Saving Private Ryan: The Real-Life D-Day Back Story
Steven Spielberg’s 1998 film Saving Private Ryan may include some of the most horrific fighting scenes ever produced on film. War Department directive ...read more
Why the Battle for Hamburger Hill Was So Controversial
For almost 11 days in May 1969, American troops waged a deadly battle for control of a 3,000-foot-tall hill in a remote valley in South Vietnam. Famously known as “Hamburger Hill,” the battle launched the first phase of Operation Apache Snow, a coordinated attack by the U.S. Army ...read more
PTSD and Shell Shock
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, leapt to the public’s consciousness when the American Psychiatric Association added the health issue to its diagnostic manual of mental disorders in the 1980s. But PTSD—known to previous generations as shell shock, soldier’s heart, combat ...read more
How Did 'Taps' Originate?
The origins of “Taps,” the distinctive bugle melody played at U.S. military funerals and memorials and as a lights-out signal to soldiers at night, date back to the American Civil War. In July 1862, U.S. General Daniel Butterfield and his brigade were camped at Harrison’s ...read more
Why are American soldiers called GIs?
The origins of this popular nickname are somewhat murky. A popular theory links the term to the early 20th century, when “G.I.” was stamped on military trash cans and buckets. The two-letter abbreviation stood for the material from which these items were made: galvanized iron. ...read more
9 Things You May Not Know About the U.S. Armed Forces
At the beginning, the military was practically nonexistent. Believing that “standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican governments [and] dangerous to the liberties of a free people,” the U.S. legislature disbanded the Continental Army ...read more
First female army officer is appointed
In a ceremony held at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, General Dwight D. Eisenhower appoints Florence Blanchfield to be a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, making her the first woman in U.S. history to hold permanent military rank. A member of the Army Nurse Corps since ...read more
U.S. Military Academy established
The United States Military Academy—the first military school in the United States—is founded by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science. Located at West Point, New York, the U.S. Military Academy is often simply ...read more
United States Army
The United States Army (USA) is the land service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the eight U.S. uniformed services, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the U.S. Constitution.  As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence,  the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed (14 June 1775) to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country.  After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army.   The United States Army considers itself to be a continuation of the Continental Army, and thus considers its institutional inception to be the origin of that armed force in 1775. 
The U.S. Army is a uniformed service of the United States and is part of the Department of the Army, which is one of the three military departments of the Department of Defense. The U.S. Army is headed by a civilian senior appointed civil servant, the secretary of the Army (SECARMY) and by a chief military officer, the chief of staff of the Army (CSA) who is also a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is the largest military branch, and in the fiscal year 2020, the projected end strength for the Regular Army (USA) was 480,893 soldiers the Army National Guard (ARNG) had 336,129 soldiers and the U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) had 188,703 soldiers the combined-component strength of the U.S. Army was 1,005,725 soldiers.  As a branch of the armed forces, the mission of the U.S. Army is "to fight and win our Nation's wars, by providing prompt, sustained land dominance, across the full range of military operations and the spectrum of conflict, in support of combatant commanders".  The branch participates in conflicts worldwide and is the major ground-based offensive and defensive force of the United States.
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June 1944: Operation Overlord, the invasion at Normandy on D-Day, started with a 1,200-plane airborne assault into German-occupied France hours before the larger beach landings. American paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions achieved mixed results. They accomplished some key goals such as securing flanks for the amphibious invasion, though they also suffered missed landing zones and failure to meet other D-Day objectives.
March 1945: More than 16,000 allied paratroopers participate in Operation Varsity during the last major airborne operation of WWII and the largest one-day drop. />The mission successfully overwhelmed the German opposition. Casualties for the two divisions totaled 2,700, with about 3,500 Germans captured and an unknown number of casualties. />/>U.S. paratroopers leave their planes in a mass drop behind enemy lines in the Sunchon area of North Korea on Oct. 25, 1950 during an operation designed to block the escape route of the retreating Chinese and to attempt to rescue American prisoners. Members of an advance party (foreground) watch the landing. (AP Photo/Max Desfor
U.S. paratroopers leave their planes in a mass drop behind enemy lines in the Sunchon area of North Korea on Oct. 25, 1950 during an operation designed to block the escape route of the retreating Chinese and to attempt to rescue American prisoners. Members of an advance party (foreground) watch the landing.
Photo Credit: Max Desfor/AP
March 1951: During Operation Tomahawk, the second of two Korean War jumps, about 3,400 ‘Rakkasans’ with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team jump behind enemy lines to trap enemy forces north of Seoul. But as with the first airborne drop in 1950 north of Pyongyang, most of the opposing Chinese and North Korean forces they hoped to corner escaped./>Dead jungle tree catches the eye of paratrooper of the U.S. 173rd air borne brigade in Vietnams war zone C during operation Junction City on Feb. 26, 1967. (AP Photo)
A dead jungle tree catches the eye of a paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade during Operation Junction City in Vietnam on Feb. 26, 1967.
February 1967: About 800 paratroopers engage in America' lone combat jump into Vietnam, Operation Junction City. While able to inflict significant causalities, the objective of finding and destroying the Viet Cong's central command post failed. Most troops entered battle in Vietnam via air assault (helicopter).
/>An 82nd Airborne trooper looks over his shoulder to take a last look at Grenada before boarding a Military Airlift Command plane for the trip home at Point Salines airfield on Friday, Nov. 4, 1983. (AP Photo/Pete Leabo)
An 82nd Airborne trooper looks over his shoulder to take a last look at Grenada before boarding a Military Airlift Command plane for the trip home at Point Salines airfield on Friday, Nov. 4, 1983.
Photo Credit: Pete Leabo/AP
October 1983: The United States invades Grenada with Operation Urgent Fury. Following an initial wave of 500 Rangers, about 6,500 troops enter in an amphibious, airborne, and helicopter assault of the Caribbean island nation with a population of about 90.000 that met minimal local and Cuban resistance.
December 1989: The 82nd Airborne Division makes its first jump since World War II when 4,000 paratroopers, along with the 75th Ranger Regiment, drop in to invade Panama and ultimately help remove dictator, drug trafficker, and former CIA-informant Manuel Noriega.
September 1994: Planes loaded with paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were already in the air and on the way to invade Haiti during the UN-authorized Operation Uphold Democracy. Before they arrived, though, 1991 military coup leader and dictator Raoul Cedras />decided to step down and restore the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. />/>American soldiers with the 173rd Airborne division out of Vicenza, Italy, head to their vehicles as they guard an oil-gas seperation facility in the northern oil fields on the outskirts of Kirkuk, northern Iraq, Saturday April 12, 2003. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
American soldiers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza, Italy, head to their vehicles as they guard an oil-gas separation facility in the northern oil fields on the outskirts of Kirkuk, northern Iraq, on April 12, 2003.
Photo Credit: Peter Dejong/AP
March 2003: About 950 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade jump into Northern Iraq into Bashur Airfield, which had already been secured by the Army's 10th Special Forces Group and Kurdish allies.
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30 Crazy Facts about the U.S. Army
From enormous robots to antique submarines, the Army's done it all.
The Army is one of the oldest and longest lasting institutions in America. It's been around for 243 years, and with the United States spending more on the military than the next eight highest-spending countries combined, it's not going anywhere anytime soon.
In fact, thanks to its rich history, there is a wealth of trivia about the U.S. Army that you might not know. If you're curious to learn more, we've rounded up 30 crazy facts about the U.S. Army, each more unbelievable than the last.
The measure to create a unified Continental Army, to be led by George Washington, was passed by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1775. So, technically, the United States has had an army for a year longer than it's been a country.
General Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion pioneered modern guerrilla warfare during the Revolutionary War. He traveled along swamp paths and lead his men in surprise attacks against unsuspecting British troops. Then, they would withdraw just as unexpectedly as they'd popped up.
George Washington chose the Army's service dress colors in 1779. Though the Army has tried many color schemes over the years, in 2010 they went back to Washington's picks.
The rank of five-star general didn't exist until 1944, and it was only given to five men, including former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. The ranks were retired in 1981, when the last surviving five-star general, Omar Bradley, died.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the military used motorized blowers to blow zinc cadmium sulfide into the air over large swaths of the United States as part of Operation LAC (Large Area Coverage). The San Francisco Bay area, Saint Louis, parts of Minnesota, and the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia were all sprayed with the substance. Zinc cadmium sulfide was used because it's a fluorescent, and the military was researching potential dispersion of chemical and biological weapons.
Until 1947, the Air Force was the Army Air Corps. The National Security Act of 1947 turned it into its own separate branch of the Armed Forces.
Graduates from Fort Leavenworth's University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies have been trained to play devil's advocates to avoid the pitfalls of groupthink that were happening in the military. Graduates of the program are called Red Teamers.
The Union would have had a tough time during the Civil War if it weren't for immigrants, who made up a third of the army, and African-Americans, who were one-tenth of soldiers. In fact, in a quarter of all regiments, the majority was made up of foreigners.
The first documented submersible vehicle used in combat was the Turtle, which was operated with hand controls and foot pedals. The Turtle was used in a failed attempt to sink a British ship that was moored off Governors Island in New York City.
"Rangers lead the way" was adopted as the Army Rangers slogan during an exchange on Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion. General Norman Cota said to Major Max Schneider, "If you're Rangers, lead the way!"
Coca-Cola president Robert Woodruff said that any servicemen in World War II should be able to get a bottle of Coke for a nickel, anywhere in the world, so Coca-Cola created the Technical Observer program to make it happen. There were 148 Technical Observers, who supervised the shipment and operation of 64 bottling plants. Technical Observers had an Army officer's rank and pay, as well as uniforms with a special patch to identify them. They distributed more than 5 billion bottles of Coke to soldiers.
Currently, the Army employs 476,000 Regular Army, 343,000 Army National Guard, and 199,000 Army Reserve for a total of 1,018,000 uniformed personnel, in addition to 330,000 civilian personnel.
U.S. Army Air Corps Lieutenant General John MacCready asked Bausch & Lomb to make glasses for his pilots that would block the rays of the sun and reduce their nausea and headaches, and thus the company Ray-Ban was formed.
The 45th Infantry used a swastika as their sleeve insignia to honor their numerous Native American members, for whom it was a symbol of good luck. After the symbol was co-opted by the Nazis, the Infantry abandoned the symbol and settled on using the Thunderbird as their insignia thereafter.
In addition to the nerve and mustard agents, 400,000 chemical bombs, rockets, and land mines were also dumped at at least 26 different spots off the coast. The dumping took place post-WWII and carried on until 1970. The Army isn't entirely sure where all the weapons were discarded.
PSYOPS would lure enemies in Afghanistan into fights they couldn't win by calling them "cowardly dogs" and "lady men."
Depleted uranium ammunition can pierce armored vehicles. The energy released upon impact creates heat that causes the bullets to ignite. So, when a round makes it inside an armored vehicle, it can also ignite any ammunition that's inside the vehicle, along with fuel, which kills the crew and can even cause the vehicle to explode.
The original Army was a ragtag crew of people in need of some serious training. A Prussian officer named Baron Friedrich von Steuben was brought on to be the Army Inspector General and taught soldiers military drills, tactics, and discipline. At the time he was hired, he was fleeing France, where French clergy were demanding he receive punishment for being homosexual.
The every inhabitant of the island of Diego Garcia, over 1,000 in total, was kicked out by the British government to make room for a U.S. military base to be constructed. The inhabitants were relocated to Mauritius, mostly in slum neighborhoods. Mauritius only accepted the islanders after payment of £650,000.
Military Working Dogs, or MWDs are trained in various methods of attack, detection, and patrol. The dogs can also specialize in narcotics or explosives detection. Dogs must undergo 16 hours of training every month, in addition to quarterly evaluations.
If all the land the Army owned were one state, it would be the 42nd largest state in the nation.
The total number of military bases around the world is around 800, which is probably more than any country or empire has had in all of history.
The Selective Service wasn't always around. It was created by the Selective Service Act of 1917 to increase the size of the military for World War I. During the Civil War there was a draft, but a person drafted could hire a substitute to fight in their place, and the Selective Service Act got rid of that provision. Before the law was passed, the Army only had 121,000 members. By the end of the war, 2.7 million men were drafted.
In total, 31 presidents have served in the United States Armed Forces, and 16 of those, including Theodore Roosevelt, served in the Army specifically. Of those 31, 24 presidents served during wartime.
"The Army's Always There" by Sam Stept was nearly the Army's official song, but it sounded too much like "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," so it didn't make the cut. Finally, 181 years after its founding, the Army settled on "The Army Goes Rolling Along," a song set to the melody of an artillery tune, as its official song in 1956, making it the last branch of the Armed Forces to adopt a song.
mariva2017 / Shutterstock
For an infantry platoon of 30 men to carry out a 3-day mission, they have to carry 400 pounds of batteries to supply power to all of their equipment.
When the Army wasn't fighting in wars, they were out mapping the country. In fact, Army officers and noncommissioned officers made up the Lewis and Clark Expedition that helped map out the uncharted territory of the American West.
George Washington wasn't sure he was fit for the task of commanding the army. He expressed reluctance at the suggestion that he should lead, and thought he might not have adequate experience and skills to do the job.
The Great Los Angeles Air Raid of 1942 had the military firing 1,400 anti-air artillery, as well as countless .50 caliber rounds at an enemy aircraft. However, it turned out that the "enemy aircraft" everyone had been firing at was a lost weather balloon. No doubt itchy trigger fingers created by the attack on Pearl Harbor helped fuel the overreaction.
The Army invented an enormous robot called a walking truck to help infantry carry equipment over rough terrain. The robot, also called CAM (Cybernetic Anthropomorphous Machine) was controlled by hand and foot movements that were coupled to hydraulic valves. CAM weighed 3,000 pounds and was exhausting to use, with operators only being able to control it for limited amounts of time. And if you're interested in timeless tech that won't go out of style, check out 15 Killer Style Accessories You Never Knew You Needed.
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US Military Draft, Facts and History
On January 8, 2020, speculation as to whether or not the United States will re-institute a military draft not seen since 1973 is causing heated discussions among politicians, pundits and citizens. We have previously discussed the American military draft in articles “New York City Draft Riots (Worst Riot in US History),” “10 “Patriots” Who Dodged the Draft or Did Not Serve,” “Jimmy Carter Pardons Draft Dodgers!” and “Was Tough Guy Donald Trump a Draft Dodger?” (That last article listed was published before Trump was elected President.) The military draft and those men that did and did not submit to induction into the armed forces were contentious subjects in the past and remain so today.
Also known as “conscription,” the United States has used the draft to compel military service in times of national emergency (war or imminent war) starting with the American Revolutionary War. Back then various colonies (states) and cities or regions had a militia system of citizen soldiers and drafted eligible young men (up to middle aged) for military service in contingencies of fairly short term, such as specific battles or campaigns. A proposed national conscription in 1778 to bolster the national army was quite haphazard and uneven in application with no consistent standards. Back then, a draftee could avoid service by paying a substitute inductee to take his place. The first draft related national laws allowed only for the conscription (also known as impressment for naval purposes) of men to serve in the Continental Navy. After Independence, conscription was authorized by Article I.8.15 of the US Constitution to allow for a national draft if needed of men between the ages of 18 and 45.
American draft laws were put to the test by the massive manpower needs of the American Civil War, although about 92% of those that served in the Union armed forces were volunteers. About 2% of the Union military were draftees and another 6% were paid substitutes for draftees. In spite of the low percentages of draftees involved, public backlash caused rioting to break out in New York City in 1863. The Confederate States suffered an even worse manpower shortage, and also instituted conscription in 1862, a measure that also met with resistance and sometimes violence. Not only were women exempt from the draft, African Americans were also exempt, a factor resulting in resentment against African Americans by Northerners that bitterly declined to fight for the freedom of a people not required to fight for their own freedom. In the South, slaves freed in order to serve in the Confederate Army could take the place of White Southerners so drafted. During the Civil War fierce disagreement between the economic classes over who and why men were exempted from service exposed deep rifts between the social classes.
The global conflict known as World War I saw the next round of American military conscription, a necessary fact sadly illustrated by a paltry 73,000 volunteers answering the call of President Woodrow Wilson for 1 million men! The Selective Service Act of 1917 was intended to rectify many of the contentious issues of the Civil War era draft, providing for more consistent and equitable deferments. The target ages of 21 to 31 years were changed later to 18 to 45. This time, no substitute draftees were authorized to allow rich men to avoid service. A whopping total of about 24 million American men were registered for the draft, and about 3 million inducted. This time, the draft included African American men, and the government shut down any publications that railed against selective service. Among the 3 million draftees were about a half million immigrants to the US, creating a cultural and language problem for the armed forces. Although some draftees were allowed to plead conscientious objector status, others that refused to be inducted and serve were treated harshly by the courts, often given long jail sentences. The “left wing” of American politics was particularly opposed to the draft.
After World War I, the US military wisely prepared for the next time national conscription would be necessary, and set up the draft mechanism ahead of time so as to be ready for a contingency requiring a draft. Efforts were accelerated to prepare for what seemed to be a sure return to a draft by passage of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 (STSA).
Hostilities in Asia in 1937 and the outbreak of full fledged war in Europe in 1939 spurred popular support among US citizens for the adoption of a national military draft. In 1940 the first peacetime military draft in US history commenced, with men between the ages of 19 and 57 required to register with their local draft board. In this pre-war period (for the US), conscription was limited to 900,000 men at any given time (for training) and a conscription term of only 12 months. By August of 1941, as the winds of war gathered, the term of conscription was increased by 18 months. After the entry to the War by the US following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the term of mandatory service was increased to the duration of the war plus an additional 6 months. Registration requirements were changed to include men between 18 and 64 years of age. During the course of World War II, 49 million American men were registered for the draft and 10 million were eventually drafted. The draft had started as a national lottery and shifted to local control as the war progressed. The US Navy and US Marine Corps were not initially included in the draft of inductees, but in 1943 they both began accepting draftees. Oddly enough, other American men between the ages of 18 and 37 were actually prohibited from volunteering for service in the military so that vital home front manpower would not be depleted! The draft would provide a regulated and predictable source of manpower for the military. A target of 200,000 draftees per month was achieved from 1943 to 1945.
As always with a military draft, there was some opposition to US military conscription during World War II, especially by African Americans that chafed under Jim Crow type laws and discriminatory practices, including a segregated military. In particular, the Nation of Islam opposed the drafting of African Americans. Japanese Americans were likewise not all that enthusiastic about being drafted, some of whom were residing in internment camps at the time! American communists opposed the draft until the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, then communist opposition largely disappeared.
In 1948 the draft was re-instituted, a contingency based on the rumblings of the beginnings of the Cold War. Men between 18 and 26 were required to register. Terms of service for draftees was limited to 21 months of active service and 5 years in the Reserve. The number of men drafted prior to the Korean War was quite low.
During the Korean War (1950-1953), the US drafted a total of about 1.5 million men, compared to about 1.3 million American volunteers for military service. The American population continued to support selective service throughout the Korean War by a large majority.
The Great Depression (1929-1939) had resulted in a decrease in the birth rate in the United States, and thus a lessening of the manpower pool of men of military age during the 1950’s, necessitating a continuation of selective service, though at a greatly reduced rate. The very possibility of being drafted allegedly fueled the enlistment rolls of volunteers to the US military, young men that would voluntarily sign up with the service of their choice and specialty training rather than leave their fate to the whim of a draft board. About 11 million Americans volunteered for military service between 1954 and 1975, many supposedly in an attempt to avoid the draft. The system of deferments for various special training careers also affected the way young American men went about structuring their education, often specifically to avoid liability to be drafted.
The Vietnam War (1964-1974) created a whole new national debate over the conscription of young men (still no females eligible for the draft), including many violent encounters between authorities and protesters. Despite the popular depiction of the Vietnam War as being fought by American draftees, only about 1/3 of the US military in the war was drafted and the remaining 2/3 were volunteers. That is in stark contrast to almost the exact opposite of World War II in which only 1/3 of those that served were volunteers. Draft dodging and protests became a national pastime, as did falsification of medical and school records to avoid service.
Resistance to the military draft during the Vietnam Era resulted in the suspension of selective service in the US after 1972, although young men continued to register for the draft. (Note: 18 year olds required to register for the draft were issued “draft cards” and were required by law to carry that document with them at all time. This author personally knew at least one guy that was cited by a police officer for not having his draft card with him.) From late 1975 until 1980, young American men no longer had to register for the draft. In 1980, registration with the Selective Service System was again mandated.
While the United States still has the military draft to rely on if a national emergency or war makes this scenario necessary, no American has been drafted since 1972. To this day, female Americans are still not liable for the draft, a situation that would almost assuredly change if the Equal Rights Amendment was ever passed. The criteria for deferments has changed time and again over the years, and is probably still in a state of flux just waiting to be tested by the next time we experience a military draft.
The latest increase in tensions with Iran (January 2020) has raise the subject of whether or not the US will have to institute a military draft in order to meet manpower requirements. In theory, a draft is more equitable across social class lines because an all volunteer force is likely to come from the lower economic classes and a drafted force is supposedly evenly taken from all levels of American society, a theory often attacked as false in practice.
A military draft remains a contentious subject, with no real national agreement on the subject. Does a free society need to mandate military service, or is such a mandate tantamount to slavery? Does a democracy have the right to choose whether or not to defend itself, or does the representative government have the right to choose the when, where, who and how of making war? As with many subjects, the answers are not so easily arrived at.
Question for students (and subscribers): Will the US start a military draft in 2020? Should they? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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The 240-Year Evolution of the Army Sidearm
The weapons that won a revolution and defended a republic.
In late January of this year, the U.S. Army selected a new pistol to replace the Beretta M9, a gun that's served the Armed Forces for 30 years. But like every weapon in the U.S.'s arsenal, the Army pistol has gone through a slow evolution, from slow-loading flintlocks that helped create a country to polymer-framed, semi-automatic pistols used in conflicts around the world today.
The U.S. Army has come along way in 242 years.
The Flintlocks That Made America
America's very first sidearm was a copy of a British one. Based on the British Model 1760, the Model 1775 was a muzzle-loading, .62-caliber smoothbore flintlock. The American pistols were made by the Rappahannock Forge in Virginia (pictured above), a key manufacturing base and arsenal for the Continental forces that produced 80,000 muskets during the American Revolution. Copies of the Model 1775 pistol were later made at Harper's Ferry. This gun was renamed the Model 1805 and was the weapon choice during the War of 1812.
After the Revolution, Connecticut gunmaker Simeon North won a contract to manufacture a new pistol. Based on French pistols of the period, North's new weapon was smaller than the earlier 1775 model with a side-mounted ramrod and a fired a larger .72-caliber ball. In 1813, North received another contract for 20,000 pistols from the U.S. Military. These were to have a full stock, fire a .69-caliber ball and most importantly use interchangeable parts, one of the first contracts to request such a feature.
Having these pistols could sometimes mean the difference between life and death. During the War of 1812 while fighting Tecumseh's Shawnee warriors, Colonel Richard Johnson was wounded in the arm. Although the veracity of this account is still debated, one story says that Johnson barely had time to cock his flintlock pistol and shoot Tecumseh, a native leader "of undoubted bravery." Johnson would capitalize on the episode, launching his career as a politician and becoming the ninth U.S. vice president.
North continued to make pistols, manufacturing the Model 1826 for the Navy. The last U.S. flintlock pistol came in 1836, the same year Samuel Colt patented his revolutionary new revolving pistol. Gunsmith Asa Waters produced the Model 1836 until the early 1840s, a weapon used widely during the Mexican-American War.
For almost a century the flintlock had been the dominant ignition system for firearms, but being susceptible to the elements, they were too unreliable and by the 1840s many of the major European powers, like Britain and France, began transitioning away from increasingly obsolete flintlock pistols to new percussion-lock pistols. These new guns used fulminate of mercury percussion caps to ignite the gunpowder instead of a flint. The U.S. used the old flintlock system throughout the 1830s and 40s before slowly transitioning to the new percussion cap revolvers.
The Birth of the Revolver
Formally adopted in 1848, percussion revolvers represented a massive leap forward in firearms technology. It's most basic improvement was simple math&mdash a soldier now had six shots before reloading rather than only one. But the firepower of these new pistols was also highly sought after, and revolvers became one of the most iconic weapons of America's bloodiest conflict.
The U.S.'s first revolver was the Colt Dragoon, initially designed for the Army's Regiment of Mounted Rifles. The Dragoon improved on the earlier Colt Walker, a gun used heavily during the Mexican-American War. The Dragoon would be the first of a series of Colt pistols used by the U.S. throughout the 19th century.
Then came the Civil War, and a plethora of percussion revolvers were soon found their way into the hands of Union and Confederate soldiers alike. The Union predominantly issued Colt and Remington revolvers. Approximately 130,000 .44-caliber, Colt Army Model 1860s were purchased along with considerable numbers of Colt 1851 and 1861 Navy revolvers.
Following a fire at Colt's Connecticut factory in 1864, the Army placed significant orders for Remington Model 1858 pistols to fill the gap. The solid-frame Remington was arguably a better, more robust pistol than the open-frame Colt revolvers. Remington continually improved the Model 1858 based on suggestions from the U.S. Army Ordnance Department.
For both sides pistols were often a soldier's last line of defense. One Confederate newspaper reported that a badly wounded captain commanding a battery of artillery at the Battle of Valverde "with revolver in hand, refusing to fly or desert his post&hellip fought to the last and gloriously died the death of a hero."
On the other side of the frontline, one Union calvaryman recalled:
"I discharged my revolver at arm's length at a figure in gray and he toppled onto the neck of his mount before being lost in a whirl of dust and fleeing horses&hellip I found that both my pistols were emptied&hellip there were five rebels who would not trouble us anymore and many others who must have taken wounds."
It was not uncommon for cavalry to carry multiple revolvers, as another Union cavalryman wrote "we were all festooned with revolvers. I carried four Colts, two in my belt and two on my saddle holsters but this was by no means an excess. Some of my compatriots carried six because we were determined in a fight not to be found wanting!"
"I carried four Colts, two in my belt and two on my saddle holsters but this was by no means an excess."
The industrial might of the North ensured that the Union had an advantage throughout the war, and the Confederacy were forced to use imported pistols from Europe and locally produced copies. These included Adams, LeMat and Kerr pistols and copies of Colts and other revolvers made by Spiller & Burr and Griswold & Gunnison.
By the end of the Civil War, self-contained metallic cartridges were becoming more and more popular. The late 1860s and early 1870s saw another small arms revolution with percussion pistols giving way to cartridge revolvers like the Smith & Wesson Model 3 and the legendary Colt Single Action Army.
The Gun of the West
In 1870, the military purchased its first metallic cartridge revolvers from Smith & Wesson. The Model 3 was a top-break revolver, meaning the barrel and cylinder could be swung downwards to open the action and allow the user to quickly reload the weapon. The new metallic cartridges removed the need for loose powder and percussion caps and greatly increased the revolver's rate of fire with a skilled shooter firing all six-rounds in under five seconds. However, Colt, Smith & Wesson's principal rival, were not far behind.
In 1871, Colt introduced their first cartridge revolver, the year after a patent held by Smith & Wesson expired. Colt turned to William Mason, the experienced engineer who had worked on Colt's earlier pistols. Mason designed a pistol which outwardly resembled many of Colt's earlier revolvers, but the new design included a rear loading gate and Mason's patented extractor rod offset to the side of the barrel, a feature later used in the Single Action Army.
The Colt 1871 "Open Top" was chambered in the popular .44 Henry rimfire cartridge. When the Army tested Colt's new pistol, they complained that the .44 rimfire round was too weak and that the open-top design wasn't as robust as rival pistols from Remington and Smith & Wesson. The Army demanded a more powerful cartridge and a stronger solid frame.
Colt quickly obliged producing a run of three sample pistols for testing and examination. This new revolver was the prototype for the now legendary Colt Single Action Army. The new pistol, developed by William Mason and Charles Brinckerhoff Richards, had a solid frame and fired Colt's new .45 caliber center-fire cartridge. This gun is still manufactured today.
After successful testing, the Army adopted Colt's revolver as the Model 1873. The new Colt Single Action Army had a 7.5 inch barrel and weighed 2.5lbs, and an initial order for 8,000 M1873s replaced the Army's obsolete Colt 1860 Army Percussion revolvers.
The Army also ordered a several thousand Smith & Wesson Model 3s. These revolvers had a more advanced top-break design and could be loaded much faster than the Colt. For a number of years, the two revolvers served side by side but used different ammunition. Eventually, the army favored the more robust, accurate, and easier to maintain Colt, and over the next 20 years purchased more that 30,000 of them.
TheColt M1873 Single Action Army would go on to see action in every U.S. military campaign between 1873 and 1905. They were even clutched in the hands of General Custer and his men at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Despite its hallowed status, the Single Action Army still wasn't the apex of handgun technology. While the Single Action Army had excellent stopping power, reliability, and a simple action, it was slow to reload and a slow rate of fire. To address some of these issues, the Army requested a new double action revolver. The Colt Model 1892 became the first double-action revolver ever issued to the U.S. Army and Navy. Replacing the venerable .45-caliber Colt M1873, the M1892 had a six-chamber cylinder and fired a new .38 Long Colt round.
It had a double-action trigger which improved the pistol's rate of fire, and unlike the earlier single action Colt, the new revolver chambered, cocked, and fired a round with each pull of the trigger.
Another improvement over the earlier Colt was the M1892's swing out cylinder, this allowed troops to quickly extract spent cases and reload much faster than the M1873's hinged loading gate. While the pistol proved sturdy and reliable in the field, now with a faster rate of fire and easier reload, the Army found that the .38-caliber cartridge lacked the stopping power of the previous .45-caliber Colt. In 1905, during the Philippine Insurrection a prisoner, Antonio Caspi, attempted to escape and was shot four times at close range with a .38 pistol&mdashhe later recovered from his wounds.
Although Colt tried to increase the power of the .38-caliber round, the Army began looking for a new pistol that would chamber the .45 Colt round, and in 1904, the Board of Ordnance began a series of tests to discover what sort of ammunition its next service pistol should use.
The Colt Pistol and a World at War
It would fall to Colonel John T. Thompson (who later designed the iconicThompson submachine gun) and Major Louis Anatole LaGarde of the Army Medical Corps to investigate the effectiveness of various calibers. Thompson and LaGarde decided that testing on live cattle and on donated human cadavers would be a suitably scientific method of finding which bullet would put a man down. The experiments were pseudo-scientific at best and horribly cruel to the animals, especially since they would time how long it would take for them to die.
"After mature deliberation, the Board finds that a bullet which will have the shock effect and stopping power at short ranges necessary for a military pistol or revolver should have a caliber not less than .45."
The Thompson-LaGarde tests were followed by Army trials between 1906 and 1911. The trials tested nine designs, but the competition quickly identified three main contenders. The Savage 1907, designed by Elbert Searle, faced Colt's John Browning-designed entry and the iconic Luger designed by Georg Luger. All three pistols were chambered in the new .45 ACP cartridge. In 1908, the Luger withdrew from the trials, leaving only the designs from Colt and Savage.
While both pistols had their problems during the trials, the Savage 1907 pistols were substantially more expensive. The testing reported a catalogue of issues including a poorly designed ejector, a grip safety which pinched the operator's hand, broken grip panels, slide stop and magazine catch difficulties, deformed magazines, and a needlessly heavy trigger pull.
During this time, the Colt 1905 Military Model went through a series of changes and design improvements, eventually giving it the edge over its rival. Following final testing on March 3, 1911, the trials board reported: "Of the two pistols, the Board is of the opinion that the Colt is superior, because it is the more reliable, the more enduring, the more easily disassembled, when there are broken parts to be replaced, and the more accurate."
Colt's pistol was quickly adopted as the 'Pistol, Semi-automatic, .45 caliber, Model 1911'.
John Browning's iconic M1911 used a locked breech, short-recoil action, feeding from a seven round magazine. It weighed 2.4lbs (1.1kg) unloaded and was just over eight inches long. Ergonomically, its controls were easy to manipulate and included magazine and slide releases and both a manual and grip safety. The M1911 remained in service for over 70 years and saw action during both World Wars, the Banana Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Invasion of Grenada.
Perhaps one of the most famous uses of the M1911 came when Alvin York was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In October 1918, during the battle of Meuse-Argonne, York was charged by a squad of Germans. As they came into pistol range, York drew his M1911 and killed six attackers. That day he single handedly killed a total of 25 German soldiers and captured 132 more.
In 1926, after some lessons learned during World War One, Colt overhauled the M1911 by including a shorter trigger and frame cut-outs behind the trigger, a longer spur on the pistol grip safety, an arched mainspring housing, a wider front sight, and a shortened hammer spur. Following these changes, the pistol was designated the M1911A1, a weapon that would also fight a world war&mdashjust like its predecessor.
A More Modern Weapon
The Colt soldiered on into the 1980s until the U.S. launched the Joint Service Small Arms Program, which aimed to select a new pistol that could be used by all of the armed services. After a tough competition between designs from Colt, Walther, Smith & Wesson, Steyr, FN, and SIG, a winning design was selected, the Italian Beretta 92. The Beretta formally replaced the M1911A1 in 1986 as the M9.
Even though the military had found its new gun, the 1911 still remains in use by some units such as the U.S. Marine Force Recon Units and Special Operation Command as the refurbished M45, surpassing a century of service.
But the M9 beat out the venerable Colt because it fired the smaller 9x19mm round, which made learning to shoot easier, and it had a much larger magazine holding 15 rounds while using a single-action/double-action trigger. While some complained it lacked the 1911's .45 ACP stopping power, the M9 served the U.S. military well for over 30 years.
It has seen hard service during the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. In March 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom Marine Corporal Armand E. McCormick was awarded the Silver Star when he drove his vehicle into an Iraqi position before dismounting and clearing enemy defenses with his M9.
But as technology advanced and new pistol designs emerged, the Army needed a new sidearm to match the times. In the early 2000s, a series of trials led eventually to the Modular Handgun System program. The Army wanted a lighter, more adaptable pistol which could be fitted to individual soldiers. After several years of testing entries from Glock, Beretta, FN, and Smith & Wesson, the SIG P320 won out.
The new pistol, designated the M17, is lighter, more compact, has a standard 17-round magazine capacity, and is fully ambidextrous. It has a fiberglass-reinforced polymer frame with an integrated Picatinny rail to allow lights and lasers to be mounted, much like the M9's slide-mounted manual safety.
But the most innovative aspect of the M17 is its modular design. The pistol's frame holds an easily removable trigger pack, which along with the barrel and slide, can be removed and simply dropped into another frame. This gives troops in different roles with different requirements some much needed flexibility.
The SIG P320 is completely unrecognizable from M1775, held in the hands of American founding fathers. Much like America itself, the soldiers' handgun has evolved massively over the last 240 years, but the principle of the sidearm remains the same&mdashthe absolute last line of defense.
Wars may not be won with pistols, but a soldier's sidearm can still be the difference between life and death.
The Spanish-American War featured major changes. Uniforms at this point were replaced by khaki field uniforms that were inspired by the British pattern. The material of the uniforms at this time shifted from wool to cotton, and special campaign hats were issued. Between 1898 and 1899, there were at least four patterns of khaki field service coats.
The uniforms of World War I are largely recognizable. The khaki fatigues from the Spanish-American War were largely unchanged, although the color shifted from brown to olive. Soldiers also wore puttees around their legs and adapted the Brodie Helmet from the British.
2. Napoleon Bonaparte’s Penis
In 2007, Evan Lattimer’s father died. From him, she inherited Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis even though the French government swears the little corporal is not that of the Emperor.
Napoleon or not, someone’s penis is missing.
In 1821, he died in exile on the island of St. Helena and while the British weren’t watching, the Corsican conducting Napoleon’s autopsy cut off a few pieces for some reason.
It traveled around the world for decades, eventually ending up under the bed of American urologist John Kingsley Lattimer, who put it there and seldom showed anyone because “Dad believed that urology should be proper and decent and not a joke.”
History of U.S. Army Weapons
Small arms used by American forces in the Revolution were many and varied, however at the beginning of the war the British Short Land Service Musket, often referred to as the Brown Bess, was perhaps the most common musket on hand. In 1777, the French allied themselves with the American cause and began sending arms and equipment.
Early America 1786-1833
The U.S. Musket Model 1795, the principle small arm used by the Army in the War of 1812, was a copy of the caliber .69, French Model 1763 Infantry Musket. These muskets were made at the armories at both Springfield, Massachusetts, and Harper's Ferry, Virginia. The Model 1795 Muskets produced by Eli Whitney incorporate all of the latest technological features such as a rounded hammer face and slanted pan. Whitney delivered 10,000 muskets to the Army under a July 1812 contract. Muskets manufactured under this contract are marked "N. Haven" on the lock plate.
The U.S. Model 1816 Musket was similar to the Model 1795, but incorporated enough new features to be given a new designation. These muskets were made at the armories at both Springfield, Massachusetts, and Harper's Ferry, Virginia. This pattern of musket will continue in use until the Mexican War.
Mid-19th Century 1833-1850
The U.S. Model 1842 Musket was the first U.S. weapon made at both the Harpers Ferry and Springfield Armories with fully interchangeable parts. It was also the first regulation musket made in the percussion ignition system by the national armories and was the last of the smoothbore .69 caliber muskets. A total of 275,000 Model 1842s were produced between 1844 and 1855, 103,000 at Harper's Ferry and 172,000 at Springfield Armory.
The Caliber .54, Model 1841 Rifle was the first rifle made in the percussion ignition system at a national armory. Until the Mexican War it was only provided to militia rifle companies in various states. The Model 1841 was made by Harpers Ferry Armory from 1846 to1855 with a total produced of about 25,296 arms. The weapon has a 33" browned barrel, which was made without provision for attaching a bayonet. The walnut stock is distinguished by a large patch-box on right side of the butt. Sometimes called the "Mississippi Rifle," it owes this name to the successful use of the weapon by a Mississippi rifle regiment under the command of Jefferson Davis during the Mexican War.
Mid-19th Century 1851-1872 In July 1855, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis authorized the production of a new .58 caliber rifle musket. This was the first rifled weapon produced for general issue by the U.S. Army. A rifle version was also produced to replace the M1841 Rifle. Both the rifle and the rifle-musket were equipped with the Maynard patented priming system which used a roll of caps in a compartment in the lock that advanced when the weapon was cocked.
The carbine was used by the Cavalry and numerous types were used during early part of the Civil War. Three carbines came to predominate by the middle of the war: the Sharps, which fired a .54 Caliber paper combustible cartridge or could be loaded with a bullet and loose powder the Spencer, which was a magazine weapon that held seven rounds of .56 caliber metallic cartridge in a tube in the butt stock and the Burnside, which used a unique tapered .54 Caliber metallic cartridge fired with a standard percussion cap. In all, more than 95,000 Sharps, 80,000 Spencer, and 54,000 Burnside Carbines were purchased.
Late-19th Century 1872-1902
The .45 caliber trapdoor rifle would remain in use with the Regular Army until 1894 and with the National Guard in various states until at least 1905. The version used the most, by both the Regular Army and the National Guard was the Model 1884 with the long range Buffington rear sights. As the supply of socket bayonets began to dwindle in the late 1880s, the last model of .45 caliber rifle to be produced, the Model 1888, had a ramrod bayonet.
The .45 caliber Model 1884 carbine was replace in 1896 with a .30 caliber carbine version of the Krag-Jorgensen, although the trapdoor would continue to be used by the National Guard into the early part of the 20th century. The Model 1896 Krag-Jorgensen carbine was used by the cavalry of the Regular Army and the majority of Volunteer cavalry units during the Spanish-American War. A small number of Model 1898 carbines were produced and issued during the war as well, and in 1899 a newer version of the Krag, known as the Model 1899 carbine would take the regular cavalry into the new century fighting insurgents in the Philippines.
Mid-20th Century 1926-1956
The United States Rifle, Caliber .30, M1 (also known as the Garand Rifle in honor of its designer John Garand), was the first semi-automatic rifle in the world to be generally issued to infantry. The Army began looking for a replacement for the M1903 rifle almost immediately following the end of World War I. Research and development continued at Springfield Armory into the early 1930s with numerous problems being encountered. But on November 7, 1935 a new rifle was cleared for procurement and on January 9, 1936 became Army standard as the M1 rifle. However, production difficulties and design issues continued to plague the new rifle. Finally, with the redesign of the barrel and gas cylinder assembly in early 1940, the rifle was ready to go into full production. Output reached 600 rifles a day by January 1941, and by the end of the Army was equipped with the new rifle.
The M1 was a gas-operated, semi-automatic rifle that utilized an eight-round clip which gave United States forces a significant advantage in firepower and shot-to-shot response time over enemy infantrymen in battle. The weapon was the principle infantry weapon used in both World War II and Korea.
The Thompson submachine gun was designed by General John T. Thompson, who started the Auto-Ordnance Corporation in 1916 for the purpose of developing his new weapon. Originally designed for trench warfare the prototype submachine was produced too late for the war. In 1919 the weapon was officially named the "Thompson Submachine Gun" and it was the first weapon to be labeled and marketed as a "submachine gun."
The M3 submachine gun (known as the "Grease Gun"), entered Army service on December 12, 1942. The weapon was produced by the Guide Lamp Division of General Motors Corporation. Even at the development stage, the weapon's design focused on simplified production, employing metal stamping, pressing and welding. The M3 was an automatic-only blowback operated weapon that fired from an open bolt fed from a 30-round detachable box magazine. The weapon had a crank-type cocking mechanism on the right side, and a telescoping metal wire stock, which featured threads at both ends used to attach a bore brush, so that it could be used as a cleaning rod.
The Browning Automatic Rifle (commonly known as the BAR), was designed in 1917 by John M. Browning, as a replacement for French-made light automatic rifles. The BAR was a .30 caliber, gas-operated, select-fire, air-cooled, automatic rifle that fired from an open bolt fed from a 20-round detachable box magazine.
Late-20th, Early 21st Century 1954-2006
The M16 Rifle was the initial version first adopted in 1964 by the United States Air Force. It was a lightweight, 5.56 mm caliber, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine rifle with a rotating bolt actuated by direct impingement gas operation. The weapon was constructed of steel with an aluminum alloy receiver and a composite plastic stock.
The M16 was ordered as a replacement for the M14 at the direction of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara over the objection of the Army. The Army began to field the XM16E1, an M16 with a forward assist feature, in late 1965 with most going to Vietnam. When the XM16E1 reached Vietnam, reports of jamming and malfunctions in combat immediately began to surface. The XM16E1 was standardized as the M16A1 Rifle in 1967, and improvements to the rifle along with training in proper cleaning diminished many of the problems, but the rifle's reputation continued to suffer. Moreover, complaints about the inadequate penetration and stopping power of the 5.56mm cartridge persisted throughout the conflict.
The M16A2 entered service in the mid-1980s and fired a NATO standard Belgian-designed M855 or M856 5.56mm cartridge. The M16A2 was a select fire rifle capable of semi-automatic fire or three-round bursts. The burst-fire mechanism utilized a three-part automatic sear that fires up to three rounds for each pull of the trigger. The mechanism is non-resetting, which means that if the user fires a two-round burst and releases the trigger, the weapon will only fire a single round the next time he or she pulls the trigger. In theory, burst-fire mechanisms allow ammunition conservation for troops with limited training and combat experience. Other features included an adjustable rear-sight for wind and elevation, a slightly longer stock, heavier barrel, case deflector for left-handed shooters, and rounded hand guards.
A combination of the M16A4 and M4 Carbine continued to replace existing M16A2 Rifles used by the Army. The M16A4 incorporated a flattop receiver unit and a hand guard with four Picatinny rails for mounting optical sights, lasers, night vision devices, forward handgrips, removable carry handle, and flashlights. The M4 was a carbine version of the M16A1 with a small retractable stock and shorter barrel. The M4A1 was capable of fully automatic fire and was used as a submachine gun by selected individuals in situations such as house-to-house fighting.
Between 2003 and 2006, soldiers reported a lack of stopping power with the 9mm ammunition, and problems with the magazines. Testing showed that the 9mm magazines failed due to the heavy phosphate finish called for in the government specification when used in the environmental conditions in Iraq. After corrections were made to the specifications, almost two million new magazines were distributed without any further malfunctions. The 5.56mm M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) was a fully-automatic, gas-operated, magazine or belt-fed weapon. It was used within the infantry squad as an automatic rifle, filling the void created by the retirement of the Browning automatic rifle in 1960, a role that both the M14 and M16A1 rifles had failed to fill. The M249 replaced the M16A1 rifles used in the automatic mode in the rifle squad on a one-for-one. The automatic rifleman supported the infantry squad by providing suppressive fire against point targets in the last 100 yards of the assault. The M249 was also be used as a light machinegun, when fired from a stable position and not required to conduct fire and maneuver with the squad. When used in the machine gun roll, the gun remained with the base-of-fire element.
The M79 was an attempt to increase firepower for the infantryman by using an explosive projectile more accurate and with further range than a rifle grenade, but more portable than a mortar. It was adopted by the Army on December 15, 1960 with the first deliveries received in late 1961. Owing to its ease of use, reliability, and firepower, the M79 almost immediately became popular with infantry soldiers. The M79 could consistently drop grenades into a 24 inch circle, 150 yards away.