1789 – The U.S. War Department was established by the U.S. Congress.

United States Department of War

War Department, United States, federal executive department organized (1789) to administer the military establishment. It was reconstituted (1947) as the Dept. of the Army when the military administration was reorganized (see Defense, United States Department of ). During the American Revolution, military affairs were largely supervised by the Continental Congress, and under the Articles of Confederation a secretary of war was put in charge of defense matters.

In Aug., 1789, the U.S. War Dept., headed by the Secretary of War with cabinet rank, was created to organize and maintain the U.S. army—under the command of the President in time of peace and war. Subsequent legislation expanded the department’s organization, and until 1903 the commanding general of the army and various staff departments aided the Secretary in guiding the military establishment. Its supervision of naval affairs was soon transferred (Apr., 1798) to the U.S. Dept. of the Navy.

At times the War Dept. supervised quasimilitary matters—e.g., the distribution of bounty lands, pensions (see Interior, United States Department of the ), Indian affairs (see Indian Affairs, Bureau of ), and the Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War, but by the 20th cent. the only such responsibilities that remained were the construction of public works in connection with rivers and harbors and the maintenance and operation of the Panama Canal.

Meanwhile, the purely military functions of the department were vastly expanded in war periods, and after the Spanish-American War the War Dept. was thoroughly reorganized (1903). The office of the commanding general of the army was abolished, and the general staff corps was established to coordinate the army under the direction of the chief of staff, who was charged with supervising the planning of national defense and with the mobilization of the military forces. Thereafter the War Dept. absorbed several new functions; it was given supervision over the newly created National Guard , and under the National Defense Act of 1916 the officers’ reserve corps was created within the department’s organization.

This act also established the office of Assistant Secretary of War to coordinate the procurement of munitions. After World War I the War Dept. was again revamped (1922). Its scope of military activities, however, remained wide, stretching from the supervision of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) to the guidance of insular affairs and occupied territories and to the intricate organization of defense. In World War II plans were laid to coordinate the activities of the armed services, and with the creation (1947) of the National Military Establishment—which later became (1949) the U.S. Dept. of Defense—the War Dept. was reconstituted as the Dept. of the Army, which became a division of the Dept. of Defense. The Secretary of War, holding a post with high cabinet rank, became the Secretary of the Army, an office without cabinet rank, and several of the department’s functions, notably those connected with the air arm, were transferred.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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1782 – George Washington created the Order of the Purple Heart.


Purple HeartWar Department, United States, federal executive department organized (1789) to administer the military establishment. It was reconstituted (1947) as the Dept. of the Army when the military administration was reorganized (see Defense, United States Department of ). During the American Revolution, military affairs were largely supervised

General Washington’s general orders of August 7, 1782, began: “The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth

For the first time in history, recognition for meritorious service in time of war, was available to the common soldier. George Washington personally bestowed the Badge of Merit on only three non-commissioned officers, though evidence suggests that other such awards were bestowed by subordinate officers.
The Badge of Merit fell into disuse after the Revolution, though the award was never formally abolished.

In 1927, Army Chief of Staff General Charles Summerall directed that a bill be drafted and submitted to Congress, “To revive the Badge of Military Merit”. This badge of merit came to be known as the Purple Heart. General Douglas MacArthur, Summerall’s successor, began work on a new design for the medal in 1931. Elizabeth Will, heraldic specialist with the Quartermaster General’s office, created the design we see today.
A War Department circular dated February 22, 1932 authorized the award to soldiers who had been awarded the Meritorious Service Citation Certificate, Army Wound Ribbon, or were authorized to wear Wound Chevrons on or later than April 6, 1917, the day the United States entered WWI.

At that time, the Purple Heart was awarded not only for wounds received in action against enemy forces, but also for “meritorious performance of duty”.

The first Purple Heart was awarded to Douglas MacArthur himself.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9277 of December 3, 1942, discontinued the award for meritorious service, and broadened service-related injury eligibility requirements to include all armed services personnel.

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII, Military planners put their minds to the invasion of Imperial Japan. Knowing nothing of the atomic bombs which would put a quick end to the war that August, authorities ordered 500,000 purple hearts. To this day, American military forces have yet to use them all up. As of 2003, 120,000 of these Purple Heart medals, remained in inventory.
On November 22, 1944, Time Magazine reported the first Purple Heart awarded to an animal. “Chips“, a German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix, also received the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star, for single “handedly” wiping out an Italian machine-gun nest, during the Allied invasion of Sicily.

Cape Cod Curmudgeon
Posted on
August 7, 2017
American History, Dogs
Purple Heart, TodayinHistory.blog


RIP to my brother walt, who gave his life to a career as a marine and honored with at least 2 purple hearts ….