The word “minuteman” often conjures images of a Revolutionary War-era militia member, funny shoes, floppy tricorne hat and a big ol’ musket or rifle and all. Some folks even think minuteman is just a synonym for a member of the militia. The truth is actually a little different, and what they minutemen were and how they trained can actually teach us modern patriots a thing or two about a lifestyle of disciplined readiness.
So in today’s article, we’ll be taking a look back at our ancestral countrymen who were the real deal; who they were, what they trained for and how and how they equipped themselves. And we’ll also analyze what their methods have in common with modern self-sufficiency procedures.
So grab your musket, powder and ball, and read on!
Who Were the Minutemen?
Contrary to the most popular conception of Minutemen as simply colonial American militia soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War, Minutemen actually saw their prototypical formation far earlier, around 1645. Yes, they were themselves militia members, but were a separate force drawn from the standing body. Let me explain from the beginning.
Way, way back then before the U.S.A. and its mighty military was even a figment of the Founding Fathers’ imaginations, colonies and towns had to provide for their own organized defense most of the time. This is was accomplished by raising a militia, a paramilitary force simply consisting of able-bodied local citizens, which typically were responsible for their own provisioning, meaning they had to furnish their own weapons, kit, clothing and more to be able to join.
What a bummer! You sign up to fight and don’t even get provided with a cool gun. Oh well. At any rate, typically all males (who were of good health as mentioned) between 16 and 60 years of age had serve, and muster when called on to do so. As a general rule of thumb, local militias were all drawn from members of the community, so when serving in a militia you’d wind up fighting and training alongside friends, neighbors and relatives.
As you can probably imagine, militia service was no picnic, and was often a very ragtag affair. The esprit de corps of a given militia unit and its efficiency at arms varied wildly according to the training (or lack thereof) and motivation of its members. Also, mustering the militia to battle-readiness from the inception of a threat to the colony was a ponderous and grabasstic affair.
The officers of the militia recognized the need for what we would call today a quick-reaction force: a unit of armed men, drawn from the standing body of the militia, that could be summoned and deployed in very short order, ideally as little as a half-hour’s time. This propensity for rapid mustering and deployment lent itself to the term “Minutemen,” as they were said to be ready to move out in a minute’s notice from the time they got the order.
How Did the Minutemen Differ from Standard Militia?
It is perhaps easiest to think of the Minutemen as elite militia, and the term is not far wrong, but it also does not quite sum up what these guys were all about. Minutemen were chosen for their strength, enthusiasm and loyalty; it was rare that a Minuteman was over the age of thirty, and they had to show the grit and motivation to want to be a part of this objectively superior fighting force.
While their ranks were comprised of members drawn and formed from standing militia, the Minutemen enjoyed a significant degree of separation from the militia proper, with their own officer corps who were selected from among the ranks of their fellows.
This separatism continued in the way they were organized and operated: for most Minuteman units, orders were not edicts from an officer far removed from his troops. Instead, most decision making was done by consensus, with the officer discussing the mission and the approach to it with his subordinates.
This closeness greatly enhanced the cohesion of Minuteman units to an even greater degree than the militia.
Compared to the rest of the militia, Minutemen trained regularly, anywhere from several times a year to several times a month when conflict was brewing. A standard militia troop would be fortunate to assemble in training more than once or twice a year.
An average Minuteman’s equipment was superior, also. Compare to the motley array of rifles and primitive shotguns employed by militia forces, who if you will recall had to supply their own arms and ammunition, some colonies actually furnished muskets or high quality rifles for their minuteman companies, complete with bayonets which conventional “civilian” arms of the day typically lacked. A lack of a bayonet was a severe disadvantage in close quarter battle typical of the day.
Their uniqueness was also reflected in the type of training the Minutemen received. Compared to regular army and some militia units, Minutemen trained to their strengths, which did not include standing in the middle of an open field and plugging away at their opposing force before committing to a suicidal frontal charge with fixed bayonets.
Instead, with many of their officers and senior troopers being veterans of a variety of homegrown conflicts and Indian Wars prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the emphasis on unconventional tactics was strong, with Minutemen training and deploying as harassers, skirmishers and sharpshooters to attack the flanks of the enemy.
The Minutemen served as valuable security forces and frontline troops during and prior to the Revolutionary War, and their legacy lives on in song and print today. Of more interest to our purposes, is what we can learn from them to enhance our own readiness and create a strong culture among our peers.
Why Should We Emulate the Minuteman in Spirit?
Frankly, a significant part of a Minuteman’s mission statement is a perfect analogue for a modern prepper’s: to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice, with equipage and arms in good working order and packed, the minuteman himself in shape and fit, ready to meet the challenge head-on.
He is physically hard, his attitude is one of competence and determination and he maintains proficiency with his weapons and tools that enable him to succeed.
When called to act with his fellows, the Minuteman knows the man on his left and right; they are his brothers, cousins, neighbors and fellows. They trust him, and he them; they have sweated and bled together in training so that they will not bleed in the extreme of combat. Their bond was forged over a mutual motivation, more an ethical obligation to stand and protect all around them that they love, shoulder to shoulder.
A minuteman knows that he must be adaptable, light, fast and flexible, for the crux of his task will often revolve around speed and quick reactions as the key absolute. He may be called to march fast and hard in the summer or winter, over road or through woods. He must have the skills and confidence to tackle whatever challenges come his way, live under the stars or wherever he is quartered with only the things in his pack.
In summary, it sounds an awful lot like a well-rounded and switched on prepper, doesn’t it?
Becoming the Modern Minuteman
This classical archetype is a useful template to model the bulk of our own efforts by. The only major difference is that we decide “when” we get the call to move out, and we are running away from trouble, not into it. Otherwise, we will look to three key indicators of success on our journey to become the modern minute man.
The first is ourselves, specifically our conditioning and skills. Both must be honed, refined and constantly sharpened to maintain proficiency. The Minutemen lived by a creed that required them to be ready not just to leave home but to execute a crucial mission at a moment’s notice. It is tough to call yourself ready if you are incompetent or not in as good a shape as possible.
Next, we must look to our friends, relatives and any others who share our values and concerns about preparation and strengthen our bonds with them. A lone person may have a hard time affecting or enduring a bad situation but a group of like-minded and similarly conditioned and trained people, even if it is only one other, will stand a much greater chance of mission success. The mission in our case is survival.
Lastly, we must choose our tools and gear with care and deliberation. They must be reliable, lightweight and effective in any environment we find ourselves in. We must also take care to keep our load as light as possible lest we become encumbered by things we do not need to survive.
It sounds like a tall order, but the light, fast generalist approach to prepping embodied by the modern minuteman is actually far more accessible (and cheaper!) than you might imagine.
Below you’ll find a loose guide that will give you some steerage on becoming your very own modern Minuteman. This is not necessarily the way, only a way, and I guess you could say my way. Just like our forefathers, there was no hard-and-fast rulebook or program to become a Minuteman, so I cannot in good conscience put a modern spin on a set of standards that likely did not get codified in any meaningful fashion.
See the sections below for my recommendations.
1. The Self – Skills and Fitness
Don’t deceive yourself like so many preppers do with nothing but study and purchasing needed gear; a real survival situation will test the mettle of heart, brain and body. You must make sure all are ready and since our body carries all three it had better be up to the challenge. Additionally, a body that experiences less physical stresses will “leak” less mental stress into the mind.
Whatever fitness regimen you follow, make sure you are consistent, and emphasizing both strength and conditioning, and watch your diet! It is very tough to outwork a terrible diet. Your body may become your only toolset and mode of transportation. Make sure you are taking care of it.
Regarding your skills, think like a modern MacGyver, or a Renaissance Man: you want to be pretty passable at most essential skills and damned good at a couple. In a survival situation, the ability to adapt and task switch will likely spell the difference between life and death.
You should be working skills like first-aid, navigation, improvisation, outdoor living, self defense with gun, blade or fists, sanitation, repair and more. Focus on the most often used and most important skills first, then move on to others. Don’t take up ham radio operation if you don’t have a set and don’t know anyone who does and you don’t know how to put on a tourniquet or build a sustainable, controllable fire. Priorities…
2. Peers and Partners – Our Fellow Minutemen
When looking to solidify a truly tight-knit, reliable group of survivors, think quality over quantity. I would rather have one stud at my back when things go sour than 100 jacklegs. You might know plenty of people, even be friends with them, that “prep” as an excuse to do fun things and buy fun stuff. These pretenders are not going to be Minutemen, and you will probably not convert them.
Remember our historical brethren; they were motivated, self-starting, loyal to a fault. Look for those hardy souls that need a nudge or push, and lift them up. Train and grow together. Challenge each other. Plan as a unit, however big or small that might be to render mutual aid, strength and security to the whole.
On note of caution: take care that you fellows can actually contribute to the group effort. Charity and caring for those less able is fine, but you must be discriminating when it comes to your choosing of fellows to potentially train with and commit. In this case 1+1 must equal 3; the sum must be greater than the individual components.
When the time comes, you should already have multiple, flexible and redundant plans in place so that each Minuteman knows what his responsibilities are as well as what the rendezvous points are, including alternate and contingency points.
Remember that speed and quick reactions were essential to the Minutemen, and they are both essential to surviving a crisis today. Make sure everything you do, every plan, technique and piece of kit is designed to help you execute and move while minimizing delay as much as possible.
3. Musket, Pack and Kit – The Modern Minuteman’s Equipment
You likely already have a goodly stash of provision and a small haul of equipment if you have been prepping for any length of time. If you don’t now is the time to start. There have been many general packing lists written for packing BOBs, GHBs and all sorts of EDC kits and other assorted luggage for the purposes of SHTF survival. Go back over those lists, but this time be very, very critical when it comes to cutting all but the most essential items.
If you can substitute a lighter version for what you have, do it. Be ruthless in your purging of excess ounces and grams. If your skills are where they should be you will be able to do more with less gear.
The other critical factor for Minuteman-readiness is having your equipment, all of it, squared away. Keep it clean, tested, packed tight, and ready to go in an instant.
Your weapons should all be kept close at hand and as ready to use as your family situation allows. Even if your plan is to bug in or for your fellows to meet at your location the very, very last thing a minuteman should have to do is go searching and rummaging for needed gear or weapons
This level of readiness need not be taxing. It only requires a commitment to maintaining and checking your stuff periodically, having a place for everything, and keeping everything in its place. Similarly, don’t allow yourself to do anything great or small that would hinder your from responding to any threat quickly.
This could be ditching sandals and flip-flops as they will rob your of mobility and sure footing. It means abstaining from too much drink or other substances than impair your reflexes and judgment, or lull you into too deep a sleep to wake from. It might mean keeping one ear free when using headphones or earbuds, or keeping the volume low on the radio in the car.
The Minutemen were an elite group of volunteers who were motivated to be the best defenders of their communities they could be, men who through discipline and strict adherence to best practices were later known as one of the most capable and impressive quick-reaction forces of their era.
We can learn from their example, and though we may not be kicking the British out of our country, the skills, ethics and procedures of the historic Minutemen stand as a call to action to step your game up today.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.