Army, U.S.: Overview The principal land force of the United States, the U.S. Army traces its origins to the Continental army of the Revotionary War. That army, a “national” force raised by the Continental Congress, had the mission of engaging British and Hessian regulars in essentially European‐style combat, and was composed, insofar as its leaders could manage it, of long‐serving volunteers. In these characteristics—an orientation toward conventional combat and a long‐serving enlisted force—the Continental army set the pattern for its successor under the U.S. Constitution. The Army of the Constitution—the true United States Army—came into existence during the 1790s, amid bitter political warfare between Federalists and Democratic‐Republicans primarily to meet the needs of frontier policing and defense. From that time, the existence of the U.S. Army has been continuous, although its strength has fluctuated widely.
From the Revolution, the American army included two components: the federally controlled professional “Continental” or “regular” army and the state militias of part‐time citizen‐soldiers. Most debates over American military policy centered on the relationship between these components and what role each should play in peace and war. States' rights and populist parties and movements tended to favor the militia; conservative, nationalistic elements supported the regulars. Complicating the issue was the fact that the militia of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was not a true army reserve. During wartime, its units turned out only for short‐term local defense while furnishing men to temporary forces of U.S. Volunteers, which campaigned alongside the regulars and in fact constituted the majority of the wartime army in the nineteenth century. During the last decades of the century, the volunteer state militia, the National Guard, began campaigning for the status of a genuine national reserve force, a status regulars were reluctant to concede as long as the Guard remained essentially under state control.
Beginning with the Dick Act of 1903 and especially the National Defense Acts of 1916 and 1920, this issue was resolved through gradual federalization of the National Guard and other reserve components, culminating in today's “Total Army” concept. To some extent during the Civil War, and more thoroughly during the two world wars and most of the Cold War, the United States resorted to conscription to fill all components of the army. In peacetime, however, volunteer military service has been the norm—a pattern reestablished with the end of the Cold War draft and the creation of the All‐Volunteer Force in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
Throughout its history, command of the army has been based on the principle of civilian control. During the nineteenth century, the president exercised his constitutional power as commander in chief through a civilian secretary of war who headed a War Department composed of a number of staff bureaus. The army lacked an effective uniformed head until 1903, when Secretary of War Elihu Root persuaded Congress to create a chief of staff subordinate to the secretary of war but with authority over the staff bureaus as well as the line. Root also established a General Staff to provide the army with central planning and operational direction.
This system, although significantly revised and expanded during two world wars, persisted until the National Security Act of 1947. Under that act and subsequent amendments, the War Department lost cabinet status to the new Department of Defense and became the Department of the Army, with the mission of providing forces to multiservice joint commanders reporting to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of which the army chief of staff now was a member. As the army became increasingly enmeshed in a joint defense system, its internal administrative structure also changed, with the old bureaus disappearing into broader functional commands.
Throughout its history, the army has displayed doctrinal and tactical eclecticism and a command of logistics. Strategically, it has tried to adapt effectively to the demands of both limited and total war; indeed, American officers understood the close relationship between policy and military strategy long before they began reading Carl von Clausewitz in translation in the mid‐twentieth century. In tactics and technology, the army until after World War II took its cues from Europe but adapted what it learned to the unique requirements of American campaigning. It kept abreast of and sought with varying success to assimilate the changing technologies of warfare, from the repeating rifle to tanks, airplanes, and missiles. Since World War II, the U.S. Army has led rather than followed in the evolution of military art and science, as attested by its success in complex combined arms warfare in the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Faced from its earliest years with the need to support troops across the vast, economically undeveloped distances of North America, the army emphasized logistics and achieved a unique capacity for force projection. That capacity enabled it to discharge truly global missions during two world wars, the Cold War, and beyond.
The U.S. Army prides itself on being a “jack of all trades” among military services, able to do everything from waging continentwide warfare to feeding and housing disaster victims. In fact, it has done all those things and more besides. During most of its history, the peacetime standing army functioned primarily as a constabulary. It policed the frontier, maintained law and order, enforced Reconstruction, governed overseas colonies, and responded to natural disasters. Its officers often were in the forefront of civilian as well as military scientific developments, for example, in engineering, medicine, and surgery. Yet its officer corps always kept sufficiently current in the art of war to be able to raise citizen armies and lead them to victory in the nation's nineteenth‐ and twentieth‐century conflicts. During the Cold War, the army received complex global missions, including forward defense and deterrence in Europe and Asia, the waging of major local wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the provision of military advice and support to allies on every continent.
The end of the Cold War brought declining forces and budgets but no reduction in the variety of missions. The U.S. Army today continues to try to balance preparation for war fighting against the demands of international peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention.
[See also Army Reserves and National Guard; Citizen‐Soldier; Civil‐Military Relations: Civilian Control of the Military; Land Warfare; Militia and National Guard; Weaponry, Army.]
Russell F. Weigley , Towards an American Army: Military Thought from Washington to Marshall, 1962.
Richard H. Kohn , Eagle and Sword: The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America, 1975.
Russell F. Weigley , History of the United States Army, enl. ed., 1984.
Edward M. Coffman , The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784–1898, 1986.
Kenneth J. Hagan and William R. Roberts, eds., Against All Enemies: Interpretations of American Military History from Colonial Times to the Present, 1986.
Robert E. Scales, Jr. , et al., Certain Victory: The United States Army in the Gulf War, 1993.
Graham A. CosmasArmy, U.S.: Colonial and Revolutionary Eras In military terms, England's colonies moved slowly but steadily from amateurism to a kind of military semiprofessionalism in the century before the American Revolution. The militia, though often effective for social control and police functions, proved inadequate for participating in the eighteenth‐century imperial wars, since they were poorly trained, sometimes even lacking firearms, and were restricted by law to brief duty within their own colonies. The term semiprofessional, as used here, means forces that constituted a hybrid between the militia and a standing army. They comprised men who enlisted for a year or more in return for a bounty, served if necessary outside their own provinces, and faced stricter military law than that applied to the militia. They performed under officers who might aspire to military expertise, having read European treatises on training and tactics and having sought to learn firsthand from observing British officers in the field. Such provincial units, including Col. George Washington's Virginia Regiment in the 1750s, were called upon to join intercolonial expeditions, possibly assigned to cooperate with British armies against French and Spanish citadels in the New World.
In some respects, the Continental army during the Revolutionary War at first appeared to resemble an extension of semiprofessional colonial forces. Except for several former British regular officers, most of its general officers had held provincial commissions in the final imperial conflict. In military justice, its Articles of War were less harsh than those of the British army. Its soldiers were enlisted for a year or less. But in 1776, the evolution of an American professional army continued, a process that saw it increasingly look like European military establishments of the day. These changes included longer enlistments, stricter martial law, more uniform tactical arrangements, and employment of Prussian and French military procedures and personnel. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, as inspector general, and Louis Duportail, head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, played critical roles in these developments.
Certainly, one reason that Washington and his abler subordinates learned quickly and had less to comprehend than would be true of commanders in a later age was that the nature of warfare scarcely changed in the mid‐eighteenth century. Armies continued to move from column to line, employing linear formations in open battle, and engaging in siege operations when moving against fortresses and cities. (In a sense the War of Independence began with the siege of Boston and ended with the siege of Yorktown; and the most one‐sided American defeat resulted from the successful British siege of Charleston.) Moreover, British commanders who opposed American generals had been relatively junior officers themselves in the Seven Years' War (the French and Indian War) and had seen hardly any active duty between the wars.
Nor did the Revolutionary War produce any new seminal military literature on either side. Officers still lacked a body of strategic doctrine to analyze a problem in systematic fashion. We find no parallel to what transpired in Prussia in the concluding stages of the Napoleonic era, where the War Academy stimulated the first modern analytical studies of conflict, highlighted by Carl von Clausewitz's On War.
American army administration hardly anticipated future trends. The command system illustrates this point. Washington, as commander in chief, acted as the principal conduit of information between the army and its superiors in the Continental Congress. Always deferential to Congress and committed to civil control, the Virginian nonetheless remained candid with the lawmakers, even to voicing his disagreements with them. Since Washington could hardly direct all theaters of operations, Congress created various regional departments as needed: New England, the northern, the middle, the southern, and the western. Congressional experiments with administrative oversight proved less than successful. The Board of War, in fact, received attacks from some in the army and in Congress for allegedly being hostile to Washington and wishing to replace him with Gen. Horatio Gates, the victor at Saratoga in an overexaggerated episode known as the Conway Cabal.
Finally, in 1781, Congress created a war department, first headed by Gen. Benjamin Lincoln; but its powers were weak. Even so, it evolved into a substantial post late in the Confederation years. The second person to serve as war secretary, Gen. Henry Knox, continued in that office under the new constitutional government in 1789.
If the army over eight and a half years—the longest American conflict before the Vietnam War—displayed staying power, it scarcely hid its resentments toward Congress and American society, believing its sacrifices unappreciated. Lagging enlistments and desertion led authorities to accept British prisoners, white servants, and African Americans in the service. Restlessness in the ranks grew worse because of inadequate provisions, clothing, and pay. Several regiments mutinied during the last years of the war. American leaders voiced more serious concern over the officers' discontent about Congress's failure to provide back pay and to make firm assurances of postwar pensions or lump‐sum mustering‐out bonuses. The senior officers remained loyal to the Revolution—with the notable exception of Benedict Arnold—and this fact, along with Washington's shrewd response to the most vocal dissidents, explains the failure of the still somewhat mysterious Newburgh “Conspiracy” in early 1783; but the rumblings and threats, mostly among field‐grade officers, evaporated when Congress promised to move quickly on the officers' concerns.
With the end of the war in late 1783, the army disbanded peacefully. The principle of civil control of the military remained intact. That, unlike the results of so many revolutions, emerged as a great legacy of the American Revolution. And Washington, in this respect, proved a successful model for future American military officers.
[See also Citizen‐Soldier; Civil‐Military Relations: Civilian Control of the Military; Militia and National Guard; Weaponry, Army.]
Charles Royster , A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775–1783, 1979.
James Kirby Martin and and Mark Edward Lender , A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763–1789, 1982.
Robert K. Wright, Jr. , The Continental Army, 1983.
E. Wayne Carp , To Starve the Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administration and American Political Culture, 1775–1783, 1984.
Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, eds., Arms and Independence: The Military Character of the American Revolution, 1984.
Don Higginbotham , George Washington and the American Military Tradition, 1985.
Don HigginbothamArmy, U.S.: 1783–1865 The U.S. Army as a permanent institution began on 3 June 1784, when the Confederation Congress approved a resolution to establish a regiment of 700 officers and men. Intended as a force to assert federal authority in the Ohio River Valley, the regiment deployed at a string of posts along the Ohio where it functioned as a frontier constabulary during the last years of the Articles of Confederation era.
Congress adopted this tiny force after the reorganization of the government under the Constitution in 1789. Responding to the outbreak of Indian war in the Old Northwest—and especially to St. Clair's defeat in 1791, the worst setback at Indian hands in the army's history—the government expanded the military establishment to over 5,000 in 1792. Organized as the “American Legion” and commanded by Maj. Gen. Anthony Wayne, the army defeated the northwestern tribes at Fallen Timbers in 1794. During the same year, in response to European threats, the government launched a program of seacoast fortifications and added a corps of artillerists and engineers to build and man them.
The army became the center of intense partisan controversy with the rise of political parties and conflicting ideologies. Federalists sought to maintain a relatively large regular force, while Democratic‐Republicans opposed a sizable standing army that might require high taxes and threaten liberty. The result was a period of extreme instability in the army's size and structure. In 1796, the government reduced the army to 3,359. Two years later, however, the Undeclared Naval War with France led the Federalist Congress to expand the authorized level to over 14,000. Alexander Hamilton, appointed as inspector general and de facto commander of the army in 1798–99, strove to transform this force into a permanent, European‐style standing army, capable of checking domestic opposition. This political role aroused intense suspicion, and in 1800, following the diplomatic settlement with France, Congress reduced the army to 4,436. After Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans won the election of 1800, they fixed the peace establishment at two regiments of infantry, one of artillery, and a tiny U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—a total official strength of 3,287. In 1802, they also established the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, primarily to train future officers in military engineering.
Throughout Jefferson's administration, the War Department and the small regular army performed a variety of constabulary tasks: administering the Louisiana Purchase; regulating Indian‐white relations; conducting diplomatic relations in the Spanish borderlands; and policing the Embargo Act against Great Britain and Napoleonic France. Meanwhile, deteriorating relations with Britain and France caused the Republicans to reassess their traditional antimilitarism, and in 1808, Congress authorized an increase to 9,921 officers and men. The onset of the War of 1812 continued the buildup, as the inadequacy of the militia for offensive operations left President James Madison little alternative but to expand the regular forces. The army's official authorized size reached 62,674 in 1814, although actual troop strength fell well short of this level.
The War of 1812 marked a major transition in the army's history. Until then, its dominant characteristics had been fluctuating size and organization, a high rate of turnover in the officer corps, and the absence of a clear sense of mission—conditions reflected in the poor military performance of the early war years. By 1814, however, the army's performance was improving, largely because of the rise of young, combat‐proven commanders to high and middle rank, exemplified by Jacob Jennings Brown, Winfield Scott, and Alexander Macomb.
Although Congress cut the army to 12,383 in 1815, many veterans remained in service, and they came to share a conviction that the army's chief mission should be preparation for a future war with a major European power. With the support of the Madison and Monroe administrations, they rationalized military management through permanent general staff bureaus, adopted uniform tactical manuals and regulations, launched a new and more systematic program of coastal fortification, and, under the direction of Capt. Sylvanus Thayer, revitalized the U.S. Military Academy. When Congress reduced the army to 6,126 in 1821, it tacitly followed a plan proposed by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun that called for a cadre organization: the retention of a high ratio of officers to enlisted men as a way to preserve military expertise and provide a framework for a rapid and efficient expansion in case of war (Skelton, 1992).
The reduction of 1821 was the last major cutback and reorganization of the army's basic establishment in the nineteenth century. It left a force of eleven line regiments under a major general with the title of commanding general of the army (a position held by Winfield Scott from 1841 to 1861), supported by a group of general staff bureaus—quartermaster, engineers, subsistence, ordnance, medical, and pay—reporting directly to the secretary of war. During the decades that followed, the army was usually dispersed at small garrisons along the frontiers and the Atlantic seaboard, where it continued to perform its customary constabulary duties. In particular, regulars enforced the Indian trade and intercourse laws and served as the government's principal instrument for conducting Indian removal. The latter duty produced one of the army's most most tragic assignments—the removal of the Cherokee Indians in the so‐called Trail of Tears (1838–39)—and the army's most frustrating experience of the antebellum era—the long guerrilla conflict in Florida of the Seminole Wars (1818, 1835–42, 1855–58).
The demands of national expansionism brought occasional increases in army strength, including the reintroduction of mounted regiments in 1833 and 1836, the first since the War of 1812. With the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846, the army's basic establishment swelled to 17,812, achieved mainly by filling the understrength units with recruits; Congress supplemented this force with 10 temporary regular regiments and over 70,000 citizen‐soldiers raised as U.S. Volunteers. Although the postwar demobilization left the army at 10,317, the occupation of the newly acquired western territories soon renewed the buildup. The government added 4 permanent regiments in 1855, bringing the total to 19; on the eve of the Civil War, the regular army's actual strength stood at 16,367 officers and men.
Within the army, the most notable development of the antebellum period was the professionalization of the officer corps. Beginning in 1821, West Point graduates received the vast majority of officers' commissions, and the stabilization of military organization encouraged growing numbers of regulars to make the service a long‐term career. Despite the pressures of constabulary duty, many regulars took a serious interest in such professional topics as tactics, weaponry, fortification, and military education, and the era brought a steady infusion of European military thought into the army. Officers developed a service ethic—a collective image of the army as a politically neutral instrument of the government, performing sometimes unpleasant but essential tasks for the public welfare. In the Mexican War, the reformed army—officered largely by West Pointers and armed with elite batteries of light artillery—passed its first major combat test, validating the cadre concept and formal military education.
A yawning social chasm separated the officer corps from the enlisted ranks of the antebellum army. The great majority of enlisted men were urban laborers and journeyman artisans who enlisted for economic reasons. Although some African Americans in the military served in regular units in the later stages of the War of 1812, most were discharged in the postwar demobilization, and blacks were officially barred by a War Department order of 1820. On the other hand, white immigrants (mainly Irish and Germans) composed a sizable segment of the enlisted regulars throughout the period, and they reached two‐thirds of the total with the great wave of immigration in the late 1840s and 1850s. Because of low troop morale and harsh living conditions at frontier posts, desertion and other disciplinary problems were common, and the officers countered with a severe and often arbitrary regime of physical punishment. Such treatment merely aggravated the problem of discipline and the result was chronic tension along the officer‐enlisted boundary.
The Civil War confronted the army with a crisis of loyalty, and about one‐quarter of the officer corps left to support the Confederacy. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln drew mainly on state organized and federally funded ad hoc units of U.S. volunteers to raise the vast wartime army, which reached approximately 1 million in 1865. However, Congress expanded the regular establishment to 30 regiments in 1861 and increased the enlisted strength of all units, bringing the official level to 39,278. The War Department kept these units relatively intact, resisting pressures to scatter experienced personnel through the volunteer forces. Nevertheless, hundreds of active duty and former officers did obtain volunteer commissions, and regulars dominated the high command levels of the Union forces. The traditions, procedures, and identities of the antebellum army pervaded the war effort and shaped in numerous ways the conduct of the struggle: strategy, tactics, logistics, administration, and civil‐military relations.
[See also, Academies, Service: U.S. Military Academy; Army Combat Branches; Ethnicity and Race in the Military; Northwest Territory, Military Actions in the Old.]
Russell F. Weigley , History of the United States Army, 1967.
Francis Paul Prucha , The Sword of the Republic: The United States Army on the Frontier, 1783–1846, 1969.
Richard H. Kohn , Eagle and Sword: The Beginnings of the Military Establishment in America, 1783–1802, 1975.
Edward M. Coffman , The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784–1898, 1986.
William B. Skelton , An American Profession of Arms: The Army Officer Corps, 1784–1861, 1992.
William B. SkeltonArmy, U.S.: 1866–99 In the post–Civil War era, the 1‐million‐man Union army was reduced by 1871 to a U.S. Army of 29,000, remaining around that level until the Spanish‐American War in 1898, when the wartime force grew to nearly 200,000 regulars and U.S. Volunteers. It fell to about 80,000 by the end of 1899. From 1866 to 1898, the small regular army fulfilled its traditional primary task as a constabulary force on the Indian frontier, but it also took on new duties of military occupation during Reconstruction and of suppressing labor strife in industrial areas.
No other agency had the personnel to carry out federal Reconstruction policies in the South. In addition to peacekeeping there, the army performed such civil functions as opening schools, operating railroads, rebuilding bridges, supervising banks, and holding courts of law. When President Andrew Johnson and the Republican majority in Congress disagreed, Congress in 1867 passed Military Reconstruction Acts over Johnson's vetoes. The acts divided the former Confederate states into five military districts, each governed by a major general, and initiated the process for new state constitutions that declared slavery illegal, disavowed secession, and enfranchised African American men. The process was completed between 1868 and 1870. Thereafter, Southern Republican governors called on the army as a posse comitatus to protect freed blacks and others loyal to the Union, by guarding polling places and controlling paramilitary organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. Thus, the U.S. Army was involved in postwar politics in the South until the end of Reconstruction in 1877.
During Reconstruction, Congress for the first time authorized permanent units of black soldiers (albeit with white officers) for the army. In 1866, six such regiments were recruited, later reduced to four. Separate black regiments continued to exist until the Korean War in the 1950s. In the 1870s, black soldiers patrolled the frontier and participated in campaigns against the Indians, who called them “Buffalo” Soldiers. Some Indian scouts were employed. The majority of enlisted ranks were white soldiers, many of them recent immigrants.
The Indian‐fighting army of the Plains Indians Wars later became legendary in fiction and film, but its service was controversial. The federal government ordered the army to restrain or fight Indian tribes in order to open the West. Desire for the Indians' lands meant that conflict was inevitable. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and Gen. Philip H. Sheridan supervised campaigns that inflicted defeats on the Indians. Indian noncombatants were killed in some campaigns. The Indians won a few battles, most notably the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876), but were never victorious in a campaign. The tribes were forced to sign treaties restricting them to reservations.
Historians debate whether the army was isolated from society in the Gilded Age. Senior officers hobnobbed in the East with political and economic leaders, while the majority of enlisted men and line officers served at isolated frontier posts. Several times between 1877 and 1899, the government sent army units to quell labor strikes in northern cities, along railroad routes, and in western mining camps. By 1890, several of the army's posts were located near large cities. The debate over the army's alleged “isolation” begs the questions of when, where, and which portions of the army may have been isolated from society.
In part reacting to European developments after the Franco‐Prussian War of 1870–71, army officers sought modernization and reforms. In 1881, General Sherman established the Command and General Staff School at Leavenworth, Kansas. Sherman's protégé, Col. Emory Upton, studied armies in other nations. Upton's classic, Military Policy of the United States, unfinished when he committed suicide in 1881, was not published until 1904. Upton's criticism of the traditional civilian control of the military and of the citizen‐soldier, and his desire for pre‐trained, European‐style reserves, meant that he gained little influence outside the regular army.
The Ordnance Department, showing its inherent conservatism, was reluctant to acquire repeating rifles, like the lever action Winchester, that would rapidly consume ammunition. Ordnance adopted the breech‐loading Springfield Model 1873 rifle to replace the Union army's muzzleloader, but both were single‐shot weapons using black powder. Not until 1892 did Ordnance adopt a smokeless powder rifle, the bolt action Krag‐Jorgensen, based on a Danish design; but it was still less effective than European clip‐fed rifles. In 1898, due to shortages of ammunition and cleaning kits, Krags were not issued to the U.S. Volunteers at the beginning of the Spanish‐American War; consequently, most of them carried the obsolete Model 1873 into battle.
The army was not well prepared when Congress declared war against Spain, and the lawmakers bypassed the regulars plans by authorizing massive numbers of U.S. Volunteers. Pushed to act by President William McKinley, the War Department cobbled together expeditions to the Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands. Combining aggressiveness and luck, the Americans (regulars supplemented with U.S. Volunteers) won campaigns against larger if demoralized Spanish garrisons in all of the contested colonies. The Treaty of Paris (1898) ending the war awarded the United States possession of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and temporary control of Cuba. The army administered military governments in Cuba and the Philippines and continued to fight in the Philippine War (1899–1902) against Filipino insurgents who sought independence. Responsibilities for garrisoning a new island empire, acting as the constabulary on a new overseas frontier, would occupy an expanded U.S. Army in the early twentieth century, even as the army sought to modernize and prepare for wars against other expanding world powers.
[See also African Americans in the Military; Army Combat Branches; Ethnicity and Race in the Military; Side Arms, Standard Infantry; Weaponry, Army.]
Stephen E. Ambrose , Upton and the Army, 1964.
William H. Leckie , The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West, 1967.
James E. Sefton , The United States Army and Reconstruction, 1865–1877, 1967.
Robert M. Utley , Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866–1890, 1973.
Jerry M. Cooper , The Army and Civil Disorder, 1980.
David F. Trask , The War with Spain in 1898, 1981.
Joseph G. Dawson III , Army Generals and Reconstruction: Louisiana, 1862–1877, 1982.
Paul A. Hutton , Phil Sheridan and His Army, 1985.
Edward M. Coffman , The Old Army, 1986.
Joseph G. Dawson IIIArmy, U.S.: 1900–41 During the transitional period prior to 1920, the army abandoned its traditional constabulary duties on the Indian frontier to pursue preparation for modern warfare—adapting its organization, training, and doctrine for projection of American power abroad, fighting one world war, and preparing for another.
In the new century's first years, progressive officers convinced Secretary of War Elihu Root that the nation must create a “war army” prepared for conflict with other great powers. The resulting Root reforms included an army war college; a strengthened system of officer education; a fourfold increase in regular forces; improvement of the National Guard; and the General Staff Act (1903).
Although the last seemed to clarify the relation of the commanding general (the line or field forces) and the bureau chiefs (the administrative and technical staffs) to one another and to the secretary of war, traditional line‐staff rivalries persisted in new form as bureau chiefs battled the chief of the General Staff for the right, in the name of the war secretary, to control the army.
Other events during Root's secretaryship—the Philippine War, U.S. military involvement in the Caribbean and Latin America, and the China Relief Expedition—continued the army's constabulary role, if in new locations, as its units overseas reflected the Progressive Era's spirit by keeping order, sponsoring local government, conquering yellow fever, and building roads, sewers, schools, and water systems.
Fear of an expanding Germany and Japan, however, aided advocates of a “war army,” and during the secretaryships of Root and Henry L. Stimson, the army resumed annual maneuvers. Congress appropriated modest sums for modern rifles (the Springfield Model 1903), artillery, and field telephones, and for experimentation with aircraft, motor transport, and machine guns. At the urging of Chief of Staff Leonard Wood, Stimson established the nation's first peacetime divisions: self‐contained and self‐supporting fighting units of approximately 10,000 men.
The Preparedness movement—prompted by the outbreak of World War I—contributed to further land force modernization, which included attempts to resolve the long‐standing debate over how to raise trained manpower sufficient to match the armies of Europe. The resulting National Defense Act of 1916 sought gradually to expand both regular forces and the National Guard, strengthen the latter, and lay the foundations of ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps).
The army nevertheless remained unprepared for World War I, and when Gen. John J. Pershing sailed for France in June 1917 at the head of the American Expeditionary Force, he took with him trained personnel sorely needed to manage an 18‐month expansion of the army from just over 100,000 regulars to a wartime force of almost 4 million men, more than two‐thirds of whom were draftees.
The strains of economic mobilization finally prompted Secretary Newton D. Baker to appoint a vigorous new chief of staff— Gen. Peyton C. March—and use the powers granted by the Overman Act of 1918 to strengthen the General Staff, reorganize the supply bureaus under Gen. George W. Goethals, and cooperate with the War Industries Board. Even so, soldiers of the world's leading industrial power went into battle using many French or British weapons.
The postwar National Defense Act of 1920 returned to a peacetime, volunteer army, enlarged the General Staff, and confirmed the authority of its chief. As chief of staff after 1921, Pershing created the structure—personnel, intelligence, training/operations, supply, and war plans divisions—that the General Staff would carry into World War II. The army also studied the Great War's economic demands and produced a series of industrial mobilization plans in the 1930s that improved upon the work of the prewar Council of National Defense.
In 1920, Congress rejected General March's proposal of a half‐million‐man expandable regular force backed by reservists given three months of compulsory military training. Instead, Congress authorized a ready‐to‐fight regular army roughly half that size and a program of voluntary training for an expanded National Guard and organized reserve.
By 1922, a budget‐conscious Congress reduced the regulars to 150,000. The National Guard and enlisted Reserve Corps remained far below authorized strengths. Mistakenly keeping the 1920 act's sprawling organizational structure intact, and abetted by a Congress unwilling to fund new weapons, the army maintained a poorly armed skeletal force incapable of rapid deployment, and, by the mid‐1930s, lacked a single combat‐ready division.
Unwisely assigning its tanks to the infantry rather than the cavalry, the interwar army was hampered by more than a lack of funds from creating a modern armored force. Although the Army Air Corps received funding for new aircraft, doctrinal battles highlighted by the court‐martial of Gen. Billy Mitchell emphasized strategic bomber aircraft, and left it without planes, doctrine, or procedures for tactical close air support of ground troops or even adequate fighters to escort the strategic bombers.
In the interwar years, the army turned to extensive planning and officer education to keep alive skills needed for future warfare. This included joint planning by army and navy officers for war with potential enemies. In addition, at the Infantry School (1927–32), Col. George C. Marshall emphasized education as he revolutionized infantry tac‐tics and troop‐leading procedures. Two hundred of the school's faculty and graduates would become general officers in World War II. Branch schools, the General Service School (Leavenworth), The Army War College, even army posts became scenes of intense activity led by spelling of such dedicated officers as Fox Conner, George S. Patton, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Nevertheless, the army did not hold its first genuine corps‐sized maneuver until April 1940.
Beginning in 1935, Congress gradually increased the army's size and soon authorized an ammunition reserve and “educational” contracts—small orders for new weapons to encourage industry to obtain machine tools and develop techniques for a rapid, emergency increase in arms production. Even with the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to implement army plans for industrial mobilization. The German defeat of France in June 1940 led to further expansion of the regular forces, federalization of the National Guard, a reserve call‐up, and the nation's first peacetime conscription, with the aim of creating, by mid‐1941, a better‐armed field force of 1.5 million organized into thirty‐four semimotorized triangular divisions and thirty‐five air groups.
Military planning made a further shift by 1941 when adoption of a “Germany First” strategy, Anglo‐American coordination, the American occupation of Greenland and Iceland, and the navy's escorting of convoys as a result of the Lend‐Lease Act and Agreements (1941) to Britain. These brought the United States to a de facto if still limited military involvement in the European War—a limitation abandoned following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and Hitler's subsequent declaration of war upon the United States.
[See also Army Combat Branches; Militia Acts; Militia and National Guard; National Defense Acts; Weaponry, Army.]
Forrest C. Pogue , George C. Marshall: Education of a General, 1880–1939, 1963.
Edward M. Coffman , The Hilt of the Sword: The Career of Peyton C. March, 1966.
Russell F. Weigley , History of the United States Army, 1967.
Allan R. Millett , The General: Robert L. Bullard and Officership in the United States Army, 1881–1925, 1975.
James L. Abrahamson , America Arms for a New Century: The Making of a Great Military Power, 1981.
John W. Chambers , To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America, 1987.
David F. Trask , The AEF and Coalition Warmaking, 1917–1918, 1993.
Carlo D’Este , Patton: A Genius for War, 1995.
James L. AbrahamsonArmy, U.S.: Since 1941 During World War II, the U.S. Army developed into a powerful and flexible war machine. Numbering over 8 million officers and men, its ranks filled by a comprehensive draft, the army fielded ninety‐eight combat divisions, as well as a large tactical and strategic air force and the service troops needed to sustain worldwide deployments. The most highly mechanized of World War II ground forces, the army fought effectively in a wide variety of environments. It also mastered joint operations, culminating in the D‐Day landing in the invasion of Normandy. Backed by American industry, the army established a global logistical system that sustained forces over vast distances with a lavishness unprecedented in history. The U.S. Army accomplished its basic mission: the total defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
After V‐J Day, 2 September 1945, the World War II army quickly melted away. By mid‐1950, army strength totaled about 590,000 in 10 understrength divisions. However, the beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the U.S. commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the outbreak of open hostilities in Korea soon brought renewed expansion sustained by Conscription and draft‐induced volunteers. The Cold War army fluctuated in strength from 1.5 million at the height of the Korean War, to 873,000 under the President Dwight D. Eisenhower “New Look,” to just over 1 million under President John F. Kennedy's Flexible Response. After the 1950s, it was no longer a racially segregated force, but integrated African Americans in the military.
Until the Vietnam War, the largest concentrations of army troops were in three areas: Europe, where they formed a major component of NATO's ground forces; Korea, where they guarded against renewed North Korean attack; and the United States, where a pool of divisions was available to reinforce the overseas theaters or respond to new contingencies. Under the National Defense Acts of 1947, 1949, and 1958, the Department of the Army—now part of the Department of Defense and no longer with cabinet status—organized, trained, and supplied these forces for regional joint commands but no longer itself directed combat operations. The army's chief of staff served as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with the heads of the navy and Marine Corps and of the air force, which had been separated from the army in 1947. The army command and staff meanwhile underwent repeated reorganizations, all tending to eliminate the old War Department bureaus in favor of broad functional commands such as the Strike Command, Continental Army Command, Air Defense Command, and Material Command, all created in 1963.
In the so‐called joint arena, where the services competed for funding, roles, and missions, the army had mixed fortunes. Under Eisenhower's post‐Korea “New Look,” which emphasized nuclear deterrence, the air force and the navy received budgetary priority. The army seemed in danger of being relegated to serving as a nuclear trip‐wire in Europe and dealing with minor “brushfire” conflicts elsewhere. Under President Kennedy, who sought other than nuclear means of preventing Communist inroads, the army moved back to center stage as the principal agency for conventional defense in Europe and for counterinsurgency against Communist revolutionary warfare in the Third World.
These fluctuations of emphasis notwithstanding, the basic tasks of the Cold War army remained throughout forward defense and deterrence in Europe and Korea; conduct of short‐of‐war interventions, as in the Lebanon Crisis (1958) and the Dominican Republic (1965); and the provision of arms, training, and assistance to America's allies around the world. Additionally, during the domestic racial and social upheavals of the late fifties and the sixties, the army repeatedly was called on to help control civil disturbances at home.
Weaponry and tactical organization were in a state of transition in the 1950s and early 1960s. Under the “New Look,” the army developed a family of tactical nuclear weapons and competed with the air force in the emerging field of ballistic missile research and development. It reorganized its divisions on the “Pentomic” pattern of five battle groups, supposedly able to operate effectively on a nuclear battlefield. More productively in the long run, the army experimented with helicopters as a means of both troop transport and fire support. Under Flexible Response, the army modernized its material for nonnuclear warfare. It acquired new models of tanks and armored vehicles, adopted new standard infantry sidearms, and brought air mobile tactics to full development. The service restructured its divisions on the ROAD (Reorganization Objective Army Division) pattern of three task‐organized brigades, a formation adaptable to both nuclear and nonnuclear operations. To assist American allies in counterinsurgency, the army organized its green beret–wearing Special Operations Forces.
When Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson committed the army to the Vietnam War, the service was at a peak in training, administrative efficiency, troop morale, and popular acceptance. The long, inconclusive Vietnam conflict ended this state of affairs and brought the army to the edge of disintegration. Not all was failure. Most of the army's draftee and volunteer soldiers fought bravely; the ROAD division performed well; and the helicopter and air mobility revolutionized the conduct of ground operations. Yet victory proved elusive. The army had to fight a major war without the Army Reserves and National Guard, under budgets inadequate both to sustain the conflict and maintain its worldwide commitments.
As the war absorbed men and materiel, army forces in Europe and the United States became hollow shells, lacking combat effectiveness. The quality of leadership and discipline deteriorated; racial violence, drug abuse, assaults on officers and NCOs, and general defiance of authority proliferated in Vietnam and worldwide. Scandals, such as the My Lai Massacre (1968) and its cover‐up within the chain of command, tarnished the army's public image and undermined its self‐esteem. The war alienated the army from much of the American public. Responding to antiwar, antimilitary sentiment, President Richard M. Nixon ended the draft, leaving the army with a whole new set of manpower procurement problems.
During the two decades after the end of the Vietnam War, a dedicated cadre of leaders pulled the army back together. Accepting the challenge of creating an All‐Volunteer Force with a strength fixed at about 780,000, they overcame the service's race, drug, and discipline problems, and adopted programs to bring well‐educated young people into the ranks. In the process, they integrated women into the service until they could be found in all but the highest general officer ranks and in every specialty except direct ground combat. Helped by the generous defense budgets of President Ronald Reagan's administration, army leaders made up for lost time in securing new weapons and equipment in the 1980s. They radically revamped army training and tactics in the light of the lessons of the 1973 Arab‐Israeli War, evolving the concept of a highly mechanized, fast‐moving “AirLand Battle.” Their objective was to create an army ready to fight and win the first battle against Soviet forces superior in numbers and very nearly equal in technology. The rebuilt army successfully met the test of combat during the U.S. intervention in Grenada (1983) and in Panama. During the Persian Gulf War (1991), it outmaneuvered and outfought what had been thought to be a formidable Iraqi opponent.
Yet victory over Iraq was followed by new challenges. With the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, America's army had to cope with declining budgets and the painful necessity of reducing a force of professionals who had expected to make the service a career. Lacking a dominant threat on which to center their plans and programs, army leaders contemplated a range of new missions and contingencies. Throughout, they expressed their determination to maintain a high level of readiness and retain their technological advantage over any likely enemy.
[See also African Americans in the Military; Army Combat Branches; Strategy: Land Warfare Strategy; Tactics: Land Warfare Tactics; Vietnam Antiwar Movement; Weaponry, Army; Women in the Military; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]
William L. Hauser , America's Army in Crisis, 1973.
Paul H. Herbert , Deciding What Has to Be Done: General William E. DePuy and the 1976 Edition of FM 100‐5 Operations, 1984.
John L. Romjue , From Active Defense to Airland Battle: The Development of Army Doctrine 1973–1982, 1984.
Russell F. Weigley , History of the United States Army, enl. ed., 1984.
Ronald H. Spector , The Vietnam War and the Army's Self‐Image, in John Schlight, ed., Second Indochina War Symposium: Papers and Commentary, 1986.
Geoffrey Perret , There's a War to Be Won: The United States Army in World War II, 1991.
Robert E. Scales, Jr., et al. , Certain Victory: The United States Army in the Gulf War, 1993.
Graham A. Cosmas
The formal end of the Revolutionary War in 1783 required the Continental Congress to consider a peacetime military establishment. Alexander Hamilton sought the advice of George Washington, and his report, proposing a force of just over twenty-six hundred, drew heavily on the general's recommendations. That plan, however, never obtained the approval of the Continental Congress, and on 2 June 1784 the Continental Army was disbanded—with only eighty officers and men retained. The next day, Congress asked the states for seven hundred militiamen and soon appointed Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar to command them. That force was sent into the territory north of the Ohio River to protect settlers, aid surveyors, and prevent intrusions on federal and Indian lands.
In 1786, when a rebellion led by Daniel Shays broke out in western Massachusetts, Secretary of War Henry Knox had no forces with which to protect the arsenal in Springfield. In the end, the Massachusetts militia under General Benjamin Lincoln put down the rebellion and saved the army's weapons and stores. The weakness of the Articles of Confederation was clear. The states were not only slow in recruiting, but many failed to satisfy their 1784 quotas. As a result, in 1785 and again in 1788, the Congress asked the states for three-year troops. Even that approach could not keep Harmar's frontier force close to its authorized strength.
the army under the federalists
When the Constitution of 1787 went into effect two years later, the army consisted of a single, understrength regiment of infantry and a battalion of artillery for a total of less than seven hundred men. The next year, the new federal Congress authorized a total of 1,216 men for the new nation's army. Although both African Americans and Indians were members of numerous Revolutionary War units, their recruitment into the army was forbidden through the early national period.
In June 1790, when violence between setters and Indians north of the Ohio increased, Knox ordered Harmar and Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, to attack the Indians along the Upper Wabash and Maumee Rivers. St. Clair led a force of regulars and militia north from Vincennes, but he turned back before making contact. Harmar's force, also a mix of regulars and militia, was ambushed at the Maumee. Although his regulars fought well, the militia fled the flight. Harmar lost 180 men, of whom 73 were regulars.
Late the next year, St. Clair was ordered into the field for a second time. Early on the morning of 4 November 1791, his force was attacked by Indians. Again the militiamen fled, trapping themselves and the regulars in a murderous crossfire. St. Clair lost 635 dead and some 300 wounded out of a force of about 1,500. Also killed were some 50 women and children, and many more camp followers were captured. Colonel Richard Butler, St. Clair's second in command was killed, and St. Clair himself had eight bullet holes in his clothing.
In the aftermath of this defeat, Secretary Knox proposed enlarging the army and Congress approved, authorizing a force of nearly five thousand men, including riflemen and dragoons. At the same time the administration decided to reorganize the force, adopting a legionary system of four sublegions, each with its own infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Knox and Hamilton, now secretary of the Treasury, also reorganized the army's logistics and contracting system. This new force was put under the command of Anthony Wayne, an officer with a reputation for boldness.
In the spring of 1792, after enlarging the army, Congress took up militia reform. The administration's plan was to strengthen and make uniform the state forces and bring them under increasing federal influence. The Uniform Militia Act of 1792, however, accomplished neither aim—nor did any subsequent effort. Rather, it insured a national military establishment of regulars, augmented when necessary by federal volunteers, not militia.
Wayne immediately began to shape his new recruits into an effective fighting force. By the winter of 1793–1794, when he began to move into hostile country, he had barely thirty-five hundred of the five thousand men promised, and many of these were needed to protect his lines of communication. Still, what men he had were thoroughly trained. In July 1794 Wayne's fighting force of some two thousand regulars and fifteen hundred Kentucky volunteers moved toward the Maumee River. They burned and pillaged Indian towns as they marched, demonstrating that the British would no longer aid the tribes. Then, on 20 August, Wayne achieved a decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The subsequent Treaty of Greenville in August 1795 brought lasting peace to the Ohio country.
Meanwhile, in 1794 western Pennsylvania farmers refused to pay a new whiskey tax, and President Washington called up nearly thirteen thousand militia and marched them west through Pennsylvania. In the face of this force, resistance quickly ended. In the same year, Knox ordered the arsenal at Spring-field to produce muskets, a second national arsenal at Harpers Ferry was approved, and the army began fortifying key seaports. An ordinance officer was appointed to supervise the arsenals, and, two years later, a Corps of Artillerists and Engineers was created to build, garrison, and maintain the new costal forts.
In 1798, during the presidency of John Adams (1797–1801), the Quasi-War broke out—a maritime conflict between France and the United States. When France and England went to war four years before, Washington proclaimed U.S. neutrality, but the French, who believed they were due active support, began attacking American shipping. Fearing a wider conflict, Congress authorized a huge increase in forces. Most important of these was the New Army, consisting of twelve infantry regiments and six troops of dragoons. (The "old" army on the frontier, having abandoned its legionary organization, now had two infantry regiments.) In addition a ten-thousand-man Provisional Army, and an even more massive Eventual Army for emergencies, were authorized should war be declared. Furthermore, the president was authorized to accept volunteers as he saw fit. Of all of these, only a few volunteers and selected units of the New Army were ever organized, and even then few other than officers were ever enrolled. Washington was appointed to command this force, but he agreed to serve only if he could remain at home at Mount Vernon until the nation actually went to war. The Federalists' tendency to appoint only fellow Federalists as officers politicized the army and widened the political divide. The opposition Democratic Republicans claimed to see in this and other administration actions evidence of an incipient military despotism.
By early 1800 the threat of war, external or internal, had subsided, and the Adams administration began to eliminate those new units that had been created. At its peak the army may have approached six thousand men, but when Thomas Jefferson became president in March 1801, the number had declined to roughly thirty-six hundred.
the jeffersonian army
Jefferson, however, was less concerned about the size of the army than about the predominance of Federalist officers in its ranks. Many of these men were strongly opposed to him and his policies and might, he feared, prove unresponsive to his orders. The United States Military Academy was created in 1801 by Jefferson and recognized by Congress in the Military Peace Establishment Act of 1802. Both the academy and the Peace Establishment Act were elements in a plan to reduce Federalist influence and ultimately Republicanize the army. The authorized strength of the army was set by the act at just below thirty-three hundred—roughly the size of the force when the measure was passed.
After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the army, under Brigadier General James Wilkinson, began to garrison the towns on the western bank of the Mississippi River and push into the interior of the continent in a series of explorations. The first, in 1804, was the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark up the Missouri River to find a route to the Pacific. In 1805 other detachments ascended the Osage and Mississippi Rivers and in 1806 explored the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers.
In June 1807, just off Norfolk, Virginia, the British ship Leopard mauled the American frigate Chesapeake. Resentment in America quickly turned into war fever, but Jefferson took measured steps until February 1808, when the administration asked for a sizable increase in troops that would bring the army to an authorized strength of almost ten thousand officers and men. In April, Congress gave the administration what it had asked, and Secretary of War Henry Dearborn immediately began the process of expanding the army—and finding Republicans to fill the new officer billets. As usual, recruiting lagged behind the appointment of officers, and the actual number of troops reached a high of around seven thousand in 1808 and then declined to an average of about six thousand from 1809 through 1811.
the war of 1812
In June 1812 President James Madison asked for a declaration of war against Great Britain on four familiar grounds: impressment, illegal blockades, the Orders in Council, and British encouragement of Indian warfare on the northwestern frontier. Anticipating Madison's request, Congress had, in January, begun the creation of a force of about 36,000 men, plus volunteers, and militia. By 1814 the total authorized force was some 62,500 regulars, of which barely 38,100 were ever raised. Strategic control of the War of 1812 lay with the Americans in 1812 and 1813. They correctly believed that Canada was vulnerable and focused their efforts there during the first two years. The army, however, was ill prepared for an offensive war. Since the Revolution it had been scattered in company-size posts across the country. With few exceptions, there had been neither opportunities nor inclination to train or plan for either largescale offensive action or the support and supply of such operations. After two seasons of campaigning without effect, the British took strategic control of the war. As the duke of Wellington's veterans poured into Canada, it is likely that the United States was saved from further embarrassment by a negotiated peace.
the beginnings of modernization
The War of 1812 began under the leadership of senior officers who were veterans of the Revolutionary War—Dearborn, Wilkinson, William Hull, and Wade Hampton, in particular. By 1815 younger men—Jacob Brown, Edmund P. Gaines, Alexander Macomb, Decius Wadsworth, Winfield Scott, and Andrew Jackson—had replaced these veterans, and these new men were the ones who would lead the army for years to come. Just months after the war was over, the army was reduced to an authorized strength of just over twelve thousand officers and men. The actual strength of the force declined until 1820, when the number fell below nine thousand.
At that point Congress announced its intention to reduce the army to about six thousand, and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun proposed an Expansible Army plan that would retain most of the officers and noncommissioned officers needed for a twelve-thousand-man army, but only about one-third of the privates required for the larger force. The House of Representatives favored a more conventional approach, but the Senate sided with Calhoun and his expansible force was approved largely as he had suggested. The bill, however, did not explicitly mention Calhoun or his innovation, and its implications escaped the attention of many at the time (including some serving officers); the measure was also largely overlooked by historians for a century and a half.
In the years following the War of 1812, the army began slowly to evolve into a more professional organization. In 1815 a Board of Tactics presided over by Winfield Scott adopted drill regulations to train and discipline the troops based on the French model. At about the same time, the Ordinance Department began to promote uniformity in production between the two armories at Springfield and Harpers Ferry—a shift that ultimately moved them from craft industry to industrial production. In 1817 the Military Academy at West Point was placed under Sylvanus Thayer, who quickly turned it into a true engineering school—the first in the nation. In 1821 the newly trained engineers found employment as the army began a second program of seacoast fortification. In 1824, moreover, when the army was ordered to provide surveys, plans, and estimates for roads, canals, and other internal improvements, civil engineering was added to the academic curriculum.
The army's nascent modernization was further evidenced by the creation of its first professional school, an Artillery School formed at Fortress Monroe in 1824. This was followed three years later by an Infantry School at Jefferson Barracks. Although these proved premature and lasted less than a dozen years, it is clear that the years between 1815 and 1828 were the beginning of a long period of slow, sometimes sporadic professional growth for the U.S. Army.
See alsoArsenals; Fallen Timbers, Battle of; Forts and Fortifications; Gunpowder, Munitions, and Weapons (Military); Military Technology; Militias and Militia Service; Quasi-War with France; War of 1812; Whiskey Rebellion .
——. West Point: A Bicentennial History. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002.
Kohn, Richard H. Eagle and Sword: The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America, 1783–1802. New York: Free Press, 1975.
Skelton, William B. An American Profession of Arms : The Army Officer Corps, 1784–1861. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.
Stagg, John C. A. Mr. Madison's War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.
Theodore J. Crackel