Oldest active National Guard unit celebrates 285th anniversary

By Maj. Holli Nelson | West Virginia National Guard Public Affairs | Feb. 14, 2020

FAIRMONT, W.Va. —

On Feb. 17th, the West Virginia Army National Guard (WVARNG) will observe the 285th anniversary of the establishment of the first militia company in what is now West Virginia.

On Feb. 17, 1735, Morgan Morgan was commissioned to the rank of captain to lead a new company of riflemen, known as the First Virginia Regiment, in what is now present day Berkeley County. This company is better known today as the 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery Regiment.

The 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery Regiment, whose lineage led to the founding of the present day West Virginia Army National Guard, is recognized as the oldest active National Guard unit and the longest continuously serving unit in all of the U.S. Army. The West Virginia National Guard was formally established by the legislature on Feb. 22, 1889.

“Now more than ever, the significance of the West Virginia National Guard is on full display as our service members are engaged in conflicts around the globe all while simultaneously conducting our homeland response mission here in West Virginia,” said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard. “Even before West Virginia was a state, loyal militiamen gathered together to serve a cause greater than themselves. In a time where our Nation continues to face adversaries who seek to divide us, the proud and patriotic men and women of the West Virginia Guard will be prepared to protect and defend the Mountain State and the United States, just as we were in 1775.”

In 1775, then Gen. George Washington issued a call for “Virginia Volunteer Riflemen” by stating, “Let me plant my banner in West Augusta (modern day West Virginia) and I will surround it with fighting men who will drive the invaders from our land.”

Washington was gathering Continental troops for the Revolutionary War and in response to his request, multiple companies of volunteer Soldiers made the 600-mile trek to Boston, better known as the “Bee Line March to Cambridge,” and reported to Washington, forming the First Virginia Regiment, American Continental Troop. On June 14, 1775, the American Continental Army was formed, and from all the companies that formed, only the 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery Regiment, WVARNG remain active.

In 1889, the unit became part of the new, officially formed West Virginia National Guard’s First Infantry, which represented the northern part of the state.

This regiment has served in every conflict the United States has been engaged in, including the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, the Korean War and more recently, the Persian Gulf and Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In addition to holding a battle streamer dating back to the American Revolution, the regiment has also supported several state large-scale disaster response missions including the Farmington Mine disaster of 1968, the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster, and the 1977 devastating floods in southern West Virginia.

Currently, some members of the 1-201st are serving in the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield with the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team.

“Today celebrates the 285th birthday of the ‘First West Virginia,’ and what an honor it is to command the oldest continuous active unit and the only surviving company of the original U.S. Army formed in 1775,” said Maj. Christopher Shamblin, commander of the 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery Regiment. “I can’t state enough how amazing it is to be part of an organization with so much history and wonderful Citizen-Soldiers. It is vital that while in my care, the battalion and the Soldier’s families are always ready to answer the call when needed. We must make sure the lineage of the 201st never dies and the battalion continues to write history long info the future.”