This is a very large topic, covering four different players – the British, the American patriots (not just the Continental Army), the Germans and the French. The first two are further subdivided to regular troops (British army and Continental Army), local forces, militias, and Native American allies, each with their own tactics and effectiveness. In each case the topic is further divided into troop types, and we get a good discussion of the theoretical organisations involved, followed by a look at how the units actually performed in combat.
It’s quite telling that it doesn’t take long for the Continental Army to become more organised than it’s British opponent, with units massed into regular brigades, and the artillery given fixed roles, while the British continued to make up temporary brigades for individual campaigns and used their artillery on an ad-hoc basis.
The section on the German forces starts with a reminder that the Hessians were actually a regular part of any British military effort, having been used in the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years War and during the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745 – effectively every major British conflict in the 75 years before the outbreak of war in North America. It is worth remembering that the German forces were all official representatives of their state, not mercenaries. There is a tendency to portray the Germans as paid mercenaries and the French as loyal allies of the Patriots, but the French government was involved in the war because it saw it as a chance to weaken the British, not because of any belief in the American cause. This section also exposes some key differences between the British and Hessian forces, including a slower marching speed and tighter formations on the battlefield.
The French section outlines the impact of a series of military reforms triggered by the French defeats during the Seven Years War. These were probably at their most effective during this war, as they were soon to be partly undermined by the more reactionary elements at the French court. As a result the French army could be very effective in North America, although the main French contribution to the American victory was that they massively expanded the theatre of war. The British had to cope with a direct threat of invasion, with French assaults on the far more valuable Caribbean colonies, in the Mediterranean and in India.
The British Army
The Continental Army
German State Armies
The French Army
Author: Robbie MacNiven