America’s First Continental Army Combat Casualty

The War Years (1775-1783)

February 7, 2017
by Patrick H. Hannum Also by this Author


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Reflecting on the service of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines this past Veteran’s Day prompted an interesting question: Who was the first Continental soldier to die in combat during the American Revolution?  The death of the first general officer, Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, during the failed American assault on Quebec on December 31, 1775, is well-documented even though there is no eyewitness account of the event.[1]  Many other men died that same evening but men serving in units authorized by the Continental Congress as part of the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington entered service around Boston during mid-August 1775.  Who was the first member of the new national army or Continental Army to give his life for the American cause that would ultimately lead to American independence?

Birth of the Continental Army

The Untied Colonies engaged the British Army at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 with a collection of militia. These units formed a New England regional force that evolved into the “Army of Observation” that laid siege to Boston and fought the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.[2] While these events unfolded in New England the Continental Congress began the process of creating a national army, the Continental Army.

Interestingly, the United States (U.S.) Army traces its lineage to the American Army of the 1780s, not the Continental Army that fought the American Revolution.[3] The U.S. Army, however, celebrates its birth on the 14th of June each year. This anniversary documents the birth of the Continental Army on June 14, 1775 when the Continental Congress authorized three different states to raise ten rifle companies, six from Pennsylvania, two from Maryland and two from Virginia to serve near Boston.[4]  Congress established the term of enlistment for the initial rifle companies for one year and specified company strength of eighty-one men, a captain, three lieutenants, four sergeants, four corporals, a drummer or trumpeter, and sixty-eight privates.[5] Congress understood when they specifically authorized rifle companies, the nature of the backcountry population and the importance of providing a national vice regional approach to the conflict.

Rifles were standard weapons on the colonial frontier or backcountry, with significant killing power, and the backcountry men who used the rifles were excellent marksmen. Soldiers who could kill the enemy at over 200 yards provided a capability not resident in the New England militia units assembled around Boston. These initial Continental soldiers armed with rifles provided their own clothing and rifles, reflective of their independent backcountry lifestyle. The ability of the riflemen to equip themselves with personal weapons also facilitated the rapid recruitment, organization and deployment of these rifle companies. Even the simple wording of the enlistment contracts signed by these first Continental soldiers reflects the level of commitment expected; the contract even portends an optimistic view that the conflict would end quickly.[6] The enlistment contract prescribed on June 14, 1775, read:

I _____________________ have, this day, voluntarily enlisted myself, as a soldier, in the American continental army, for one year, unless sooner discharged: And I do bind myself to conform, in all instances, to such rules and regulations, as are, or shall be, established for the government of the sad. Army.[7]

The resounding response by the various county committees in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia resulted in the companies exceeding initial enlistment quotas and men even volunteering to serve without pay. The successful formation of units in Pennsylvania’s western and northern counties resulted in Congress, acting on June 22, authorizing the eight Pennsylvania companies to form a battalion.[8]  Congress added a ninth Pennsylvania Company on July 11.[9] The rifle companies formed quickly and began the march north to Boston to join the New England forces operating there, providing the United Colonies a national versus regional army.

Movement to Boston

The newly formed national army units departed their home counties during mid-July and arrived in Boston by mid-August.  The Virginia companies traveled over 500 miles, units marched twenty to thirty miles per day, and some made the trip to Boston in three weeks.  The companies tended to follow similar routes that converged as they neared New York City.

All nine companies from Pennsylvania, organized as Thompson’s Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion, arrived in Cambridge by August 18. Three Pennsylvania companies arrived at Cambridge on August 8 with one Pennsylvania Company, Hendricks’, arriving on August 9.[10] Cresap’s and Price’s, two Maryland Companies, arrived August 9 as well.[11] Daniel Morgan’s Virginia Company, possibly the first to report to General Washington for duty, arrived on August 6 followed by Stephenson’s Virginia Company on August 11.   These thirteen companies of congressionally authorized, skilled marksmen provided a national rather than regional flavor to the American military effort and they exacerbated the discipline problems Gen. George Washington experienced with the thousands of New England militia already present around Boston.[12]

One of the men in Captain Hendricks’ Company, formed in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Private George Morison, provided a lively account of the Pennsylvania riflemen’s journey to Boston.  After obtaining clothing and supplies at Reading, Hendricks’ Company proceeded to Bethlehem where the men spent their leisure time observing a number of beautiful, young nuns of a local convent.  Crossing the Delaware River into New Jersey on July 26, Hendricks’ Company took a break from marching and entertained themselves by tarring and feathering a loyalist.  As the company proceeded to Litchfield, Connecticut on August 3, the Pennsylvania troops tarred and feathered another loyalist, brought into town by one of the two Maryland rifle companies also en route to Boston.  To add insult, the Pennsylvania men made the man “… drink to the health of Congress …” before drumming him out of town.[13]

Reports of Combat

Three of the Pennsylvania rifle companies that arrived in Cambridge on August 8, 1775 announced their presence by killing a British sentry the same day. Capt. James Chambers, commander of a Pennsylvania rifle company from Cumberland County reported, in a letter dated August 13, 1775, only a few days after their arrival, that the activities of the riflemen resulted in “forty-two killed and thirty-eight prisoners taken,” including four captains.  The riflemen successfully combined their superior marksmanship skills and their aggressive patrolling to effectively interfere with the activities of the British.[14]  The riflemen, when not on duty by shooting at targets, also impressed those along the route of march and the New England troops around Boston with their marksmanship skills. “Two brothers in the company [Captain Cresap’s from Maryland] took a piece of board five inched broad, and seven inched long, with a bit of white paper, the size of a dollar, nailed in the center, and while one of them supported this board perpendicularly between his knees, the other at a distance of upwards of sixty yards, and without any kind of rest, shot eight bullets through it successfully, and spared the brother’s thigh!”[15] Doctor James Thacher noted in his journal:

Several companies of riflemen, amounting, it is said, to more than fourteen hundred men, have arrived here from Pennsylvania and Maryland; a distance of from five hundred to seven hundred miles. They are remarkably stout and hardy men; many of them exceeding six feet in height. They are dressed in white frocks, or rifle-shirts, and round hats. These men are remarkable for the accuracy of their aim; striking a mark with great certainty at two hundred yards distance. At a review, a company of them, while on a quick advance, fired their balls into objects of seven inches diameter, at the distance of two hundred and fifty yards. They are now stationed on our lines, and their shot have frequently proved fatal to British officers and soldiers who expose themselves to view, even at more than double the distance of common musket-shot.[16]

Enemy Artillery Finds Its Mark

Only a few weeks after arrival the rifle companies were actively integrated into the routine duties of the new American Army. These units formed the nucleus of the Continental Army and were actively supporting the campaign design associated with the siege of Boston initiated by the New England Militia months earlier. General Washington did not have the luxury of building an army in garrison; he built the American Army while maintaining the siege of Boston, a complicated and difficult endeavor. Siege warfare often involves extend periods of seemingly mundane tasks interspersed with periods of intense combat.

One of these periods of intense combat occurred on August 27 when a detachment of fifty Pennsylvania riflemen provided covering and supporting fires for a unit engaged in the construction of an artillery battery position on Ploughed Hill. The American and British lines were very close together at this location. As the riflemen provided long and short range fires to cover those men digging the battery position, the British responded to the rifle fire with artillery fire from platforms they already had available to disrupt work of the Americans. One can envision the British gunners loading and priming their guns behind the wall of earth thrown up to protect them from the well-aimed and accurate American rifle fire, then moving their guns into position and quickly aiming and firing. Or perhaps the British responded with larger and longer range guns positions beyond the range of the American riflemen.

The British artillery response was effective. Mr. William Simpson, of Paxton Township, a volunteer in Smith’s Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Company, had his foot ripped from his body by an enemy cannon ball. Simpson initially survived this traumatic event but ultimately succumbed to the injuries.[17] William Simpson, like Gen. Richard Montgomery, died from artillery fire.[18] Artillery proved an effective killer during the American Revolution and this lethality is worthy of the more recent designation as “King of Battle.” Congress took notice of the importance of artillery and began the process of building a national vice regional corps of American artillery with the appointment of Col. Henry Knox on November 17, 1775.[19]

George Washington visited the wounded William Simpson shortly after the incident and this visitation of a wounded comrade in arms by the commanding officer reflects an American tradition of military leadership that continues to this day. The severe wound necessitated amputation of Simpson’s leg, and he died the next day.  Simpson’s death may very well mark the first combat casualty in the new national or Continental Army raised by the United Colonies under the authority of the Continental Congress. This force was fielded in mid-August 1775, only a few weeks before Simpson’s death.[20] Simpson would become one of many thousands of men to serve, first the United Colonies and later the United States, and in doing so sacrifice their lives in the nearly decade long struggle that would ultimately lead to the independence of the United States of America.


[1] H. T. Shelton, General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 149; also see 219-20 n38.

[2] Robert K. Wright Jr., The Continental Army (Washington D.C.: Center for Military History, 1983); see Chapter 1, “The Army of Observation: New England in Arms,” 4-20.

[3] United States Army. About the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment,, accessed November 15, 2016.

[4] Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume II (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1905), 89-90,, accessed November 16, 2016. The Wednesday, June 14, 1775 entry reads in part, “That each company, as soon as compleated, shall march and join the army near Boston, to be there employed as light infantry, under the command of the chief Officer in that army.” June 14 is both Flag Day and the official birthday of the United States Army. Congress authorized the “Stars and Stripes,” on Saturday June 14, 1777. The entry in the Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Vol. VIII, 1777, reads “Resolved that the flag of the thirteen United States be Thirteen stripes alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” See accessed November 16, 2016 and accessed November 16, 2016.

[5] Ford, Journals, 89; and Arthur S. Lefkowitz, Benedict Arnold’s Army (New York: Savas Beatie, 2008), 291 n62. Morgan’s Company over recruited, departing Winchester with twenty-eight more men than authorized by Congress; Don Higginbotham, Daniel Morgan Revolutionary Rifleman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961), 23; Upon arrival in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in route to Boston, Cresap’s Maryland Company contained 130 men; J. B. Wisker, The American Colonial Militia: The Pennsylvania Colonial Militia (Vol. 3) (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellon Press, 1997), 100. Smith’s Company had at least one volunteer citizen, Mr. Simpson; most companies apparently exceeded their recruiting quotas and added volunteers to the rosters who served without pay.

[6] Thomas Lynch Montgomery, ed., Pennsylvania Archives, Fifth Series, Volume II (Harrisburg: Harrisburg Publishing Company, State Printer, 1906), 4; Lefkowitz, Benedict Arnold, 44-46.

[7] Ford, Journals, 90.

[8] Ibid., 104; Wright, Continental Army, 5. The term regiment and battalion were largely synonymous in the British and new American military structure; most other nations included two battalions in a regiment the British and Americans did not.  The Continental Army eventually adopted the regiment as the standard headquarters for controlling groups of companies but the term battalion was used through the American Revolution.

[9] Ford, Journals, 173; Wright, Continental Army, 25-26. The ninth company was the second company raised in Lancaster County.

[10] Kenneth Roberts, March to Quebec, Journals of Members of Arnold’s Expedition (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1946), Morison Diary, 506-508.

[11] Tucker F. Hentz, Unit History of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment 1776-1781, Insights from the Service Record of Capt. Adamson Tannehill (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 2007), 3,, accessed November 16, 2016; and Higginbotham, Daniel Morgan, 24.

[12] Montgomery, Pennsylvania Archives, 6. William Simpson’s brother, Michael, also served the patriot cause with Benedict Arnold at Quebec and at Trenton, Princeton, White Plains and Brandywine and continued his service as a Pennsylvania Militia general after the Revolution;,, accessed January 1, 2017.

[13] Roberts, March to Quebec, Morison Diary, 506-508.

[14] Roberts, March to Quebec, Caleb Haskell, 469; John Blair Linn, ed., Pennsylvania in the War of the Revolution, Battalions and Line. 1775-1783, Volume 1 (Harrisburg: L. S. Hart, State Printer, 1880), 5,, accessed December 10, 2016.

[15] Wisker, The American Colonial Militia, 100; the original report of this event was in the Pennsylvania Journal, August 23, 1775.

[16] James Thacher, M.D., Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War from 1776 to 1783,, accessed December 17, 2016.

[17] Montgomery, Pennsylvania Archives, 46.

[18] Shelton, Montgomery, 149.

[19] McKenney, Janice E. The Organizational History of Field Artillery, 1775-2003 (Washington D.C.: Center for Military History, 2007), 4.

[20] Montgomery, Pennsylvania Archives, 46 indicates Simpson was wounded August 27 and “died a few days after;” Roberts, March to Quebec, Morison Diary, 508-509, indicates Simpson was wounded on September 3 and died the next day; Franklin Ellis, History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men (Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1883), 40, indicates the date of Simpson’s wound as August 28 with his death on August 29.  Many men had already died in the actions by New England militia around Boston, but Simpson may have been the first member of the force raised by the United Colonies, not individual state colonial militias, to die in combat during the American Revolution.



  • While the New England army besieging Boston began as militia troops, in the spring of 1775 those men were reorganized into an army with enlistments through the end of the year. Some Massachusetts men and officers went home; others enlisted on the new terms and became Massachusetts’s army. The troops sent by Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire were likewise armies created by those colonies, not militia units.

    In June 1775, the Continental Congress took three steps in regard to the siege of Boston: adopting the New England army as its own, appointing George Washington to command it, and recruiting rifle companies from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland to augment it. (The Congress also set authorized Gen. Philip Schuyler to raise troops in New York.) Legally, therefore, the existing colonial armies became the largest part of the Continental Army.

    Pvt. William Simpson’s death was significant, in no small part because the troops from outside New England embodied the Congress’s commitment to the cause. But undoubtedly other men had died before him while legally part of the Continental Army. Indeed, if we say that the New England armies became the Continental Army when the Congress voted, then the casualties of the Battle of Bunker Hill died as Continental soldiers without ever knowing it.

  • Not to put a damper on your opening statement, but there are some eye witnesses to the death of
    General Montgomery, Aide-de-Camp MacPherson, Captain Cheeseman of the 1st New York, and eleven unnamed others (mostly 1st New York). One of these men, Montgomery’s orderly sergeant, survived briefly after being found by the British defenders, but apparently said nothing.

    My search of 1st New York federal pensioners’ applications has been fruitless, though I have found a handful of the 2nd Yorkers who were there, but were not near the front, so offered very
    little information.

    2nd Lt. Richard Platt of the 1st New York, was the first man in the assault column left unscathed, but seems to have been suffering from shell shock and did not say a word at the time. However, I
    believe a letter from Quebec anonymously published in February 1776 was written by Platt:

    “…Captain Cheeseman was the first that scaled the wall, and intrepidly pushing forward, he received a canister of grape-shot through his body, which brought him to the ground. He attempted to rise, and his motions indicated a desire to press forward, but all was over, the fatal wound was given….”

    Also, there is an entry in Lt. Col. Rudolphus Ritzema’s (1st New York) journal that “Mr. Antill [Lt.Col. Edward Antil] arrived here Express from Quebec with Intelligence that…the General forced his way thro’ the first Picquet or Barrier without receiving a Shot–at the next, he was received with a heavy Fire of Musquetry & two field Pieces which caused Cheeseman’s Company to fall back in some little Disorder, while the General was endeavoring to rally these Men he received his Coup de Grace also his Aid de Camp McPherson & Capt Cheesman of our’s–The General was shot thro’ the Head & both his Thighs….”

    Antill was very close to the front of the assault column and was an eyewitness.

    A lot more happened down there at Drummond’s Wharf, where Montgomery met his end, than people have presumed for many years, including a fireball that lit up the entire area!

    Except for Montgomery, all the dead are buried in a common grave located up a quiet side road (almost a driveway), not too far from the Saint Louis Gate at the eastern end of the Grande Allee. It is marked with a raised rounded stone and a large plaque. I call it “America’s First Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”

    As an aside, I point out that the 19th Century Feds had mixed opinions on whether the 1775 New Yorkers were in the continental army or not. As a result, many veterans were denied pensions in their later years. IMO, this was unjust, as their officers were commissioned by the Continental Congress. (This subject comes up as a sidebar in an article I am currently working on and plan to submit to the JAR.)

    Check out my website ( where you will find articles I have written on the Yorker’s Quebec Assault. I only ask you to keep in mind that this subject has been a moving target. My views are continually changing and I have a lot more work to do.

  • I really enjoyed the article and the premise is intriguing, but agree with JL that the establishment of the “continental Army” occurred earlier, making it likely that some other soldier was the first “continental” casualty.

    The resolutions, appointments, and funding matters adopted by Congress between 2 June – 22 June 1775 make it clear, from both a legal and military perspective, that the New England Army before Boston became the “continental Army” of Congress effective upon George Washington’s assumption of command.

    On 2 June 1775, Dr. Church delivered a letter to Congress from the “convention of Massachusetts” which requested Congress to take over “regulation and general direction” of the Army near Boston, assembled from various colonies, for the general defense of the “right of America”. It took Congress 20 days to develop preparations defining, funding, commanding and directing such an army.

    Beginning 10 June, Congress began passing resolves to take over payment of the army, forming the command chain, victualing, sourcing gunpowder and its manufactories, and debating finance schemes. These preparations were incomplete and un-implementable until Congress passed its financial resolve on 22 June, which committed Congress as responsible for issuing bills of credit for 2 million Spanish dollars and the debt of repaying that sum. Until the credit resolve passed, Congress did not have the financial means to support an army; the debt assumed on 22 June made the army real. Throughout this period Congress referred repeatedly to this army as a “continental Army” (“C” not capitalized as “continental” was a descriptive adjective, not yet a name). During this period Congress elected Washington as Commander in Chief (15 June 1775), proscribed his commission (17 June 1775), and issued his orders to command (20 June 1775). In military parlance, these Congressional resolves were “preparatory” commands not effective or executed until Washington assumed command.

    Washington arrived in Cambridge on 2 July, presented his orders to Massachusetts’ General Artemus Ward, and assumed command. That his assumption of command transformed the “New England army before Boston” into the “continental Army” of Congress is due to several factors:
    1. Washington’s authority was “continental”. Ward was appointed by Massachusetts, to act on behalf of Massachusetts, within Massachusetts, to oppose Crown forces usurping the Massachusetts charter. Washington was appointed by, and acting under the orders of, Congress on behalf of the united colonies to oppose forces abridging American rights.
    2. Washington’s responsibility was “continental”. Congress’ commission and orders to Washington directed him to take command of the army in “defence of American liberty”. This charter was deliberately broader than that of Massachusetts which New England colonies had agreed to for the purpose of containing the British in Boston; an army which had no authority to operate outside the jurisdiction of Massachusetts (unless another colony agreed to its employ within its territory). Congress’ direction obviated that limitation as it gave Washington the authority and responsibility to repel hostile invasion wherever it might occur in the united colonies.
    3. Congress delegated authority to Washington. Washington carried commissions from Congress naming continental officers; among his first acts as commander was to present Ward with his, transforming him from a Massachusetts-appointed general to a congressionally appointed general; so too with the rest of the commissions Washington carried. Until this time, no officer in the “Army before Boston” had authority to act for Congress or to obligate Congress financially.
    4. Washington was authorized to issue commissions to officers under his command at the rank of Colonel and below, authority not previously given to colonial commanders at any level.
    5. Washington’s assumption of command denoted the beginning of congressional fiduciary responsibility for victualing the army, as stated in his orders.
    6. The first strength report of the continental Army is for the month of July, 1775, and includes accounting for the “Army in New York”.

    For these and other reasons the “continental Army” came into existence on 2 July 1775. Coincident with the conversion of the Army near Boston, those troops in New York (upstate and in NYC) also transferred to congressional control as the “Northern Department” of the “continental Army”, and the first “continental casualty” would have been the poor soul wounded or killed closest to that date.

  • Gentlemen,

    Thank you all for the excellent feedback. The article achieved the desired effect, to draw those with differing perspectives and more intimate knowledge of the details involving the formation of the Continental Army and events of 1775 into the conversation. The events of 1775 are worthy of much more scholarly research. The important actors and events of 1775 seem to be overshadowed by subsequent activities as the Revolutionary War evolved into a global conflict involving first class enemies. Many soldiers of the Revolution lie in unmarked graves as pointed out by Phil Weaver, records are poor and it is very hard to track those who did not survive the war. To paraphrase General William T. Sherman, the greatest insult a soldier can receive is to die in combat and have his name misspelled in the newspaper. For our Revolutionary soldiers, we often don’t have names to misspell.

    As J.L Bell and Jim Gallagher indicated, we will likely never know the name of the “first” continental or Continental combat casualty. However, the commissions offered by the Continental Congress and delivered to the officers in command of the 13 rifle companies from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia make these units very special. Their arrival at Boston in August 1775 transformed a regional force into a national army. And as indicated by J.L. Bell, William Simpson’s death is important because he is the first non-New Englander we can identify by name that died in combat in service of the United Colonies.

  • In the spirit of “closing the loop”, we can identify the first fatal casualty of the continental Army according General George Washington’s reports to Congress. In his first report of 10 June, addressed to John Hancock, GW reported a successful action with no American casualties (driving British troops from an outpost at Brown’s house/store). In his second report, written 14 July 1775 ( , Washington reports the action of 12 July, 1775; the first engagement under his command which resulted in casualties. Casualties consisted of one soldier wounded and another killed on Moon Island in Boston Harbor. This soldier was killed while covering the withdrawal of a party burning hay to prevent its use by British troops.

    According to a letter from Richard Cranch to John Adams the valiant soldier killed in this expedition was on “Mr. Clarke, of Stoughton” (Cranch to Adams, 24 July 1775, Founders Online at ).

    “Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War” verifies the death (pg 562,–ssa-189/page-86-massachusetts-soldiers-and-sailors-of-the-revolutionary-war-a-compilation-from–ssa-189.shtml ), listing this soldier as Nehemiah Clark, of Stoughtonham, Ma, who marched on the alarm of April 19 1775 (Lexington) and then enlisted on 8 May 1775 in Col Joseph Reed’s 20th Reg’t, Capt. Samuel Payson’s Co., killed at Squantom 12 July 1775. Squantom is the town nearest to, and incorporates, Moon Island, and this engagement known colloquially as “the Battle of Squantom”.

    Nehemiah Clark’s story is equally compelling and offers glimpses into the relationships between the soldiers, their cause, and their families. Nehemiah was born 23 Feb, 1741, son of Ichabod and Sarah Clark of Stoughton. Nehemiah left a wife and four children behind. Following Nehemiah’s death, records show that his pay and the value of the “bounty coat” he never received were collected by his Lieutenant on behalf of the family. Nehemiah married Judith Payson, sister of the man who became his company commander, on 9 Aug 1764, in Sharon, Ma., where they lived after their marriage. At that time Sharon was an unincorporated area of Stoughton; an area from which today one can see the lights and hear crowd noise from Gillette Stadium, home field of the New England Patriots. The couple had 6 children, 4 of whom survived to adulthood. One of the twins borne 10 months after their marriage died shortly after birth, and another child died in 1774 at 7 months of age. After Nehemiah’s death Judith Clark never remarried, and died in 1786 of jaundice and scurvy. (“Clarks of Sharon”, 1999, Dr. Frank O. Clark,

    Note: A very quick perusal of Gen. Phillip Schuyler’s reports from the Northern Army did not reveal a fatal combat casualty in the Champlain region between 2-12 July, 1775. For a definitive statement, a more thorough examination should be conducted of Allen, Arnold and Hinman’s reports to confirm.

  • Jim,
    Thank you for this valuable information and excellent research that not only identifies but reports the story of another important American soldier.

  • The author confuses the regimental lineage with the date of formation for the US Army. The Third Infantry Regiment is the direct descendant of the First American Regiment created in 1784. It has been in continuous service as an organization of the US Army since that time. (Its numeric designation was changed at the end of the War of 1812 because the regimental commander was third in seniority). It is the oldest regiment of the active US Army.

    The Army led by George Washington was created on June 14, 1776 by Congress. Throughout the Revolution, this force was known as the Continental Army. It was mostly made up of quotas and levies from individual states who were tasked with providing a specific number of battalions and companies. Near the end of the War, it was common for formations to be identified by their state — e.g., Pennsylvania Line and New Jersey Line. Generally, these forces constituted the Continental Army (there were a few specialized organizations). In battle, the Continentals would be supplemented by State Militias and local militia volunteers.

    After the Battle of Yorktown, Congress lowered the Army’s allowed strength and funded even less personnel. In 1783, Washington prevailed upon Congress to let him furlough units as he deemed appropriate. When Washington entered New York in November 1783, it was at the head of the nucleus of the demobilizing Army. Washington retained about 500 soldiers mostly from the Massachusetts Line to remain in service as Jackson’s Continental Regiment with duty along the frontier forts. About 100 New Yorkers were dispatched to West Point to create an artillery unit “Dougherty’s company.”

    A few months’ later, Jackson’s Continental Regiment was disbanded. Personnel from Dougherty’s company were assigned to the newly established First American Regiment as “First Company.” At the time, regiment’s had organic artillery. A few years later, this company was consolidated with other artillery units to create a Battalion of Artillery.

  • Robert,
    Thank you for providing the detailed information and comments on the initial (1783-4) regimental lineage of the US Army, these are interesting and greatly appreciated. I do take issue with your opening comment, “The author confuses the regimental lineage with the date of formation for the US Army.” This is not the case. I simply pointed out because the US Army recognizes the Old Guard as the oldest active unit in the US Army; they do not trace the roots of today’s active duty army to the first units formed in 1775. The lineage of the first units authorized by the Continental Congress, the 13 rifle companies from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, seem to get lost in discussions about the roots of the modern active duty army. Although the army does recognize the day they were authorized, 14 June 1775, as the Birthday of the US Army. It is interesting the army recognizes the date but not the units. Perhaps I could have been clearer in making that point.

    According to the US Army, the 3d Infantry was first, “Constituted 3 June 1784 in the Regular Army as the First American Regiment to consist of companies from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.” Most recently it was, “Redesignated 1 October 2005 as the 3d Infantry Regiment.” By tracing the active duty regimental lineage to 1784, the US Army does not highlight the units that formed the nucleus of the Continental Army of 1775. This gives rise to the points addressed above with differing interpretations as to continental vs. Continental Army. Had the US Army opted to trace their regimental beginnings to the 13 rifle companies of 1775 and link them to the 14 June birthday, the first regiment in the army would be Thompson’s Rifle Battalion from Pennsylvania. However, I must admit, the article was written to generate some dialogue and that is has achieved. Thanks again for your comments.

  • Wouldn’t Dr. Joseph Warren be the first American general to die in the revolution? Although he fought under Colonel Prescott at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Congress had commissioned him a general. He had authorized and organized the battle as the chairman of Committee of Safety. His name is on a plaque at West Point as a Major General who died June 17, 1775. I believe he should be recognized as the first general to die in the Revolutionary War.

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