The History of the Old Guard


This is the story of two famous companies which later became a battalion. They came into being under the military system which existed shortly after the War of 1812.  At that time the Federal Government maintained a small Regular Army and the States had general and vague policies with reference to the Militia.  In New York State the Laws of 1823 provided ... That each and every free and able bodied male citizen between the ages of 18 and 45 years shall be a member of the militia. A visit by the famous Boston Light Infantry in 1826 inspired Colonel William W. Tompkins to recruit and equip a Light Infantry Company. This was organized as the "Tompkins Blues," named to honor former NY Governor Daniel Tompkins.  Colonel Tompkins, a West Point graduate, was elected Captain. In July 1831 the unit served as the guard of honor at the funeral of President James Monroe.  In 1833 the name was changed to the New York Light Guard. Also in 1833, Captain William M. McArdle formed the Pulaski Cadets, an independent military company, and named it the New York City Guard.  These two companies maintained an ongoing rivalry and fiercely competed in drill and at parades. The Light Guard had been giving an Annual Military Ball since its inception, held traditionally on the last Friday in January. The Light Guard uniform adopted in 1844 ... the famous white coat with blue facings, bearskin shako and blue trousers, is essentially the same as that worn by the current members of the Old Guard. In 1861 the Light Guard as Company "A" of the 71st Regiment and the City Guard as Company "C" of the 9th Regiment entered the great conflict between the States. In 1867 a bill was drawn and introduced into the State Legislature to incorporate the two veteran companies as the Old Guard of the City of New York. On April 22, 1868, this bill known as Chapter 284 of the Laws of 1868 was signed by Governor Fenton and became law. Major George McLean was elected commander. The Old Guard received the status of Veteran Battalion of State Militia through Chapter 88 of the Laws of 1882. Through the years the Old Guard continued its interesting functions and affairs adding honor and glory to the City of New York. The present status of the Old Guard is that of an independent military command, existing under and by virtue of its ancient rights and privileges.  At inaugurations the Old Guard traditionally takes part as the Governorýs and Mayorýs escort and guard and generally in all ceremonies acts in accordance with their wishes and requirements. The Old Guard owns its Headquarters building in Manhattan where it holds its meetings and various social functions. Its officers are elected annually in March and take their oaths of office in April at the Anniversary Day celebration. The oath of office is administered by a representative of the Adjutant General of the State of New York. Today the Old Guard is a member unit of The Centennial Legion of Historic Military Commands and is once again growing both in numbers and in prestige.  The ancient white uniform and bearskin shako are again becoming a distinctive feature of many New York events that honor veterans.  The Old Guard Armory and collections are also undergoing a major restoration.  The organization also supports New York's currently deployed soldiers. Join the Old Guard and become a part of history.