The United States Army celebrates its 243nd birthday today. If you see an active duty, former, or retired member of the United States Army today, wish their service Happy Birthday.
The Army website provides a short but thorough overview of its history. Here are five things worth knowing:
- The Army is the oldest of the four services. It was created on June 14, 1775, so it’s four months older than the United States Navy, five months older than the United States Marine Corps, and 172 years older than the United States Air Force, which began as part of the Army.
- Eleven Army generals went on to become president of the United States: George Washington (General), Andrew Jackson (Major General), William Henry Harrison (Major General), Zachary Taylor (Major General), Franklin Pierce (Brigadier General), Andrew Johnson (Brigadier General), Ulysses S. Grant (General), Rutherford B. Hayes (Major General, Brevet), James A. Garfield (Major General, Volunteers), Benjamin Harrison (Major General, Brevet), and Dwight D. Eisenhower (General). No Navy Admiral, Marine Corps General, or Air Force General has ever been elected president. (Chester A. Arthur was Quartermaster General of the New York State Militia at the start of the Civil War, but I don’t believe he was mustered into federal service.)
- The highest rank in the Army is General of the Armies of the United States. Only two men have held it: George Washington and John Pershing. Efforts to give General Douglas MacArthur the title failed. Washington got his title posthumously on July 4, 1976. During his lifetime, the highest rank he achieved was Lieutenant General. President Ford issued the executive order elevating Washington to six-star status because given the military’s strict hierarchy he was technically outranked by the four- and five-star generals who came after him. President Ford’s executive order directs that Washington shall always be considered the most senior U.S. military officer.
- The Medal of Honor has been awarded to a member of the Army 2,451 times. Put differently, 70 percent of all 3,518 Medals of Honor awarded have gone to soldiers.
- There are about 468,000 active duty Army personnel.
I asked Colonel Daniel S. Morgan, an active duty U.S. Army officer spending the year as a military fellow at CFR, what to read to learn more about the Army’s history. Below is what he recommended, organized into three categories: political science, history, and leadership. He picked three for leadership because “it is that important.” (I will add a fourth, Colonel Morgan’s own book, Chasing the White Rabbit: A Discovery of Leadership in the 21st Century, which he co-authored with his brother.)
- Peter Zeihan, The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Order (2014).
- John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001).
- Rick Atkinson, The Liberation Trilogy, which includes An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 (2002), The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (2007), and The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (2013).
- T. R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War: A Study of Unpreparedness (1963).
- Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (2015).
- Elbert Hubbard, A Message to Garcia: And Other Essential Writings on Success (2009).
- Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t (2014).
Colonel Morgan also recommended five films to watch:
- Darkest Hour (2017). It’s “a good look at the political decisions that lead to war.”
- 12 Strong (2018). It “discusses what it is to have the patriotism to deploy.”
- Thank You for Your Service (2018). It “shows many of the struggles veterans endure returning home.”
- Dunkirk (2017). It accurately “portrays sacrifice and war.”
- Last Flag Flying (2017). It “explores nuanced reactions to the loss of a family member and soldier.”
Corey Cooper assisted in the preparation of this post.