At the start of the American Revolutionary War the odds were pitted heavily in favor of an easy British victory. The British had the largest empire in the world at the time, the largest navy, and the best trained standing army of the day. America only had a militia, no means of raising money to obtain supplies, and no navy. Also Britain had just finished winning a war to defeat France, which gave the French a reason to help the colonies later in the war. However, even though the British were expected to win, both America and Britain had tactics that were both alike and dissimilar; which in turn played a pivotal role in the outcome of the war. What really helped the colonists during the war was a change in tactics from the traditional European style of warfare. The accepted form of warfare during this period, as used by both the Continental Army and the British Army, was developed in Europe where the terrain consisted of mostly large flat fields.
Each European country had developed or was in the process of developing large standing armies. These armies were well disciplined and obeyed orders. An army would face his adversary across the field and progressively march towards them, shoulder to shoulder, in tight formation. When in range the soldiers in the first row would drop to one knee, present arms, and fire in unison on command. Then the soldiers would reload while the opposing force fired upon them. The point was not to kill all of the soldiers in the opposing force but to thin their numbers so it would be easier to charge in with bayonets and succeed. Discipline was crucial to victory because a disorganized army could not stand against a bayonet charge. This is called linear tactics due to the fact that the armies lined up and marched in straight lines.
Looking at the tactics used by the Continental Army and the British Army today, it would seem impractical to march in an open field against the enemy. This was developed due to the weaponry of the day. Soldiers lined up to shoot synchronized shots aimed randomly at the enemy. This was the best way to make use of the inaccuracy of the muskets. The soldiers didn’t try to shoot another person but rather pointed his musket randomly in the direction of the enemy. Linear tactics were developed to improve the ability of the bullets to hit the target. Another tactic employed by the British was the use of psychological warfare. This is about looking the part of a formidable army. The British army was dressed in bright red, they polished the buttons on their uniforms and their bayonets until they gleamed, and they bleached their white pants. A sharp uniform was a fundamental part of going to battle in the British army.
This sight could strike fear into the heart of any opposing enemy. Unfortunately, all of these tactics that normally would work in favor of the British also helped them be perfect targets. The terrain in America is covered with trees and is very hilly. Finding a flat, clear plain for a battle was a task in itself. From a fortified position with cover the colonial militia could easily shoot the enemy who marched in a cluster. The enemy also was wearing bright red and could easily be spotted. The colonials did not have uniforms at the beginning so they showed up to the battle in whatever they had. At the end of the war the Continental army wore blue uniforms. Americans during the Revolutionary War adopted many of the guerilla warfare tactics of the Indians whom they had battled on and off for so many years.
These soldiers were known as the colonial militia. However, many soldiers of the British regular army believed the colonial militia consisted of low-quality soldiers who came from the scum of society. Most were sure the militia would make little difference in the outcome of the war. In reality, the soldiers of the colonial militia came from all walks of life, endured many hardships, and contributed greatly to the war effort. The ranks of the colonial militia were usually filled by average citizens. They came from all walks of life and different ethnic groups. The colonial militia utilized the use of guerrilla war tactics, which stress both deception and ambush, as opposed to mass confrontation. They used the terrain and fought in a confusing, unorganized fashion which was unheard of by the British.
The colonials also used a tactics that was ‘forbidden’ in formal European warfare, the targeting of officers. Orders came from the officers, so if the officers were dead then the army would disintegrate into chaos. This is a very smart tactic on the part of the Americans. It was forbidden in European warfare because all of the officers were aristocrats expected to survive in battle. The commoners were the infantry men and they were the ones that were supposed to die. This was an outrage to the British, the deliberate disrespect the colonists had for the rules of organized warfare. The only real downsides were that the militia tended to be unorganized and somewhat unskilled.
Both America and Great Britain used conventional war tactics during the American Revolution, but there was also another critical form of battle – guerrilla warfare – that was used unconventionally by the colonial militia, which proved to be very effective during the war. Each side had many strong points, but also many drawbacks to the tactics being used. The Revolutionary War was a battle between David and Goliath. Great Britain was a huge world power at the time, while America was still up-and-coming towards their own independence. Even though the odds were stacked against them, America came out on top as a true Underdog as the country achieved freedom through an ultimate victory.
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