Saturday, June 14, 2014

Happy Birthday!

This week marks the 239th birthday of the US Army. Around the world, Army elements and many other DoD components will celebrate this day, which also happens to be Flag Day. The U.S. Army was founded on 14 June 1775, when Congress adopted "the American continental army.” The Congressional resolution also absorbed the existing 10,000 New England troops and forces besieging Boston and requested an additional 5,000 be raised from New York and Connecticut men to defend New York City. Two million dollars was approved to fund the new army. The Continental Army quickly expanded. By July the authorized strength of the new army was nearly double that envisioned on 14 June. 

Soldiers of the Continental Army

What was the first unit?

The American Rifleman

The first contingent of the new Army was ten companies of riflemen –  infantry. Congress’s resolution stipulated their terms of enlistment and appointed a committee to develop rules and regulations.  It seems that even at its inception the Army had its red tape!  The riflemen authorized on 14 June were the first units raised directly as Continentals, vice state troops. Congress did this by levying six of the companies to Pennsylvania, two to Maryland, and two to Virginia. This may mark the beginning of the grand American tradition of using military authorizations to establish a political end. But in this case it was not about pork (although that would soon come). It was to create a national (my word) army under the rubric of “Continental.”

How were they recruited?

Recruiting authority was given to local county committees in those frontier areas noted for skilled marksmen. The response in Pennsylvania's western and northern frontier counties was so great that on 22 June the colony's quota was increased from six to eight companies, organized as a regiment. A month later, a ninth Pennsylvania company was formed in Lancaster County.  In Virginia, Captain Daniel Morgan raised a company in Frederick County, and Hugh Stephenson raised another in Berkeley County. In Maryland, Michael Cresap's and Thomas Price's companies were both from Frederick County. Readers of The Patriot Spy know that Lieutenant Jeremiah Creed’s light infantry company was also organized in Frederick County as part of the First Maryland Line. All thirteen rifle companies were sent immediately to Boston, to join the siege. These riflemen were recruited purely for their marksmanship and toughness, not their adherence to military protocol. One of General George Washington’s first leadership challenges was handling their frontier attitudes and the resulting disciplinary problems.

Daniel Morgan recruited a Virginia company
 but would soon lead the Rifle Corps

How were they organized? 

Each rifle company would have a captain, 3 lieutenants, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, a drummer (or horn player), and 68 privates. The enlistment period was set at one year - the same as militias. The companies were banded into a regiment but until field grade officers (adjutant, quartermaster, commissary, etc.) could be appointed by Congress, the company grades filled in. Later these rifle companies would be brigaded under (now colonel) Daniel Morgan into a Rifle Corps. As Continental Line regiments began forming that summer, they would typically consist of about eight companies of around forty privates plus officers, sergeants, corporals and drummers. But organizations varied widely, especially in the beginning.

Who would lead the new Army?

Who else but George Washington! On 15 June Congress unanimously chose the Virginia planter and renowned French and Indian War hero. Washington had been active in the military planning committees of Congress and by late May had taken to wearing his old uniform. His colleagues believed that his modesty and competence qualified him to the challenge of leading the prickly New England troops. Washington was given the rank of Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief. The day after Washington's appointment, Congress authorized  other senior officers for the new army. Positions for five major staff officers were established: an Adjutant General, a Commissary of Musters, a Paymaster General, a Commissary General, and a Quartermaster General.On 20 June the new commander in chief received orders to proceed to Massachusetts, and take charge of the army there and capture or destroy the British army occupying Boston. Congress directed him to prepare a report on the strength of the army. In the broader areas of army command, his instructions were less than precise. His only other real mandate was that he would consult a council of war prior to any major strategic or tactical decisions. Washington had the right to determine how many men to retain, and he had the power to fill temporarily any vacancies below the rank of colonel. Permanent promotions and appointments were reserved for the colonial governments to make. But Congress appointed general officers. In the future this had all sorts of repercussions not the least of which was the treason of Benedict Arnold.

       General Washington assumes
           command of the new army

Who were his Lieutenants?

It is not surprising that the selection of Washington’s subordinate generals and senior staff officers led to political maneuvering as delegates sought appointments for favorite sons. On 17 June Congress elected Artemas Ward and Charles Lee as the first and second major generals, and Horatio Gates as the Adjutant General. A few days later two more major generals were appointed: Philip Schuyler, a New York delegate with close ties to Washington, and another French and Indian war hero,  Israel Putnam. The brigadier generals came next. Congress appointed these in proportion to the number of men contributed by each colony and followed the recommendations of the colony's delegates in the actual selection. Congress, however, created problems by ignoring seniority and status.

 Artemas Ward

Why are the Army Birthday and Flag Day celebrated on June 14th?

By pure coincidence. The Stars and Stripes originated as a result of a resolution adopted by the Marine Committee of the Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia on June 14, 1777. The resolution read: "Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” The first celebration of the U.S. Flag's birthday was held in 1877 on the 100th anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777.

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