Today is the U.S. Army’s birthday. The United States Army technically predates the formation of the country itself, with a birthday tradition that stretches all the way back to 14 June 1775, just about two months after the American Revolutionary War began in earnest.
The call for the establishment of this new fighting force came as a direct result of the onset of fighting between British regulars and Massachusetts militiamen at Lexington and Concord. Militia fighters hailing from four colonies (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island) had banded together to surround the city of Boston and place the British troops inside under a state of siege by April of 1775, but it was clear that this loose coalition of colony militias was not enough to stand up to the military might the British. If the war effort were to survive, it would take the combined strength of all 13 American colonies.
By 10 May 1775, Ethan Allen and (famed eventual traitor) Benedict Arnold had already secured important victories for the independence effort, capturing forts at Lake Champlain’s Ticonderoga and Crown Point in New York. On that day, the Second Continental Congress convened to discuss their options. Some within the group sought reconciliation with the British and an end to the hostilities, content to return to the status quo as they pursued their grievances diplomatically. The sentiment was not entirely dismissed, but the reality of the military situation was clear. In order to defend their interests and pursue the formation of their own nation, the Continental Congress voted to mass their troops into a new Continental Army. The Second Continental Congress would also vote to ratify the Declaration of Independence.
The Army birthday we now celebrate on 14 June of each year is based on a resolution passed by the Continental Congress on 14 June 1775 that called for the immediate establishment of rifle companies in multiple states to support the fight.
“Resolved, That six companies of expert riflemen, be immediately raised in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia… [and] as soon as completed, shall march and join the army near Boston, to be there employed as light infantry, under the command of the chief Officer in that army.”
With the Army established and its birthday set, the Continental Congress set about establishing the new branch’s oath of enlistment. The following day, George Washington was appointed to command this new branch and lead it into battle against the British. Some of the language used in Washington’s appointment can still be found in promotion warrants within the U.S. military to this very day.
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However, the Army technically has more than one birthday, as different elements of the new branch came into existence on different days. U.S. Army infantry may have been born on 14 June 1775, but according to the Army, its Adjutant General’s Corps was formed two days later alongside the Army Corps of Engineers, Finance, and Quartermasters Corps. The Air Defense Artillery Corps followed in November, as did the Field Artillery Corps. New additions continued on into the modern era, and can all be found on the Army’s official birthday list page here.
While each of these days carries import, it’s the early establishment of the Army that we celebrate on the branch’s birthday on June 14 — and for good reason. The U.S. Army, or Continental Army at the time, was the first official fighting branch of our nation, and while the Navy would follow suit on October 13 and the Marine Corps on November 10, there can only be one first – and that honor goes to the Army.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June 2021. It has been edited for republication.
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