On June 14, 1775, the Second Continental Congress created the Continental Army from militias fighting British forces in the American Revolutionary War, with General George Washington appointed its commander- in-chief. From those humble beginnings, for better or for worse, the US Army would become one of the most powerful militaries in the world.

The US Army is marked its birthday on Sunday, June 14, with the White House issuing a commemorative tweet, and the army releasing a bland recruitment video. The Pentagon, meanwhile, solemnly marked the occasion with a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, where over 400,000 soldiers from the Civil War to America’s many foreign wars are buried. In honour of the occasion, here are ten of the Army’s most amazing triumphs and most humiliating defeats.

1: Revolutionary War

Undoubtedly the most important of the many battles that would follow it, the Army’s performance in the Revolutionary War of 1775-1783 was perhaps its most spectacular victory, with the militia-turned-soldiers from 13 British colonies in North America banding together under General George Washington’s leadership and ousting the British, at the time the largest and most powerful empire in history. With a little help from French and Spanish forces, as well as American Indian allies, the US Army of 200,000 men total was able defeat some 48,000 Redcoats, the Royal Navy, and some 25,000 British loyalists who took up arms, and establish the American republic. In 1783, the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, and London formally recognized Washington’s status as a sovereign nation.

2: War of 1812

In 1812, with Britain and its allies busy fighting Napoleon in Europe, the US declared war, attempting to annex British holdings in North America (i.e. Canada). Both sides proved unprepared for the conflict, with American men who eagerly took up arms to throw off the yoke of the British three decades earlier unenthusiastic about signing up to fight in a war of aggression. British Canada, meanwhile, was defended by just over 6,000 men. The war quickly turned into a war of position along the vast borders between the US and Canada, with most of the fighting taking place in the Great Lakes region, along with a naval campaign in the Atlantic which included a blockade of the US East Coast. Possibly the most memorable event for both sides was the successful redcoat amphibious invasion of Washington, DC, and the burning of the White House in August 1814. The conflict would claim some 15,000 American and 10,000 British and Loyalist lives, and end in a stalemate. Strategically, however, this was a defeat for the US Army, which failed to make Washington politicians’ dreams of conquering North America a reality. In 1814, the warring parties signed the Treaty of Ghent, with no territorial changes made.

Battle of Queenston Heights.

3: Mexican-American War

In 1846, a year after the Republic of Texas’s annexation by the United States, a territorial dispute between the US and Mexico turned into a full-blown war. The war ended in a major victory for the US Army, with Mexico ceding over 1.3 million square km of territory from the Rio Grande River to the Pacific Ocean at the cost of ‘just’ 1,700 US and 5,000 Mexican troops. The Mexican-American War set the stage for turning the US into a true continental economic and military power.

4: Civil War

US Army open to discussion on Renaming Bases currently honouring confederate leaders

In the early to mid-1860s, the United States would wage what remains the deadliest conflict in American history – the Civil War, which saw Army forces loyal to the Union fight it out with the secessionist Confederate States of America between 1861 and 1865. The conflict had several causes, with slavery at the center, with the North seeking to abolish it while wealthy landowners in southern states sought to keep it). The war saw a series of bloody campaigns from Texas and Arizona to the Mississippi River, Kentucky, Virginia and the Carolinas, with 365,000 Union Army troops, and 290,000+ Confederate Army and militia, perishing in the conflict. All told, the war caused as many as a million deaths, or 3 percent of America’s entire population at the time. The war ended in April 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee Surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The collapse of the Confederacy led to the freeing of four million black slaves.

Battle of Antietam, charge of the Iron Bridge

5: World War I

On April 6, 1917, two and a half years after the beginning of the Great War, Washington entered the conflict after a year-long propaganda campaign by the Wilson administration to convince mostly pro-neutrality Americans to see the need to join the British and French-led conflagration against the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. More than anything, the US Army’s contribution to the war was as a morale builder to relieve the exhausted Western allies, particularly after the Russian Revolution and Russia’s exit from the war in March 1918. Militarily, the US troops helped blunt the German Spring Offensive of March 1918, and took part in the August-November 1918 series of attacks against Germany and Austro-Hungary. Militarily, however, US commanders’ tactics were just as horrific as those of their French, British and German counterparts, with 53,400 of the 4 million+ troops mobilized killed, many of them sent into the meat grinder of trench warfare to be cut down and bled white in frontal assaults on enemy machinegun emplacements.

Soldiers returned to the U.S from France after the Great War march in a homecoming parade in Madison Square, New York City, 1918


To be concluded tomorrow