Today marks the 245th anniversary of the United States Army. On June 14, 1775, the First Continental Congress placed the militia at Boston under its control and authorized 10 additional companies of rifleman to be raised.
The next day, Congress offered militia colonel George Washington a commission as “General and Commander-in Chief of the Continental Army. “ He accepted the offer, but refused a salary, requesting only that his expenses be paid.
Washington’s exaggerated title notwithstanding, his military manpower paled in comparison to Great Britain’s vast military might. His “Continental Army” actually consisted of a handful of “regulars” and a congeries of contentious militia. Full confrontation with the British Army and its Hessian mercenaries would, in his mind, be foolhardy.
Instead, Gen. Washington resorted to the “Fabian tactics,” of the Roman general, not the American pop singer. His “hit and run” approach reaped more losses than victories early on, but he kept his forces relatively intact, and learned from his mistakes the hard way.
On Dec. 25-26, 1776, Washington led his Army in a surprise night attack across the Delaware River to defeat the Hessian force occupying Trenton, New Jersey. On Jan. 3, 1777, he led his Continental Army to another resounding victory over the British at Princeton, New Jersey.
Still, Washington faced formidable challenges along the way. They included lack of manpower and materiel, thanks partly to a weak Congress under the Articles of Confederation and militias reluctant to fight outside their respective colonies. Although Congress had authorized for 1776 “a Continental Army of 20,372 men organized into 26 regiments of 728 officers and men each,” the burdens of recruiting, training and retaining this army were Washington’s to bear largely alone. By mid-December 1775, he had enlisted only 3,506 men.
Fortunately, Washington’s forces won the pivotal Battle of Saratoga, New York on Oct. 17, 1777. This victory brought glee to France and gloom to Great Britain. It led to overt French aid, notably army and naval forces.
The climatic Battle of Yorktown, Va., in October, 1781, pitted Gen. Washington’s troops and French forces against British commander Charles Cornwallis. Following a long siege, with the French Navy blocking his escape route, Cornwallis finally surrendered on Oct. 19, thus ending the military phase of the war. Declared on July 4, 1776, American independence was officially recognized Sept. 3, 1783, with the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty.
Since its inception on June 14, 1775, our Army has continued to play a vital role in the security, growth and development of our great nation in peace and war. Even in these troubled times, at home and abroad, that is worth noting, today and everyday.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.