Acting Governor Henry McGill issues a proclamation on May 10, 1861, calling on citizens to organize themselves into a civilian militia.

  • By Jack and Claire Nisbet
  • Posted 8/01/2011
  • Essay 9894
On May 10, 1861, Henry M. McGill (1831-1915), the acting governor of Washington Territory, issues a proclamation requiring all male citizens of the territory who are capable of bearing arms to enroll in a civilian militia that will be subject to call "in case of riot or civil commotion or other serious breach of the peace" (Stewart, 32). 

Lincoln's Nationwide Call to Arms

On April 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) issued a nationwide call for all the states of the Union to organize volunteer militias to stand ready to serve the Union cause in the fight against the Confederacy:

"WHEREAS, The laws of the United States have been and are opposed in several States by combinations too powerful to be suppressed in the ordinary way, I therefore call for the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of 75,000, to suppress said combination and execute the laws. I appeal to all loyal citizens to facilitate and aid this effort, and maintain the laws and integrity of the National Union and the perpetuity of popular government, and redress wrongs long endured" (Puget Sound Herald).

When a copy of President Lincoln's proclamation reached Olympia three weeks later, in early May, Henry McGill, the acting governor of the territory, issued his own appeal: 

By the Governor of Washington Territory           

"Whereas, the President of the United States has issued his proclamation, stating that the laws of the United States have been, and now are opposed in several States by combinations too powerful to be suppressed in the ordinary way, and therefore calling for the militia of the several States. 

"Now, therefore, deeming it expedient that the militia of the Territory of Washington should be placed in readiness to meet any requisition form the President of the United States or the Governor of this Territory to aid in 'maintaining the laws and integrity of the National Union,' I do hereby call upon all citizens of this Territory capable of bearing arms and liable to militia duty, to report immediately to the Adjutant General of the Territory and proceed at once to organize themselves into companies, and elect their own officers, in the manner prescribed by the act of January 26, 1855, and the amendatory act of February 4, 1858, to organize the militia" (Proclamation). 

Raising Militias for the Union

On May 14, the Adjutant General of Washington Territory appointed enrolling officers for the territory's 22 counties. These officers were instructed to open muster rolls and register all males between the ages of 16 and 60 who were fit for military duty. The enrollments were to be forwarded to the Adjutant General and updated regularly. 

Two weeks later, The North-West weekly reported that in Port Townsend, a militia company had met, elected officers, and marched to the front of the Pioneer Hotel, where a sword was presented to their captain. "After giving three cheers for each of their officers, and three strong ones for the Union, the company was dismissed" (Port Townsend). In Olympia, former Governor Isaac Stevens accepted the captaincy of a company called The Puget Sound Rifles.

On June 6, the same newspaper reported:

"Squads are engaged nightly in learning the evolutions and manual, and before long we may justly boast of our Union-loving citizen soldiery. We have had the pleasure of seeing the proper spirit manifested, not only in Port Townsend, but also at Port Madison and Olympia. Last Tuesday a company was to be formed at Seattle, and we doubt whether a town on the Sound will fail to raise its company of volunteer militia within a month. We learn that it is the intention of the Commander-in-Chief to have the roll of each company published in the newspapers of the Territory, that persons abroad may judge of the strength of those who are willing, even upon this remote frontier, to stand or fall by this glorious Union of States" (Our Military).

Sources: "Our Military," The North-West, June 6, 1861, p. 2, col. 3; "Port Townsend Militia Company," Ibid., May 30, 1861, p. 2, col. 5; "Proclamation," Olympia Pioneer and Democrat, May 17, 1861, p. 2, col. 3; "Proclamation of President Lincoln," Puget Sound Herald, May 9, 1861, p. 2, col. 3; Edgar I. Stewart, Washington: Northwest Frontier (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1957).

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