During the first few days of the war, in that strange epoch of thrill and shudder, — when there was mounting in hot haste, and warlike citizens looked to their revolvers, and peaceful citizens looked up eligible diseases for the family physician, ere examining surgeons yet were, — in the midst of that general sense of untried powers and uncertain destinies, who does not remember the sudden sense of relief which diffused itself over any given community, on the announcement that Brigadier-General Blank, of the Blank Division of State Militia, had arrived in town? Here was one at last who could speak with some authority. This man had slept three nights upon “the tented field,” on occasion of a muster. He had once formed a battalion in line, or at least been present at that mystic process. He had been heard to quote from the first volume of Scott, and had been known to nod significantly, on an allusion to Hardee. Here was a man for opinions. Now we should know what the Rebels meant to do, and precisely how many were killed by the firing from Fort Sumter. We should ascertain the measures already taken for defence, and the actual number of military overcoats in possession of the State authorities.

Of course the local authorities waited upon him without delay. They found him at the head-quarters of Rifle Company X. An imperfectly developed rifleman, with coat unbuttoned and gun held anxiously, stood sentinel in the entry, — taking no notice of any one, and looking as if he would be profoundly grateful if no one would take notice of him. Presently the great man appeared. He wore around his martial breast a blue cloth cape, with a festive lining of white silk. His usually good-natured countenance was attuned to an aspect of profounder thought. Near him stood his only luggage, a large epaulet-box, of shape inexplicable to the unwarlike. Behind him appeared the members of his staff, wearing white cotton gloves, and maintaining attitudes of unwonted stiffness, as if, though conscious of not carrying a great many guns, they would at least contribute to their country’s cause the needful quota of ramrods. The whole scene was enough to awe the stoutest heart, and the humbler and shorter among the selectmen or aldermen were observed to whisper inaudibly to each other, in the background, and to cough behind their hands solemnly, as at funerals.

At that day no one had yet dared to suggest that Brigadier-General Blank should accept any military rank lower than that to which his previous services had entitled him. Anything higher than that—a Major-Generalship, for instance—he would prefer to waive for the present, in order not to excite foolish jealousy among the West-Point men. But it was an act of unexpected condescension, when he finally consented to take command of a regiment; and it was doubtless this lowliness of spirit which created some slight embarrassments in his discharge of the duties of even that command. A man of larger attainments should not be remanded to duties so small. He it was, therefore, who, while drilling his battalion, and having given the preliminary order, “Right about,”  omitted the final order, “March,” until most of the men were perched, Zouave-like, upon the high board-fence which bounded the camp. He it was who, in his school of instruction, being questioned by the juniors as to the proper “position of the soldier without arms,” responded sternly, that a true soldier should always have his arms with him; and on being further asked in regard to the best way to “dress” a line of soldiers, answered with dignity, that others might prefer fancy colors, but give him the good old army-blue.

Mr. Pitt was of the opinion, that no man could be really useful to his country in a position below his powers. It was doubtless a similar conviction, combined with a sudden illness, so severe that he could not even admit his surgeon, which led our hero to send in a reluctant resignation, just before his regiment reached the seat of hostilities. He enlisted for the war, but he has never yet got to it. He has since, however, served his country as sutler of a camp of instruction, — where there is said to be no question as to his profits, though there may be as to his prices.

Remote as the “Old French War” seems now that epoch of conceited ignorance. The brilliant career of many militia-trained officers has more than atoned for the decline and fall of Blank; while the utter defencelessness of any community, under such military leadership, is a lesson thoroughly learned by the present generation. Yet that educational process has been too costly to be repeated. We must use it while it is fresh, or pay a yet higher price for its repetition. Every State in this Union, which does not adopt some effective militia-system within the next two years, will probably slide back into the old indifference, to last until another war brings its terrible arousing.

For it is to be observed, that the very effect of a recent war is to make any such system appear for the time superfluous. A hundred returned veterans in every village, with an arsenal full of rifles in every State, might seem to supersede the necessity of all further preparation for many years to come. Why give the time and money to create an ineffective military force, when these heroes can at any time, within two days, improvise a good one? No doubt, after the close of the Revolution, the same thing was said. Yet even the Revolutionary veterans were not immortal, — though no doubt there were moments when they seemed so, to the Pension Agent; and ours will find their lease of life to be but little longer. What is to occur then? Twenty-five years hence, our whole present army will be beyond the age of active military service, and will have left to their children only their example, unless we establish, by their aid, some system of warlike training that shall be available for the future. It is one thing to have a military generation, and quite another thing to have a military people. Accidental experience has given us the one, but only permanent methods can guaranty the other.

In another way, also, the war will prove a drawback upon forming an effective militia system. We shall have, for some years to come, no class disposed to take a very hearty part in it. For a returned soldier to find pleasure in drilling is as if a wood-sawyer, at the close of his week’s work, should bring his tools into his sitting-room, and saw for fun. On the other hand, those who have not served in the army will feel some natural sensitiveness about playing soldier in presence of veterans, and being satirized, perhaps, as a mere home-guard. Thus experience and inexperience will equally tend to deplete the classes available for this form of service.

These obstacles will be increased by the fact, that such duties, under any conceivable arrangement, must involve a sacrifice both in time and money. Reduce the period of annual service to its minimum, and it may still occur at such a time as to cost an employer his contract, or an employé his place. Our young men are to meet the problem of increased taxes, crowded occupations, and great competition. Who shall make the needful sacrifice? The returned soldiers? But they have given precious years of time already. The inexperienced? But they will naturally reason, that they have already borne the immediate financial burden of the war, and that the drilling should be done by those to whom it will cost no additional time to learn it. Thus all will regard their days as being too valuable to be used in preparing for a contingency which may never arise: one half standing aloof because they have been soldiers, and the other half because they have not.

A difficult problem seems, then, to lie before us: To find a class available for purposes of military training, — a class which shall claim exemption on grounds neither of experience nor of inexperience, — which shall be discouraged neither by the ennui of knowing too much, nor by the awkwardness of knowing too little, — and which, withal, can spare the time, without financial detriment to the community. Fortunately, the solution of the problem suggests itself, in part at least, almost as soon as the problem itself is stated. Train the schoolboys.

Every person who has taken any interest in athletic exercises knows the enormous advantage in their acquisition which the mere fact of youth confers. In gymnastics, swimming, skating, base-ball, cricket, it is the same thing. As a mere matter of economy, one half the time at least is saved in teaching children as compared with full-grown men. But more than this, it is for them not only no loss in time, but, if it can be taken out of their regular school-hours, it is a positive advantage. There is probably but one conceivable position in which all the physiologists agree, and that is, that the average time now given to study in our schools is at least one hour too long. Take this hour and devote it to military drill, and you benefit the whole rising generation doubly, — by what you take away, and by what you give.

We fortunately have the experience of Switzerland and England, to which we may appeal, in respect to this method of military instruction. Charles L. Flint, Esq., Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Agriculture, in his report of an official visit to Europe in 1862, gives the following brief summary of the Swiss method.

“The amount and thoroughness of military Instruction in the schools vary somewhat in the different cantons, though in all the cantonal schools military instruction is given. In Berne, for example, the cantonal schools rank somewhat like the grammar and higher-grade public schools in Boston or the large towns generally in Massachusetts. They are open to all boys upon examination. All the boys in these schools are organized with military corps, and officered from their own class, but provided by Government with special military instructors, and furnished with small muskets, rifles, or carbines, suitable to the strength and age of the boys; or, if organized into artillery corps, they are supplied with small side-arms and field-pieces, which they can wield without difficulty.

“For these arms arsenals are provided by the Government, and custodians are appointed to keep them safely and in good condition when not in actual use. The military instructors are officers of the federal military organization, educated men, who have seen service, and who are au fait in the theory and art of war. The time devoted to military studies and training in the manual exercises varies with the season and in the various cantons. During the summer about three half-days in the week is the average time. There is also an occasional general muster, when all turn out together and occupy a spacious parade-ground. Then the whole population of parents and friends, as well as the cantonal authorities, turn out for a holiday, to witness the nascent valor and heroism of the republic.

“It should be added, that all these cantonal cadets wear a simple and modest stripe for a uniform, and one or two bright buttons, which cost almost nothing, but give the wearers a soldierly pride and love for this branch of their studies.”

In England the experiment of military drill has thus far been limited to a few schools, but the result in those has been officially described as being admirable. The well-known sanitary reformer, Edwin Chadwick, in his “Report on Military Drill,” addressed to the Royal Educational Commission, states the following propositions as proved.

“1st. That the military and naval drill is more effectively and permanently taught in the infantile and juvenile stages than in the adolescent or adult stages.

“2d. That at school it may be taught most economically, as not interfering with productive labor, and that thirty or forty boys may be taught the naval and military drill, at one penny farthing per week per head, as cheaply as one man, and the whole juvenile population may be drilled completely, in the juvenile stage, as economically as the small part of it now taught imperfectly on recruiting or in the adult stage; and that, for teaching the drill, the services of retired drill-sergeants and naval as well as military officers and pensioners may be had economically in every part of the country.”

It seems that in these English schools the military training is not confined to the boys. “The girls go through the same exercises, with the exception that they do not use the musket, but supply its place with a cane.” As to the age required, the “infantile and juvenile stages” appear to be dated back tolerably near the cradle. Mr. William Baker, drill-master at St. Olave’s Grammar School, testifies as follows: — “From his own experience in drilling children, he would say that they might be taught to work and practise motions at from five to six years of age; that they may be taught the sword drill at eight years of age; that they may he taught the rifle drill at about ten years of age. He finds that they can handle a light rifle very well at that age. He expects that a prize, given for the best rifle drill, will be gained by a boy of that age against older boys. If there were a proper place, with space, he could practise them in firing at from thirteen to fourteen years of age.”

The most favorable results are stated to follow, in regard to school discipline, among these English boys. Such, for instance, is the testimony of Mr. William Smith, Superintendent of the Surrey District School.

“‘You have had experience of the effect of the military drill on the mental and bodily training of young children in this establishment?’

“‘Yes; but the effect of the military drill was most shown by the effect of its discontinuance.’

“‘In what way was it shown?’

“‘In 1857, the drill-master was dismissed by the guardians, with a view of reducing the expenditure. The immediate effect of the discontinuance of the drill was to make the school quite another place. I am sure that within six months we lost about two hundred pounds, in the extra wear and tear of clothing, torn and damaged in mischievous acts and wild plays, in the breakage of utensils from mischief, and damage done to the different buildings, the breakage of windows, the pulling up of gratings, and the spoiling of walls. A spirit of insubordination prevailed amongst the boys during the whole bf the time of the cessation of the drill. In the workshop they were insubordinate, and I was constantly called upon by the industrial teachers, the master shoemaker, and the master tailor, to coerce boys who were quite impudent, and who would not obey readily. The moral tone of the school seemed to have fled from the boys, and their whole behavior was altered, as displayed in the dormitories as well as in the yards.’

“‘During this time were the religious services and exercises and the internal discipline of the school maintained as before?’

“‘They were maintained as before; the business of the school was kept up as before, but the order was by no means as good. I was not only called in to correct the boys in the workshop, but in the school; and I was under the disagreeable necessity of reverting to corporal punishment, and of dismissing one incorrigible boy entirely. The chaplain joined with me and the schoolmasters in urging the restoration of the drill.’

“‘The drill having been restored, has order been restored?’

“‘Yes, excellent order.’

“The present chaplain of the school, the Rev. Charles G. Vignoles, who was present, expressed his entire concurrence in the description given of the disorganization produced by the discontinuance of the military drill, which was illustrated by entries in his own reports.”

It is no exaggeration to say, that, by introducing such a system of drill into our schools, we can obtain for the whole boy population some of the most important advantages of the West-Point training, the early habit of obedience and of command, together with the alphabet of military science.1 The experiment has frequently been tried in private schools, always with certain favorable results. It has had, however, this drawback, — that, as the drill has been thus far a special trait of certain particular seminaries, and hence a marketable quality, there has been rather a temptation to neglect other things for its sake, — an evil which will vanish when the practice becomes general. In public schools, no satisfactory experiment seems to have been made public, except in Brookline, Massachusetts, — always one of the foremost towns in the State as to all educational improvements. It appears that the local School Committee, in 1863, decided upon offering to all boys above ten years of age the opportunity to learn military drill. There was already a drill-master in the employ of the town, and a hall appropriated for the purpose. The greater part of the school-boys reported themselves for instruction. Three classes were formed, consisting respectively of large boys who knew something of drill, of large boys who knew nothing of it, and of small boys who were presumed ignorant. The first and third classes proved entirely successful. The second class proved a failure, apparently because it was chiefly made up of pupils from an adult evening school, which was itself not very successful. The total result of the experiment was so wholly satisfactory that the chairman of the town Military Committee urges its universal adoption. He considers it proved, that “a perfect knowledge of the duties of a soldier can be taught to the boys during their time of attendance at the public schools; thus obviating the necessity of this acquisition after the time of the pupil has become more valuable.” He adds: “A proper system of military instruction in the schools of our Commonwealth would furnish us with the most perfect militia in the world; and I have very little doubt that the good sense of the people will soon arrange such a system in all the schools of the Commonwealth.”

The general adoption of this method of instruction was officially recommended, in January, 1864, by a special committee of the Massachusetts Board of Education, — this committee consisting of Governor Andrew, Ex-Governor Washburn, and the Hon. Joseph White, Secretary of the Board. It was afterwards urged by the Rev. James F. Clarke, another member of the Board, in an elaborate report, giving many valuable facts from European authorities. It is not known, however, that any legislative action has yet been taken on the subject in any part of the country.

We do not need more military colleges. One is enough for the nation, and all public expenditure should be concentrated on that. But it is as easy for children to learn the drill as to learn swimming; and the knowledge should be as universal. For this purpose it should be made a required part of grammar-chool training. Of course the instruction cannot ordinarily proceed from the teacher of the school. But it is the growing practice of our towns to employ instructors in special branches, who go from school to school, teaching music, penmanship, or calisthenics. It is only carrying this method one step farther, to employ some returned soldier to teach infantry drill. Let this be prescribed by legislative action, in each State, and it will soon become universal. A uniform ought not to be required; a little effort would at least secure buttoned jackets, which are quite needful for a good alignement, and hence for good drill. This being attained, anything further is matter of taste, not of necessity. As to guns and equipments, they should of course be provided by the State or national authorities, probably by the former. There should be a State superintendent of drill, and a thorough application of his authority.

This is not the place to work out the details of the system; it is sufficient to indicate its general principles. Supposing all obstacles conquered, and this introduction of military drill into grammar-schools to be successful, it may be still objected that this does not give us a militia. Certainly not; but it gives us the materials for a militia, needing only to be put together. Given a hundred young men, of whom seventy-five have already been taught a uniform drill, and the saving of time in their final training will be prodigious. Any officer, with such recruits, can do in a week what could not be done in a month with men utterly untrained. Here also the English observations come in, to corroborate those often repeated, but less accurately, in our own army.

Mr. William Baker, drill-master at St. Olave’s Grammar School, stated, that, “Whilst he was in the army, and having to drill recruits, he has occasionally met with individuals to each of whom, from his bearing and action, he has said at once, ‘In what regiment have you been?’ The answer was, ‘In none; I was taught the drill at school.’ He found the individuals almost ready drilled; they would be more complete for service in a quarter of the time of the previously undrilled.

“The first infantry drill-master [in the Richmond Military College] said he had had experience of boys from the Duke of York’s and the Royal Hibernian Schools, and that they made excellent soldiers, and required little or no additional drill, and that they were promoted to be non-commissioned officers in large proportion.

Mr. S. B. Orchard, drill-master, has been sergeant in the 3d Light Dragoons. Whilst in the army, has had to drill, as recruits, boys who had been in the Duke of York’s School, at Chelsea, and at the Royal Hibernian School, where they had been taught the drill. He found that they took the drill in one third the time that it was usually taken by other recruits who had been previously undrilled, and took it better, — that is to say, the horse as well as the foot-drill, — although these boys from the Duke of York’s and the Hibernian Schools had had no previous horse-drill.”

It is obvious that boys thus trained will not look upon an occasional period of militia service with the bashfulness of raw recruits, nor yet with the ennui of veteran soldiers. The revival of their boyish pursuits will create some fresh interest; they will take pride in exhibiting the training of their respective schools, and will be pleased at finding the public utility of this part of their preparation. Instead of being a Primary School for military duty, the musters and encampments will have the dignity of a High School. Young men will find themselves forming a part of larger battalions than ever before, — placed under abler officers, — engaged in more complex evolutions. They will also have an opportunity to practise camp and garrison duty, which they have before learned in theory alone. Three or four consecutive days of such instruction will be of substantial service to those already well grounded in the rudiments, though they avail almost nothing to the ignorant.

Further than this the present essay hardly aspires to go, in treating of our future militia. It is enough to have indicated its proper material. The proper employment of that material involves separate questions. These have lately been discussed, with abundant citations and statistics, in a valuable pamphlet, entitled, “The Militia of the United States; What it is; What it should be,” attributed to Colonel Henry Lee, Jr., of Boston, whose position on the staff of the Governor of Massachusetts, during the whole war, has enabled him to understand the strength and the weakness of the existing systems. His pamphlet also includes the whole of Mr. Clarke’s report, above mentioned, and I am indebted for valuable information to both.

As to the form which future militia laws should take, the following appear among the points of most prominent importance, and may be briefly stated.

1. There should be no exemption from personal service, except on the ground of age or physical infirmity. The necessary limitation of number should be obtained by varying the prescribed ages in the different States, according to the proportion of young men in the population.2

2. Whether the appointment of officers be elective or gubernatorial, they should equally undergo a strict examination.3

3. The strictest military law should be enforced during the musters or encampments.4

4. There should be a national Inspector-General of Militia, appointed by the War Department, with Assistant-Inspectors-General for the different States, — all to be Regular-Army officers, if possible, thus securing uniformity of drill and discipline.5

The recent transformation of our army is almost as startling as the changes which followed the Revolution and the War of 1812. After the Revolution, there were retained in service “twenty-five privates to guard the stores at Fort Pitt, and fifty-five to guard the stores at West Point and other magazines, with an appropriate number of officers.” After the War of 1812, the army was cut down from thirty-five thousand to six thousand. It behooves us, who have just seen a far grander host melt away almost as rapidly, to turn our eyes forward to the next national peril, and be prepared. The coming session of Congress should give us, partly by edict, partly by recommendation, a system that will put the mass of our young men inside instead of outside the class of trained militia; exchanging our town-meetings-in-uniform for an effective force, and all our Blanks for prizes.

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  1. Much has been said of the advantages of a West Point education. If it is supposed to include any extensive reading of military works, the mistake is great. Four years, commencing commonly at sixteen, a large part of which is devoted to mathematics and their kindred sciences, gives little time for such reading. The possession of a thorough knowledge of elementary mathematics is common also to many civilians. The two real advantages are: first, habits acquired in early life, which give an appreciation of discipline as to its essentials, the importance of its minutiæ, a faith in its effects, and an acquaintance with the word MUST; second, the study of those parts of the science of arms which constitute its A B C at a like early period. This study resembles the A B C of the primer. A revolting drudgery to many minds, it is best gone through with before life is fairly entered upon. When begun later, it will likely he more or less shirked, and the want of a thorough basis will give a superficial character to after-practice. Were the cadets to enter at twenty-five, their military education would lose one half its value.” — Essay on “The Discipline and Care of Troops,” from “Army and Navy Journal,” October 22, 1864.
  2. “If a militia is indispensable, service should be required from a sufficient number of citizens, and should not be accepted from volunteers, with the exception only of corps of cavalry and light artillery, — branches of the service entailing greater expense, and involving greater sacrifice of time.” — Colonel Henry Lee, Jr.

    “To make it [the militia] efficient, only two things are wanting: first, there must be no exempts for any cause other than moral imbecility, as lunacy and idiotism; for all physical defects should only excuse the person from personal service by paying a fixed equivalent: second, those who did not come under either of the shove causes should personally do duty.” — Adjutant-General Dearborn of Massachusetts.

    “The full age of twenty-one years has been assumed by the Board as the best period for the commencement of service in the ranks of the militia. It will he perceived that the scheme of enrolment proposed rendered any other limitation as to age, than that just stated, unnecessary; it being probable that the minimum quota would he obtained in any State, without going higher than the ages of thirty or twenty-nine, and in some of the States not higher than twenty-six or twenty-five, even with the present population.” — Major-General Winfield Scott, U. S. A. Report of Board of Officers, 1826.

    “In general, the military laws of the Cantons … do not permit substitutes.” — General Dufour, Commander-in-Chief of the Swiss Army.
  3. The militia, as it is now organized, is a mere school of titles, where honors are conferred more from a momentary impulse of personal kindness than from a sense of the qualification of the individuals.” — Governor Cole of Illinois.

    “The first measure to he adopted by the State governments against incompetency is the appointment of a board of officers of character and experience, such as may be found in every State at the present time, to examine rigidly every officer elect, and pronounce upon his fitness for the position: their decision to be final.” — Colonel Henry Lee, Jr.
  4. Without discipline firmly administered, and regulations founded on a just appreciation of the difficulties and ends of a soldier’s life, a militia organization only tends to give a false idea of the duties of a soldier, and is totally useless for the purposes of war or police. … During the periods of drill, the English militia-man is placed on almost the same footing as the regular soldier; and insubordination and disorder, mutiny and desertion, are repressed and chastised by penalties and punishments, not only of extreme severity, hut involving the deepest disgrace.” — Brigadier-General De Peyster, Report to the Governor of New York on Municipal Military Systems of Europe, 1851.
  5. The Board, in the plan of organization, proposes an Adjutant-General, without rank, for the whole militia of the United States. The importance of such an officer, attached to the War Department it is believed, could not be too highly estimated.” — Major-General Winfield Scott.