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225 Years of Service: The U.S. Army, 1775-2000 [Secure eReader]
eBook by David W. Hogan, Jr.

eBook Category: History
eBook Description: Included on the Chief of Staff of the Army's recommended reading list, this concise account by David W. Hogan, Jr., of the United States Army's Center of Military History, gives a brief overview of how the Army has served the nation since the formation of George Washington's Continental Army on June 14, 1775, covering not only the Army's distinguished performance in America's major conflicts but also its conduct of several other military and non-military missions throughout American history. During the nation's early years, the Army contributed greatly to national development through exploration, relations with Native Americans, road and building construction, and the assertion of national authority. As the nation became a more complex industrial society and a superpower in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Army's list of missions expanded to include expeditions to foreign lands, military government of colonial and occupied territories, scientific and medical research and development, flood control and disaster relief, the assimilation of different ethnic and racial groups, greater opportunities for women, and aid to disadvantaged elements of society. At each stage of the growth of the republic, it shows the broader context in which the Army operated and the demands that the nation placed on its military. It describes how the Army's conduct of America's wars helped to achieve national objectives. At the same time, it makes clear that the performance of non-military missions is by no means a new phenomenon for the Army but rather a role that has been with the service since the Revolutionary War­and even before that war, if one includes the tasks of colonial militias. Throughout its history, the Army has also deferred to civilian authority, a distinct achievement in a world beset by coups and the threat of military rule. An addendum by the Chief of Military History relates the Army's history to its current transformation into a force capable of meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century.

eBook Publisher: InfoStrategist.com, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2003

The Army and the New Nation

When in June 1775 the Second Continental Congress formed a military force to preserve the "liberties of America" from the encroachment of British King George III's government, it drew on an Anglo-American military tradition that had sustained the colonists for over 150 years. Early settlers in the New World faced danger from hostile Native Americans and predatory foreign expeditions, as well as threats from dissidents and criminals. A long land frontier and an extended coastline, political disunity, dispersed population centers, and an imperial government that rarely furnished a substantial regular force further complicated the task of colonial defense. Given these circumstances, along with a general lack of resources and a distrust of standing armies inherited from the English Civil War of the seventeenth century, the colonists relied on a militia system. All males of military age were required to serve when called, to provide their own weapons, and to attend periodic musters. In the case of prolonged expeditions or patrols along the frontier, communities called for volunteers or drafted young men into service.

The militia system had its weaknesses but, on the whole, served the colonists well until the coming of the Revolution. The militia's dispersion among the settlements did mean that few militiamen were present at any given point. It thus left many targets vulnerable to a mobile enemy. When militiamen conducted expeditions into the wilderness in search of marauding Native Americans or French, their deficiencies in fieldcraft and military discipline became apparent. Nevertheless, the system did provide a ready defense force for each colonial community, and it proved of real value as a local police force and preserver of the existing order. Thus, when open warfare erupted in the spring of 1775 between the colonists and British troops in Boston, the New England militia bore the brunt of the initial clashes at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill.

Assembling in Philadelphia in the midst of a conflict already begun, the Second Continental Congress recognized that a regular military force was necessary if the colonials were to have any hope of standing up to the British Army. On 14 June, Congress adopted the New England army besieging Boston as an American army and authorized the recruitment under congressional sponsorship of ten companies of riflemen – six from Pennsylvania and two each from Maryland and Virginia. This emerging Continental Army provided the permanent nucleus of a force that would be supplemented by militia units from the locality in which that army was operating. Congress chose one of its own, George Washington, as commander in chief of the new Army. His strength of character, resourcefulness, and military experience in the colonial wars against the French would serve the patriots well in the difficult years ahead.

After Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776, the Continental Army's mission changed from the local defense of American rights to overall national survival. At the time, few national institutions and relatively little national feeling existed; to a considerable degree, the Continental Army was the nation. Washington knew well that the destruction of the Army would probably result in the collapse of the American cause. He and his subordinates tried to avoid battles that might put the survival of the Army at risk. Nevertheless, the Continental Army did need to win victories to maintain patriot morale and to obtain support from foreign countries. In the fall of 1776 Washington preserved his Army from destruction after the fall of New York City, but as the end of the year approached, the Army and the patriot cause faced the prospect of dissolution if success was not soon forthcoming. Crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, Washington surprised and overwhelmed the enemy garrison at Trenton. Eight days later he defeated another British force at Princeton. The rejuvenated Revolution survived the loss of its capital of Philadelphia the following September. In October 1777 British Maj. Gen. John Burgoyne's army surrendered at Saratoga, inducing France to enter the war on the side of the Americans.

Now that the British were engaged in a worldwide struggle against France – and later Spain and the Netherlands – Washington needed only to maintain an army in the field long enough for the enemy to tire of the struggle. The outcome was by no means certain, and in the ensuing years the American cause frequently teetered on the brink of collapse. Soldiers suffered terribly at Valley Forge during the bitter winter of 1777-1778. During this ordeal, however, Maj. Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a Prussian soldier of fortune, gave Washington's Continentals the training they needed to meet the British regulars on equal terms. The revitalized Army distinguished itself at Monmouth in the summer of 1778 and at Stony Point in July 1779. In the West, George Rogers Clark strengthened the American claim to the Ohio Valley by capturing British outposts at Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. In addition to service alongside the Continentals, local militia maintained order and suppressed Loyalist sentiment. Nevertheless, by 1781 American fortunes were at another low point. Congress had almost run out of money, the British were sweeping through the South, and one of the Continental Army's most distinguished commanders, Benedict Arnold, had deserted to the British. But Congress and General Washington found resources to continue the fight, and Continentals and militia recovered the South. In October 1781 a Franco-American force under Washington compelled Lord Cornwallis' army to surrender at Yorktown. Disheartened by this defeat and exhausted by over six years of war, Great Britain agreed to make peace and to recognize American independence.

Having won independence, the Continental Army now made perhaps its most important contribution to the nation – deference to civilian authority. Throughout the Revolution, Congress had lacked funds because it never possessed the power to tax. The resulting irregular pay, absence of arrangements for compensation after disbandment, and general neglect aroused discontent in the Army. When an officer delegation presented its grievances to Congress during the winter of 1782-1783, civilian and military proponents of a stronger central government sought to use the Army's dissatisfaction to pressure Congress and the states to grant taxation power to the national government. To force the issue, they incited demonstrations among some Continental officers, who denounced Congress and called for a meeting to discuss ways of obtaining redress. Washington responded quickly. Calling his own meeting at the Army's encampment at Newburgh, New York, he warned the officers against impulsiveness, argued that an attempted coup would open the way to civil discord, and emotionally recalled the sacrifices they had made in the common cause. Washington's timely intervention ensured the collapse of the "Newburgh Conspiracy," and the chastened officers reaffirmed their loyalty to Congress. When in June 1783 Washington permitted his troops to return home pending final settlement of the pay issue, the vast majority of the veterans departed without incident.

The legacy of civilian control over the military survived the difficult early years, as the young Republic struggled to establish a workable military system. Washington proposed a small regular force, enrollment of all males between the ages of eighteen and fifty for emergency service, and organization of young men into volunteer units under national control, ready to serve on call. This plan achieved only partial acceptance. In a society characterized by localism and distrust of power, suspicion of military establishments was so strong that some believed it possible to do without a national military force at all, leaving such missions as existed to state militias. In that spirit, Congress reduced the Continental Army to 80 men, barely enough to garrison the post at West Point, and called on the states to furnish 700 men from their militias for one year of service on the frontier.

When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, they recognized the need for a more permanent military establishment. The new Constitution allowed for a national regular army and navy and a militia under state control, but it took pains to keep those forces under tight civilian rein, providing for congressional control of appropriations and designating the president as commander in chief of the regular forces and of the militia when called into federal service. Despite the feared influence of political factions in the nation's early years, the Army established a priceless legacy of subordination to civilian leadership, as exemplified in the officer's oath of allegiance to the Constitution.

For a new nation struggling to establish credible central government and control over its far-flung territory, the Army was an invaluable asset. Seeking to "insure domestic Tranquility," the Constitution stipulates that the president "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed," while giving Congress power to "provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel invasions." When in 1794 farmers in western Pennsylvania rebelled against a federal excise tax on liquor and stills, President Washington called the militia into federal service and restored order with only a minimal resort to force. After the second president, John Adams, used regulars without congressional authorization to enforce a federal tax in 1799, his successor, Thomas Jefferson, obtained in 1807 legislation that authorized the president's use of regulars in all instances where he had been previously authorized to use the militia. This controversial mission – the maintenance of domestic order – would fall repeatedly to the Army in the years ahead.

Although Thomas Jefferson had frequently expressed his suspicion of a standing army, as president he supported a small permanent establishment that, in time of peace, would serve the nation in ways beyond the strictly military. He established the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1802, largely to create a school for the training of scientists and engineers who could aid in national development. He also turned to the Army to assert federal control over the newly acquired western territories. In 1803 the Louisiana Purchase transferred a vast region west of the Mississippi River from France to the United States. The Army governed this territory pending establishment of civilian rule. To gather information on the new domain and to assert American authority over it, Jefferson sent an Army expedition, the Corps of Discovery under Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Lt. William Clark, to explore the continent west to the Pacific. Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis after a two-year expedition, having traveled 7,689 miles, gathered invaluable geographic and scientific data, and greatly strengthened the American claim to the Pacific Northwest. Their odyssey was but the first of many such expeditions to open the American West.

Given the precarious existence of the early Republic, caught between often-hostile Native Americans on the frontier and major European wars that might engulf the United States, the Army focused on its primary mission "to provide for the common defence." It began construction of coastal fortifications and occupied western forts after the belated withdrawal of British garrisons under the terms of the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War. As the federal agency with the most contact with the tribes, the War Department had the responsibility for the conduct of Native American affairs, along with the military obligation to preserve peace and order on the frontier. Army officers served as agents and commissioners, negotiating treaties of trade and friendship. If talks failed and hostilities ensued, the Army sent expeditions to subdue the Native American nations. When two successive, largely militia expeditions in 1790 and 1791 failed to pacify the tribes in the Ohio Valley, President Washington turned to Maj. Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne to lead a third attempt. Wayne took advantage of two years of ongoing negotiations to drill his force of regulars, the "Legion of the United States," into a trained, potent fighting force. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794 he won a striking victory, opening Ohio and part of Indiana to settlement and convincing congressional skeptics of the value of a capable Regular Army led by professionals. The great Native American leader Tecumseh attempted to revive resistance, but a force of regulars and militia under the governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison, dealt a fatal blow to his hopes at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.

British support for Tecumseh and the forcing of Americans into service in the Royal Navy fighting Napoleon, along with other violations of "neutral rights," led many in the United States to believe that national honor and perhaps the Republic's survival required a "second war for independence:" the War of 1812. During the early phases of this war, the Army was plagued by mismanagement in the War Department, incompetent generals, and militiamen who refused to serve outside the boundaries of the United States. In 1813 and 1814, however, the Army largely redeemed itself through a War Department reorganization, improved recruiting, and competent new commanders. In July 1814, near the Canadian hamlet of Chippewa, American troops under Brig. Gen. Winfield Scott stood their ground against a comparable number of British regulars, supposedly causing the surprised and impressed enemy commander to exclaim, "Those are regulars, by God!" Two months later, the Army's spirited defense of Fort McHenry near Baltimore inspired Francis Scott Key to write the "Star Spangled Banner." In January 1815 Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson won a smashing victory at New Orleans, securing the entire Mississippi Valley for the United States. Although the United States failed to conquer Canada or obtain concessions on neutral rights, the Army's conduct of these and other engagements earned respect abroad and inspired a newfound sense of national pride and confidence.

Copyright © 2004

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