Georgia’s state militia is as old as Georgia itself. According to “A Brief History of the Georgia National Guard,” colonists who came with Gen. James Oglethorpe were trained by the British “Sergeants of the Guard” prior to founding the colony of Georgia in 1733. Half a century later, the Liberty Independent Troop was organized Sept. 12, 1788 as part of the Georgia Militia, according to retired Georgia National Guardsman Wayne Stewart. They no longer were British subjects; they were American citizen-soldiers.
Stewart said a guard of citizen-soldiers remains in Liberty County from the colonial days. Recording his unit’s history has been a personal priority for Stewart.
“I had conversations with people about preserving our unit history before I retired in 1983,” said Stewart, who enlisted in the Georgia National Guard in 1956. “We’re now asking people to donate pictures, patches, uniforms, equipment and personal letters — whatever they might have. Several families have already contributed items that belonged to their fathers, grandfathers or great-grandfathers.”
Stewart said the photos and artifacts being donated and stored at his home will be showcased at 100 Commerce St. this May. He said his Guard unit’s start-up history museum will share space with the Hinesville Area Arts Council until the second floor is renovated. That renovation will include climate and humidity control, he said, explaining he wants to ensure items donated would be preserved.
“We were looking at the cost of a new building and renovating (the old Manna House) building,” said Stewart, who added that renovation was considerably more affordable. “We’ve also looked at the cost of adding an elevator, but right now, we don’t have any veterans who are wheelchair-bound.”
In addition to collecting items that were part of the unit’s history, Stewart said he depends on former members for information to complete the unit history, including former local Guardsman Ellis Gordon, a 94-year-old World War II veteran, and Roy Carter, another 94-year-old World War II Georgia National Guard veteran, though not with their unit. Stewart said he also has talked to several family members of former Guardsmen.
The history he has compiled starts with the local militia’s re-designation as the Liberty Independent Troop in 1788. He said his worksheet fails to mention that 10 years earlier, local militia serving under Col. John McIntosh at Fort Morris near Sunbury responded to a British officer’s demand to surrender the fort with the iconic reply, “Come and take it!”
“I was working at the Armory with state and federal archive officials in 1996,” Stewart said. “There was information that the local militia did this or were part of that throughout the (American) Revolution, but they were not designated as the Liberty Independent Troop until after the war.”
Noting that he may be related to local hero Brig. Gen. Daniel Stewart, he said he knew Fort Stewart’s namesake served as commander of a militia cavalry brigade called the Minutemen of Georgia. After the war, Daniel Stewart continued to serve as a militia leader during the Creek Indian Wars.
When the Civil War broke out, the Liberty Independent Troop was mustered into the Georgia Cavalry, he said. In fact, he noted that only Virginia supplied more troops and units to the Southern cause than Georgia. The unit saw action in campaigns in Atlanta, Florida and South Carolina. The unit surrendered on April 26, 1865, near Greensboro, N.C., while under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.
Stewart said federal legislation in 1903 re-designated all state militias as National Guard units that could supplement the regular Army. He has photographs of local Guardsmen in Mexico in 1916, where they served under Gen. John J. Pershing. Their mission was to hunt for Mexican bandit Pancho Villa, who had been raiding U.S. border towns. A year later, the unit was drafted into federal service for World War I.
The local Guard was again activated for federal service in Feb. 1941, eventually serving in the East Indies; Papua, New Guinea; and Luzon in the Philippines. Stewart said local Guardsmen recently have served in Iraq and continue to serve in Afghanistan as well provide natural-disaster relief throughout the state and nation. Despite repeated activation and deployments, Stewart said morale remains high in the Georgia National Guard with enlistment and re-enlistment quotas being filled.
When the unit’s history museum officially opens in May, Stewart hopes to have support from leaders of the Georgia National Guard and Georgia Defense Force, with attendance by past and present unit members.