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Army History


1. “Resolved, That a General be appointed to command all the continental forces, raised, or to be raised, for the defense of American liberty.” The above resolution of the Second Continental Congress on 14 June 1775 established the beginnings of the United States Army as we know it today. The very next resolution unanimously selected George Washington as commanding general of the first Continental Army.

2. From Lexington to Trenton to Valley Forge, the Continental Army proved the critical force in fighting and winning the war for American Independence (see Declaration of Independence extracts beneath military quotation section). The Army has been the keeper of American freedom ever since.

3. From the outset, civilian control of the military was a governing principle of the American system. In 1787, the Constitution placed the military under the control of the President. His role as commander-in-chief requires every Soldier to follow and obey his orders.

4. In 1789, Congress created the Department of War to administer the military forces. The Army, now under the direction of the newly created cabinet, remained at a strength of 60,000 or less from the end of the Revolution through the beginning of the Civil War. Although Congress intended that the Regular Army serve only as a supplement to local militias, the “regulars” ultimately played the crucial role in both the War of 1812 and the Mexican War (1846-48).

5. In December of 1860, the Army consisted of merely 16,000 officers and enlisted men. By 1865, Civil War expansion had increased that number to an astounding 1,000,000. Victory for the Union in the Civil War returned the Army to a strength of only 25,000 troops.

6. An analysis of the Army’s role in the Spanish-American War (1898) revealed deficiencies in the War Department. After becoming Secretary of War in 1899, Elihu Root reorganized and revitalized the department. By the time the Army entered World War I in 1917, it was at its peak in terms of training and professionalism. Over 2,000,000 men followed General John J. Pershing to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force.

7. Following victory in the “War to End All Wars,” the Army remained at a strength of approximately 125,000 from 1919 to 1939. However, when Nazi Germany invaded France in 1940, the U.S. Government re-instituted conscription (the draft) and forces ballooned to 1,640,000.

8. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and during the early 1940s, 8,300,000 men and women were part of a global effort to claim victory in World War II. From the Pacific Theater and bloody battles in the Philippines, to the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, American forces fought with courage to preserve freedom for the world.

9. Following the fall of the Nazis and the surrender of the Japanese in August 1945, the Army again contracted-this time to a strength of approximately 500,000. Expansions followed during America’s participation in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. And though it reduced in size during the interim periods of peace, the Army still remained relatively large due to the looming presence of the Cold War.

10. When the forces of Communism fell in the late 1980s, civilian leaders began to re-evaluate the Army’s role and it again went through a dramatic reduction in size. Recently, the Army claimed a major victory in Desert Storm, defeating the 4th-largest enemy in the world in 100 hours. The Army has also had a crucial role in bringing peace to several areas of conflict as well as continuing to protect and advance American interests. No matter how the Army changes, or what the specific mission may be, the Soldier’s role never changes: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

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