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A Short History of the Corn Stalk Militia


The need for and urgency of an effective military establishment in frontier Kentucky was first voiced in the new Commonwealth's Constitution. Faced with Indian attacks and the exposed situation of the country, the framers of the Constitution, many of them veterans of the Revolutionary War, immediately caused to be written into the document a provision that  "The freemen of this Commonwealth shall be armed and disciplined for its defense..."

The military background and farsightedness of Colonel Isaac Shelby, the new states first governor further enhanced the prompt organization of a defense system. On June 24, 1792, only twenty days after the first General Assembly approved "An Act to arrange this state into Divisions, Brigades, Regiments, Battalions and Companies, and for other purposes." This act, passed in conformity with the then recently enacted Federal law for the better arrangement of the militia of the various states, provided for two Divisions, four Brigades and fifteen Regiments.
(1) Acts passed at the First Session of the General Assembly-Lexington 1792 Chapter 27, pages 37-38

Four days later approval of "An Act for regulating the Militia of this Commonwealth" provided for the general discipline of the defense force. (2) Ibid Chapter 19, pages 28-31

This law was soon repealed, however, when it was early discovered that it was "inadequate to answer the purpose intended." This was the first of many and frequent laws and legislative changes concerning the militia from 1792 until the organization died out after the Constitution of 1849-50 was put into force. The repealing act, approved December 10, 1792, provided first that many in public life be exempted from militia service. These included the Judges of the Supreme Courts, Speakers of the two houses of General Assembly, the Treasurer, Auditor, Attorney-General, Secretary, Register of the Land Office, Inspectors of Tobacco, all professors and tutors of public seminaries of learning, the Public Printer and his office staff, Ministers, keepers of the public jails and public hospitals or lead works and persons employed in repairing or manufacturing firearms. All other free male persons between the ages of 18 and 45 were liable for militia duty.

Commanding officers of companies were required to enroll all men subject to duty within the company's bounds, including all who settled or resided within the bounds for a space of ten days and all those who from time to time arrived at the age of 18.  No person not an inhabitant of  the State for three months was liable for militia duty.

All appointments of officers according to this law were made in the manner prescribed by the Constitution, or nominated and appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. However, no officer not a resident of the State one year "next before his appointment" could be commissioned. (When the Constitution of 1799 took effect on June 1, 1800, all military appointments by the governor alone terminated at the end of the subsequent session of the General Assembly.
(3) Garrad, Governor James, Executive Journal 1800-1804

The governor was granted power to make alterations in the bounds of Divisions, Brigades and Regiments and to appoint officers for new Regiments thus created or laid off.
Acts Passed at the Second Session of the General Assembly, Lexington 1792, Chapter 5, pages 5-15

This law, which further outlined tie duties of officers, provided election procedures for vacancies, defined tours of duty, etc., was found defective and amended December 18, 1794, as to pay, dates of regimental musters, Courts Martial, etc. and a further change was approved at the January session of 1798.
(5) Acts Passed at the First Session of the Third General Assembly, Lexington 1794, Chapter 8, pages 7-11

Thereafter, with increased population and militia boundaries constantly subject to change by formation of new counties, new legislation was frequent.  The General Assembly at the November 1798 session passed still another act concerning the militia which fully repealed all former laws on the subject.  This last act was amended by one passed in 1799 and both were again amended by one which was approved in 1800, following Governor Garrad's complete reorganization of the militia into five Divisions, twelve Brigades and 51 Regiments.

The act of 1806 exempted Negroes, mulattoes, and Indians from armed service and excused conscientious objectors provided they pay an equivalent for personal service.  The governor retained his power to lay off Divisions, Brigades and Regiments and to change their boundaries as he saw fit. Commanding officers of the respective Regiments were empowered to appoint the regimental staff.  Brigadier Generals could appoint their Brigade Majors; Major Generals were to choose their aides and Captains to select and appoint the commissioned officers in each company, to be commissioned by the governor.

Regimental musters were ordered for October of each year; battalion musters were to be held in May and at least four company musters in each year to be held between the last day of May and the last day of September.

It was from these fall musters of these first days of the defense system that the old state militia commonly became known as the "Corn Stalk Militia". The troops as a rule had no arms for musters and drills and often used corn stalks in the place of guns.
(Bennett H Young's A History of Jessamine County, Kentucky, Louisville 1898 page 95)

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