The Wisconsin National Guard traces its history to the days before Wisconsin had achieved statehood, and just as Wisconsin evolved and developed over the years, so too the Wisconsin National Guard transformed into something quite different from its humble origins.
Henry Dodge, governor of what was then the Wisconsin Territory — a swath of land consisting of all of current Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, along with roughly two-thirds of North Dakota and one-third of South Dakota — commissioned Morgan L. Martin of Green Bay as a captain and the commander of the Green Bay Rangers, a volunteer company of mounted riflemen. Capt. Martin was commissioned on March 5, 1837, which today is considered the birthday of the Wisconsin National Guard.
Dodge, a veteran of the Black Hawk War of 1832, considered organizing and arming the militia “of great interest to the future peace of the people of the territory.” However, the Black Hawk War appears to be the last significant armed conflict with Native American communities in the Wisconsin region.
Dating back to Middle Ages England, the concept of local militias was a logical measure in lieu of a standing national army. The militia acts of 1792 and 1795 authorized the president to call militias to federal service, but did not satisfactorily answer the question of whether governors or presidents had ultimate authority. This led to volunteer regiments being raised for the War of 1812 as well as the Civil War.
But training, funding, equipment, purpose and who ultimately controlled the local militias would remain ongoing concerns until the 20th century.