The Centennial Legion
Of Historic Military Commands

The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. It was on that date that the Colonies became free and independent States. Ever since, the Fourth of July has been celebrated as the Birth of our Nation.

As the One Hundredth Anniversary of that event drew closer, a group of citizens of the City of Philadelphia started meeting to organize a commemorative celebration. On March 3, 1871 Congress approved the planned events.

In January 1876, Major George W. McLean who was the Commander of the Old Guard of the City of New York, Captain Robert C. Gilchrist who was then the Commander of the Washington Light Infantry of Charleston, South Carolina, and Major John W. Ryan, Commanding Officer of the State Fencibles of Philadelphia, suggested a parade on July Fourth should include at least one historic military command from each of the Thirteen Original States. This suggestion met with instant approval.

The Governor of Pennsylvania issued official invitations to the Governors of these states requesting their cooperation. On July 4, 1876 the parade consisted of a formation, which, up to that time, had never been attempted. Each state was represented by one of its own ancient military commands. "The Centennial Legion" was born.

Following is a list of the original commands together with their location and year of origin:

  • Fifth Regiment Infantry  Maryland  1774
  • Fayetteville Independent Lt. Inf. North Carolina 1793
  • Boston Light Infantry Massachusetts 1798
  • Washington Light Infantry South Carolina 1807
  • State Fencibles Infantry Pennsylvania 1813
  • New Haven Grays Connecticut 1816
  • First Light Infantry Regiment Rhode Island 1818
  • Old Guard City of New York New York 1826
  • Norfolk Blues Artillery Virginia 1828
  • The Clinch Rifles Georgia 1852
  • The Amoskeag Veterans New Hampshire 1854
  • Phil Kearney Guards New Jersey 1868
  • American Rifles Delaware 1875

The first Commander of the Centennial Legion was Gen. Harry Heth of Virginia, who took office following the parade on July 4th, 1876. Reference is made to description given by Gen. James W. Latta, the Adjutant General of the State of Pennsylvania; "...the military event of the National Moment was the Parade of the Centennial Legion on the Fourth of July..."

The CLHMC is the only organization of its character in the world. It seeks to perpetuate the Military Commands that still exist, together with their successors, in one body, pledged to keep alive their ancient traditions and to preserve the records of their Military Achievements.

The organization fosters patriotism and encourages National Defense. It is bound to uphold the national institutions of the United States in their integrity and to maintain a spirit of brotherly union and benevolence among our armed forces. It recognizes and honors all citizens who served or are serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, Reserve Corps and the National Guard.

One of its principal objects is to teach and impress respect for our flag and to the Constitution as well as obedience to constituted authority. It is dedicated to uphold Allegiance and Loyalty to the United States of America and to defend it against all enemies.

Following the observances of the One Hundredth, or Centennial, observance of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the CLHMC took on a wide field of activities. Units of the CLHMC were in the forefront of practically every patriotic exercise that took place in the Original Thirteen States. During the planning stages for the Sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, in 1926 the CLHMC took on an even wider field of functions.

The City of Philadelphia, the site where the events of 1876 took place, invited the people of the world to join in the celebration. The Mayor of Philadelphia requested that the Centennial Legion assemble again. It was soon discovered that only eight of the Original Military Companies were able to participate. They were from the following states: Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina. In order to insure the success of the celebration, the Mayor then invited all of the Ancient Military Companies from the Thirteen Original States, and all of the Historical Military Units responded.

In June of 1925 at a meeting of the State Fencibles, at which members of the Centennial Legion were guests, it was decided that the CLHMC would function better with an Annual Slate of Officers. Col. Thomas S. Lanard was elected Commander.

The Sesquicentennial Independence Exposition, commemorating the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of American Independence extended from June 1st to December 1st, 1926. Flag Day, to commemorate the adoption of the Stars and Stripes, was observed on June 14th. It concluded with a mammoth parade of all the Ancient and Historic Military Commands. This Military spectacle was reviewed by the Governors of the Thirteen Original States.

On June 16, 1926 the Declaration Chamber of Independence Hall was set aside for a meeting of the Centennial Legion. As its original founders made history for the CLHMC in 1876, so did its successors make history in 1926. At this meeting, which was arranged by special permission of the City of Philadelphia, a permanent organization was perfected. By-laws were adopted and all those Historic Military Commands who accepted invitations to the celebration were elected members.

The by-laws have been amended from time to time. Over the years, members insisted that a corporation should be formed to manage and control the affairs of the organization. Therefore, the State of Maryland granted a charter on December 14, 1935 to "The Centennial Legion of Historic Military Commands".

Since it was instituted in 1876, the Centennial Legion has gone through many changes. In addition to the Annual Election, its Board of Directors composed of military men from each of the Original Thirteen States meets frequently during the year in fostering the objective of the organization. It has been hailed in the Congressional Record, in the proceedings of the 85th Congress, Second Session, as a composite of the citizenry representing every epoch of this country's history.

In addition to Gen. Harry Heth and Col. Thomas Lanard, the following distinguished men have also served as Commanders:

Maj. Wellington Wells

Maj. Everett H. Kandarian

BG Joseph G. Reynolds

Col. Edward H. Snyder

Col. James Maloney

Col. Stephen F. Kovach

Col. Charles E. Lockwood

MG Aylwyn P. Williams

Col. James W. Tingley, Jr.

BG Frank A. Hancock

Col. John J. Rizza

Col. Edward L. Milam, III

Cpt. Harry S. Burr

Col. George G. Boram

Col. Laurence J. DiStefano, Jr.

Ltc. Donald P. Sherman

BG Matthew G. Cusack

Col. Peter J. Sposito, Jr.

Cpt. Augustus J. Migell

BG James E. Clair

MG Henry W. Theiling

Col. Wellington B. Searls

BG Eli E. White

Ltc. Matthew G. Cusack, Jr.

Ltc. Patrick F. Zito

BG Raymond A. Thomas

Col. Robert N. Sheldon

Ltc. George Rosenblum

Col. James C. Nicoll, Jr.


Ltc . James C. Wise

BG Pasquale P. Romano


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