History is rich in descriptions of wars and prominent historical moments. The past centuries were characterized by changes that necessitated war or periods of peace. Nations entered into treaties, trade and other major relations with the increase of colonization whereby powerful nations took control over the weaker nations for reasons such as trade, slavery, geographical location or mineral and raw materials endowment. As time progressed and with increased awareness, the colonies disagreed with the colonialists and engaged in war. The American revolutionary war represents one of the major historical battles. The war was eventually won by America enabling it to achieve independence. While many historians provide analysis and research on the war itself, how it was won, its causes and effects, little is said of the soldiers who took part in the war and the strategic war tactics used. It is justifiable that the reasons for the winning of the revolutionary war by America were not only due to the economic assistance received and the limitations faced by Britain in the war but also because of the fighting style that was used.
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Analysis of the Fighting Style of the Americans during the Revolutionary War
Summary of the American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War also referred to as the American war of independence, took place between 1775 and 1783 and begun with Britain against its colonies in America (Merrill 24). The major reason for the war which culminated in the American Revolution was the political factor of the rejection of the colonies to the proposal by Britain to govern them without their representation. This proposal was perceived as a violation of the colonies’ rights (Shy 17). The war attracted the French involvement and increased economic assistance for America such as ammunition, weapons and supplies. Despite having control over the coastal regions the British were limited by the lack of enough army in the countryside and the war style tactics applied by the Americans (Shy 130). The war was characterized by great loss of lives and high financial costs but ultimately ended with the treaty of Paris and the attaining of sovereignty and independence by America in 1783 (Shy 217).
Summary of the American fighting style
It is argued that the British could have won the war but had limitations about the number of the army in the countryside and their lack of familiarity with the countryside where most Americans lived. This means that the manner of fighting for the British was different from the Americans who took advantage of the British limitations and made use of guerrilla tactics. Weigley (87) asserts that the Americans’ style for the war was focused on the objective of achieving military victory by defeating an opponent with much motivation and desire for victory (87). Shy agrees that the American way of fighting did not go beyond their victory in battles evident more in the revolutionary war where the aim was more of achievement of independence (234). Weigley also argues that the American style of war was based on the concepts of attrition and annihilation with the major influence of politics and the use of war to fight politically in opposition to the proposals of the colonial masters. Frey (24) and Higginbotham (19) believe that the American style of war was mainly influenced by the soldiers and militias who had military experience, were familiar with the land, and were aware of the hit-and-run tactics and firing from hidden positions rather than open field fighting.
Ways the Fighting Style Helped the Americans Counter the British
At the time of the American Revolutionary War Britain had dominance and control over many colonies and engaged in trades such as the slave trade. The military arm of the British was composed of many soldiers totalling about 36,000 in 1775 with more additions during the war (Weigley 127). Britain was economically stable, the military was professionally trained, it had logistical planning and made use of massive resources such as weapons, ammunition and military supplies (Frey 29). The army also had the advantage of recruiting African American slaves to engage in the war based on promises of freedom after the war ended (Frey 35). Information about the revolutionary war shows that whereas around 45% of the colonists acted as active participants in the war, around 20% of the colonies’ population remained loyal to the British and these acted as active participants in the war and served in the war on the British side (Shy 256). The advantages the British had over the Americans would prove that the British had the greatest capacity of winning. This necessitated the Americans to make use of strategic fighting styles for them to win the war.
America made use of militias and continental army personnel who were not properly trained did not have sufficient weapons and were not reliable since they mostly served as volunteers although they later received assistance from the French military (Shy 278). The American style of fighting was beneficial due to the woodland terrain of the countryside which the British were not familiar with (Frey 67). The terrain allowed the militia to make use of guerrilla tactics which included hit-and-run and firing from hidden positions then changing tact and position (Higginbotham 59). The militias were skilled in the use of guerrilla tactics due to their participation in the Indian and previous wars (Shy 169). America relied heavily on the continental army but the militias joined in to help especially during heavy battles (Weigley 124). This confused the British since they did not know the exact number of Americans in the war.
Another factor that contributed to the winning of America was the fact that the militias and continental army did not stop fighting until their supplies ran out (Higginbotham 121). Additionally, the American patriots in the war attacked the loyalists causing them to flee hence leaving the countryside to the Americans. The Americans were also able to employ guerrilla tactics at the coastal regions and the British were not able to stop American commerce and shipping which provided additional supplies, weapons and ammunition for the Americans to effectively use in the war (Merrill 117). The style of war affected the British supplies which took a long to be transported across the Atlantic ocean thus limiting the strength of the British (Weigley 201).
Resources for the Americans during the Revolutionary War
Although the Americans did not have sufficient weapons especially firearms for the war, they received assistance from other nations especially France and Spain but made use of resources provided by the land terrain such as the valleys, rocks and trees from which the guerrilla tactics proved successful (Merrill 167). The resources used included ammunition, weapons and supplies. The muzzle-loading flintlock musket, cannon and bayonet were the main weapons although pistols, rifles, cutting weapons, swords and gun powder were also used (Weigley 47).
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The Inventor of the American Fighting Style
The American style of war based on guerrilla tactics and the hit-and-run tactics was well received by some leaders of war while other leaders such as Washington objected to it (Shy 297). The militias who were engaged in the war belonged to the middle class and were mainly farmers who had served in the militia before the revolutionary war (Higginbotham 148). They owned large farms and most of them had taken active roles in the French-Indian war right before the revolution (Higginbotham 148). They received wide-based training in war, fighting and were perfect in their use of rifles. The engagement of the militia in the French-Indian war required them to use rifles that had no bayonets and were reliable by firing at long range. Since they did not have sufficient weapons they had learnt the style of guerrilla tactics to protect themselves in the French-Indian war. These militias are recognized and said to be the originators of the American style of war with their knowledge of the woodland terrain. Their main aim in the war was to protect their property and therefore did not leave their locations to go farther into the battlefields (Higginbotham 150).
Many historians emphasize the reasons for Americans’ winning of the war on the limitations faced by the British and the economic assistance accorded to America from other nations. However, the aspects of the military in place and the strategic use of the guerrilla tactics cannot be undermined in explaining the success of America in the war.
Frey, Sylvia. British Soldier in America: A Social History of Military Life in the Revolutionary Period. Boston: University of Texas, 1981.
Higginbotham, Don. War of American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies and Practices, 1763-1789. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.
Merrill, Jensen. The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763-1776. New York: Hackett Publishing Company, 2004.
Shy, John. A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
Weigley, Russell. The American Way of War: A History of U.S Military Strategy and Policy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973.