Most American history books skip over the fact that between the Continental Army and the formation of the U.S. Army, there was an interim organization, or force, if you will. It was called The Legion of the United States and it saw combat.
When Washington said good-bye to his officers on December 4th, 1783, the Continental Army was no more. Many of its men and its arms went to the local state militias. As a country, we no longer had an army.
Yet, we still had enemies, foreign and domestic. U.S. citizens were pushing west past the Appalachian Mountains following the promise of land and opportunities. Unfortunately, the local residents, native American Indian tribes, did not appreciate the settlers.
Under the Articles of Confederation which were in effect until New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify our new Constitution on June 21st, 1788, the government could not raise money to pay an Army. Even after the Constitution came into effed, the central government was strapped for cash because the Congress was reluctant to tax its citizens while it recovered from a major recession brought on by the Revolutionary War.
Yet, something had to be done because American citizens were being killed on the western frontier. Washington acted and in 1789, he created the Department of War and appointed Henry Knox as the country’s first Secretary of War. The First American Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar consisted of 300 “regulars” and was sent to “pacify the Indian tribes and secure the Northwest frontier.” It was defeated by Miami Indians in Kekionga which is now Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Washington ordered a follow-up force made up of the Second American Regiment, this time of 2,400 “regulars” and militia to the Northwest frontier under General Arthur St. Clair, another Revolutionary War veteran. It too was decimated when the Indians of the Western Confederacy made up of members of a who’s who of American Indian tribes of the North Central U.S. Huron, Chippewa, Shawnee, Illinois, Wabash joined the Miami to take on General St. Clair who lost half of his force near Fort Recovery, Ohio in one of the worst defeats in U.S. Army history on November 4th, 1792.
Congress finally realized that the United States needed a professional army and funded a brigade sized force of cavalry, infantry and artillery under the command of one officer. The man Washington (and Knox) picked was Mark “Mad Anthony” Wayne. The legislature still hadn’t learned their lesson and authorized funding only until “peace with the Indian tribes had been secured.”
The three regiments defeated the Western Confederacy and their British allies near what is now Maumee, Ohio at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Later, the Legion defended Fort Jefferson and Fort Recovery, also in Ohio. The war ended with the Treaty of Greenville in 1785 in which the Indians and the British ceded much of what is now Ohio, Indian, Illinois and Michigan to the young country.
In 1796, after the treaty was signed, Congress reduced the Legion from 5,000+ men to 3,000 and renamed it the U.S. Army. Today, the First, Second, and Third Infantry Regiments trace their lineage back to the Legion of the United States.