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Johnny Vardeman: Horse Guards militia group was horseless in early years
The Candler Horse Guards are pictured in the early 1900s posing on their mounts in front of the old City Hall when it was at the corner of Main and Broad Streets (now Jesse Jewell Parkway). The city hall was destroyed years later in the 1936 tornado.

The Candler Horse Guards was a Hall County militia group that despite its name went without its own horses for a while.

The military unit was organized officially with 40 men in January 1901 with Dr. G.T. Canning its first captain. It was named, naturally, for Gov. A.D. Candler of Gainesville.

Over the years it morphed into various versions, helping out in disasters, marching in parades, escorting dignitaries and assorted other guard-duty type operations.

At first it operated on a shoestring as it received no state or federal aid and very little local financial support. Members often were holding fund-raisers or appealing to the public for donations.

One of the Horse Guards’ first significant accomplishments was coming to the aid of victims in the 1903 tornado that killed more than 100 people on the southside of Gainesville. It performed guard duty and rescue and recovery efforts, which earned praise from local citizens as well as state and local officials.

The Guards, which became part of the Georgia Horse Guards and Troop F, First Cavalry of Georgia, finally got some government support with a supply of Kreg-Jorghensen magazine rifles and 1,500 rounds of ammunition.

The 80-caliber rifles had a range of 2,500 yards and were described as “humane guns” that would disable the enemy, but supposedly few would die from their wounds.

They also finally got other equipment and uniforms with Capt. W.E. Pillow in charge. The Guards weren’t made up of just ordinary boys picked up off the street. Most were prominent citizens, lawyers and other professionals with well-known names such as Pilgrims, Dorseys, Hosches, Quinlans, Friersons, Palmours, McEvers, Clopton, Crow, Parks and Jackson.

The Horse Guards drilled at least once a week and often went to camp, sometimes at Chattahoochee Park where American Legion Post 7 is now located, but other times at Savannah, St. Simons Island or other sites.

It conducted a sham battle with another county’s militia at Chattahoochee Park in 1903, charging spectators money to raise funds for its equipment and travel. People complained when the Horse Guards sponsored a fundraising carnival on the public square, and the event lost money.

In 1904, when former Confederate Gen. James Longstreet died, the Horse Guards escorted his body and guarded it while it lay in the Hall County Courthouse rotunda. They marched in a parade for President Theodore Roosevelt in Atlanta in 1905.

The Guards’ armory was sometimes in buildings on the Gainesville square, including the third floor of the Hudson House at the corner of Washington and Main, the building that now houses Dress Up!

In 1906, 9th District Rep. Tom Bell asked Congress for $25,000 to build a permanent armory, but it apparently never materialized.

Candler Horse Guards got more active in later years. A detachment went to the Mexican border in 1915 to help defend United States interests during the Mexican Revolution. When they returned home, Hall County residents were urged to turn out to welcome them, a newspaper scolding citizens for not showing more appreciation for the troop.

During World War I, the Horse Guards prepared for various assignments, including active duty in the regular army. But in July 1916, 20 of the local men failed their physicals, and 20 more had to be recruited to replace them.

The militia finally got its own horses in February 1917. Thirty-two horses and equipment were delivered by the federal government, and 57 more arrived that April.

The Gainesville News commented that the Horse Guards had never had their own horses, and it “... always had been a considerable hindrance to the organization.”

The unit grew to 76 men by July 1917 with G.E. Pilgrim as captain and Ralph Hosch second lieutenant. It charged $3 per year dues, and members were fined a quarter for each absence.

World War I patriotism apparently inspired more community support. When Troop F was assigned to Silver Lake Camp in Chamblee for a three-to-four-month stay, local women sent them off with box lunches at the train station. The militiamen also pulled guard duty at such sites as Tallulah Falls Dam and key bridges.

Some of the Horse Guards fought overseas in the regular army. They became less active after the world war, changing to an organization called the Home Guards.

Apparently, the state’s National Guard absorbed remaining members and recruited others when the age limit was raised to 45.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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