Early Revolutionary War- The British Army

Reading: "Washington's Crossing" David Hackett Fischer

When I was younger and learned of the Revolutionary War, my main memory of the war is the famous painting - 'Washington's Crossing'. All of you have seen it- Washington standing triumphantly on a boat crossing the icy Delaware River.

The main theme of the war that I remember is the British Troops were stuffy and ill prepared for the hardy American frontiersman and were slaughtered by a smaller force that didn't march in lockstep and used the natural terrain to their advantage.

While it's true, that Americans certainly did use terrain and unconventional tactics as any insurgent force would, the idea of the British Redcoats being unprepared for total war is a joke.

During this period the British military forces were without rival. They had come off a string of successes in the French and Indian War and the Seven Years' War in Europe. They had destroyed every adversary that they had faced.

The British Army was organized into regiments which largely would operate independently of each other and were responsible for their own recruiting, training and general specializations. There were Scottish Regiments (recently subjugated to Britain at the time) who still spoke Gaelic, there was a regiment called the Green Feathers (later the Green Hats and later still the Green Berets) and many other regiments that specialized in various types of warfare.

This is very similar to the Roman 'Century' method where Legions would often operate independent of each other so they could work in separate parts of the empire. Having autonomy builds on soldiers having a stake in the fighting and speeds decision making.

The British were a professional, volunteer army. Their average general at the time had 30 years of Military experience while the American Generals had an average of two years of experience.

The early outcome of the war was predictable, stunning defeat after defeat for Washington's Army. The Americans did have a strong advantage though since the definition of victory for the British had to be total victory, while the definition for victory for the rebels had to be avoiding total loss.

The British were not going to be easy to defeat, and they had mercenaries... but that's another post.

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