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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Historical Events & Eras > American Age of Discovery, Colonization, Revolution, & Expansion > American Revolution

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American Revolution 1763-1789 The birth of a new nation - to commence at the Proclaimation of 1763 to the end of the Articles of Confederation.

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  #16  
Old 20 Mar 12, 08:16
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Originally Posted by Pruitt View Post
Elijah,

I beg to differ with you on the Militia. The British did not decide to vacate Boston until the heights around it received the cannon captured at Fort Ticonderoga. The American population was roughly divided into thirds. One third favored independence, one third wanted to stay under the crown, the rest wanted to be left alone by both sides!

At Saratoga Morgan and Arnold led mostly Continental troops reinforced by Militia. The Militia did do a nice job on the troops Burgoyne sent into Vermont.

In the Southern States the Militia tried to stop Cornwallis and got beat. The problem was the British thought they could hold the captured region without a road system and not enough civilians to forage off of. Cornwallis drove wherever he wanted until he decided it was time to evacuate. The Royal Navy failed him then at Yorktown. There it was the French Navy that trapped him and he was hemmed in by Continentals and French troops. There were some Militia there, the same guys he pushed through to get there.

Pruitt
Delighted with your comments, it is, after all, the type of thread to invite differing opinions. All the posts above seem to contain some excellent points. While I only spoke of the militia and the hostile populace, I realize many factors come together to make the victory. That said, I'm not at all certain Dorchester Heights isn't itself a militia action. Or, not really an action at all. I think the British were ready to evacuate. They had been bottled up and basically afraid to move into the interior since Bunker Hill (militia) showed them why movements would be a problem.

Even assuming the 1/3 formula correct, the loyalist third either left for British areas, found themselves disarmed, or were otherwise intimidated away. This was particularly true by 1779 onward. Even when Cornwallis did raise Tory units, they would be without arms and pretty much no match for the rebels. In most areas, the rebel factions totally dominated the Tory population via mob scenes, committee actions, etc. If the rebels were only a third, they were certainly that third of a population prone to raising the most ruckus.

At Saratoga Arnold and Morgan advanced into the individual battle to cover the right flank of Gates position. The existence of some 12,000 militia stood the defenses allowing the Continental units freedom to make those advance actions. Which is not to take away from those Continental units. They took the brunt of all action at Saratoga and did great! In my opinion, some of their best work.

This was also true in the south where a few Continentals at Cowpens were able to form a solid core of strength that whipped Tarleton. However, also true the militia were indispensible that day. They wore down the British advance so the outnumbered Continentals would be able to make their stand.

However, Washington and Greene could never maintain enough army in the field to defeat the British.

When you say the militia got beat. I don't think so. They lost some battles. They won some battles. It was Gates at Camden who took such a famous and disastrous defeat. While one might argue that militia lost the battle for him, I would suggest that only a fool would have used them in such a manner and invited disaster.

Other southern partisan battles not so clear. Victory at Hanging Rock cost the British Bryan's North Carolina loyalist regiment and the Prince of Wales Regiment. Huck's defeat showed first defiance and gave South Carolina the path to victory. Rocky Mount kept the pressure up and showed Cornwallis he must pull back into fewer positions and maintain greater strength at each location. Musgrove's Mill defeated Innes and kept the spark alive in the wake of Gates disaster. Clarke's first siege of Augusta put pressure on and drew troops from Ninety-six alarming Cornwallis in his first attempt at North Carolina. Charlotte embarrased and stunned the British Legion and effectively stalled the British advance. (assisted by outbreak of fever). And then, King's Mountain and the defeat of Ferguson chased Cornwallis back to South Carolina. Next up, Marion is on a rampage and Tarleton unable to catch him. The British Legion take another embarrasing defeat and the 23rd gets pounded at Blackstocks. In the aftermath, the miltia didn't get weaker, they got stronger as Elijah Clarke visited Pickens in early December of 1780 convincing Andrew to raise the very experienced and powerful Long Canes militia. While Sumter and Clarke ended the year wounded, they were far from defeated.

It was at this time Cornwallis gave the instructions to Cruger not to move outside the fort at Ninety-Six without at least 150 men.

In North Carolina, Greene was chased away and refused to fight (a wise move) until Thomas Jefferson raised the VA militia who responded in a large way and made Guilford possible.

In my opinion, the militia do not get enough credit. But, again, excellent comments above also. Nobody gets sole credit. Definite confluence of events and people.

After all, we owe a lot to the mistakes of the British.
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  #17  
Old 20 Mar 12, 08:20
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Originally Posted by johnbryan View Post
Militia on both sides remained a highly unreliable commodity both during the Revolution and during the War of 1812. While there were a few bright spots in their battle history during both wars, the remaining times that they were committed to battle often led to an abysmal defeat. The long held myth of the effectiveness of the "Minute Man" and "Citizen Soldier" prevailing victorious, over trained, Regular Troops remains largely a myth.
John, both Continental Units and Militia units needed experience prior to finding themselves capable of standing up to the British. However, there are many instances of militia regiments that fought very well just as there are many instances of Continental units faring poorly.

The situation of the War of 1812 was different. After all, it was also a triumph for militia. Only difference being it was Canadian militia instead of US militia.
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Old 20 Mar 12, 13:13
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‘The Myth of the Militia’

It has become fashionable in some academic circles to attempt to rehabilitate the militia and its performance in the War of the Revolution. The bottom line is without the Continental Army the war would have been lost.

‘The Revolutionary War created its own military traditions, perpetuated in myth, art, and even serious history. The most pervasive of these was that all free-born Americans would spontaneously rise in arms to meet and crush any foreign invasion…In cold fact, there was no large-scale rallying during the Revolution, but thhe myth endured.’-John Elting, American Army Life, 48.

‘In addition to the Continental Army, the various states had their own land forces, which consisted of state regulars and militia. (Most of the states also had their own navies). The regulars, often confusingly termed the ‘State Line’ were enlisted for from one to three years of service. Usually in uniform, they were employed for garrisons, seacoast defense, frontier operations, and the preservation of law and order; in emergencies, they might be attached to Continental forces. The militia, consisting of able-bodied citizens of military age, was often called up for varying periods of service, but seldom for more than three months.’

‘Regarding themselves as sovereign and independent, the states usually gave their own regulars and militia higher pay than they did their Continental regiments. This naturally made it more difficult to secure recruits for the Continentals-why endure three years of hardship and danger when you could earn far more for a shorter period, under much easier discipline, near your home?’

‘On active service, the militia (or ‘Long Faces’ as the Continentals called them) often were more of a hindrance than a help. Washington described them as ‘badly officered and under no government. They come in you cannot tell how, go, you cannot tell when, and act you cannot tell where, consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at last in a critical moment.’ Major General Nathaniel Greene compared them to the ‘locusts of Egypt’ because they wasted the countryside without performing any useful duty. In battle they usually broke and ran as soon as things got dangerous.’

‘The militia had to be used in large numbers, however, because of the weakness of the Continental Army. In states like New Jersey that were fought over repeatedly, militiamen acquired appreciable military skills and were very effective in harrying British foraging parties and detachments. They also were useful in suppressing Tory activities, and militiamen formed the guerilla bands of Francis Marion and other partisan leaders in the Carolinas. In the end, the militia was very certain that only its own skill and courage had won the war.’
John Elting, American Army Life, 24-25.

‘Steuben gave the Continental Army ‘invariable rules for the order and discipline of the troops, especially…a uniformity in their formation and maneuvers and in the service of the camp.’ By untiring personal example he taught American officers to train their own troops instead of leaving that work, after the English fashion, to their sergeants. Occasionally he was resented; the better officers disliked giving up their own systems of drill, the lazy ones hated being forced to bestir themselves and keep exact records on the state of their units. But the army as a whole approved highly of its new teacher, who cursed thunderously in three languages and worked tirelessly, ‘like a lieutenant anxious for promotion.’ His ‘Blue Book’ (official title, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States) became the army’s secular bible.’

‘Steuben was Prussian-born, but his drill and discipline contained nothing of the Potsdam parade ground. Everything was simple and practical, designed for field service and not ceremony. Colonels were told in the ‘Blue Book’ that their soldiers’ health should be their ‘first and greatest care’, captains that their first object should be ‘to gain the love of [their] men, by treating them with every possible kindness and humanity’, privates that they must conduct themselves as befit good soldiers and shoot straight. At the same time, discipline was strict and the too-prevailing American practices of straggling and going absent without leave were sternly punished. Possibly somewhat to its own surprise, the Continental Army discovered that it could be smartly military even though ragged, maneuver swiftly and efficiently, and use the bayonet as bloodily as any Redcoat. Out of this came a surge of self-confidence and high morale.’
-American Army Life, 28-29.

‘Under von Steuben’s guidance the Revolutionary War soldier became a first-class fighting man in the best European tradition. Contrary to popular tradition, he did not hide behind trees and stone walls to pot at enemy formations. With exceptions such as Kings Mountain and various routs, he met the British Army on its own terms in open fields drawn up in a line of battle. He learned to make savage bayonet charges, and in such famous attacks as Stony Point and the assault on the redoubts at Yorktown, he charged with an unloaded weapon, relying solely on cold steel. By the end of the war the Continental was no longer just the citizen with a gun. He was a hardened campaigner. He knew his weapons and his drill. He could face the enemy under any and all circumstances. He knew how to throw up fortifications and how to obtain shelter. His independent spirit remained but he knew the military hierarchy and how to recognize it by insignia-and he knew the deference due it. He was, in short, the master of all the miscellaneous hardware and gear of military life, the basic tools of the Revolution.’
Harold Peterson, The Book of the Continental Soldier, 20.

The following excerpts are from The Continental Army by Robert Wright:

‘The rhetoric of protest against British policy had strongly denied the need for a large ‘standing army’ of regular soldiers in America on the grounds that the colonial militia forces, composed of virtuous citizen-soldiers, were perfectly adequate for local defense. The outbreak of hostilities in Massachusetts did not change this attitude. Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill only seemed to confirm the validity of that assumption.’-43.

‘Washington’s first concern was the weakness of so many of the Massachusetts regiments. Calling out militia to supplement the Main Army did not appear to be a viable policy. The generals unanimously agreed ‘that no dependence can be put on the militia for a continuance in camp, or regularity and discipline during the short time they may stay.’-45.

‘The fact that militia or minutemen had played a major role in defeating the loyalists and Indians, however, led to difficulty in recruiting for the Continental regiments since their success had reinforced colonial leaders’ belief that militia forces were adequate for local defense. These southern leaders consequently did not give the Continental units the same support that their northern counterparts did.’-75.

‘Congress decision to turn to the militia rather than attempt to recruit more Continental regiments was based on practical and ideological reasons. Militia could take to the field quicker. Many delegates also believed that America faced a crisis which demanded the full participation of society for the Revolution to succeed. They felt that the militia, rather than the regular army, was the military institution which represented the people. All of the colonies from Maryland northward responded to this and subsequent calls for militia, although few furnished their full quotas.’-86.

‘Americans adamantly opposed long enlistments during the first year and a half of the Revolution. In addition to citing the precedent of the Provincials’ one-year enlistments, politicians affirmed the ideal of a militia of citizen-soldiers rather than a standing army. Attitudes began to change during the summer of 1776, and even John Adams conceded that the newly independent nation needed ‘a regular army, and the most masterly discipline, because…without these we cannot reasonably hope to be a powerful, a prosperous, or a free people.’-91

‘The winter encampment at Valley Forge was an extremely important period in the development of the Continental Army. Despite numerous problems, for the first time in the war the Army enjoyed a winter free from the need to recruit and reorganize most of the regiments…This period witnessed the gradual transformation of the Continental Army into a professional fighting force.’-121.

‘When in September 1776 Congress approved raising an army to serve for the duration of the war, it broke with the militia tradition without serious debate because the military commanders insisted that such a force was necessary to win victory.’-121.

‘No militia will ever acquire the habits necessary to resist a regular force. Even those nearest the seat of war are only valuable as light troops to be scattered in the woods and plague rather than do serious injury to the enemy. The firmness requisite for the real business of fighting is only to be attained by a constant course of discipline and service.’-George Washington, 156.

‘It is true that the militia played a very important role in the War of American Independence. Its political functions probably were indispensable, and as a military institution, supported by state troops, it continued to meet its traditional colonial responsibilities for local defense and for providing a general emergency reserve. On the other hand, it could not effectively operate as a main battle force at any distance from home or for an extended period. Congress recognized the militia’s limitations from the beginning of the war and turned to full-time regular troops, the Continentals. As long as a field army of Continentals remained nearby, a British commander had to concentrate on it and leave the militia unmolested.’-183

From The Battles of Saratoga by John Elting, page 27:

‘The weakness of the Continental units forced American commanders to make continual use of the militia. Two years of war had given it some experience with active service, and taught its officers a good deal about organizing and moving their units. Militiamen also were better amred and equipped, thanks to their habit of carrying home any weapons and accoutrements issued them during their short periods of service. Surprising though it might seem, they often were better clothed than the Continentals, the American wife being a better quartermaster than Congress.’

‘Militia undoubtedly were most effective when they turned out for short periods to defend their own home districts, as at Bennington. They had made life miserable for British foraging parties and outposts the past winter and spring in New Jersey. But to deal with a strong enemy detachment-also as at Bennington-they needed better-than-average leadership and a stiffening of Continentals. For longer periods of service with an army or on garrison duty, militia was normally mobilized by regiments for periods of from thirty to sixty days…These days of service always were counted from the date the militia left home-and it was a military axiom that militia always marched slowly toward the enemy. They would leave the army in time to get home before their enlistments expired. With the army they could be counted on to eat, drink, and snap up everything available. The problem was to get as much service as possible out of them during that period. If there were no action or conditions were bad, it was difficult to hold them…Since militia officers, noncommissioned officers, and privates all were neighbors at home, discipline was generally lax; officers seldom attempted to check desertion or pillage-especially if they were New Englanders serving in New York.’

‘But for [the Continentals] the noble words of Jefferson, Adams, and Madison would have been futile. No other American army has suffered so grimly and so long, or achieved so much.’-John Elting.

Sincerely,
M
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  #19  
Old 20 Mar 12, 19:06
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Lots of food for thought in Massena's response. I notice much of it actually speaks to the quality of troops. Militia vs Continental. I think its clear that everyone would prefer to have a good experienced Continental regiment instead of a militia unit. However, the question involved with this thread would be, how valuable was the militia contribution to the war effort?

The realities of the day were that only x number of Continentals could be maintained in the field. The militia contribution wasn't really optional.

I am not really familiar with the state troops from the north but the Georgia state troops were mostly destroyed with Elbert at Brier Creek. Yes, it was Ashe and the North Carolina militia that performed very poorly and cost Elbert's group their lives and liberty. They fought well but were overwhelmed after being abandoned by Ashe's men. I believe a few of them under Cap McCall rode with William Washington in the 1781 campaigns.

However, twas the Continentals and S C State troops that were lost at Charlestown in May 1780. Disaster thanks to Benjamin Lincoln and Lachlan McIntosh. After that, VA state troops under Buford took it on the chin at the Waxhaws.

As I noted before, it was again with the continental army and Gates incredible misuse of the North Carolina militia that lost the battle of Camden. In truth, almost all the major breakdowns of militia in the southern campaigns can be traced to failures by the various North Carolina militia. Very poorly armed and supported. Greene also had a great deal of trouble raising and utilizing the North Carolina militia. As previousl discussed, it was only after the VA regiments arrived that Greene was able to do Guilford.

One last note on the southern militia (I think it also applies to the New England militia). By 1780, these guys were not amateurs but experienced fighters. After the backcountry occupation, the militia of SC and GA rose and pretty much stayed up constantly for the duration. For many, they would been home less than in the field. By the time of Greene's campaign with Rawdon, are they still considered militia? They remain without a lot of discipline yet they fight well.

Perhaps true that, but for the Continental Army we could not have won the
War of Independence. However, I remain of the opinion that, but for the militia we could not have won the war of Independence. In my mind, the two ideas are both capable of being true without negating the other.
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Old 20 Mar 12, 19:54
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The biggest problems the Continentals faced oganizationally was the continued reliance on the militia which too many times made recruiting for the Continental units difficult.

Both the North Carolina and Virginia militia ran at Camden. One regiment stayed and stood with the Continentals under de Kalb, who actually thought they were winning until the British units that were pursuing the running mass of the militia returned to assist their comrades.

The North Carolina militia did not do as they were asked to do at Guilford Courthouse. The Virginia militia did much better, especially the brigade commanded by General Stevens on the left of the line. He had been at Camden and was mortified by the rout of the Virginia mlitia. He stationed 25picked men behind his line to shoot anyone who ran.

The bottom line is that it was the Continentals who beat the British, and if there had been more of them, the war might have been over sooner.

The old myths from the Revolution and after about the militia are unfortunately still with us, thanks to historians such as John Shy.

The militia system totally failed in the War of 1812 and that was the last war that the United States relied on the militia to field troops. Regulars and Volunteers would be used in the Civil War, many of the Volunteer units being trained and commanded by old regulars.

Sincerely,
M
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  #21  
Old 20 Mar 12, 20:10
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Originally Posted by Massena View Post
The bottom line is that it was the Continentals who beat the British, and if there had been more of them, the war might have been over sooner.

The old myths from the Revolution and after about the militia are unfortunately still with us, thanks to historians such as John Shy.

The militia system totally failed in the War of 1812 and that was the last war that the United States relied on the militia to field troops. Regulars and Volunteers would be used in the Civil War, many of the Volunteer units being trained and commanded by old regulars.

Sincerely,
M
Yes, the old myths are alive and well. Right here in this conversation.

Bottom line, without substantial contribution from both militia and Continental Army, the War of Independence may have been lost.
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Old 20 Mar 12, 20:17
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I disagree-the resources devoted to the militia if applied to the Continental Army would have been of great benefit to the US and the war effort, and many of the disgraceful routs of the militia would could have been avoided.

And I believe that has been clearly demonstrated in the material that I posted.

Sincerely,
M
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Old 20 Mar 12, 20:38
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Originally Posted by Massena View Post
I disagree-the resources devoted to the militia if applied to the Continental Army would have been of great benefit to the US and the war effort, and many of the disgraceful routs of the militia would could have been avoided.

And I believe that has been clearly demonstrated in the material that I posted.

Sincerely,
M
But the question isn't, How would you best allocate resources if you could rewrite the past? The question is, What happened and who gets how much credit?

And I think the CA has its share of disgraceful moments. Need I mention New York? We could talk about any number of failures by the CA and the French. (Brandywine, Savannah, Charlestown, Monck's, Waxhaws, etc.) But, that isn't really the question either.
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Old 20 Mar 12, 20:59
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A lot depends on what you ask Militia to do! I don't think the typical Militiaman had a bayonet and if he did, he had no training with it. So forget about them standing in the open and getting cannon fire before the Bayonet charge! Now if you were in the woods and they could fight "Injun Style", they could shoot all your officers and NCO's!

The Militia's best fight was at King's Mountain. Probably the best way they were ever used was at Cowpens.

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Old 20 Mar 12, 21:35
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Originally Posted by Pruitt View Post
A lot depends on what you ask Militia to do! I don't think the typical Militiaman had a bayonet and if he did, he had no training with it. So forget about them standing in the open and getting cannon fire before the Bayonet charge! Now if you were in the woods and they could fight "Injun Style", they could shoot all your officers and NCO's!

The Militia's best fight was at King's Mountain. Probably the best way they were ever used was at Cowpens.

Pruitt
So true. Gates put militia on a line with expectations they would stand up to the bayonets from the right and center of a British Infantry assault. Wasn't gonna happen. For one thing, they didn't have bayonets. Not only untrained to use them, rifles wouldn't accept a bayonet and they generally didn't have one. Militia would never make a direct assault either. They needed to be used such as Morgan at Cowpens or Sumter at Blackstock. And also, the way Gates did at Saratoga.

For some reason, he got stupid about them at Camden. Those particular militia had never seen a British assault. His mistake seems incomprehensible.
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Old 20 Mar 12, 22:29
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Gates was a real piece of work. He thought whatever troops he had under command would obey as when he was in the British Army. My Military History teacher told us that he saw that food was scarce but there was a lot of molasses on hand. He then ordered the troops should be given several measures of that molasses instead of bread or meat. The night before the battle an American officer rode into camp and complimented Gates on how vigilant his men were. He said there seemed to be a man behind every tree. There may have been, but their pants were on the ground! The molasses gave just about every man diarrhea! They stayed up most of the night and then tried to fight the next day. When Gates saw his men break, he jumped on his horse and set a speed record back to the Charlotte area!

One other problem with Militia is the British would charge with bayonets, breaking their morale and then often set the Cavalry on them. Militia had no problems outrunning British Infantry. Horses were too much.

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  #27  
Old 21 Mar 12, 03:31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elijah View Post
Yes, the old myths are alive and well. Right here in this conversation.

Bottom line, without substantial contribution from both militia and Continental Army, the War of Independence may have been lost.
How about the contribution of the French, Spanish and Dutch ?
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Old 21 Mar 12, 07:06
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The French contribution was vital to American success. Before the formal Alliance in 1778, French material and financial support was substantial. After the Alliance, some of the French naval and military support didn't work too well.

However, Rochambeau was the right man to command the 5,000 man expeditionary force that went to Rhode Island in 1780. The combined campaign against Cornwallis was excellently done with de Grasse's naval support vital to the campaign.

As a footnote, the French Charleville musket became the issue musket of the Continental Army after 1777-1778 and was the model for the excellent 1795 Springfield musket.

The French were impressed with the performance of the Continental Army, not the militia, at both Germantown and in the battles of the Saratoga campaign. Without that, there would have been no alliance.

Sincerely,
M
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Old 21 Mar 12, 11:51
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Douglas MacArth View Post
What are you opinions on why the Americans won the war against the British. I believe a large part was French help, but also because of British lack of enthuisiasm by the end of the war.
Having studied the subject length I can honestly say that the reason for victory are complex and manifold. French involvement was certainly a huge factor; the stalemate at the Battle of the Capes between the French fleet and the Royal Navy set up the victory at Yorktown for example. Washington's leadership was also crucial. The forging of a professional army at Valley Forge was also vital to success, but it comes down to many other factors frankly too long to list in this forum.
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Old 22 Mar 12, 06:19
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I think the argument that the militia was a poor instrument and the Revolution would have been better served if they had instead been channeled into the Continental Army misses the point. Support for the Revolution was'nt that strong and the militia would have largely stayed home if given the choice between 3 years enlistment in an uncertain venture far from home versus staying with their familes and communities. You fight wars with what you have- not what you want...If a draft were tried, you'd have ignighted a real civil war in the colonies.
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