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Wayback Playback: Army History Through Time

A small American flag, folded traditionally 13 times and placed above the name on a soldier’s uniform.

Since its establishment 245 years ago today, the United States Army has played a pivotal role in the development of this nation.

On June 10, 1775, John Adams proposed to the Second Continental Congress that the men laying siege to Boston be considered a Continental Army to be led by a general.

Four days later Congress agreed, thus making the Army the nation’s first national institution.



In the last quarter of the 18th century, relations between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, particularly Massachusetts, were contentious.

In response to the December 16, 1773 Boston Tea Party, the British imposed a number of economic sanctions on the city’s port.

Samuel Adams and John Hancock, two of Boston’s leaders, loudly protested the sanctions and began to argue for independence from Great Britain.

Tensions grew when in May 1774 Lieutenant General Thomas Gage, the royal governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the presence of British troops reminded the Bostonians that Britain was in control.

By early 1775, that sense of control would be challenged at Lexington and Concord.



Believing Adams and Hancock were hiding in the town, on Wednesday, April 19th a British force of 700 men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith marched from Boston to Lexington.

At around five o’clock in the morning, the British entered the town.  They were led by Major John Pitcairn, Smith’s second-in-command.

Waiting on the town’s common green were 77 militiamen – sometimes referred to as Minutemen – under the command of Captain John Parker.

Pitcairn ordered Parker’s men to disperse.  As they did so, an unaccounted for shot was fired.

Lead and smoke instantly filled the air; with that exchange of gunfire the American Revolution began.

Adams and Hancock evaded the search, so the British continued toward Concord in search of a rumored arsenal.

A depiction of the battles of Lexington and Concord. Credit: General Atomic.


Word of the brief fight in Lexington quickly reached Concord ahead of the British.  To protect their arsenal, many of the village’s citizens hid its contents.

When the British showed at eight, Concord was nearly deserted.   The soldiers began to search and burn the contraband they discovered; they did not destroy any homes or barns.

But the smoke from the smoldering contraband caught the eyes of the Minutemen hiding on a ridge on the far side of the Concord River.

Thinking the British were igniting the town, at about ten-thirty Colonel James Barrett ordered his 500-man force to move to the west end of the North Bridge.

He ordered his men to not fire first.


The North Bridge

Seeing the militiamen move toward the span, several companies of British soldiers took up positions on the other side and started to tear a part of it up.

Barrett’s men charged across the bridge; the British faced a growing wave of gun barrels and bayonets.

Unlike the unaccounted shot at Lexington, this time there was no question; the British opened fire first before retreating.


A Hard March Back to Boston

By noon, over 1,000 militiamen had converged on Concord.

Aware of this, Smith ordered his troops to finish burning the contraband, to form up, and to begin the march back to Boston.

The red-coated British on the open road made excellent targets for the Minutemen marksmen who, shooting from behind logs and stone walls, pursued them.

Chaos and fear fell into step with the British soldiers as their casualties mounted.

At one point, Parker’s small force from Lexington extracted a measure of revenge when it ambushed a company of British soldiers as they crossed a bridge near a heavily forested hillside.

At about three in the afternoon on the outskirts of Lexington, a significant British force, under the command of Hugh Lord Percy, arrived and scattered the colonial force.

But they regrouped and came back.

With over 4,000 Minutemen in pursuit, Smith’s soldiers faced more hard fighting.  Beaten and demoralized, they staggered into Boston at dusk.


Congress Acts

As news of the defeat spread, militiamen from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and the northeastern section of Massachusetts (later Maine) marched to surround the British forces in Boston.

John Adams (a second cousin of Samuel Adams), who represented Massachusetts, understood that a united military effort would be required if the Colonies were to achieve independence.

On June 14, 1775, he proposed that Congress “adopt” the troops surrounding Boston.  The legislators not only agreed to Adam’s proposal, they also resolved to form a committee “to bring in a draft of rules and regulations for the government of the Army.”

From that moment 245 years ago today, the United States Army has honorably served the United States of America.

This we’ll defend.

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