The birth of an army

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Yukio Kuniyuki
  • 344th Military Intelligence Battalion

On June 14, 1775, the Second Continental Congress formally established an American Continental Army.  Their order authorized the establishment of ten light infantry companies of 80 soldiers each.  These companies formed the 1st Continental Regiment and augmented the roughly 27,000 citizen soldiers serving with state militias during the American Revolutionary War. 

Within days of establishing combat forces, Congress also ordered the establishment of four departments to provide support.  These departments became the Adjutant General’s Corps, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Finance Corps and the Quartermaster Corps.  Then, in November, Congress established field artillery, and a year later created cavalry units.

By 1776, the Army grew to 36 regiments and underwent significant transformations and challenges as an organization.  From 1776 until 1783, the Army engaged in pitched battles with the British.  Led by George Washington, the Army experienced both victory and defeat; it even survived the turmoil of initial one year enlistments as well as bankruptcy.  In the end, the Continental Army prevailed with a decisive victory against the British. 

Congress disbanded the Continental Army after the war as they were concerned about having a large standing Army.  Only one regiment remained to protect the western frontier.  By 1784, Congress re-established the United States Army recognizing the need for national defense.  Since then, the Army’s history has been America’s history; for 243 years it has answered the Nation’s call to defend the country, guarantee security and achieve its objectives. 

The birth of the modern Army began at the start of the 20th Century with the United States’ entry into World War I.  In 1910, following the success of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Army Signal Corps acquired its first aircraft, the Wright Type A biplane.  Eight years later, Lt. Stephan W. Thompson became the first Army pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft in France.  He was followed by other aces to include the famous Capt. Edward V. Rickenbacker who won the Medal of Honor and shot down 26 enemy aircraft.  Also during World War I, Lt. John J. Goodfellow, a native of San Angelo, was shot down on a reconnaissance mission.  These intrepid soldiers were members of the Air Service which had replaced the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. and was led by the infamous Brig. Gen. William Mitchell.  It wasn’t until 1926 that the Army Air Corps became a separate branch. 

Other innovations during World War I included the birth of the Army’s intelligence branch that quickly built both signals intelligence and imagery intelligence capabilities with its allies.  Leading up to the war, the Army also established its initial cryptologic capability to decipher enemy codes.     

By the end of World War I, the Army had more than six million soldiers with over three million serving on the western front.  At its peak, the over 250,000 soldiers arrived per month in the summer of 1918 to support key Allied offensives to end the war.

Over the next 100 years, another World War, and a Cold War; the Army would undergo rapid modernizations and restructuring to become the global force that it is today.  It remains true to its mission, “to fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.”