The South Carolina State Guard has an illustrious and distinctive history dating back to 1775 during the war with Great Britain. Former Commanders and Brigade Commanders include Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens, Thomas Sumter and William Washington who recaptured the South from British occupation in concert with Continental forces under Major General Nathanael Greene. The frigate South Carolina commanded by the naval component of the State Guard was responsible for capturing tons of gunpowder from the British to supply the state and Continental Armies in the early stages of the war. State Guard troops were instrumental in defeating the Spanish and securing Florida in the early 1800s and they served with distinction in the War with Mexico and the Spanish-American War. The outbreak of World War II in Europe pushed the U.S. government and military to prepare for possible conflict. If the U.S. entered the war, the National Guard would be ordered to active duty overseas, leaving no military force at home to maintain order.
Because of this, the National Defense Act of 1916 was amended on October 21, 1940, to allow the establishment of state defense forces. The South Carolina Legislature's enabling act to establish a state defense force was an Act Establishing the South Carolina Defense Force, signed into law by Governor Burnet R. Maybank on March 21, 1941.
The South Carolina Defense Force (SCDF) was organized into a headquarters, four regiments of three battalions each, and at least one independent battalion. Initially those wishing to enlist or be commissioned had to be between the ages of 21 and 55, in good health, and of good character. The minimum age quickly fell to 17 and there are indications that a few men served at an even younger age. The uniform was to be Confederate gray. This was changed to standard G.I. Olive Drab by 1943. The initial armament was the M1917 Enfield rifle, later changed to a mix of rifles, shotguns, Thompson submachine guns, and a few larger weapons.
The men of the SCDF were volunteers, serving without pay unless called into active service by the governor. The authorized strength was 518 officers and 6,035 enlisted men. According to the Adjutant General's report of 2 July 1941 there were 191 officers and 3,060 enlisted men enrolled as of June 30, 1941. (Among the officers was Strom Thurmond, then a second lieutenant in Company L (Edgefield), 3d Battalion, 1st Regiment). By the spring of 1942, the number enrolled had risen to over 6,000.
The mission of the SCDF—renamed the South Carolina State Guard (SCSG) in January 1944—was to defend against invasion along the South Carolina coast and assist local officials in providing internal security, including search and rescue. While invasion by sea was unlikely, there was a fear that the Germans might land forces by submarine. The SCDF was tasked with holding off enemy forces until troops could be brought in from Fort Jackson.
Most of the time the men drilled and conducted defensive exercises to prepare them in the event an invasion did occur. Occasionally they were called out to provide security for crashed aircraft or after natural disaster. The last official activation of the SCSG was to provide security in Greenville after the Ideal Laundry fire in November 1946. The last known wartime unit, Company E (Greenville), 2d Battalion, 2d Regiment, was mustered out on 8 August 1947.
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