the future of war
homeexperts' analysesinterviewschronologydiscussion

a u.s. army firing excersize
u.s. army chronology


A Continental Army is formed to fight the British government of King George III, authorizing the recruitment of 10 companies of riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia as the first permanent military force to be supplemented by militia units from local communities. Weapons of the time include muskets accurate to a range of about 100 yards. Roughly 10,000 soldiers are killed or wounded in combat.
1776America's first battle occurs on Long Island, NY, when General George Washington's force of 3,500 engages Major General William Howe's 20,000 man army. Washington's forces are outflanked and forced to retreat, losing 1,000 casualties in the battle. The defeat forces the Americans to rearm and dramatically increase the size of its standing army to take on the larger, better trained, and more well-equipped British forces.
1787 Delegates to the Constitutional Convention form a permanent military force of a regular army, navy and militia. It is placed under civilian control, with Congress in charge of appropriations and the president as commander in chief. President George Washington first uses the Army in 1794 to help restore order to a tax rebellion by Pennsylvania farmers.
1802The US Military Academy is established at West Point, NY, by President Thomas Jefferson, in part to train scientists and engineers to aid in national development.
1812-15 In the second "war of independence" against the British, the US War Department is reorganized after early problems of mismanagement. Soldiers are equipped with more modern weapons and training methods and win a series of successful battles against the British. Notable battles include the defense of Fort McHenry near Baltimore, which inspires the "Star Spangled Banner," and Major General Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans, which leads to US control of the entire Mississippi Valley.
1815-40During this period, the US Army focuses on internal threats and explorations to the country's south and west, often engaging in conflicts between settlers and native Americans. West Point expands and is the only school in the country producing qualified engineers until 1835. The Army establishes a professional system of branch schools and journals. Its medical corps contributes significantly to the study of smallpox vaccination and other illnesses.
1846President James Polk orders Brig. General Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande River to establish a border with Mexico. When hostilities break out, the Army employs rapid horse-drawn artillery to overcome Mexican forces. Gen. Winfield Scott successfully marches to Mexico City and other key towns, while Col. Stephen Kearney's Army of the West secures territories that later become California, Arizona and New Mexico. Officers such as Robert E Lee, Ulysses Grant and George McClellan participate in these campaigns. More than 17,000 US soldiers are killed or wounded in this war.
1861The Civil War breaks out after the Battle at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The regular Union Army undergoes a massive restructuring after it increases from just 16,000 to nearly 500,000 men following a call to arms by President Lincoln. New artillery and musket technology, such as use of the minnie ball, dramatically increase the killing power of soldiers, resulting in unprecedented carnage on the battlefields. Nearly a million men are killed or wounded in this war. After General Robert E. Lee's surrender in 1865, the Union Army continues to occupy the south to enforce Congress's "Reconstruction" policy. The last federal troops are not withdrawn until 1877.

The first major battle of the Civil War is at First Bull Run at Manassas, VA. Union forces of 38,000 men led by Brig. Irvin McDowell attack 32,000 Confederate forces led by Brig General P.G.T. Beauregard. The confederates successfully counterattack and push McDowell's forces back to nearby Washington. Total casualties in the battle are close to 5,000, and huge caches of equipment are lost by the retreating Union forces. The battle forces the Union Army to reexamine its officer corps and come up with new battle tactics, although it takes years for Civil War generals to appreciate the deadly effects of new rifle and cannon technology.

1898America is drawn into its first global conflict in the Spanish American War. President William McKinley orders the Army to lead an expeditionary force to Cuba. Equipped with faster breach loading rifles and rapid firing Gatling guns, Army forces, including Col. Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Rider cavalry regiment, rout the Spanish forces. US Army troops are also sent to oust Spanish forces in Puerto Rico and in the faraway Philippines, where 11,000 US soldiers fight a long, bloody conflict against local insurgents. The Army effectively controls the Philippines until 1902 when it turned the country back over to civilian control.
1901Secretary of War Elihu Root (who later wins the Nobel Peace Prize) establishes the Army War College to improve the service's education system, but also reorganizes the Army's outmoded system of bureaus with a chief of staff system that facilitates long term warfare planning and an improved promotion system for officers. He also improves the Army's cooperation with the National Guard and the Navy.
1916As tensions increase with Mexico, President Woodrow Wilson sends an Army expedition led by Brig. General John Pershing into Mexico to retaliate against Pancho Villa's bloody raid on Columbus, New Mexico. Mexico threatens war with the US and 112,000 National Guard and Army troops are sent to the border, but a major conflict is averted.
1917 The US enters World War I and the Army goes through a rapid mobilization and modernization effort. It increases to a force of 225,000 men, while developing new weapons such as tanks, long range artillery and aircraft that become essential in the new global conflict. Led by Commanding General Pershing, the Army employs 8 regular army division, 17 National Guard Divisions, and 17 newly formed National Army divisions in combat operations in France. Although the US enters the war late, total American casualties are 320,000.

The First Division under command of Major General John Pershing fights the first major American battle of World War I against the German 18th Army at Cantigny, France in 1918. In a three day see-saw battle with experienced German troops, American forces suffer heavy casualties. The army learns hard lessons about how to fight open trench, long range artillery warfare with infantry formations.

1930sThe Army focuses on domestic problems when President Franklin Roosevelt asks the War Department to respond to the effects of the Great Depression. Army officers organize the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employs over three million Americans, and the Army is called to respond to various domestic problems.
1940World War II. On the eve of this war, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall greatly expands and modernizes the Army under the nation's first peacetime draft. Marshall eliminates the horse drawn cavalry and focuses on modern mechanized armored units perfected by the Germans. It conducts huge maneuvers in Louisiana and the Carolinas to test its new equipment and division structures. By 1941 the Army has over 1.6 million men in uniform, and more than 8 million in uniform by the end of the war in 1945.

The Army suffers initial defeats in battles such as Kassarine Pass in North Africa and in the Philippines. The Army soon rebounds with a huge influx of men and materiel as it perfects the combined use of mobile armored units and airpower. This turns the tide against the Germans and Japanese in major operations in Africa, Europe and the Pacific that ultimately lead to their surrender in 1945. The Army also supervises the Manhattan Project and the building of the atomic bomb, leading to a new era in modern warfare. US forces killed, wounded or missing in action during World War II total over 1 million.

The first US Army battle of World War II takes place in Tunisia between Major General Orlando Ward, who commands the 1st Armored Division, and German General Erwin Rommel's 10th and 21st Panzer divisions and the Africa Korps. American forces are routed in a series of German attacks and forced to retreat through Kassarine Pass. American forces have more than 3,000 casualties, 3,000 soldiers listed as missing, and lose hundreds of tanks, artillery pieces and large amounts of supplies. They prove to be inexperienced and overmatched by their German counterparts, forcing American commanders to reexamine training and battlefield tactics and reorganize the army's division structures.

1950Korean War. After a massive demobilization and reorganization in the post-World War II era, the Army is once again called into action when North Korea attacks South Korea. Task Force Smith, a hastily organized expedition by the 24th Division, is sent to defend South Korean forces. The task force suffers a series of defeats and has to retreat before it can be relieved, raising concerns the Army had become a poorly prepared force. The United Nations forces, under General MacArthur, attempt to push to the Chinese border and reunify the country, but are overwhelmed by a Chinese counterattack and pushed back. UN and American forces under the command of Lt. General Matthew Ridgway rally to maintain the South Korean border at the 38th Parallel. After several more years of fighting to a stalemate, an armistice is signed in 1953. Over 130,000 US soldiers, sailors and airmen are killed or wounded in the conflict.
1960sVietnam. Early in this decade, the Kennedy Administration sends Army military advisors and massive equipment supplies to assist the South Vietnamese army, which is engaged in a losing battle with local Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. As the South Vietnamese government teters, President Lyndon Johnson dramatically escalates US involvement, putting more than 180,000 US troops in Vietnam by the end of 1965 and instituting the draft. Army tactics of "search and destroy operations" employ helicopters for tactical mobility. US and South Vietnamese forces often take heavy casualties by the less well-armed enemy forces, who effectively use guerilla warfare techniques. Although US troop strength rises to more than 500,000 by 1969 under General William Westmoreland, the long bloody war ultimately results in a withdrawal of US forces and later a stinging defeat for the poorly motivated South Vietnamese army in 1975. Over 200,000 US forces are killed or wounded in action in Vietnam.

The first major battle of the Vietnam War between US forces and North Vietnamese regulars involves the 1st Cavalry Division (Airborne) and the 32, 33, and 66th North Vietnamese Regiments in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. American forces attempt to stop a North Vietnamese offensive by helicoptering in 2,700 men in quick strike tactics. The battle lasts for several days and involves bloody hand to hand combat. Although American forces kill 10 times as many of the more numerous North Vietnamese forces, who suffer as many as 4,000 casualties, several American units are decimated. Both sides claim victory.

1980sFollowing the US pullout from Vietnam, the Army reorganizes its all-volunteer force and is supported by a major funding boost by the Reagan Administration. Money pours into new weapon systems such as the M-1 Abrams tank to beef up Army forces in Europe. The Army also forms a rapid deployment force to prepare for possible Soviet threats in places like the Middle East. In 1983 Army forces engage Cuban soldiers in Grenada, and in 1989 the Army conducts airborne assaults in Panama to topple Manuel Noriega's regime. All of this is overshadowed by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the ultimate dissolution of the Soviet Union.
1990The Gulf War. While the world is still reacting to the demise of the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein sends Iraqi forces into Kuwait. President George Bush sends General Norman Schwarzkopf to build up a US-led coalition force of 500,000 at the Saudi Arabian border. In February 1991, the coalition force attacks Iraqi positions and within 100 hours eliminates 36 Iraqi divisions, captures 60,000 Iraqi forces and destroys 4,000 tanks. US forces killed or wounded total less than 800. Army weapon systems designed during the Cold War such as the upgraded M-1 tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Apache helicopter are successfully used together in combat for the first time.
1993Somalia. Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division and the Army's Special Operations Command enter war-torn Somalia as part of a multinational effort to provide food and other humanitarian aid to the Somali. The mission soon escalates to combat operations against various Somali clans in an effort to restore order. A total of 27 soldiers--18 alone in one battle in the city of Mogadishu--are killed in Somalia until US forces are withdrawn in the spring of 1994.
1994 The Army begins developing digitization and modernization efforts to move the force into the next century and take advantage of new information based technologies. It experiments with new division structures, intelligence capabilities and integrated technologies to build a force that can respond to post-Cold War threats. Meanwhile, active duty Army forces are cut by about 40% during the post-Cold War military downsizing efforts in the 1990s.
1995Bosnia. The US Army's 1st Armored Division enters Bosnia as part of a multinational force to implement the Dayton Peace Accord as part of the United Nations Stabilization Force. The Army mission, called Task Force Eagle, consists of one brigade combat team of the 3rd Infantry Division, which includes some 4,000 soldiers who work closely with Russian and Turkish forces, as well as members of the Nordic-Polish Battle Group.
1999 Kosovo. In NATO's war against Serbia's ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, soldiers of the US Army's Task Force Hawk--originally assigned to protect the Army Apache helicopters that were never used in combat--enter Kosovo after Yugoslavian troops are forced to withdraw. Their new mission, called Task Force Falcon, is the main element of the US-led peacekeeping and stability operations in southeastern Kosovo. The Army's total strength is 6,200, formed mainly around the 1st Armored Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team based out of Germany, and elements of the 101st Airborne Division Division. Greek, Jordanian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and United Arab Emirates soldiers also are involved in the peacekeeping duties.

Partly in response to the Army's failure to deploy its Apache attack helicopters in the war over Kosovo, newly appointed Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki announces a new Army transformation effort to quickly develop a medium weight force to deploy anywhere in the world in 96 hours. He begins efforts to train two new brigades at Ft Lewis, Washington, using wheeled vehicles instead of traditional heavier tracked armored personnel carriers. His plan is to sustain current Army forces and build new medium weight forces, while aggressively designing a new high tech Army called the "objective force" that will replace the current armored forces by 2012-2015.

Combat Studies Institute, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas
US Army Center of Military History
US Civil War Center, Louisiana State University

home ·  experts' analyses ·  interviews ·  army chronology ·  quiz ·  discussion
gore & bush's military agenda ·  readings ·  synopsis
credits ·  tapes & transcripts ·  pbs online ·  frontline

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation