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The First American Regiment was the first peacetime regular army force authorized by United States Congress after the American Revolutionary War. It served primarily on the early Western frontier of the United States.


After the conclusion of the American Revolution in 1783, Congress ordered the Continental Army to disband, and General George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief.[1] The disband order was never carried out, and on 2 June 1784, Congress reissued the order, under the principle that "standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican government, dangerous to the liberties of a free people, and generally converted into destructive engines for establishing despotism."[2]

On 3 June 1784, Congress passed a new resolution:[3]

Resolved, That the Secretary at War take order for forming the said troops when assembled, into one regiment, to consist of eight companies of infantry, and two of artillery, arming and equipping them in a soldier-like manner: and that he be authorised to direct their destination and operations, subject to the order of Congress, and of the Committee of the states in the recess of Congress.

Thomas Mifflin, the president of Congress, named his former aide, Josiah Harmar, to be the commander of the new regiment, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The new regiment was used primarily to man frontier outposts and guard against Native American attacks. An Artillery Company of the New Regiment was Captain John Doughty's Company of the 2d Continental Artillery Regiment which had been attached to the 1st American Regiment (1783-1784).

In 1786, Secretary of War Henry Knox ordered Col. Harmar to the outpost village of Vincennes to drive away the Kentucky militia, who fled at the approach of the First American Regiment. Col. Harmar left 100 regulars under the command of Major Jean François Hamtramck to build a new fort and conduct operations deep within Indian Territory.

Northwest Indian War

The First American Regiment was renamed the Regiment of Infantry in 29 September 1789.[4] In 1790, Harmar – now a general – led 320 regulars and over 1,000 militia on the disastrous Harmar Campaign. The Regiment of Infantry suffered over 70 casualties.

The following year, 1791, the regiment was redesignated as the 1st Infantry.[5] It comprised the main force of regulars under General Arthur St. Clair in the campaign to destroy Kekionga, a large Miami village central to the Native American forces in the Northwest Indian War. While on campaign, the 1st Infantry under Major Hamtramck was sent to find an overdue supply train. The supplies were never found, but as the Infantry marched to rejoin the main force on 4 November 1791, gunfire was heard. Native Americans under Miami Chief Little Turtle had attacked in what came to be known as St. Clair's Defeat, the worst loss to American Indians by the United States Army in history. Survivors broke through Little Turtle's lines and warned Major Hamtramck, who fell back to Fort Jefferson instead of covering the retreat.

The next year, 1792, the First American Regiment was again renamed, and became the Infantry of the 1st Sub-Legion, commanded by Hamtramck. This new Legion of the United States, under General Anthony Wayne, trained extensively before marching North to meet the Native American Confederacy that had defeated St. Clair. The Legion was victorious at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The trading post at Kekionga was rebuilt and named Fort Wayne, and was garrisoned by the First Sub-Legion under Major Hamtramck. William Henry Harrison, later to become President of the United States, was a junior officer in the 1st Sub-Legion.[4]


The 3rd Infantry's coat-of-arms features a tricorn hat to represent its roots in the First American Regiment.

In October 1796, the 1st Sub-Legion was again renamed the 1st Infantry.

In October 1815, the 1st Infantry was consolidated with the 5th, 17th, 19th, and the 28th Infantry to form the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). The 3rd Infantry, with their roots in the First American Regiment, is recognized as the oldest regular regiment in the United States Army.


  1. (link below). Accessed 3 October 2008
  2. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875. Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 27, Pg 433 [1]
  3. Library of Congress website, accessed 3 October 2008
  4. 4.0 4.1 The First Regiment of Infantry compiled in the office of the Military Service Institution. Website accessed 9 April 2009.
  5. *U.S. Army. (1997-05-22.) "Lineage and honors information: 3d Infantry (the Old Guard)". United States Army Center of Military History. Accessed 22 October 2008.

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