Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Stephen Ash


Like all U.S. states, prior to the Civil War Tennessee maintained an active militia system. This dissertation examines the establishment, function, and decline of this organization. For more than eighty years the Tennessee militia participated in a number of military conflicts. It also played an important role in the state's social and political development. The militia was among the first institutions established by the early Tennessee settlers. It began as an informal collection of every able-bodied male. By 1800 the militia had grown considerably, and the volunteers, who served by choice, assumed the burden of meeting the state's military needs. During Tennessee's first years, the militia was useful as a support mechanism for Tennessee's bureaucratic processes. It was the framework by which men paid taxes and voted. Militiamen also built roads. During the early nineteenth century the militias had become important social institutions, and militia membership became a tool for men seeking social and political advancement. The militias eventually emerged as political organizations as well. Militiamen worked together to assert their political will, and volunteer companies became associated with political parties. The Tennessee militia was a very active military organization. The earliest militiamen defended against hostile Indians and were thus critical to the survival of the white settlements. By the 1780s, however, the militia became a tool to drive the state's Indian people from their tribal land. In 1838 the state used the militia in the infamous Indian removal. Militiamen from the Volunteer State also participated in every major antebellum conflict. When in active service Tennessee volunteers typically performed well. However, during peacetime many volunteer companies did not train regularly. The state did, however, always maintain a few well-trained and well-armed companies. After the removal of the eastern Indians the Tennessee militia declined rapidly. By 1850 the state no longer needed to keep large numbers of men trained for military service, and the militia ceased to exist as a functional organization.

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