Civics 101 - The United States Army

Matthew Lane • Updated Jun 3, 2019 at 6:30 PM

The United States Army will be celebrating its 244th birthday later this month.

Civics 101 this week takes a look at the Army, its history and some quick trivia facts about our largest and oldest military branch.

In the early days of the American Revolution, the Continental Army — our first regular fighting force — was organized by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1775. It was formed as a means for the 13 unified American colonies to fight the forces of Britain.

This army consisted of 22,000 militia troops besieging Boston and an additional 5,000 militiamen in New York. George Washington was unanimously elected commander-in-chief of the fledgling army, and he would lead the colonies to victory and independence.

The following year — in January 1776 — the Continental Congress partially responded to Washington’s urgent appeals by establishing a single standing force directly raised from all of the colonies, distinct from the several colonial militias.

These “Continentals” were enlisted for longer terms and were trained more thoroughly than the militias. In addition, these troops provided Washington with a small but stable nucleus with which to work and proved to be his chief reliance in the dark hours of the war. They were the beginning of the regular army.

Today, the U.S. Army is made up of more than 700,000 soldiers, including active duty and Army Reserve personnel. These soldiers fill many roles, from doctors, lawyers, and engineers, to electricians, computer programmers and helicopter pilots.

Soldiers are police officers, logistics experts and civil affairs representatives. The Army’s constant need for a diverse range of individual soldiers, each with his or her own expertise, is what sets it apart from other branches of the U.S. military.


1. Thirty U.S. presidents served in the Army, 24 during the time of war, with two earning the rank of 5-star general (Washington and Eisenhower) and one earning the Medal of Honor (Teddy Roosevelt).

2. Less than 28 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 23 are qualified for military service. That’s only about one in four.

3. The U.S. Air Force was part of the Army until 1946. It was called the Army Air Corps.

4. Only one president (James Buchanan) served as an enlisted man in the military and did not go on to become an officer.

5. The U.S. Army was in charge of exploring and mapping America. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was an all Army affair. Army officers were the first Americans to see such landmarks as Pike’s Peak and the Grand Canyon.

Sources: GoArmy.com, Britannica.com, Military.com and Wikipedia.com.

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