The summer before its members signed the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress wrangled over the structure and payroll of the budding fighting force it would entrust with making the document’s pledges a reality.
Congressional delegates resolved their differences on June 14, 1775, establishing the Continental Army. A captain, they agreed, would earn $20 a month; a sergeant $8; a private a measly $6.66. Weapons and clothing were not included. The ragtag militias regrouped under this new banner would, after seven years of bloody combat, rid the colonies of their British overlords. Over the next two and a half centuries, the service they fought for would evolve into the core of the world’s mightiest war machine.
The U.S. military’s oldest branch has come a long way from its humble origins. The Army has long since scrapped its bring-your-own-gun policy; standard uniforms are now provided (though many enlistees probably wish they weren’t). The successors of the thousands of bedraggled infantrymen who camped Valley Forge’s woody hills are now headquartered in a five-sided pseudo-city occupying six different zip codes. Chronically underfunded in its early years, it now boasts a $185 billion budget and more than one million personnel.
From the crater-strewn fields of Amiens to the deserts surrounding Baghdad, Army soldiers have headlined every major American conflict since the country’s founding. Today, it runs around 160 installations worldwide; stateside, it owns more than 15 million acres of land (which, if combined, would form the country’s 42nd largest state).
Though the first woman to officially enlist in the American armed forces (Loretta Perfectus Walsh) joined the Navy in 1917, possibly the first ever female American soldier, Deborah Sampson, fought in the Continental Army at the tail end of the Revolutionary War under a male pseudonym. The country’s first president and 23 of his successors served in the branch. The Army can’t claim to be a trendsetter in every area, however. Though it was the nation’s first service, it was also the last to adopt an official song (in 1956).
The Army will commemorate its 248th anniversary with a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery followed by a highly-anticipated cake-cutting at the Pentagon. Later in the evening, members of the public can watch personnel decked out in historic Army regalia act out scenes from the service’s past at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia. Hopefully, 248 years of congressional budget battles are left out of the script.
Editor’s note: This story was updated after publication at 9:34 a.m. EST to note that the Army’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget was approximately $185 billion.
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