The National Lancers has a long and distinguished history as a volunteer troop of militia cavalry. The Lancers were organized on 31 October 1836 at the request of Gov. Edward Everett. While the ostensible reason to organize the National Lancers was as the governor’s mounted ceremonial escort; the Lancers, as volunteer militia, was also charged with enforcing the law and defending the Commonwealth from invasion and insurrection. The unit’s designation reflected its organization as light cavalry, equipped and uniformed similarly to the Polish Lancers of the Napoleonic Army.
The initial strength was 64 officers and troopers made up of men who either owned their own horses or worked with horses. Each trooper was required to furnish his own mount; the troop issued uniforms and the state provided sabers and pistols. While the uniforms were ornate, membership in the National Lancers was not restricted to the upper classes, unlike other elite volunteer militia companies.
On 1 November 1836, the day after the order was signed organizing the National Lancers, the unit met and adopted a charter, which shortened and later became the troop motto "Union, Liberty and the Laws."
In 1837, the Lancers escorted Gov. Everett to the Harvard commencement; the troop performed this duty well into the 1960’s. During the years prior to the Civil War, the National Lancers practiced their horsemanship, provided escorts to the governor and visiting dignitaries and maintained order during riots.
In 1845, the National Lancers adopted their present uniform -- a red tunic with a blue plastron and blue breeches adorned with the "czapka," the Polish lancer shako. In 1852, the unit was redesignated as Company A, 1st Battalion of Light Dragoons. However, the unit kept its distinctive designation as the National Lancers.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Lancers organized two war service troops -- Companies C and D, 1st Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry. Younger Lancers, along with new recruits, rode off to fight with the Army of the Potomac taking part in campaigns in South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. During the Boston Draft Riot in July 1863, the National Lancers, in it’s home guard role, helped put down the rioting and stopped a mob from seizing the guns and armory of the Boston Light Artillery.
After the Civil War, the National Lancers returned to its drills, summer camps, and escort duties. While it was a military organization, the National Lancers was also a social organization. In addition to dinners, horse shows, and other social events, the Lancers visited other elite militia organizations in New Orleans, Washington, DC, Richmond, Charleston and Cleveland.
The Lancers were not called for service in the Spanish American War in 1898 since the Army did not need additional cavalry. In June 1916, as part of the 1st Squadron of Cavalry, Massachusetts National Guard, the National Lancers mustered into Federal service and deployed to Texas to patrol the border with Mexico. For four months, Lancers trained on the hot, dusty Texas plains. In November 1916, the troop was mustered out of Federal service.
The National Lancers returned to their home station in Boston’s Commonwealth Armory and resumed their weekly drills but not for long. With the declaration of war in April 1917, the troop informally became a fulltime unit; new recruits and remounts were trained, additional weapons and equipment were issued, and officers and NCO’s were busy preparing for the call of Federal service. In July, the troop was mustered into Federal service. However, the Lancers received the news that they, along with the rest of the 1st squadron were to be dismounted and reorganized as a machinegun battalion for the new 26th Division, which was organized from National Guard units from every state in New England.
On 17 August 1917, the Lancers were redesignated as Company A, 102d Machine Gun Battalion, 26th Division. The 26th was the first complete US Army division to arrive in France and participated in six campaigns. Lancers supported the 51st Brigade, 26th "Yankee" Division composed of the 101st and 102d Infantry Regiments. The 26th returned to the U.S. in April 1919 and was demobilized at Camp Devens, Mass.
By March 1920, the National Lancers had reorganized as Troop A, 1st Separate Squadron of Cavalry and in November 1921 was redesignated as Troop A, 110th Cavalry, Massachusetts National Guard. Weekly drills resumed along with the 15 days of summer camp. Training was much more serious. The National Guard had become soldiers during it’s service on the Mexican border in 1916 and had been bloodied in combat on the Western Front in France in World War I.
The National Lancers of Troop A was virtually a new unit, mostly new recruits with a smattering of old troopers who had served in Texas and had fought in France. There was little time for ceremonies and escort duties that took up a great deal of time before 1916.
A group of veterans of the National Lancers decided to form two troops of Lancers. Troop A remained in the National Guard. However, a ceremonial troop, outside of the militia, was formed in the 1920’s. Just as during the Civil War when there were three Lancers troops, two on active duty and one in Boston in militia status, the new Lancer organization would consist of a National Guard troop and a military-type organization devoted exclusively to participating in parades and ceremonies.
The National Guard troop continued as cavalry until 1940 when the unit was reorganized as Battery A, 180th Field Artillery. The National Guard Lancers served in the Americal Division in the Pacific Theater during World War II and resumed its National Guard status after the war in the 180th Field Artillery Battalion and later in the 101st Field Artillery. Affixed to the National Lancers colors are the 16 campaign streamers for the service during the Civil War and World War I.
The ceremonial National Lancers continued their activities up to the 1960’s. The unit began new traditions by participating in the reenactment of the ride of Paul Revere every Patriot’s Day and by riding in parades all over Massachusetts. However, the Lancers wanted a formal military status and petitioned the state legislature for many years in an attempt to rejoin the state militia. The efforts of COL, later Major General, Dino DiCarlo, the National Lancers commander for many years, paid off on 6 July 1964 when Gov. Endicott Peabody signed into law the act admitting the National Lancers into the Massachusetts Organized Militia.
Under the command of Brigadier General Mario DiCarlo, the National Lancers continues it‚s activities as the ceremonial cavalry troop of the Massachusetts Militia. Under its current alignment, the National Lancers may assist the National Guard in search and rescue. The current Lancer organization consists of a squadron with two troops (Troops A and B). A third troop (Troop C) exists for those who love working with horses and wish to perform stall and general repair duties but do not wish to join or cannot join the Lancers until some future date.
In July 2004, the National Lancers were ordered into active state service to guard Camp Curtis Guild during the Democratic National Convention.