Sunday, September 22, 2013

Myth Busters: How they Fought

Mongol Warriors 


Most wars have more than their share of of urban legend, mythology and plain old disinformation. Sometimes it is deliberate.  For example, the Mongols encouraged and spread myths about the size of their armies,  The results:  just the idea they were coming caused many cities, kingdoms and peoples to surrender without a struggle. Always the best way to win wars. I'll use the myth busters theme to debunk or discuss some of the popular myths of the American Revolution of which there were not a few. After all, the 18th century in general is a misunderstood period of history - calling it the Age of Reason comes to mind as one myth.  Reason has been around since man walked the earth. It is how he reasons that has changed with the advent of the printed word and literacy that expanded in the 1700s.


The Minuteman
Thought I would begin with some musings on how the  armies fought during the war. Here the myth centers around the indomitable and indefatigable American patriot using his frontier skills against an unimaginative and drone-like British soldier. The patriot is most usually a "Minuteman," citizen soldiers expert with the
famed long rifle picking off stupid redcoats and oxen-like Hessians. Yes, there really were Minutemen (in Massachusetts), and the militia was the mainstay of the Cause. When they performed well, things generally went well. But their performance (and reliability in terms of sticking around) was sketchy throughout the war. Perhaps we'll go into the why in a future blog but the fact is the militia, in pitched battle, had a poor record.


Which leads to the myth of the war being an irregular conflict. The military leadership of the Americans, beginning with General Washington, attempted in almost every case to fight a "Euro" style of war. In the the 18th century that meant either a war of "posts," attacking or besieging strong points or attempting to defend the same. If a war of "posts" was not waged, then a war of maneuver and open battle was desired. Washington favored the latter. Remember, most of the American senior leadership had fought in the French and Indian War as British soldiers.  They studied and learned British tactics, techniques and procedures (as we say). Although Washington never received the British Army commission he sought, he fought with them in Braddock's failed campaign against Fort Duquesne, and later organized the Virginia militia along British lines.


Battle of Camden
Several Senior American officers had been British regulars in the Seven Years War.  Charles Lee, a former British officer, became Washington's second in command.  Horatio Gates became commander of the Northern Department where he won laurels at Saratoga, and the Southern Department where he was disgraced at Camden.
So the American ideal was to fight the British Army as a "regular" field army and not a "rabble in arms."  The American counter to the British regular and Hessian mercenary was the Continental.

The Continental


  1. “If you want to safeguard our History, tell the truth.”

  2. Usually the truth is more inspiring than the myth. Sometimes, the message that accompanies the myth is just as important.