Suppressing a rebellion in America also posed other problems. Since the colonies covered a large area and had not been united before the war, there was no central area of strategic importance. In Europe, the capture of a capital often meant the end of a war; in America, when the British seized cities such as New York and Philadelphia, the war continued unabated.
Furthermore, the large size of the colonies meant that the British lacked the manpower to control them by force.
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Once any area had been occupied, troops had to be kept there or the Revolutionaries would regain control, and these troops were thus unavailable for further offensive operations. The British had sufficient troops to defeat the Americans on the battlefield but not enough to simultaneously occupy the colonies. This manpower shortage became critical after French and Spanish entry into the war, because British troops had to be dispersed in several theaters, where previously they had been concentrated in America. The British also had the difficult task of fighting the war while simultaneously retaining the allegiance of Loyalists.
Loyalist support was important, since the goal of the war was to keep the colonies in the British Empire, but this imposed numerous military limitations. Early in the war, the Howe brothers served as peace commissioners while simultaneously conducting the war effort, a dual role which may have limited their effectiveness. Additionally, the British could have recruited more slaves and Native Americans to fight the war, but this would have alienated many Loyalists, even more so than the controversial hiring of German mercenaries.
The need to retain Loyalist allegiance also meant that the British were unable to use the harsh methods of suppressing rebellion they employed in Ireland and Scotland. Even with these limitations, many potentially neutral colonists were nonetheless driven into the ranks of the Revolutionaries because of the war.
Dee Ann McWilliams, U. Army Ret. This is vital, superb reading. It echoes with voices of many thousands of their sisters in arms. The American Revolution 2. The Civil War 3. The Spanish-American War 4. World War I 5.
World War II 6. Unconventional Operations, Espionage, and the Cold War 7. The Vietnam War 9. Recall that on December 16, , protesters had boarded British vessels in Boston Harbor and destroyed cargoes of tea, rather than pay a tax imposed by Parliament. Throughout early , the prime minister and his cabinet engaged in lengthy debate on whether coercive actions would lead to war. A second question was considered as well: Could Britain win such a war? Parliament enacted the Coercive Acts—or Intolerable Acts, as Americans called them—and applied the legislation to Massachusetts alone, to punish the colony for its provocative act.
England also installed Gen. Thomas Gage, commander of the British Army in America, as governor of the colony. Britain, of course, miscalculated hugely. In September , colonists convened the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia; the members voted to embargo British commerce until all British taxes and the Coercive Acts were repealed.
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News of that vote reached London in December. The Americans had neither a standing army nor a navy; few among them were experienced officers. Furthermore, the colonists had virtually no history of cooperating with one another, even in the face of danger. In addition, many in the cabinet were swayed by disparaging assessments of American soldiers leveled by British officers in earlier wars.
For instance, during the French and Indian War , Brig. Could the Royal Navy blockade the 1,mile-long American coast? Might not an American army of this size replace its losses more easily than Britain? Was it possible to supply an army operating 3, miles from home? Could Britain subdue a rebellion across 13 colonies in an area some six times the size of England? Would a protracted war bankrupt Britain? Was Britain risking starting a broader war? To back down, the ministers believed, would be to lose the colonies. To be sure, the initial rally to arms was impressive.
When the British Army marched out of Boston on April 19, , messengers on horseback, including Boston silversmith Paul Revere, fanned out across New England to raise the alarm. Summoned by the feverish pealing of church bells, militiamen from countless hamlets hurried toward Concord, Massachusetts, where the British regulars planned to destroy a rebel arsenal. Thousands of militiamen arrived in time to fight; 89 men from 23 towns in Massachusetts were killed or wounded on that first day of war, April 19, By the next morning, Massachusetts had 12 regiments in the field.
Connecticut soon mobilized a force of 6,, one-quarter of its military-age men. Within a week, 16, men from the four New England colonies formed a siege army outside British-occupied Boston. Thereafter, men throughout America took up arms. It seemed to the British regulars that every able-bodied American male had become a soldier. But as the colonists discovered how difficult and dangerous military service could be, enthusiasm waned.
Many men preferred to remain home, in the safety of what Gen. As progressed, many colonies were compelled to entice soldiers with offers of cash bounties, clothing, blankets and extended furloughs or enlistments shorter than the one-year term of service established by Congress. The following year, when Congress mandated that men who enlisted must sign on for three years or the duration of the conflict, whichever came first, offers of cash and land bounties became an absolute necessity.get link
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The states and the army also turned to slick-tongued recruiters to round up volunteers. Moreover, beginning in , the New England states, and eventually all Northern states, enlisted African-Americans, a practice that Congress had initially forbidden. Ultimately, some 5, blacks bore arms for the United States, approximately 5 percent of the total number of men who served in the Continental Army.
Longer enlistments radically changed the composition of the Army. But few who owned farms were willing to serve for the duration, fearing loss of their property if years passed without producing revenue from which to pay taxes. After , the average Continental soldier was young, single, propertyless, poor and in many cases an outright pauper. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, up to one in four soldiers was an impoverished recent immigrant. Patriotism aside, cash and land bounties offered an unprecedented chance for economic mobility for these men.
Accounts of shoeless continental army soldiers leaving bloody footprints in the snow or going hungry in a land of abundance are all too accurate. Albigence Waldo, a Continental Army surgeon, later reported that many men survived largely on what were known as fire cakes flour and water baked over coals. But that was not always the case.
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So much heavy clothing arrived from France at the beginning of the winter in that Washington was compelled to locate storage facilities for his surplus. In a long war during which American soldiers were posted from upper New York to lower Georgia, conditions faced by the troops varied widely. While one soldier in seven was dying from hunger and disease at Valley Forge, young Private Martin, stationed only a few miles away in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, was assigned to patrols that foraged daily for army provisions. Some , men served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
Probably twice that number soldiered as militiamen, for the most part defending the home front, functioning as a police force and occasionally engaging in enemy surveillance. If a militia company was summoned to active duty and sent to the front lines to augment the Continentals, it usually remained mobilized for no more than 90 days. Some Americans emerged from the war convinced that the militia had been largely ineffective. Militiamen were older, on average, than the Continental soldiers and received only perfunctory training; few had experienced combat.
At Camden, South Carolina, in August , militiamen panicked in the face of advancing redcoats. Throwing down their weapons and running for safety, they were responsible for one of the worst defeats of the war. Yet in , militiamen had fought with surpassing bravery along the Concord Road and at Bunker Hill.
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Nearly 40 percent of soldiers serving under Washington in his crucial Christmas night victory at Trenton in were militiamen. In New York state, half the American force in the vital Saratoga campaign of consisted of militiamen. In March , Gen. Nathanael Greene adroitly deployed his militiamen in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse fought near present-day Greensboro, North Carolina. In that engagement, he inflicted such devastating losses on the British that they gave up the fight for North Carolina.