The Illinois National Guard returned to its roots to celebrate its 300th birthday May 9.
“This is sacred ground, or as near to it as we’re going to get,” Adriana Schroeder, Illinois National Guard Command Historian told about 75 people gathered in Kaskaskia, Illinois, near the location of Illinois Militia’s first muster under the French on May 9, 1723. “History tells us society must have two things to survive, some sort of government and a military. Today, we are standing very near the location of the beginning of both for Illinois, the territorial legislature, and the birthplace of the Illinois National Guard by way of the Illinois militia.”
Schroeder said she was tasked in 2011 to determine the actual birthdate of the Illinois National Guard by the Adjutant General of Illinois at that time, Maj. Gen. (ret.) William Enyart, who served as the 37th Adjutant General of Illinois and following his retirement, U.S. Congressman for District 12.
“This proved to be a challenge and there were obstacles,” she said. “I’m grateful for the help of a long list of historians who aided in my quest to find what I called the Holy Grail.”
Schroeder said once a date had been determined, the year didn’t match, so she continued with her research.
“On January 1, 1718, businessman John Law obtained a charter from the French King that granted him monopoly of French trade in the area known as the Illinois Country. Royal orders dictated a provision for civil government to be arranged for the new province of Illinois,” she said. “During the summer of 1718, French officials set out from Louisiana and journeyed to the area of southern Illinois. Among other governing associates, the party included Pierre Duque, Sieur de Boisebriant, Commandant; Captain Diron, Dartaguiette; two second lieutenants and a company of 100 French Soldiers.”
Schroeder said it was Dartaguiette’s diary, which was eventually translated into English, which determined the Illinois National Guard’s birthdate.
“The inspector of Troops, Dartaguiette wrote in his diary, ‘I called together all the inhabitants of this village [Kaskaskia] to whom I said that I had an order from the King to form a company of militia for the purpose of putting them in a position to defend themselves with greater facility against the incursions which the Indians, our enemies, might attempt, so I formed a company, after having selected four of the most worthy among them to put at the head. This company being under arms, I passed it in review the same day,’” Schroeder told the crowd. “Dartaguiette’s diary marked the date as May 9, 1723, the first of many hundreds of thousands of drills.”
While Schroeder shared the history of how the Illinois National Guard began, Enyart talked about the future of the Illinois National Guard.
“Private Mason Patterson, of Steeleville, is the newest member of the Illinois National Guard here today. He represents the latest in a long lineage of proud Illinoisans who serve our great state and great nation,” Enyart said. “Congratulations to you on being one of the few who stepped forward, raised your hand and, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, pledged life, liberty, and sacred honor to the Constitution and our freedoms.”
Enyart urged the crowd to “celebrate the gift that Private Patterson, like so many before, has bestowed upon us.”
“Their pledge to us is a signature on a blank check offering everything up to and including life for our defense whether it be from foreign attack, flood, or other calamity,” he said. “As a Randolph County resident, you have now joined the ranks of history from the French militiamen of 300 years ago, to Presidents Lincoln and Grant, the riflemen of World Wars I and II, aircrews of the Persian Gulf war and the cyber warriors of today. You are now part of that long tradition of valor, both sung and unsung.”
Brig. Gen. Mark Alessia, Director of the Joint Staff, Illinois National Guard, said it was an honor to be in Kaskaskia to commemorate the Illinois National Guard’s 300th anniversary.
“When you think about our humble beginnings starting here, the Illinois National Guard today represents 10,000 Soldiers and 3,000 Airmen, based in 49 communities around the state,” Alessia said. “That is 13,000 individuals who stand ready and willing to serve the citizens of Illinois and our country.”
Alessia described some of the feats of Illinois National Guard members throughout it’s 300-year history.
“Captain Abraham Lincoln served in the Black Hawk War. During the Mexican-American War, the 4th Illinois captured Santa Anna’s leg and Lieutenant Jones, from the 8th Volunteer Cavalry fired the first shot at the Battle of Gettysburg,” he said. “In World War I, 27,000 members of the Illinois National Guard served with nine earning the Medal of Honor. The 131st and 132nd Infantry Regiments fought side by side with the Australian military at the Battle of Hamel, the only time in World War I American Soldiers fought under a foreign command. In World War II, Illinois Guardsmen fought in the Pacific and Europe. The 106th Cavalry rescued Belgium’s King Leopold III, and the 33rd Division helped liberate the Philippines. Our members have served in Korea, Vietnam and in Desert Storm.”
Alessia said since September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, more than 29,000 Illinois National Guard members have mobilized in support of major U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“That service continues today, with our members conducting mobilizations and exercises around the world,” he said. “The Illinois National Guard has not lost its roots and is still a community-based organization.”
Alessia said in 2020 alone, the Illinois National Guard conducted 20 domestic operations in Illinois totaling 400,000 duty days.
“The Soldiers and Airmen of the Illinois National Guard conducted flood response operations, cyber protection duties during the elections, security at both the state and our nation’s capitals, civil disturbance in Chicago, snow, and COVID support including providing 1.487 million vaccinations,” he said. “As we celebrate today’s 300th anniversary, the Illinois National Guard continues with our no fail missions to the citizens of Illinois and our nation, assuring we will always be ready and will always be there.”