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I recall watching Ken Burns documentary on the American Civil War and learning that because of the way volunteer units were formed in the two armies, towns could lose staggering numbers of young men who all served in the same unit and fought in the same battles. I know that in WW I, the British military formed Pals Battalions, whereby men were encouraged to volunteer together, on the promise they would serve together, with their “pals.” Towns and cities suffered similar devastating loss of their generation of young men.

I would like to know when (if?) the US military stopped forming fighting units based on the geographical background of the men (and women – though I suspect this changed before women were involved in active duty).

I’ve done a bit of googling, but I’m either not asking the question properly, or the answer is buried too deep for me to find.

Thank you so much for your assistance.


A. Battison

? ? ?

Dear Mr. Battison,

I’m not sure of what you’re getting at because, speaking from personal experience, the U.S. military still is using units “based on geographical background.” It’s called the  National Guard! For that matter, a lot of Reserve units also reflect the regions where they drill, even if they are paid by the Federal government like the Regular Army, rather than by the states in peacetime as is the case with the Guard. That said, all are trained to “Army standard” with the expectation of possibly being sent off to war—which, throughout American history since the Civil War, they have. Next time you’re in Bedford, Virginia, ask how many local townsfolk died in Company A, 116th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Or maybe check into which Guard units in your own country might have added some location in Iraq or Afghanistan to their company flags.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History


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