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During the War of 1812, state militias were intended to be the primary fighting force. Unfortunately, while militiamen showed willingness to fight, they were untrained, undisciplined, and ill-equipped. These raw volunteers had no muskets, and many did not know how to use the weapons once they had been issued. Though established by the Constitution, state militias found themselves wholly unprepared for war. The federal government was empowered to use these militias to "execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions;but in a system of divided responsibility, it was the states' job to appoint officers and to train the soldiers. Edward Skeen reveals states' responses to federal requests for troops and provides in-depth descriptions of the conditions, morale, and experiences of the militia in camp and in battle. Skeen documents the failures and successes of the militias, concluding that the key lay in strong leadership. He also explores public perception of the force, both before and after the war, and examines how the militias changed in response to their performance in the War of 1812. After that time, the federal government increasingly neglected the militias in favor of a regular professional army.

C. Edward Skeen, professor of history at the University of Memphis, is the author of John Armstrong Jr.: A Biography.

Named the Best Book of 1998 in the category of non-combat organization and social history given by the Army Historical Foundation.

"Skeen looks beyond the surface problems to address the performance and the reasons for the failure of the militia . . . . An invaluable contribution for military and American history."—Bookwatch

"As Skeen states, 'There is no book dealing specifically with the militia in the War of 1812. The author fills that void in a work that has comprehensive documentation, excellent analysis, and clear writing."—Choice

"A valuable resource to any scholar investigating the militia system of the United States' first declared war under the Constitution. Not only provides insights into the War of 1812, but also into the broader American militia tradition."—H-Net Reviews

"Impressive and properly grounded where it should be—solidly in state and local sources. Until the twentieth century, the state soldiery in whatever guise—militia, uniformed volunteers, National Guard—was a state and local institution and can only be understood from that perspective."—Jerry Cooper

"A useful analysis of militia in a war that was largely fought with volunteer forces."—Journal of America’s Military Past

"Skeen's exhaustive research in both state and federal sources provides a more detailed record than hitherto available of the diversity of militia laws and practices, the complexity of federal-state relations, and the actual performance of the amateur soldiers in the field."—Journal of Military History

"An excellent addition not only to our knowledge of the War of 1812 but also to the evolution and development of the American military establishment."—Journal of the Early Republic

"This indexed volume will appeal to those interested in U.S. and military history."—Library Lane

"Rightly concludes that the militia was frequently unreliable, ill-equipped and ill-trained, and generally incapable of standing up to the British forces."—Michigan Historical Review

"A timely, valuable, and by no means unsympathetic treatment of the militia in that conflict."—New York Military Affairs

"Makes a significant contribution to the scholarship on the War of 1812."—Newsletter of the Army Historical Foundation

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, Kentucky






United States Army, War of 1812, Militias


Military History

Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812
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