Oregon Military Department Records Guide
Agency History - 1843-1918
Oregon’s provisional government passed the first militia law on July 5, 1843, authorizing the formation of a battalion of mounted riflemen. All male inhabitants of Oregon between the ages of 16 and 60 wishing to be considered a citizen were to serve. The law allowed for the annual election of officers who would inspect the volunteer troops once a year and could assemble them at anytime in event of invasion or local insurrection. The troops were subject to call out, with government consent, by any authorized representative of the federal government.
A second military bill passed on March 8, 1844. It called for the organization of militia companies to combat hostile Indians. The bill led to the formation of the Oregon Rangers on March 11, 1844, a fifteen man force which drilled at the Oregon Institute but saw no action. That summer, the Legislative Assembly again amended the militia law. Worries over defense continued and in 1845 a legislative committee of representatives from each county was appointed to draft a comprehensive bill for the protection of Oregon. This would include the building of blockhouses and arms magazines. The decision to form a coalition government with British citizens and limited funds doomed these plans.
On December 8, 1847 the Legislative Assembly authorized the formation of a 50 member rifle company to relive the Whitman Mission and protect survivors of the massacre. Forty-five men quickly volunteered and departed by boat on December 9. On December 10, 1847 the Legislative Assembly voted to raise a regiment, through volunteer enlistments, of up to 500 men for a campaign against the Indians subject to the rules and articles of the U.S. Army. In addition the Legislative Assembly authorized a loan up to $100,000.00 to fund the campaign. On December 28th the Legislative Assembly created the Office of the Adjutant General to oversee the administrative and logistical control of the troops, supplies and orders/proclamations. In addition, the Legislative assembly authorized a payment of $1.50 per day for each private and Non-Commissioned Officer volunteering to punish the Indians in the Walla Walla valley who furnished their own horse and equipment.
Territorial status brought Oregon arms, money to pay volunteers of the Cayuse War and federal troops to assist in future wars with the Indians. In 1852 an act was passed giving the Quartermaster General, Commissary General and Surgeon General authority to access all books, papers and writings relevant to their departments which were not strictly private in nature.. In addition, the Quartermaster, Commissary and Surgeon General were directed to post bond for security of their positions. In 1854, 1855 and 1856 the Legislative Assembly passed bills reorganizing the militia and allowing for occupational and religious exemptions from military service. In 1856 the Legislative Assembly passed an act organizing the State Militia appointing the Governor as commander-in-Chief while establishing four departments; The Adjutant General, Quartermaster, Commissary and Medical. The Adjutant General was given responsibility for administrative functions including the maintenance of rolls, records and documents; the Quartermaster was placed in charge of arms and accoutrements, the Commissary was placed in charge of purchasing and transportation of provisions and the Surgeon General was to superintend hospitals, furnish medical supplies and instruments, examine the sick and wounded and appoint staff to the medical corp. Oregon was established as a military district comprised of regimental districts under the command of Colonels elected by councils. Regimental Districts were in turn comprised of Company Districts with company level officers appointed by the Regimental colonels. The 1857 State Constitution summarized the existing laws. Its provisions defined enlistment criteria, listed exemptions, established the Governor as ex-officio Commander-in-Chief of Oregon’s military and naval forces, established the practice of executive appointment for the Adjutant General and general staff officers, and authorized the Legislative Assembly to draft the necessary rules and regulations for governing the militia.
The military code adopted in 1862 formally gave the Governor’s office its powers over the militia. It listed the members of the general staff and formed a Board of Military Advisors to review volunteer companies’ claims for ammunition and other stores. On October 16, 1862 the Legislative Assembly passed an act requiring county Assessors to compile a list of individuals liable for military service. In addition, the act assessed a $2.00 tax on each individual liable for service with the funds used to establish the Military Fund under the direction of the State Treasurer. Persons exempt from military service were those exempt under U.S. Law and ministers, Supreme Court judges, county court judges, county clerks, sheriffs, members of the Legislative Assembly, the Secretary of State, State Treasurer and clerks in telegraph offices. The Legislative Assembly amended the law in 1864 by expanding the duties of the Adjutant General. On October 24, 1864 the Legislative Assembly passed an act establishing the Commissioned Officers and Soldiers Relief Fund to compensate soldiers in companies of Oregon volunteers raised in the state for service to the federal government. Officers and soldiers receiving an honorable discharge were eligible for a payment of $5.00 per month of service. Several motions to repeal the military code were defeated during the 1865 special session. Legislators authorized a military fund to offer cash payments to volunteers as an inducement to drill. Rewards included the best drilled company and the paying of expenses for companies called to parade.
In 1870 the Legislative Assembly abolished the office of Adjutant General as a cost savings measure and transferred its duties, records and documents to the Secretary of State. The position of Adjutant General was re-established under the 1887 military code. In 1872 the Governor issued a proclamation for the enlistment of men to fight in the Modoc War. In 1874 the Legislative Assembly made provision to pay the $131,000.00 the Modoc War cost the state of Oregon. In 1878 an act authorizing the issuance of Modoc War Bonds passed the Legislative Assembly.
In 1887 the Legislative Assembly significantly revised the Military Code and authorized the Governor to appoint an Adjutant General, chief officers of the general staff, his own staff and the State Military Board which was to act in an advisory capacity on military matters. The law did away with the Board of Military Auditors and designated the active militia as the Oregon National Guard (ONG) and the inactive militia as the Oregon Reserve Militia. All able bodied males 18 to 45 years of age were liable for duty. Exemptions included but not limited to those exempt by laws of the United States or Oregon, conscientious objectors based upon religious reasons, judges, state and county treasurers, idiots, lunatics, paupers, habitual drunks and persons convicted of infamous crimes. Officers were directed to provide their own uniform, arms and equipment while privates and non-commissioned officers were equipped by the state. Monthly drills were established and only the Adjutant General was paid during peacetime. The act also gave the Governor clear powers to organize volunteer companies in times of crisis. Oregon’s Uniform Code of Military Justice was clearly defined and the court martial process defined in statute. The statute exempted the arms and equipment of every solider from attachment under executions, debt collections, taxation. In an effort to provide a stable, constant funding source the statute included a tax on all taxable property for the military department. The Legislative Assembly provided an annual allotment of $500.00 for rifle practice. Flags and guideons were standardized and issued to units.
In 1889 the Legislative Assembly set the initial enlistment term in the Oregon National Guard at 3 years, adopted an oath/affirmation of office and standardized muster documentation. Those having served a 3 year term in the militia or National Guard were eligible to enlist for 1 year terms.
An appropriation was voted in by the Legislative Assembly in 1891 providing for the purchase of tents, mess and camp equipment. In addition, the Legislative Assembly shifted $10,000.00 from the general fund to the military fund in an effort to alleviate the discrepancy from the date of organization of the National Guard and the date of collection of taxes assessed on property in support of the militia and National Guard.
On February 16, 1893 the Legislative Assembly appropriated $20,000.00 to be paid in 1893 and again in 1894 from the General Fund to complete the equipping of the Oregon National Guard.
A comprehensive 1895 law directed that all general officers be selected by the Governor, with the consent of the senate, to serve four year terms. The general staff would consist of the Adjutant General as chief of staff (a position still held) and eight other designated generals appointed by the Governor and holding office at his pleasure. The legislation named to the military board the Adjutant General, Inspector General, Judge Advocate General, Brigadier General, and Surgeon General. In 1901 and 1905 laws amending the required composition of the general staff and military board were passed. Another reform abolished the military board in 1909 and gave its advisory duties to the general staff. In 1915 a bill passed that organized all National Guard Units in accordance with United States Army rules and regulations. This meant the Governor temporally had no military staff under the new table of organization. The strength of the Oregon National Guard was set at 30 companies of infantry, 2 troops of calvary and 1 battery of light artillery. The act allowed for the establishing of a naval militia if the authorized troop strength falls below 30 companies. Each company/troop/battery were to receive $300.00 per annum to rent meeting/drill space. Oregon’s Uniform Code of Military Justice outlined/defined the standards for and conduct of court martial offenses and proceedings.
An act was passed by the Legislative Assembly on February 17, 1899 to restore to the military fund expenses and per diem of soldiers involved in suppressing insurrection and riots in Astoria (1896) and Roseburg (1896). $8,897.00 was transferred from the General Fund to the Military Fund to pay expenses and the State Military Board was established. The Board was comprised of the Brigadier General, Adjutant General, Inspector General, Judge Advocate General and Surgeon General empowered to establish and change standards regulating the militia and Oregon National Guard and authorize pay.
The Legislative Assembly passed an act in 1901 requiring each company/troop/battery to meet a minimum of 24 times annually for drill. In addition, the act allows the Commander in Chief to require National Guard or the naval militia to perform at least 5 consecutive days of camp, field or cruise duty each year. Cruise duty for naval reserve personal could be required upon U.S. vessels. Officers were to receive an annual stipend to assist in equipping themselves. As with earlier acts no member of the ONG could be arrested on a civil process while going to, attending or returning from military duty and could pass all toll roads and gates free of charge.
The Legislative Assembly passed an act in 1903 for the purchase of ground and construction of armories for use by ONG units. Units were to pay to the State Treasury at rent rates fixed by the Military Board.
In 1907 every able bodied male of foreign birth 18 to 45 years of age with the declared intent to become a citizen was made liable for military service under an act passed by the Legislative Assembly (O.L 1907 ch. 233). The act established that enrollment eligible males would be counted every ten years in timing with the federal census. Members of the Oregon national Guard were to be enlisted/enrolled while Oregon Reserve Militia members would not be. Coastal Artillery was included in the table of organization and equipment for the ONG. Minimum company/troop strength was set at 50 to 58 enlisted men. The National Guard Association was authorized and comprised of commissioned officers while a mandatory retirement age of 60 was adopted.
A state naval militia was established in 1911 and placed under the administration of a board consisting of five commissioned naval officers appointed by the Governor (O.L. 1911 ch 269). The board existed four years and was replaced by a naval staff, which included the Adjutant General as chairman and two commissioned naval militia officers appointed by the Governor. A more comprehensive naval code went into effect in 1917 (O.L. 1917 ch. 129). It allowed the militia to conform to the 1914 naval department act detailing accepted federal rules and regulations governing state naval militias. The federal government loaned the state the U.S.S. Boston, a third class cruiser, a militia training ship, and detailed an officer and several chief petty officers from the regular navy as inspectors-instructors. The cruiser U.S.S. Marblehead and torpedo boat destroyer Goldsborough were also made available for militia use. Oregon’s naval militia went into active federal service in 1917. It was subsequently placed into the United States naval reserves and ceased to function as a state unit.
The Legislative Assembly adopted another military code on the eve of World War I. It named the senior line officer to succeed as commander-in-chief in the event state officers in the regular line of succession were not available. The law also formed a state administrative staff from members of the Adjutant General, inspector general, judge advocate general, quartermaster corps, medical, and ordinance departments. Four years later the code was revised to conform to the National Defense Act of 1920. It authorized the Governor to appoint, subject to approval by the federal government, a National Guard officer to act as property and disbursing officer for the United States in Oregon and as state property officer.