Throughout America history, and especially during its infant years, the nation relied upon citizens to take up arms and supplement the standing army. In the 19th century there was a strong philosophy that the regular army, “the regulars”, should be kept to a minimum to reduce the likelihood of tyranny by the government. It was expected that in cases of emergency situations, state forces would be called to support the response. The Seminole War was one such emergency.
Thousands of troops from surrounding states including Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee were called to supplement the army’s efforts in Florida. In some cases, the militia outnumbered the men in the army. These were the volunteer militia, also called the “volunteers.” Most of these units were independent companies that may have served in more than one period of any or all of the three wars. Most volunteer and militia companies were known by the commander’s name. For example, a company under Commander Smith might be called “Smith’s Company of Mounted Volunteers.”
While these volunteers often fought with enthusiasm, most lacked training, organization, discipline and equipment. This often resulted in tensions, violence and a lack of cooperation between the volunteers and the regulars. The volunteers felt the regulars were unsuited to fight the Seminole with their guerilla-style warfare. The regulars felt the volunteers lacked military skill in general. Both views were true to some degree.
Over time, problems between the volunteers and the regulars were worked out. The regulars learned to adapt their fighting style to match that of the Seminole, and the volunteers gained battlefield experience and became better disciplined. It is an undisputed assertion that the volunteers were indispensible in the U.S. war efforts in Florida.