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The Strength Of The US Army

Forged in Battle, Tempered by Time

The United States Army has a long and storied history dating back to its founding on June 14, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of expert riflemen to serve the United Colonies during the American Revolutionary War. Here are some of the most pivotal moments and eras in the Army's history that have shaped it into the premier fighting force it is today.


US Army Forged in Battle

US Army Beginnings

The Revolutionary War and Early Years

 

The U.S. Army traces its roots to the Continental Army, which was formed in 1775 to fight the British during the Revolutionary War. Established by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, the Continental Army was placed under the command of George Washington. Interestingly, this means that the U.S. Army is actually older than the United States itself, which declared independence on July 4, 1776.

 

The fledgling army faced many challenges in those early years, including a lack of training, equipment, and even basic supplies like food and uniforms. Despite the odds, Washington and his Continental soldiers persevered, winning key victories and eventually defeating the British to gain independence for the new United States of America in 1783.

 

One little-known fact from the Revolutionary War era is that the U.S. Army employed the first-ever military submarine. Called the Turtle, it was a one-man wooden submersible craft invented by David Bushnell. While the Turtle's missions were unsuccessful, it was still a remarkable innovation for its time.

 

Another fascinating tidbit is that the first woman to serve in the U.S. Army was Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man named Robert Shurtleff in order to enlist in 1782. She served for over a year before her secret was discovered. After the war, Sampson was awarded a military pension, making her the first American woman to receive one.

 

In the years following the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Army went through periods of expansion and reduction depending on the Indian and foreign threats at the time. From just a single regiment in 1789, it grew to 11 regiments by 1808. The Army fought in the War of 1812 against the British, the First Seminole War in 1817-1818, and various campaigns against Native American tribes like the Arikara, Ho-Chunks, and Seminoles in the 1820s-1830s.


Stoddard County Civil War Memorial Army Cemetery

Army Expansion

The Civil War and World Wars

 

Civil war Army headstone

As the United States expanded westward in the early-to-mid 1800s, the U.S. Army played a key role in the Mexican-American War from 1846-1848, which resulted in Mexico ceding a huge swath of territory from Texas to California. But one of the most defining conflicts for the Army came with the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.

 

The U.S. Army underwent an enormous expansion during the Civil War, growing from a peacetime strength of about 16,000 troops in 1860 to nearly 1 million by 1865. For four bloody years, the U.S. Army fought against the Confederate forces, with famous battles at places like Gettysburg, Antietam, and Vicksburg. The Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 was the largest battle ever fought in North America, with the Union Army defeating Confederate troops under Robert E. Lee. Interestingly, of the 3,498 Medals of Honor awarded in the Army's history, nearly half (1,522) were earned during the Civil War.

 

As the 20th century dawned, the U.S. Army was called upon to fight in World War I starting in 1917. New technologies like machine guns, tanks, and chemical weapons meant the Army had to adapt its tactics and equipment. Over 4 million Americans served in the Army during the Great War. Just a few decades later, the Army would be thrust into an even larger global conflict with World War II.

 

From the shock of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 to the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944 to the atomic bombings of Japan in 1945, over 8 million Americans served in the U.S. Army in World War II. The scale and intensity of the war was unlike anything seen before. Remarkably, the Army had over 90 divisions deployed around the world at the height of the war.

 

One of the most famous Army battles of World War II came in December 1944 - the Battle of the Bulge. In a last-ditch effort, Hitler launched a surprise attack on Allied forces in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, creating a "bulge" in the front lines. The 101st Airborne Division, surrounded in the town of Bastogne, famously refused to surrender, holding out until reinforcements could arrive. The courage of the American soldiers in the face of great adversity helped turn the tide and secure the Allied victory.



Army and U.N. Forces

Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War

 

After World War II, the U.S. Army found itself engaged in the Korean War from 1950-1953, fighting alongside other United Nations forces to stop the spread of communism on the Korean peninsula. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the winter of 1950 saw 30,000 U.S. troops face off against 120,000 Chinese soldiers in a brutal 17-day battle in freezing conditions. Though technically defeated, the Army and Marine forces inflicted massive casualties on the Chinese while fighting their way to safety, showing their toughness and resolve.

 

As the Cold War heated up in the 1960s, the U.S. Army was again called to fight against the spread of communism, this time in the jungles of Vietnam. The Vietnam War was a challenging conflict for the Army, facing guerrilla tactics, harsh conditions, and a determined enemy. Over 2.5 million American soldiers served in Vietnam from 1965-1973. Though the war ended in a U.S. withdrawal, the bravery and sacrifices of the men and women who served there are remembered to this day.

 

Interestingly, it was during the Vietnam era that the Army's elite Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, rose to prominence. President John F. Kennedy, a strong supporter of the Special Forces, authorized them to wear their distinctive green berets in 1961. After Kennedy's assassination in 1963, a sergeant in the Special Forces placed his beret on the grave at Arlington - a tradition that continues today.


Army Growth

Modern Era and the War on Terror

 

With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the U.S. Army continued to serve as a stabilizing force around the globe while incorporating new technologies and evolving to face new threats. In January 1991, the Army played a major role in driving Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm.

 

A decade later, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 thrust the Army into the Global War on Terror, with major campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq that continue in various forms to the present day. In March 2003, the Army launched an invasion of Iraq, quickly defeating Saddam Hussein's forces and capturing Baghdad in just over a month. Army Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in the Battle of Baghdad Airport in April 2003, the first to receive the nation's highest award since Vietnam.

 

As the war shifted to a counterinsurgency, the Army adapted its tactics and equipment. The development of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles in the late 2000s helped protect soldiers from the threat of IEDs. And the Army has increasingly relied on technology like drones and satellites for reconnaissance and precision strikes.

 

In the 2010s, the Army continued its evolution to face new challenges, The woodland-pattern Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) was updated to a digital Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) in 2004, and then replaced by the Operational Camouflage Pattern (UCP) in 2019. In 2016, the Army opened all combat roles to women for the first time. And in 2018, the Army established its newest branch - the Cyber Branch - to help defend against emerging digital threats. Through it all, the Army has remained true to its values and its mission to defend the United States.



Army update mech
Army history tech

Fun Facts and Little-Known Details

 

Along with its serious history of service and sacrifice, the U.S. Army also has many fascinating facts and stories that showcase its unique character:

 

  • If the U.S. Army was a city, it would be the 10th largest in the United States with over 1 million soldiers. And the Army owns so much land that if it was a state, it would be larger than Hawaii and Massachusetts combined.

  • The Army is the second-largest employer in the United States after Walmart. It employs over 1 million uniformed personnel across active duty, reserves, and the National Guard, plus over 300,000 civilians.

  • There are over 500 military working dogs in the Army, and they are all given a rank. Usually, a dog is one rank higher than its handler as a way to reinforce the bond between them.

  • The Army has an official birthday song, "The Army Goes Rolling Along," but it was a long journey to get there. An earlier song called "The Caissons Go Rolling Along" was popular, but in 1948 the Army held a contest for a new tune. "The Army's Always There" won but it didn't catch on as it sounded too much like "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." Finally in 1956, the Army declared "The Army Goes Rolling Along" as its official song.

  • Horses are still used by the Army today. The last time they were used in combat was in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by special operations forces. But horses are more commonly used now in ceremonial units or for equine-assisted therapy to help soldiers recovering from physical and mental injuries.

  • In the early 20th century, the 45th Infantry Division had a unique shoulder sleeve insignia - a red diamond with a gold swastika. This was before the Nazis co-opted the swastika, and at the time it was a common Native American symbol. The division, which had many Native American soldiers, changed the patch to a thunderbird in the late 1930s.

  • The U.S. Army was responsible for much of the early mapping and exploration of America. Army officers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led their famous expedition to map the Louisiana Purchase in 1804-1806. Later Army explorers were among the first to see landmarks like Pike's Peak and the Grand Canyon.

  • The Army takes its physical fitness seriously. To even join the Army, recruits have to pass a fitness test involving push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run. To qualify for the elite Army Rangers, candidates must be able to do even more - including hiking 16 miles with a 65-pound pack in under 5 hours and 20 minutes!

  • Of the 46 U.S. presidents, 31 have served in the Army in some capacity, from militia service in the Revolutionary War to active duty in World War II. Two presidents, George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower, reached the rare rank of General of the Armies, a five-star general rank.

  • The Army takes energy conservation seriously. In 2011, each soldier required an average of 22 gallons of fuel per day, compared to just 1 gallon per day in World War II. To power all its vehicles and equipment, the Army is researching alternative energy sources like solar power.

 

Today's Army

A Legacy of Service and Sacrifice

 

As the U.S. Army looks ahead to celebrating its 249th birthday in 2024, it is important to remember the courage, sacrifices, and triumphs of the generations of soldiers who have worn the uniform. From the Revolutionary War to the World Wars to the modern battlefields of the 21st century, the Army has been there to answer the nation's call.

 

Today's Army, with its dedicated men and women and cutting-edge equipment and training, continues that proud legacy of service. Please take a moment to reflect on the U.S. Army's long history and all those who have served in its ranks.


WWI Army Posters

Army posters
Army headstone


All images and videos were taken by Angie White at the WWI Museum in Kansas City, MO and at the Stoddard County Civil War Memorial Cemetery in Missouri. More than one hundred fifty military markers memorialize soldiers and citizens who died in Stoddard County, Missouri, during the Civil War. Each monument carries a cause of death inscription, making this site unique and informative. All images and videos are the express property of United Veteran Benefits Agency.



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This information is made available for educational purposes only. This information is not a substitute for legal or medical advice. United Veteran Benefits Agency makes no guarantee of the outcome on VA rating decisions.

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