This “Today in History” is dedicated to United States Army Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Richard B. “Rick” Long, Sr., the man for whom this writer is namesake. Rest in Peace, Dad. You left us too soon.
February 25, 1937 – March 31, 2018
When Caesar crossed the Rubicon River at the head of an army, everyone understood what it meant. A strife of interests would no longer be carried out by civil or legal means. Caesar had crossed the military threshold and there was no turning back. There would be civil war. Republic would give way to Empire. Two thousand years later, to “Cross the Rubicon” still means to take a step which cannot be reversed.
The British colonies in North America crossed a Rubicon of their own in April, 1775. Before Lexington & Concord, there had always been a benefit of the doubt. The ‘Boston Massacre‘ of five years earlier resulted not in insurrection but in trial, with Boston attorney John Adams acting for the defense.
The “olive branch petition” adopted by the 2nd Continental Congress three months after the ‘shot heard ’round the world’ was a last-ditch attempt to prevent full-on war, but too late. The die was cast.
The first Continental Congress of 1774 convened in response to the ‘Coercive Acts”, imposed by the English Parliament to bring the colonists into line with Crown tax policy. The 2nd Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia the following year, had come for the conduct of war.
The fledgling United States had no Army at this time, relying instead on ad hoc militia units organized by the colonies themselves. At this time there were approximately 22,000 armed colonials surrounding some 4,000 British troops occupying Boston, and another 5,000 or so in New York.
The Continental Congress established the ‘American Continental Army’ on this day in 1775, authorizing 10 companies of ‘expert riflemen,’ to serve as light infantry in the siege of Boston. The next day the Congress unanimously chose George Washington to be General and Commander-in-Chief of all continental forces.
During those first years of the war, American ground forces more closely resembled a ragtag assemblage of state militias, than a professional army.
Following the 1779 Battle of Stony Point, Brigadier General Anthony Wayne was able to write to Washington, “Dear Gen’l: The fort and Garrison with Col. Johnston are ours. Our officers and men behaved like men who are determined to be free.”
Most of the Continental Army was disbanded following the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the war in 1783. The 1st and 2nd Regiments remained, becoming the basis of the Legion of the United States in 1792 and forming the foundation of the United States Army in 1796, an organization since evolved into the premier fighting force, of all the world.
The Army’s official banner features the original War Office Seal in blue on a white field over a scarlet banner displaying the words “United States Army” and the year, ‘1775’. The flag was adopted by President Dwight Eisenhower on June 12, 1956, officially dedicated and unfurled before the general public on June 14, 1956, the 181st birthday of the United States Army.
The concept of individual campaign streamers first came about during the Civil War. When on full display, the US Army flag currently includes 190 such streamers.
The Navy came about in October of 1775, the Marine Corps a month later. 18th century revenue cutter and rescue operations led to the formation of the United States Coast Guard in January, 1915.
According to the website www.usmma.edu, the federal government first began training its citizens for naval service during the Grant administration. Congress passed the landmark Merchant Marine Act in 1936. The Air Force spun off of the Army Air Corps, eleven years later.
On August 31, 1949, Defense Secretary Louis Johnson announced the creation of Armed Forces Day, the 3rd Saturday in May, to recognize the contributions of the United States military and its constituent branches. Speaking at an Armed Forces Day event in 1953, President Dwight David Eisenhower remarked that: “It is fitting and proper that we devote one day each year to paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.”
From the dawn of the 20th century, the Nobel Peace prize was awarded to individuals and organizations which have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
After two World Wars, is it possible that the United States military has done more to promote peace than all of those individuals and organizations, combined?
If you are so inclined, it would be proper to pay tribute and thank a teacher, that you are able read this essay. On this, the birthday of the United States Army, you might thank a soldier that you can read it, in English.