalader Grays. The Second Regiment became home to Company F, known as the Philadelphia Rangers.

Along with the patriotism that motivated Philadelphia men to serve, the disorder and violence that had been hallmarks of Philadelphia during the 1830s and 1840s also traveled west with the volunteers who mustered in Harrisburg and then proceeded to Pittsburgh en route to Mexico. In Pittsburgh, soldiers from Company D (The City Guard) invaded a local theater in an incident that ended in a violent clash with police. This riotous behavior continued later New Orleans, where a soldier claiming membership in the notorious Philadelphia “Killers” gang attacked citizens and destroyed property across the city. Later, a faction of the Killers intimidated Company D’s commanding officer, Captain Joseph Hill, who temporarily fled the regiment in April 1847. Another veteran of Philadelphia street violence led the Pennsylvania volunteer regiments after their transport down the Mississippi River and across the Gulf to Lobos, Mexico, where they landed in February 1846. Major General Robert Patterson, a former Pennsylvania militia commander, had led troops against rioters during the destruction of the Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia in 1838. In Mexico, he commanded the Second Division of a brigade led by Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow (1806-1878), which took in the Pennsylvania volunteers.  

The Pennsylvania Volunteers in Mexico

[caption id="attachment_29616" align="alignright" width="300"] The First and Second Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments, the New Jersey Battalion of Volunteers, and the Delaware Squad of volunteers all passed through the beachhead at the port of Veracruz. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The fighting men from Philadelphia saw their first significant combat at the Siege of Veracruz in March 1847. In the thunderous twenty-day siege, the Pennsylvania regiments lost the service of fifteen soldiers to enemy cannon fire, including three who were killed. After the fall of Veracruz, the regiments moved into the Mexican interior and saw action again in April at the Battle of Cerro Gordo as part of an assault on Mexican artillery at Jarero, south of the Mexican encampment near Vasquez. Despite the ferocity of the engagement, the regiments suffered few casualties. For the next two months, they continued inland toward Mexico City, fighting guerillas, the elements, and disease.  

In September 1847, the Pennsylvania Regiments were split by General Winfield Scott (1786-1866) to prepare for the assault on Mexico City. While three of the Philadelphia companies were reassigned to garrison duty at Puebla, the Reading Artillery of Company A and the Philadelphia Rangers of the Second Regiment proceeded with the main army toward Mexico City. Both companies saw heavy fighting at close range with the Mexican defenders. In two days of combat, the Second Regiment suffered its worst losses of the conflict with eight men killed and eighty-nine wounded.

Mexican troops flushed out of Mexico City and led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794-1876) next attacked Puebla, where the Philadelphia remnant of the First Regiment had been stationed.  A nearly month-long siege ensued began in September 14, 1847. Forces under Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Black (1816-1862), a Pittsburgh native and future Pennsylvania congressional representative, faced repeated assaults and dwindling supplies until Santa Anna withdrew his troops on October 12. The Siege of Puebla was not only the Pennsylvanians’ finest performance, it was also the most costly. The First Regiment suffered fifty-five casualties with twenty-one men killed in action. In December 1847, the survivors marched to Mexico City, where they reunited with the Second Regiment to much fanfare and celebration.

[caption id="attachment_29619" align="alignright" width="300"] Several Delaware Valley residence took part in the siege and occupation of Monterey in September 1846, including Philadelphia native Rear Admiral William Mervine, Samuel Francis Du Pont of Delaware, and Future U.S. senator from New Jersey Commodore Richard Stockton. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Philadelphia-area soldiers also served in areas of the war other than Mexico. A veteran of the War of 1812, Rear Admiral William Mervine (1791-1868), commanded the USS Savannah in the Pacific, and his Marine detachment captured the city of Monterey in July 1846. Samuel Francis Du Pont (1803-65) of the famed DuPont family of Delaware commanded the blockade of California and achieved the rank of rear admiral. Future U.S. senator from New Jersey Commodore Robert Stockton (1795-1866) was instrumental in the capture of Monterey and Pueblo de Los Ángeles in California. Between July 1846 and January 1847, Stockton served as  military governor of California.

[caption id="attachment_29704" align="alignright" width="224"]Photograph of a marble obelisk At Philadelphia National Cemetery in Northwest Philadelphia, the Mexican War Monument marks the burial site for 38 who died in the conflict. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In Mexico, Philadelphia native and Brigadier General Persifor Frazer Smith (1798–1858) served as military governor during the occupation of Mexico City, when duty for the Pennsylvania volunteer regiments consisted of a mixture of drill, boredom, and sporadic chaos as Mexican guerilla units harassed U.S. forces. When U.S. troops withdrew on March 6, 1848, the regiments’ long journey home took them from Mexico back to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi River and Ohio Rivers to Pittsburgh, where they arrived on July 11, 1848. The Pittsburgh units mustered out of service quickly, but the Philadelphia companies resolved to end their service at home. Between July 27 and August 5, parades, speeches, banquets, and community events across the Delaware Valley marked their return. Of the 2,415 men who served in the Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiments, 477 died in Mexico or in transport. Fifty-two were killed in combat. New Jersey’s volunteers saw little combat in Mexico and returned to the Garden State in July 1848.  Delaware’s volunteers, who took part in the Battle of Huanmantla in October 1847, returned in August 1848, having suffered a single casualty.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War on February 2, 1848, and expanded the territory of the United States by 525,000 square miles. However, the costly victory, earned after two years of ferocious combat, exacerbated the simmering tensions throughout the country. Volunteers from Philadelphia and the surrounding region participated in the military actions while local citizens debated the war’s political and moral ramifications, making Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley a microcosm of the conflict.   

William V. Bartleson is an independent scholar of military history who has worked with the New Jersey National Guard Militia Museum and the Center for Veterans Oral history. He is a member of Phi Alpha Theta.


As the social and political center of colonial Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and the surrounding region served as a microcosm for the complex and often convoluted history of the colonial and early national militia. The role of Philadelphia militia also illustrates the nature of militia units during the American Revolutionary War.

The first militia in the region that became Pennsylvania formed in 1671 in accordance with the Laws of the Duke of York, but the conflict between compulsory military service and the pacifist principles of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) quickly sparked controversy. Pennsylvania founder William Penn (1644-1718) retained the right to create a militia in the event of an emergency, but theological and political conflicts prevented passage of long-lasting militia regulations. From 1671 to 1776, the Pennsylvania Assembly passed several militia acts but allowed them to expire, mostly due to Quaker influence and the highly politicized nature of mandatory military service. When temporary militia companies came into existence, they remained voluntary, relatively few men attended mustering events, and they quickly disbanded.

[caption id="attachment_26092" align="alignright" width="300"] During the Battle of Princeton, General John Cadwalader and his Pennsylvania militia brigade saw their first major combat against the British along the Stoney Brook Creek at the southern end of the engagement. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In colonial New Jersey and the eventual state of Delaware, the Dutch formed the earliest militia companies in the 1640s with the intention to defend settlers and trading centers from raids from foreign powers and Native Americans. The geography of New Jersey, with the Delaware River acting as a natural bulwark, eventually relieved the area from threats from European or Native forces. Although the New Jersey legislature formally allotted funds to train militia companies in 1668 and 1744, militia groups remained relatively small and localized.

Increasing Indian attacks against settlers made Pennsylvania one of the main areas of conflict during the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War, 1756-63). Lacking the long-term legislative militia regulations of other colonies, Pennsylvania had to scramble to muster fiercely independent and often far-flung colonials into organized militia units. The Pennsylvania assembly passed the Militia Act of November 25, 1755, but units formed slowly that fall and winter, and under the law they could not be marched more than three days beyond the settled parts of the province, left in garrison frontier forts, or be punished with military discipline. To supplement the militia, the act also provided for a Provincial Army of voluntary, paid “Associators,” but they also remained near their communities. In New Jersey, Indian raids along the northern border of Pennsylvania and New York prompted formation of the “Jersey Blues” militia regiment, which saw combat at some of the most significant battles of the conflict, including the Siege of Fort William Henry and the capture of Montreal.

Volunteers Militias

[caption id="attachment_26093" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white illustration of Revolutionary War soldiers shooting in a row Two Pennsylvania militia brigades fought to defend Philadelphia at the Brandywine under Brigadier General John Armstrong at Pyle’s Ford on the south of the patriot line, but never engaged in heavy fighting. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

During the era of the American Revolution, Philadelphia became home to a large number of militia companies that eventually served the Continental Army. However, Pennsylvania’s longstanding tradition of opposing compulsory military service hampered the formation of a large-scale militia network. In the absence of well-established state regulations, groups of affluent citizens sympathetic to the Patriot cause formed volunteer militias that fell outside the authority of the state Assembly. Among these were the Philadelphia Associators (formed 1747) and the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry (formed 1774).

The first callout for patriot militia units in Philadelphia, issued by the Continental Congress in December 1776, was strictly voluntary and produced a very poor turnout. At the behest of General George Washington (1732-99), the "Act to Regulate the Militia of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" in March 1777 required all able-bodied men ages 18 to 53 to serve tours of two months, established strict draft conditions, and levied heavy fines and penalties against those unwilling to participate. Battalions elected their own officers for three-year terms, and County Lieutenants (not a military rank) enforced the regulations within their communities. Under these conditions, eight militia battalions of roughly one hundred soldiers per battalion formed in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties.

[caption id="attachment_26091" align="alignright" width="300"]an illustration of the Free Quaker Meeting House, a simple two-story building with a gabled roof. Quakers opposed compulsory militia service, and the punishment for supporting the Revolution was often excommunication. Some of these excommunicated members formed the Religious Society of Free Quakers, which opened a new meetinghouse at Fifth and Arch Streets beginning in 1784. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Nevertheless, familiar controversy about military service continued as religious groups such as the Free Quakers philosophically abstained from soldiering. Quaker pacifists, perceived as unpatriotic and loyalist, were zealously targeted for fines and punishments. In 1779, Pennsylvania increased fines for failing to participate to more than six times the previous penalty.

In New Jersey, large numbers of patriots as well as loyalists led to the creation of militia on both sides of the conflict. During the summer of 1775, the New Jersey Provincial Congress passed a militia act calling for all men, ages 16 to 50, to form local regiments to fight against the British. Unlike the militia regulations of Pennsylvania, participation was voluntary. Twenty-six militia regiments of sixty to eighty men each formed across the state, including two in Gloucester and one in Salem County. Meanwhile, approximately three thousand loyalists formed the “New Jersey Volunteers” and fought as auxiliaries for British forces at some of the largest engagements of the Revolution, including the Battle of Monmouth (1778). Throughout the war, patriot and loyalist militia clashed in small skirmishes and raids as British forces and their auxiliaries foraged for food and supplies across the Garden State.

Delaware’s Militias

At the onset of the American Revolution, several private and county militia companies already existed across the state of Delaware. At the request of the Continental Congress, a “flying camp’ of 450 Delaware militiamen joined the Continental Army outside of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in October 1776. The Delaware militia participated in the Battle of Long Island and saw continued action throughout the war against British and Loyalist troops across the state.

[caption id="attachment_26090" align="alignright" width="208"]a black and white illustration of John Cadwalader with wife and child In December 1776, elements of the Pennsylvania Militia and Philadelphia Associators supported General George Washington’s attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey. General John Cadwalader’s militia and artillery were slated to cross the Delaware near Burlington and drive north to support Washington’s main force, but they were unable to navigate the river ice. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

In the field, volunteer and state militias from Philadelphia participated in some of the most pivotal engagements of the northern theater of the war, most notably during the campaigns of 1777-78. Militia companies and volunteer military groups mustered from the Philadelphia area took part in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, White Marsh, and Red Bank, as well as in small skirmishes along the Schuylkill River. During the British occupation of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey militia manned the Patriot-held Delaware River forts, which were critical for harassing British supply convoys and keeping General William Howe (1729-1814) from reinforcing his beleaguered garrison. After the British withdrew from Philadelphia following the occupation of 1777-78, the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry became the first patriot military unit to enter the city.

In the aftermath of the occupation, the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council called on several militia classes for garrison duty amid fear of danger posed by remaining British sympathizers and collaborators with the Crown. However, this did not deter unrest over issues such as the price of essential foodstuffs and other goods. Frustration extended to elements of the militia and boiled over in October 1778 as militiamen rioted and attacked the home of James Wilson (1742-98), a prominent lawyer who defended perceived loyalists and British collaborators from property seizure by Patriot courts. After a brief but violent confrontation in which several militiamen were killed, the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry restored order.

As the war moved south for the remainder of the Revolution, the Pennsylvania militia deployed to frontier areas to deter Indian raids and guarded powder magazines and supply depots across the Delaware River Valley. After the British surrendered at Yorktown in 1781, the First Troop Philadelphia City Calvary delivered the captured British standard to Congress at the State House (Independence Hall).

Militias Under the Constitution

The militia for the new nation diverged significantly from the colonial system. The Articles of Confederation and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution called for the formation of state militias in lieu of a permanent standing army. Similarly, the Pennsylvania Constitutions of 1776 and 1790 expressly stated the danger of a standing army in peace time and based the defense of the state on militia companies. In 1792, during Philadelphia’s decade as the nation’s capital, the U.S. Congress passed a Militia Act requiring each state to maintain militia units and authorized the president to call and command state forces (as President Washington did during the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794). Philadelphia companies participated in military engagements against foreign aggressors and civil emergencies throughout the nineteenth century, including the War of 1812 and the Nativist Riots of 1844.

[caption id="attachment_26089" align="alignright" width="300"]a late nineteenth century membership certificate from the Pennsylvania National Guard featuring soldiers, American Flags, artillery, calvary horses, and the motto "virtue, liberty, independence" In 1870, Pennsylvania’s militia companies consolidated to form the National Guard of Pennsylvania. Several prominent Philadelphia military organizations with lineages dating back to the Revolution became part of the statewide body. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Following the Civil War, the existing Pennsylvania militia companies formally consolidated in a single division known as the “National Guard of Pennsylvania.” Several prominent Philadelphia military organizations with lineages dating back to the Revolution became folded into the statewide body, including the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, Washington Grays of Philadelphia (1822), and the Philadelphia Associators. While similar in name to the later U.S. Army National Guard, the “National Guard of Pennsylvania” remained semi-independent until the twentieth century.

The militia system that originated in the colonial era officially ended in 1903, when the federal Efficiency in Militia Act made the National Guards of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and other states subordinate to the U.S. Army and organized, trained, and equipped them along the same standards. Replacing the obsolete Uniform Militia Act of 1792, the legislation established the modern Army National Guard. Service in state guard units now required enlistment in the U.S. Army, with officers commissioned by the federal government instead of elected by regiments.

During the late twentieth century, small bands of civilians, not affiliated with the U.S. military or state or federal governments, formed private militias groups with varied political agendas. These groups, often ultraconservative and anti-government, often promoted mythological, often apocryphal versions of colonial militias’ histories that diverged the complex social and political entities of the colonial era and early republic. Running the gamut from loosely knit social clubs to highly organized units such as the Pennsylvania Military Reserve, some groups became tied to violent actions against the state and federal governments. 

Dating to the colonial era, the long tradition of a militia system for the region’s common defense stood in contrast with the disdain for large standing armies. Militiamen in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware defended their homes and families from a myriad of native and foreign opponents and fought with distinction during the War for Independence. Although militiamen at times shirked responsibilities, disregarded military hierarchy, and deserted en masse in the face of defeat, the militia nevertheless had a profound effect on the political, military, and cultural history of the region.

William V. Bartleson is an independent scholar of military history who has worked with the New Jersey National Guard Militia Museum and the Center for Veterans Oral History. He is a member of Phi Alpha Theta.

National Guard

The roots of the National Guard can be traced to Philadelphia and congressional action during the city’s decade as the nation’s capital. The contributions and shortcomings of the colonial militia during the War of Independence, combined with cultural and political mistrust of standing military forces, spurred Congress to define how the United States would defend itself from foreign and domestic aggression. The result was the Militia Act of 1792, which standardized regulations for militia companies throughout the states. This act was the first in a series of developments that gradually led to the creation of the modern National Guard.

Volunteer militias formed and disbanded in the Philadelphia region throughout the nineteenth century as needed for domestic unrest and major military conflicts, including the War of 1812 and Mexican-American War. Following the Civil War, in 1870, the Pennsylvania militia companies formally changed their name to “The National Guard of Pennsylvania,” almost fifty years before the federal government adopted the term. Several prominent Philadelphia military organizations with lineages dating back to the Revolution became part of the statewide body, including the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, Washington Grays of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia “Associators.”

Similarly, New Jersey militia companies consolidated into state regiments that eventually folded into U.S. Army divisions. The 1st New Jersey Regiment, originally mustered for the Continental Army and revived during the Civil War, in 1869 became the “New Jersey National Guard,” which also encompassed the 3rd New Jersey Regiment from Burlington and Camden Counties. Delaware, despite the state’s small geographic size and population, had 564 organized militia companies in 1891, many of them with long lineages dating to the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Unlike Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Delaware’s militia companies remained independent throughout the eighteenth century.

The 1877 Railroad Strike

[caption id="attachment_25167" align="alignright" width="300"]An engraving of National Guardsmen marching in formation in front of the Homestead Steel Plant. In response to violence at the Homestead Steel Plant in 1892, the governor of Pennsylvania sent over eight thousand troops from the Pennsylvania National Guard to Homestead, near Pittsburgh. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The first major mobilization of the Pennsylvania National Guard was not caused by trouble abroad but trouble at home and resulted in tragedy. In 1877, the Great Railroad Strike caused a massive labor stoppage and protests engulfed several major cities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. After the Pittsburgh militia proved insubordinate to state orders to quell the unrest, Gov. John F. Hartranft (1830-89) ordered troops of the First Division of National Guard from Philadelphia to disperse a large crowd of protesters at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Railroad Depot. Arriving on the scene on July 21, the outnumbered troops faced a crowd of more than twelve thousand strikers and sympathizers and the situation quickly deteriorated. As the guardsman advanced, the crowd did not back down, troops fired into the fray, and the violent clash killed twenty people. A full-scale riot ensued and drove the Philadelphians from the yard. It was up to the U.S. Army to finally restore order.

Philadelphia and the surrounding counties contributed several National Guard regiments to the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War, the first major conflict in which the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware National Guards were mustered for federal service. In total, fourteen regiments formed, including six from the Philadelphia area. The First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry—once the personal guard for General George Washington (1732-99) and the oldest unit in the National Guard--reformed and joined two Philadelphia Volunteer Artillery Batteries and the Volunteer Infantry Regiments at camp near Lebanon, Pennsylvania. After the initial muster and drill, the majority remained state-side, but the 4th Pennsylvania Infantry saw action during the Puerto Rican campaign near Guayama in August 1898. Their only combat action was cut short by the announcement of the armistice on the same day.

Four New Jersey National Guard regiments were raised during the Spanish American War and were sent to camps in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina in preparation for deployment in the Caribbean. Delaware also raised about five hundred troops in ten companies. The New Jersey and Delaware National Guard did not leave the United States, but nevertheless lost dozens of men to disease and accidents while encamped in southern states.

[caption id="attachment_25165" align="alignright" width="300"]Black and white photograph of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry escorting General John Pershing during a parade in 1919. During the American Revolution, the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry served as the personal bodyguard of General George Washington. In this photograph, the First Troop continued a traditional role, escorting General John Pershing in 1919. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

By the time of the Great War (1914-18), the federal Efficiency in Militia Act had created the modern National Guard system. Drawing upon prior militia legislation, the 1903 act sought to improve the efficiency, standardization, and armament of the National Guard; formalized the circumstances in which the National Guard could be federalized and deployed; and established the Corp of Reserve Officers.

World War I

Under the new law, National Guard units of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware were called into federal service several times during the twentieth century. During the First World War, which gave the National Guard its first experience in intense direct combat, Philadelphia units consisting of the 111th Infantry Regiment (the “Associators”), the 104th Cavalry Regiment (the First Troop City Cavalry), and the 108th Field Artillery joined units from the Pittsburgh region to form the 28th Infantry Division. This division remained the designated unit for the Pennsylvania National Guard while under federal service throughout the twentieth century.

Modern warfare drastically reshaped roles on the battlefield for Philadelphia units with Revolutionary lineages. They created machine gun battalions, and the famed First Troop of the Philadelphia City Cavalry dismounted and joined the 103rd Trench Mortar Battery. The 28th Division, known as the “Keystone” division, arrived on the Western Front in France on May 31, 1918, and was quickly thrust into the Battle of Château-Thierry. After the Pennsylvanians repelled a German attack while suffering heavy losses, General John Pershing (1860-1948) referred to them as his “iron division.” Unlike the Spanish-American War, the Guard was not held in reserve and saw combat in the Meuse-Argonne, Champagne, and Marne campaigns. After 102 days on the front line and fourteen-thousand casualties, the 28th Division was relieved.

New Jersey National Guard regiments, along with elements from the Delaware National Guard, were assigned to the 29th Infantry Division. The 1st New Jersey Infantry and the 5th Delaware Infantry comprised the 114th Infantry Regiment and participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September 1918. Despite their relatively short time at the front, intense combat inflicted heavy casualties. By the time the 29th Division was pulled of the line. 5,570 men, more than 30 percent of the division, had been killed or wounded.

In keeping with the complex and expansive evolution of the United States military following the First World War, the National Guard continued to modernize and reorganize. Infantry regiments of the Pennsylvania National Guard were reassigned to engineering battalions and coastal artillery batteries, and New Jersey transferred several regiments into military police and reconnaissance. In 1933, the Pennsylvania National Guard Headquarters transferred from Philadelphia, its home since 1776, to the state capital in Harrisburg.

World War II

During the Second World War, National Guard units from the Delaware Valley returned to the fields of France. In Philadelphia, the 28th Infantry Division reformed for deployment to the European Theater, and several Philadelphia-based regiments returned to the Keystone Division, including the 108th Field Artillery Battalion. The 104th  Cavalry Regiment, pulling troops from the First Troop of the Philadelphia City Cavalry, initially served stateside to provide security for the critical industrial areas around the Delaware. Similarly, the 111th Infantry Regiment of “Ben Franklin Associators” detached from the 28th Infantry Division to guard port facilities along the Eastern Seaboard.

Once deployed, the 28th Infantry Division fought in some of the most ferocious battles in France, including the breakout of Allied forces from Normandy. During the liberation of Paris in 1944, elements of the division famously paraded down the Champs Élysées. This revelry preceded the most vicious combat the Pennsylvania National Guard experienced, in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest, where the 28th Division earned the nickname “the bloody bucket” in reference to its keystone-shaped insignia and heavy losses. After participating in the Battle of the Bulge and the Rhineland campaign, the division was pulled off the line after forty-one months in combat. Following the surrender of German forces, the division was deactivated from federal service in Harrisburg on November 20, 1945.  

New Jersey National Guard regiments were assigned to the 44th Infantry Division during the Second World War. Originally conceived in 1920, the 44th Infantry Division was designed to receive New Jersey, Delaware, and New York National Guard regiments, but Delaware guardsman were never incorporated. The New Jersey 57th Infantry Brigade, consisting of the 114th and 113th Infantry Regiments, joined the 112th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Dix and initially deployed to the Delaware River after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In September 1944, the 44th Infantry Division deployed to Europe, serving 190 days in combat and participating in campaigns in Central and Northern France, the Ardennes, and the Rhineland. The 44th suffered 6,111 battlefield casualties, earned three Distinguished Unit Citations, and accepted the surrender of famed rocket scientist Werner Von Braun.

Persian Gulf Conflicts

[caption id="attachment_25164" align="alignright" width="300"]Color photograph of F-16 fighter plane taking off from Atlantic City International Airport. The 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard, with origins in World War I, was flying the F-16C Falcon in the twenty-first century. (Department of Defense)[/caption]

With the exception of single regiments and battalions, the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware National Guard were not federalized during the Korean or Vietnam Wars. During the Persian Gulf War, Philadelphians from the 121st Transportation Company deployed to the Middle East, but the majority of Philadelphia regiments remained inactive on a federal level. The September 11, 2001, attacks and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 brought the Keystone division back into combat as regiments and combat brigades deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Two of the oldest Philadelphian units, Ben Franklin’s “Associators” of the 111th Infantry Regiment and the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry of the 104th Cavalry Regiment deployed to Kuwait and Iraq as part of the Pennsylvania National Guard.

The 50th Combat Brigade of the New Jersey National Guard, under the 42nd Infantry Division, was deployed as part of the occupation of Iraq in 2008. From 2006 to 2013, the Delaware Army National Guard deployed several units in support of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade and the 72nd Troop Command Brigade. In conjunction with the National Guard State Partnership Program, units from the Delaware Valley have been sent to countries including Lithuania, Albania, Trinidad and Tobago, Jordan, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates to participate in joint training exercises and general ambassadorship

[caption id="attachment_25166" align="alignright" width="300"]Color photograph of a National Guardsmen returning to an army truck on a flooded street in Hoboken, New Jersey. One of the National Guard’s primary missions is disaster relief. The extensive damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 led to the activation of the New Jersey Guard alongside the National Guard units of other states along the Eastern Seaboard. (Department of Defense)[/caption]

National Guard Units from the tristate area deployed stateside after major snowstorms, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ivan, and Superstorm Sandy. The 114th Regiment of the New Jersey National Guard and the 112th Regiment of the Pennsylvania provided security for personnel of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in New Orleans in 2005. In February 2010, Delaware National Guard soldiers participated in “Operation Arctic Vengeance” and aided emergency management, fire, and police agencies during a blizzard. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey National Guard units aided in the rescue, evacuation, and resupply of devastated areas across the region.

In 2016, Pennsylvania, the third largest National Guard in the United States, had over seventeen thousand men and women in uniform. The New Jersey National Guard boasted troop strength of 6,025 soldiers, and Delaware’s National Guard troop strength was just under three thousand. The National Guard of the Delaware Valley remained a vital organization in both foreign service and local disaster relief and recovery.

William V. Bartleson is an independent scholar of military history who has worked with the New Jersey National Guard Militia Museum and the Center for Veterans Oral history. He is a member of Phi Alpha Theta.

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