Tennessee Military Election of Officers 1796 to 1862

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Tennessee Military Elections span the era from our State's inception in 1796 to1862 when Tennessee was embroiled in the turmoil of the American Civil War. These elections were not much different than those conducted for county or civil offices; the sheriff (or constable) of each county held an election for the officers of each company of the Tennessee Militia. All counties of the State comprised a different company, and several counties companies formed a regiment. Several regiments of the militia then formed into brigades. Volunteer companies are formed in counties when a special need arises, such as an invasion, insurrection, or declared war.

Article VII, Constitution of the State of Tennessee (1796) stated that "captains, subalterns and noncommissioned officers shall be elected by those citizens in their respective districts who are subject to military duty...all field officers of the militia shall be elected by the field officers of their respective brigades; brigadier generals shall be elected by the field officers of their respective brigades; major generals shall be elected by the brigadiers and field officers of their respective divisions; the governor shall appoint the adjutant general; the majors general shall appoint their aides; the brigadiers general shall appoint their brigade majors, and the commanding officers of regiments, their adjutants and quartermasters."

The Constitution of 1835 changed this article in that "all militia officers shall be elected by persons subject to military duty, within the bounds of their several companies, battalions, regiments, brigades and divisions, under such rules and regulations as the Legislature may, from time to time, direct and establish; the Governor shall appoint the Adjutant General and his other Staff Officers; the Majors General, Brigadiers General and commanding officers or regiments, shall respectively appoint their Staff Officers." After the Civil War, militia elections were held exclusively within the bounds of each military company and were removed from the responsibility of the county sheriffs or their deputies. The Constitution of 1870 states that "all militia officers shall be elected by persons subject to military duty, within the bounds of their several companies, battalions, regiments, brigades and divisions, under such rules and regulations as the Legislature may from time to time direct and establish...the Governor shall appoint the Adjutant General and his other staff officers; the Major Generals, Brigadier Generals, and commanding officers of regiments, shall respectively appoint their staff officers."

It is interesting to note that the Militia Law of the State of Tennessee (1840) states those who were exempt from military duty, and those included Supreme Court Justices, Chancery and Circuit Court Judges, Clerks of Court, the Secretary of State, Comptroller of the Treasury, the State and County Treasurers, acting justices of the peace, sheriffs, ordained ministers, postmasters and carriers of the mail, public ferry keepers, jailors, keepers of grist mills and toll gates, commissioners of common schools, and all conscientious objectors.

Source: David R. Sowell, Archives & Manuscripts Unit, Technical Services Section, Tennessee State Archives

 

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