From Reconstruction to the War to End All Wars
The end of the Civil War brought a new era of conflict to Kentucky. State Guard companies saw frequent service, on duty to control violence caused by feuds, strikes, and racial conflicts. But service in the Guard was not all grim. Units again dressed up in elaborate uniforms and took part in drill competitions and social events.
War came again in 1898. This time American troops and sailors fought the Spanish and gained an overseas empire for the United States. The Kentucky State Guard provided three infantry regiments and a cavalry regiment. Only the First Kentucky Infantry Regiment reached the combat zone in Puerto Rico during this short war, and hostilities ended before they actually went into battle. Most of the Kentucky guardsmen spent the war in training camps fighting disease and shortages of supplies.
In 1900 Kentuckians almost fought their own miniature civil war, a bitter dispute over the 1899 election for governor. Democratic candidate William Goebel was shot, sworn in as governor, and then died. The Republican incumbents refused to allow the Democrats into State buildings. Both sides called out the State Guard. For a while pro-Republican guardsmen faced pro-Democrat guardsmen on the streets of Frankfort. The courts found a peaceful solution to the crisis, and the Guardsmen went home without firing a shot.
During the early years of the 20th century, state Guard troops served as peacekeepers in the so-called “Black Patch War” in western Kentucky. Tobacco farmers resorted to violence in their struggle against monopolistic tobacco companies. The Kentucky State Guard became the Kentucky National Guard in 1912, when a new federal law regulating the militia came into effect. The new system set training standards for state units and established more efficient procedures for mobilizing the Guard into federal service.
The procedures were tested in 1916 when violence from the revolution going on in Mexico spilled across the border. Nearly all the Kentucky National Guard joined units from many other states on patrol along the Mexican border. For the first time, Kentucky troops used trucks and machine guns on active duty. Guardsmen returned from Texas in 1917 just in time to be mustered into federal service for duty in World War One.
Kentucky units were attached to the 38th “Cyclone” Division, newly organized at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Unit titles and functions changed to fit the federal system and meet the needs of modern warfare. The First Kentucky Infantry became the 138th Field Artillery, and the Second Kentucky became the 149th Infantry. After lengthy training, men of the 38th Division went to France to serve as replacements in other units. The division never fought as a single organization, and Kentucky units soon lost their state identity. 7,518 National Guardsmen from Kentucky served in World War One. 890 Kentuckians died in the war.