the guard called to duty
The state of American readiness might have been much worse had it not been for the Wilson Administrationís preparedness initiative and the Mexican border crisis of 1916. In June of that year President Wilson signed into law the National Defense Act which authorized enlargement of the Regular Army and the National Guard and increased federal control over the latter. The National Guard, which constituted the countryís organized militia, dated back officially to the Dick Act of 1903 though the term itself had been used in reference to the militia for many years. Although the Regular Army numbered nearly 130,000 officers and men and the National Guard over 180,000 by April 1, 1917, neither component was filled to complete strength. It was determined before that date, however, that the volunteer principle would not provide the manpower needs of the military quickly enough in an emergency. A plan formulated in February recommended a National Army of citizen-soldiers raised largely by conscription. Three months later a selective service measure was passed under which almost 2,800,000 men were drafted for military service during the great war.
Large portions of the Regular Army and the National Guard served in Mexico and on the border in 1916-1917. The nefarious raids of the Mexican revolutionary, Pancho Villa, particularly that against Columbus, New Mexico, in March, 1916, prompted the Wilson Administration to send the famous Punitive Expedition under Brigadier General John J. Pershing wheeling into Mexico in hot pursuit. To provide protection to the border inhabitants in the absence of the Regulars, President Wilson on May 9, 1916, ordered the National Guards of three Southwestern states into federal service. On June 18, owing to the growing resentment of Mexico against the deepening penetration of the Pershing expedition and to the threat of trouble with Mexican troops, the President called out the National Guards of other states. By July 4, the National Guards of 14 states were on duty in makeshift camps at their assigned border stations.
The presence of 112,000 Guardsmen on the border by late July, 1916, undoubtedly discouraged serious incursions into the United States by border bandits. There were no major clashes and only a few Guardsmen ever crossed into Mexico. The primary value of the whole operation was not the protection of border citizens, but the training it provided the several Guards. The men were hardened physically and learned the fundamentals of soldiering in the field. Non-coms and officers gained valuable experience in handling men and in providing for their basic needs. Deficiencies and weaknesses in the Guard units were revealed and shortages of equipment and clothing were to some extent corrected by the army. As a
result, those Guard organizations sent to the border in 1916 were partially equipped and trained when the United States entered World War 1. (1.&2.)
(1.) Edward M. Coffman, The War To End All Wars: The America Military Experience ln World War I (New York, 1968), 3-29;
(2.)Clarence C. Clendenen, Blood on the Border: The United States Army and the Mexican Irregulars (London, 1969), 285-298; Russell F. Weigley, History of the United States Army (New York, 1967), 313-354.
Sons of the Mexican Border Veterans Of 1916 (SMBV1916)
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