July 4, 1855 to July 21, 1861
The Continental Morgan Guard, or company A 31st Virginia Militia, began organizing on June 22, 1855 in Winchester, Frederick county, VA. However, they adopted the more appropriate July 4, 1855 as their birthday. The unit was named to perpetuate the honor of General Daniel Morgan of Revolutionary War fame. The first captain of the company was Hugh Holmes lee who resigned in 1856.
The unit adopted uniforms resembling the pattern of the Continental Army. The coats were made a blue wool with buff cassimire trim .
They wore white Doe skin breehes, black top boots, buff cassimire waist coats, and black tri-corner hat.s The hats were trimmed with the brass numbers 1776 on them, a powder horn device made of brass on a leather cockade, and a flowing white swan plume. They also, wore white ruffled shirts and white gloves to complete the outfit. Each member was to have this uniform with in 60 days of his election into the company. This was an expensive uniform and on April 3, 1857 the ladies of Winchester held a fair to benefit the company and enough proceeds were raised to purchase 15 new uniforms.
The second commander of the Guard was William A. Jackson; who had some previous military experience. The men of the Morgan Guard were required to attend monthly meetings, eight parades a year including the the state militia musters. "...the Guards for almost six years before the war participated in the usual observances of Washington's Birthday anniversary and the Fourth of July."
On the 4th of July 1856 the C. M. G. received a beautiful new flag made in Baltimore at cost of $50, presented by the Ladies of Winchester.
September 1857 found the Morgan Guard on a three day trip to Alexandria, VA as the guests of the Alexandria Riflemen. During the trip the men of the Guard spent a day sight seeing Washington City, visited the US Capitol and met the Secretary of War. The following day they went to Mount Vernon, VA and visited Fort Washington, MD. A meal was held there in their honor and met George Washington Parke Custis.
On June 28, 1858 Matthew Burwell Bassett (B.B.) Washington was elected Captain of the Morgan Guard.
During an event honoring George Washington's Birthday in February 1858 the C.M.G. received muskets " for the first time with powdered locks". These were quite possibly 1808/1822 Flintlock VA Armory Muskets.
July 4, 1858 the Morgan Guard took part in the Staunton 4th of July Parade with several other militia companies that would eventually be part of the 5th VA Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. September 2, 1858 found the men of the Guard in Shepherdtown, VA at the "Grand Military and Civic Barbecue" Alexander Boteler wrote of this event, " The Continental Morgan Guards, Capt. B. B. Washington, challenged the admiration of all. Their fine marching, with their many fancy evolutions attracted much attention. Capt. Washington is a gentleman and a soldier, and we do not hesitate to pronounce it the finest company in the valley of Virginia."
In August 1858 the C.M.G. was called out to be security at a hanging of a "Free mulatto" who was found guilty of killing another "free negro"
In 1859 Captain Washington was promoted to Major of the 31st Regiment and First Lieutenant James W. Haines was then elected captain.
The evening of Sunday October 16, 1859 members of the Guard were holding a Yorktown Victory Ball when they received word that John Brown had captured the Harpers Ferry Arsenal. The men of the Guard quickly broke up the dance at their Armory and took the train Monday morning towards Harpers Ferry. They got off the train about 4 miles from the ferry and marched the rest of the way. The CMG were put into position guarding the perimeter around the fire house where Brown and his men were holding out. Charles O'Ferrall joined up with "The Continentals", an old military company wearing the Continental Uniform, was ordered to Harpers Ferry, and I was given permission to join them." He later wrote, " The Winchester company with which I went to Harpers Ferry arrived too late to do any fighting. We marched from Halltown to the upper end of the Armory grounds, after nightfall, and there we were told that some of the insurgents were hiding among the buildings. So we were thrown into a skirmish line and with our guns at port and thumb on hammer and finger on trigger, we moved through the grounds..." Following the Marines capture of Brown the C.M.G. moved with the the rest of the troops to Charles Town, VA where Brown was being tried and held, to provide security. While there they were issued Colt revolving rifles, and soon wore out their uniforms during the six weeks they were on duty. They returned home December 5th following Brown's hanging.
On April 17, 1861 Virginia seceded from the Union and Governor Letcher called out the militia to defend the state. On the 18th the C.M.G. enrolled at Winchester for one year of service. They would become Company K of the 5th Regiment, and had 133 officers and men. John Avis of Jefferson County was it's first Captain. They were enlisted in to Confederate service on June 20, 1861. These men would see many battles with Stonewall Jackson and the Army of Northern VA.