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  • American Revolution question

    I know that popular image has it that the brave Patriot militia sniping the British off from behind trees is what won the Revolution but in reality how effective were the militia and irregular tactics in general against the British?

    I always believed that it was the European trained Continental regulars that won the Revolution rather then the militia and the irregulars. Which is correct?

  • #2
    Originally posted by ChrisF1987 View Post
    I know that popular image has it that the brave Patriot militia sniping the British off from behind trees is what won the Revolution but in reality how effective were the militia and irregular tactics in general against the British?

    I always believed that it was the European trained Continental regulars that won the Revolution rather then the militia and the irregulars. Which is correct?
    Chris, I was hoping some of the RW boys would jump this. It could be an interesting thread. The "hide in the bushes" bit probably got started with the "March of Death" back to Boston after Lex.-Concord. In the West, those Red Coats did stand out, and if you coupled those with the really pretty Officer Regalia, you had a prime target. Ethan Allen's boys did a good job at Saratoga, again they targeted command.

    (Speculation), the English Navy was instrumental in keeping most supply lines relatively short, thus the New England Theater was not prime country for guerrilla tactics. Washington did favor a European type war, so his use of small militia groups seems somewhat limited.

    In the South, all bets were off. For most of the War, this was more of an "in your face conflict". Lot's of small scale action. (Francis Marion etc.) If you wish to look into the impact of "militia", I'd start your search there.

    If you're looking at what "won" the AR, check out the impact of the French Navy.

    Regards.
    Last edited by holly6; 14 Oct 07, 12:20.
    My Avatar: Ivan W. Henderson Gunner/navigator B-25-26. 117 combat missions. Both Theaters. 11 confirmed kills. DSC.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by holly6 View Post
      Chris, I was hoping some of the RW boys would jump this. It could be an interesting thread.
      I think this thread may be misplaced (even though the forum is "The Colonial Era"). Normally, I put american revolution threads in the "Napoleonic" forum, as it reflects the time frame.

      Anyway, there is no denying that the rifle-toting hunters gave the British regulars something new to work around. However, the reading I've done about the early years of the war indicate that it was more likely a combination of luck and outstanding leadership that kept the ragtag (wow, how often does *that* word get used to describe the rebel fighters?!) army from being beaten down in short order.

      As the war went on, the rebel forces were able to formalize a regular continental army, standardize on a number of things (see Von Steuben's Blue Book), and recruit veterans into the ranks. No longer were these young men who had a rifle and the excitement of their youth; these were experienced combat veterans who had learned how to line up and trade volleys with the British without turning tail and running.

      I recently read somewhere that the American rebellion was Britain's Vietnam War... which is an interesting way to look at it. No doubt that the soldiers in country had to adapt to fighting in a heavily wooded area instead of the rolling hills and vast plains of Europe. However, I believe a number of the British units that were there when the war began had been there for a while (French & Indian War) and were already accustomed to the terrain. (It would just be the new guys off the boats who had to adjust to trees and rifles.)

      Anyway, to the OP, I think your original suspicions are correct.

      (I just took a very long-winded way to agree with you!)
      "I am not an atomic playboy."
      Vice Admiral William P. Blandy

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      • #4
        Thanks guys, it just blows my mind that people are always forgetting about the long service professionals of the regular army and are always going on and on about "citizen soldiers" and irregulars winning wars. It just annoys me, its about time that the regulars of the Continental Army got some exposure.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by ChrisF1987 View Post
          I know that popular image has it that the brave Patriot militia sniping the British off from behind trees is what won the Revolution but in reality how effective were the militia and irregular tactics in general against the British?

          I always believed that it was the European trained Continental regulars that won the Revolution rather then the militia and the irregulars. Which is correct?
          I think the real answer is that it took both of them. The hide-behind-the-trees types were not going to win the war, but allowed the colonials to keep some sort of army in the field and work on British opinion. The stand-up-and-fight crowd was not numerous enough, or in the beginning well trained enough, to stand up to the Brits and mercenaries.

          IIRC, the one also allowed the other to recover, and in some battles (or at least one) they worked in unison.
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          • #6
            http://www.patriotresource.com/people/morgan.html

            also check wiki under Daniel Morgan. Gives a decent breakdown how both tactics were used. Woodlands fighting was just as important if not more important in the Northern Theatre of Operations as in the South. Much of the success at the Battle of Saratoga was do to the nasty habit of shooting British Officers.

            HP
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            • #7
              Irregular Tactics

              Irregular tactics along with conventional or regular tactics won the Revolutionary War. In each theatre milita combined with Continental Army Regulars played pivotal roles in defeating the Redcoats.
              Points the Minuteman of Lexington and Concord didn't meet the Redcoats in open fields on April 17,1775. Only the disastrous engagement on Lexington Common was an open field fight. The fight at Concord the Minuteman used trees, rocks, and fences. The "Nightmare March" by the Redcoats back to Boston involved the Minuteman from the surrounding countryside who missed the events at Lexington and Concord. All that said, after the Continental Army was established as a regular force Washington had to use local militias to fill out his forces.
              In reference to the war in the South:
              After the British took Charleston in 1779 they captured the only regular army in the theatre all 5,000 under Benjamin Lincoln. When Gates came south with a small force of regulars he had to fill out with local militias. In reality militias were almost useless in a open fight. The Battle of Camden was a disastor. When Nathaniel Greene came south along with Daniel Morgan they had to use militia's to fight the British under Cornwallis. Greene used guerrila leaders like Francis Marion, Edward Pickens and Thomas Sumter to attack the British supply lines. These brave man used ambush and hit and run tactics to disrupt communications and supplies. They played a pivotal role in keeping the Southern states in the war. The Battle of Cowpens was Morgan's masterpiece. He used the militia backed up by regulars letting the militia reform after 3 volleys. He dealt Col Banastre Tarlton and Cornwallis a hard blow. Meanwhile these tactics let Greene rebuild and retrain the southern army.
              To further answer the question, we cannot forget that some states' militia were well trained and well equipped. Virginia had the "Blues" a unit that Washington himself had built and trained during the French and Indian wars.
              Lest we forget an Virginian woodsman George Rogers Clark whose Rangers took Vincennes (Indiana) and Kaskaskia (Il) giving the United States the Northwest Territory and the end of the War. Two other well equipped and well trained state militias were the Maryland 400 who led the first recorded bayonet charge in American history at the Battle of Long Island and the Delaware blues. Both gave the American cause great service. Many point out that the Regulars won at Freeman's Farm and Saratoga, but you also forget that the militia and woodsman under Morgan flooded streams and blocked roadways with trees to hinder Burgoyne's advance, and militias at Ft Stanwyx turned back St. Leger's reinforcements in western New York during the same campaign. In conclusion both regulars and irregular forces constributed in their own ways to the victory and neither should be discounted as valuable in our war of independence.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by ceardog View Post
                Points the Minuteman of Lexington and Concord didn't meet the Redcoats in open fields on April 17,1775. Only the disastrous engagement on Lexington Common was an open field fight. The fight at Concord the Minuteman used trees, rocks, and fences. The "Nightmare March" by the Redcoats back to Boston involved the Minuteman from the surrounding countryside who missed the events at Lexington and Concord.
                Actually this is the traditional myth of Lexington and Concord. The reality is that while there was some independent shooting from behind cover, most of the engagements between the Militias and the British Regulars that day, were in open fields, using standard infantry tactics (as best as the militias knew how) and volley fire. Lexington Green doesn't really count for much of a fight, as it was really just unruly Regulars firing at the militia as it dispersed from the field. Only two or three of the Lexington militia actually fired back. At the North Bridge, the militia marched down toward the British light infantry at the bridge in perfect organized formation, and delivered a perfect volley. While the supposedly better trained Lights botched their formation, and fell back in a panic. On the march back to Boston, for the most part it was the various local trained bands and militias as units engaging the Regulars in volley fire as the Regulars marched past, then the militia would run down the road and engage the Regulars again as they passed by. Fischer's book "Paul Revere's Ride" is the best history of this battle, and he does much to dispel the common myths that surround it.
                "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by HiredGoon View Post
                  Actually this is the traditional myth of Lexington and Concord. The reality is that while there was some independent shooting from behind cover, most of the engagements between the Militias and the British Regulars that day, were in open fields, using standard infantry tactics (as best as the militias knew how) and volley fire. Lexington Green doesn't really count for much of a fight, as it was really just unruly Regulars firing at the militia as it dispersed from the field. Only two or three of the Lexington militia actually fired back. At the North Bridge, the militia marched down toward the British light infantry at the bridge in perfect organized formation, and delivered a perfect volley. While the supposedly better trained Lights botched their formation, and fell back in a panic. On the march back to Boston, for the most part it was the various local trained bands and militias as units engaging the Regulars in volley fire as the Regulars marched past, then the militia would run down the road and engage the Regulars again as they passed by. Fischer's book "Paul Revere's Ride" is the best history of this battle, and he does much to dispel the common myths that surround it.
                  For this part of the conflict, well done.
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                  • #10
                    For the most part, throughout the Revolutionary War, the American forces fought using Linear Tactics, fighting in orderly lines, just as the British did, albeit with much less success, especially during the early years of the war. The Americans also suffered from a lack of bayonet fighting experience, of which the British were the unexcelled masters at. Even at this late date, the British considered the bayonet as their soldier's primary weapon of battle and the brown bess musket as secondary in importance. The musket could indeed cause a great deal of shock and casualties in any opposing army, but the bayonet always settled the issue over who won a battle.

                    The war caused the British a number of problems that they'd never faced before. For the first time in the history of British war making experience, they had to face authority-hating Americans who deliberately selected the mounted British Officers as their primary points of aim, rather than the common Infantry soldiers, causing untold casualties to the officer class. This utterly shocked the British High Command to no end as this was no gentlemanly way to make war.

                    In the end, the war was an extremely close run thing that the British could have indeed prevailed had they done three things at the very beginning. Had the British treated the revolt as a war against an opposing power and brought overwhelming force to bear, it could have crushed the rebellion in the bud. Had they recruited vast numbers of Tory Regular Regiments, with Regular Regimental pay and perks at the outset of war, this could have also had an important effect upon the conduct of the war. Lastly, had the British Forces under Lord Howe posessed three or four Regular Regiments of cavalry, they could have easily brought Washington's fleeing forces to bay during their retreat through New York and New Jersey, allowing Howe's pursuing troops to catch up with them and bring them to a conclusive battle.
                    "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by johnbryan View Post
                      For the most part, throughout the Revolutionary War, the American forces fought using Linear Tactics, fighting in orderly lines, just as the British did, albeit with much less success, especially during the early years of the war. The Americans also suffered from a lack of bayonet fighting experience, of which the British were the unexcelled masters at. Even at this late date, the British considered the bayonet as their soldier's primary weapon of battle and the brown bess musket as secondary in importance. The musket could indeed cause a great deal of shock and casualties in any opposing army, but the bayonet always settled the issue over who won a battle.

                      The war caused the British a number of problems that they'd never faced before. For the first time in the history of British war making experience, they had to face authority-hating Americans who deliberately selected the mounted British Officers as their primary points of aim, rather than the common Infantry soldiers, causing untold casualties to the officer class. This utterly shocked the British High Command to no end as this was no gentlemanly way to make war.

                      In the end, the war was an extremely close run thing that the British could have indeed prevailed had they done three things at the very beginning. Had the British treated the revolt as a war against an opposing power and brought overwhelming force to bear, it could have crushed the rebellion in the bud. Had they recruited vast numbers of Tory Regular Regiments, with Regular Regimental pay and perks at the outset of war, this could have also had an important effect upon the conduct of the war. Lastly, had the British Forces under Lord Howe posessed three or four Regular Regiments of cavalry, they could have easily brought Washington's fleeing forces to bay during their retreat through New York and New Jersey, allowing Howe's pursuing troops to catch up with them and bring them to a conclusive battle.
                      Excellent post Johnny.
                      Most "cavalry" for the British were "Hessians" (they took the mounts away from them) or Tories. The few British riders had no idea of the ground they were to cover.

                      You have touched upon the "unwritten" concept of the RW. The British were "Gentlmen Officers" fighting a war against a lesser class. Washington and many of the senior Officers were veterans of the French and Indian War. From that experience, they came away with an envy of the status of the British Officer Core. While denied that stature by the English, they saw the early war as a chance to obtain the respect of their tormentors. Hence, the disaster in NY.

                      The social status was real. The British refused to accept the "Colonial" officers or men who rallied to their cause as equals. Had they embraced that concept, the war would have had major different results. Perhaps not so much in New England, but certainly in the Southern Colonies.
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by holly6 View Post
                        Excellent post Johnny.
                        Most "cavalry" for the British were "Hessians" (they took the mounts away from them) or Tories. The few British riders had no idea of the ground they were to cover.

                        You have touched upon the "unwritten" concept of the RW. The British were "Gentlmen Officers" fighting a war against a lesser class. Washington and many of the senior Officers were veterans of the French and Indian War. From that experience, they came away with an envy of the status of the British Officer Core. While denied that stature by the English, they saw the early war as a chance to obtain the respect of their tormentors. Hence, the disaster in NY.

                        The social status was real. The British refused to accept the "Colonial" officers or men who rallied to their cause as equals. Had they embraced that concept, the war would have had major different results. Perhaps not so much in New England, but certainly in the Southern Colonies.
                        Thankyou for your kind words. The only British Regiment raised here in the Colonies that was elevated up to British Regular Regimental Status, was the two-Battalion 84th Regiment of Foote, Royal Highland Emigrants, that fought in both the Northern and Southern Campaigns, throughout the Rev. War.
                        "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by johnbryan View Post
                          Thankyou for your kind words. The only British Regiment raised here in the Colonies that was elevated up to British Regular Regimental Status, was the two-Battalion 84th Regiment of Foote, Royal Highland Emigrants, that fought in both the Northern and Southern Campaigns, throughout the Rev. War.
                          Is that the chaps that fought at Moore's Creek? I visited that dismal place this summer.
                          Barcsi János ispán vezérőrnagy
                          Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2003 & 2006


                          "Never pet a burning dog."

                          RECOMMENDED WEBSITES:
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                          http://www.sca.org
                          http://www.scv.org/
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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Janos View Post
                            Is that the chaps that fought at Moore's Creek? I visited that dismal place this summer.
                            Yup, you nailed it! The 84th was envisioned to be a regiment comprised of several battalions strength and made up largely of emigrant Scots. When the Revolutionary War began, the Scots of North Carolina let it be known that they wanted to join under the King's Colors and the British sent a number of warships there to take them back to Halifax for training.

                            The only problem was that American Continental troops barred their way to the coast at Moore's Creek Bridge. In a short, hot fight, the Scots were routed and their plans to join the British were crushed. The 84th never expanded beyond their two battalion's strength, although they were actively employed in both the Northern and Southern Campaigns.
                            "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by johnbryan View Post
                              The only problem was that American Continental troops barred their way to the coast at Moore's Creek Bridge. In a short, hot fight, the Scots were routed and their plans to join the British were crushed.
                              Nice little battle -- I'm actually losing a PBEM version of it right now. Pity, since I'm playing the American side.
                              "I am not an atomic playboy."
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