Heritage
 
Photo: Soldiers of the D.C. Militia 260th Coastal Artillery
at Ft. Washington operating a disappearing gun.
For over 200 years, the District of Columbia National Guard has held the vital responsibility ​​of protecting the Nation's Capital.  Through times of peace and times of war, the D.C. National Guard has honored its commitments to the nation and the District of Columbia.  The D.C. National Guard has been there from the fields of France and the beaches of Normandy, to the skies above D.C. on 9/11, and is still there, ready and vigilant.  Service in the D.C. National Guard is part of a long tradition of dedication, bravery and valor. Our Guardsmen are connected to these Soldiers and Airmen of the past not just through the flags they carry or the patches they wear, but through their commitment to serve their community. Day-in and day-out D.C. National Guardsmen are writing the new history of the D.C. National Guard. Their daily dedication and commitment to facing any challenge our nation demands will fill the pages of history like the pages contain within. 

Learn the history of the Capital Guardians--Protecting the Capital and Defending the Nation Since 1802 by exploring the history section of the D.C. National Guard website or visit the online D.C. Capital Guardian Museum.

Want to view history first hand? Visit the museum in person at 2001 East Capital Street, Southeast, Washington, D.C. 20003.

 

​Francis Scott Key and the National Anthem

The war of 1812 would produce an American treasure and one of the most famous Veterans of the D.C. National Guard: Francis Scott Key. Francis Scott Key was a Lieutenant with the Georgetown Artillery during the War of 1812. During the British bombardment of Baltimore Harbor, he asked and was allowed to be sent to Maryland to negotiate a prisoner exchange. After the negotiations, the ship’s commander felt he had seen too much and needed to stay on the ship through the rest of the attack. As he watched the flag fly above Fort McHenry, he wrote the poem that is now the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner—our national anthem.​​​ ​​​​

Commanding General

The D.C. Commanding General is the senior military officer and commander of the D.C. National Guard.

However, the Congressional Act of 1871 placed a governor at the head of the District of Columbia and the D.C. Militia, and from 1871 to 1887, there was no Commanding General. In 1887, the position of governor was eliminated and the Commissioner from the government was established with five appointed commissioners and the positioI of Commanding General returned.

As of today, there have been 23 Commanding Generals of the D.C. National Guard.

Rank Name Appointment Date of Relief
Brig. Gen. John Mason Jun. 28, 1802 1811
Maj. Gen. John Peter Van Ness 1811 1814
Vacant 1814 1827
Maj. Gen. Walter Smith 1827 1829
Maj. Gen. Walter Jones 1829 1847
Brig. Gen. Roger C. Weightman 1847 1849
Maj. Gen. Walter Jones 1849 1859
Brig. Gen. Roger C. Weightman 1860 1871
Brig. Gen. Alberet Ordway 1887 1897
Maj. Gen. George H. Harries 1897 1913
Brig. Gen. William E. Harvey Jun. 4, 1913 Aug. 17, 1917
Brig. Gen. Richard D. Simms Jan. 18, 1918 Mar. 31, 1920
Brig. Gen. Anton Stephan April 28, 1920 April 10, 1934
Col. John W. Oehman (Acting) 1934 1938
Brig. Gen. Albert Lyman Cox 1938 1949
Maj. Gen. William H. Abendroth 1949 1967
Maj. Gen. Charles L. Southward 1967 1974
Maj. Gen. Cunningham C. Bryant Aug. 4, 1974 Dec. 5, 1981
Maj. Gen. Calvin G. Franklin Dec. 8, 1981 Sept. 30, 1991
Maj. Gen. Russell C. Davis Dec. 1991 Dec. 1995
Maj. Gen. Warren L. Freeman Dec. 18, 1995 Dec. 31, 2002
Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr. June 27, 2003 June 20, 2008
Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz Jun. 27, 2008 Jan. 20, 2017
Brig. Gen. William J. Walker Jan. 20, 2017 Present

Notable D.C. Guardsmen
  • John Mason, son of George Mason, a Founding Father of the United States, Mason was the first commanding general of the D.C. Militia, appointed personally by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802.
  • John Peter Van Ness, was an American politician who was a United States Representative from New York and who served as the tenth Mayor of Washington, D.C. and the second Commanding General of the District of Columbia Militia.
  • Francis Scott Key was a lieutenant with the Georgetown Field Artillery of the D.C. Militia. During the British bombardment in Baltimore Barbour, he wrote the poem that is now the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner—our national anthem.
  • Roger C. Weightman was an American politician, civic leader, and printer. He was the eighth Mayor of Washington, D.C. from 1824 to 1827 and served as Commanding General of the District of Columbia Militia from 1847 to 1849.
  • Frank Lackland served as a Private in the D.C. Militia from 1905 to 1911. He later became a Brigadier General in the Army Air Corps. Today, Lackland Air Force Base, the “Gateway to the Air Force,” is named after him. 
  • Albert Lyman Cox was a College Football All-Southern Team end for the North Carolina Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina. He was elected as a Democrat in the North Carolina House of Representatives and in 1916, Cox was appointed North Carolina state superior judge.
  • Benjamin O. Davis, the first African-American general officer in the Army, served in the D.C. National Guard before joining the active duty Army.
  • West A. Hamilton was a dedicated Soldier and community activist who served in the Mexican War, World War I and World War II. He was a commissioned officer in a time when African-American officers were a rarity. During his career, prejudices were common and no African American had been promoted to general officer. After his retirement in 1949, Colonel Hamilton focused his attention on helping others by actively participating in several civic and educational organizations in the District of Columbia. In 1951, he was appointed as a member of the D. C. Board of Education and participated in the formulation of policies to implement the desegregation of the public schools in D.C. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan honored him at the White House and gave him an honorary promotion to Brigadier General.
  • William H. Abendroth served as Chief of the Army Division (now Director of the Army National Guard) at the National Guard Bureau from 1951 to 1955.
  • Billy Millikan, a D.C. Air National Guard pilot, broke the west-to-east-coast transcontinental record in 1954 using a borrowed F-86F Sabre. His average speed was 615 m.p.h. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1959 and assigned as 113th Wing Commander. 
  • Charles L. Southward served as the Chief of the Army Division (now Director of the Army National Guard) at the National Guard Bureau from 1964 to 1967.
  • Cunningham C. Bryant, another D.C. Army National Guardsman, became the first African American federally recognized as a general officer in the National Guard in 1971. He served as D.C. National Guard Commanding General and was inducted into the Infantry Hall of Fame in 1981. 
  • Russell C. Davis was the first African-American to serve as National Guard Bureau Chief and at the time of his retirement, Davis was the last member of the U.S. Air Force Aviation Cadet program to still be serving on active duty in the U.S. Air Force.
  • David F. Wherley Jr. At the time of the September 11 attacks in 2001, Wherley was commander of 113th Wing, the Guard unit responsible for protecting Washington, D.C. That morning, Wherley ordered his pilots, who did not launch until after the Pentagon attack, to operate weapons free, meaning that they were permitted to shoot at will.
A Home for the D.C. Guard

For a brief time, there was an armory on the National Mall where the National Archives building now stands. This building was taken over to be used as a hospital during the Civil War. The D.C. National Guard rented spaces across the city for weekly drills throughout the 19th century. Some of these spaces included rooms above Central Market, The True Reformer Building on U Street N.W., in temporary buildings built for World War I war-workers on North Capitol Street and even the old National Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. 

 

Many felt that the D.C. Guard needed a permanent home, but the debate over how to fund such a building and where it would be built lingered for decades. During the 1930s, the fervor to build an Armory reached fever pitch. The D.C. National Guard armory came together after a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Land was donated by the department of the interior, and a plan was drawn up by the Works Progress Administration. The D.C. Armory was the largest building in the Department of Defense at the time it was built in 1943. During World War II, it housed the FBI fingerprinting bureau. The building has also held an important role in the community. Over time, there have been tractor pulls and horse competitions, circuses, car shows, boxing tournaments and Georgetown University has used the Armory for their basketball games. 

 

From 1904-1976, the D.C. National Guard operated a training post in Southeast D.C. known as Camp Simms. At one point the camp was 168 acres, stretching from Alabama Avenue S.E. to the district line and had firing ranges, maintenance shops, and even a swimming pool.  With the birth of aviation, the D.C. National Guard established air fields at Bolling Field and later Andrews Field. These posts, now known as Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and Joint Base Andrews, still host D.C. National Guard facilities and units.   In 1980, the D.C. National Guard opened its Army aviation facility at Davison Army Airfield, D.C.’s first property on Fort Belvoir. Following the aviation facility was a new Regional Training Institute which opened on September 11, 2011. The newest D.C. National Guard property, a parcel of land from the District of Columbia’s Oak Hill reservation, in Laurel, Maryland, is the home of the Capital Guardian D.C. Youth ChalleNGe Academy.
The D.C. Naval Militia

From 1898-1916 the citizen-Soldiers of the D.C. National Guard included citizen-Sailors in the Naval Battalion. In 1904, the USS Puritan was loaned to the D.C. Naval Militia. It would be the largest ship employed by the D.C. Naval Militia Battalion at 290-feet-long and armed with four 12-inch guns. The USS Puritan would serve with D.C. Militia until September 14, 1909.  In 1915, the D.C. Naval Battalion established an aeronautical corps. The unit leveraged civilian experience to train aviators for the war overseas. All D.C. Militia ships were returned to active naval service during World War I, and the battalion never reformed afterward. However, D.C. law still allows for the battalion to be re-instituted.​​​ 

 

           
Headquarters, D.C. Naval Militia, on the banks of the Potomac River -- pre-WWI.    USS Fern, D.C. Naval Militia.     USS Lllawarra, D.C. Naval Militia, circa 1912.  
           
           
 USS Puritan, D.C. Naval Militia.