Ohio History Journal

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Ohio's Best: The Mobilization of the Fourth

Infantry, Ohio National Guard, in 1917


In World War I, the United States created and sent to France a massive

army which effectively turned the tide of the conflict against Germany.

Although the American forces were built up from an indispensable cadre

of Regular U.S. Army troops and professional officers, the National

Guard also played an important part. Two of the first four American di-

visions to reach France in 1917 and, eventually, 40 percent of the entire

American Expeditionary Forces were made up of National Guard units.

There can be no doubt that the National Guard made a major contribution

to the Allied victory in 1918. Nevertheless, the American mobilization en-

countered many difficulties, and the forces in existence at the outset were

by no means ready for immediate combat.

One relatively well-prepared National Guard unit was Ohio's Fourth In-

fantry Regiment, redesignated the 166th Infantry while in federal service.

Based in the Columbus area, the Fourth probably was the best regiment

in the Ohio Guard in 1917. Due to its strong qualifications in several cat-

egories, it received the distinction of joining the prestigious 42nd "Rain-

bow" Division organized by Douglas MacArthur. This led to its landing

in France in November 1917, well before the main American forces were

ready. But the Fourth still fell short of professional standards, demon-

strating the training problems inherent in the militia system.

Several important reforms had begun to increase the military value of

the National Guard since the turn of the century, but these had not yet tak-

en full effect in 1917. Until this period the states had held exclusive au-

thority over their militia organizations in peacetime, retaining some con-

trol even when they were mobilized for federal service. Critics such as

Emory Upton argued that the Guard would never attain adequate standards

of military efficiency under state control and would be unready for use-

ful war service without extended periods of remedial preparation. The

chaotic results of the Spanish-American War mobilization in 1898 un-

derlined this position. In theory, the division of military authority between





David G. Thompson is a Ph.D. candidate in military history at The Ohio State University.