AMERICAN REVOLUTION MILITARY: 1775

Introduction

There are over four hundred historical Revolutionary battles, plus many more ‘skirmishes’ in which men were killed, and which are documented in private correspondence.[1] There was also a tendency to record participation in a campaign, rather than specific a battle: most campaigns included many separate battles. Ascribing unit participation in a particular battle is often judgmental, as an independent company may have fought in a battle, remote from its parent regiment. Many Revolutionary battles are poorly documented and few earlier Provincial battles are well recorded. The following units were raised in Colonial America to fight the British.

With colonial stress then increasing and an apparent war then looming each of the American colonies made independent legal and physical preparations. In 1775, prior to the Declaration of Independence, the rebellious colonies provided infantry regiments to create a New England Army (with new units in addition to their own separate militias) as initial contributions for Congressionally-selected Major General George Washington. With some experience then gained the 1776 Continental Congress agreed to create a Continental Army under its own control. In 1775, most regiments had about 600 men engaged for the calendar year only, and so a new legal basis was required from 1776 for the new continental authority and structure.[2]

Recall, however, that events simply got out of hand in 1775, so there was no George Washington and no coherent alliance of colonies. New England was closest to the flash-point of Boston, Massachusetts and the first units organised to contest British Imperialism were from New England. Each colony decided for itself such matters as unit organisation, manpower commitments, weapons, pay, uniforms, discipline, standards, etc. In 1776, the New England Army units had to be disbanded to reform the Continental Army.

In 1775, the new Congress authorised 26 infantry line (combat) regiments to be formed by the colonies (soon called states) to create the Continental Army. The continental regimental strength was increased to 728 officers and men. In 1776, Congress authorised a further 16 regiments to be raised for a total of 42 line regiments. These last regiments were to be under George Washington's direct control and were the army's artillery and cavalry.

Casualties made strengths hard to maintain and reorganisations were constant. In 1776, Congress agreed an ambitious target plan for 88 regiments. By 1780, British occupational controls and colonial casualties had begun to impact on the new states' ability to equip and field men, and the plans for an expansion were doomed. The regimental strength was reduced to 544 all ranks, but included more officers, which improved control and thus combat effectiveness.

The Continental Army

 

Continental Army Troop Totals*

1775 27,443
1776 46,891
1777 34,820
1778 32,899
1779 27,699
1780 21,015
1781 13,292
1782 14,256
1783 13,476
* Does not include militia
 

The Colonists immediately created a political forum in 1774, which was termed a Continental Congress, in which to air public opinion. The Continental Congress created the Continental Army (as distinct from the New England Army, and the various colonial militias). The Continental Congress recognised the need for central control of military forces, even if it then had no such forces. The delegates agreed to transfer the New England Army and a number of additional army regiments as reflected below. The Continental Congress recognised the need for commanders and staff, as well as supporting logistical supply, weapons, uniforms, training, pay, etc. The same Congress selected Colonel George Washington to be the new commander and appointed him as a major general. The various colonies competed to have their own men appointed as subordinate commanders.

In 1776, 26 regiments were authorised for the Continental Army and the regimental strength was increased to 728 officers and men. Casualties made strengths hard to maintain and reorganisations were constant. In 1776, Congress agreed an ambitious plan for 88 regiments and authorised a further 16 regiments to be raised for a total of 42 line regiments. By 1780, British occupational controls and colonial casualties had begun to impact on the new states’ ability to equip and field men, and the plans for an expansion were doomed. The regimental strength was reduced to 544 all ranks, but included more officers, which improved the army's combat effectiveness.

The Continental army troop totals are shown here (from a 1789 report to Congress by General Knox, Secretary of War ). These rebels beat the world power with the strongest army and navy and yet these men had started with no army or navy: they didn't even have artillery, but had to steal guns from the British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga. Apart from pointing towards motivation, they must have done something right. Clearly Benjamin Franklin in his embassy to France was successful and allies helped tie down the British. The French were high profile, but the Spanish were also allies and if they didn't fight alongside Americans directly, they certainly fought the British in what is now America. The Spanish fielded armies in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, which not only drove the British to divert scarce military units from the American front, but General Bernardo Galvez then defeated and even captured British units. Significantly, the Spanish and French distracted more British military and naval attention by manoeuvers in the Caribbean.

The French and Spanish were not alone in challenging Britain internationally. In 1780, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal formed The League of Armed Neutrality, later joined by the Netherlands and Prussia. The League was organised by Tzarina Catherine the Great in opposition to the British naval search of neutral shipping bound for America or France; Britain was thus increasingly isolated internationally. Against the political pressure on an island nation, however, was the proven strength of the British navy, which stalemated most of the European opposition

The Colonials did much more than just seek outside help and had moved on their own to create an effective citizen army and to isolate those colonists loyal to Britain like the Johnsons. The chart below reflects the burden placed on those people who sought independence. The Loyalist, or Tory, majority (plus the major British garrison and headquarters) in New York kept the volunteer numbers down. The chart also shows the casualties after five years of war.

American Colonies' Continental Military Capabilities

Colony/State

Estimated 1775 Population

Infantry Regiments Quota 1776

Infantry Regiments Raised

Additional Infantry Regiments

Artillery Regiments

Cavalry Regiments

Infantry Regiments 1781

Connecticut 200,000 8
8
1.5
0.5
1
5
Delaware 30,000 1
1
1
Georgia 25,000 1
5
1
Maryland 250,000 8
7
5
Massachusetts 350,000 15
15
3
1
10
New Hampshire 100,000 3
3
2
New Jersey 130,000 4
4
2
2
New York 200,000 4
4
0.5
0.5
2
North Carolina 200,000 9
9
1
4
Pennsylvania 300,000 12
13
2.5
1
1
6
Rhode Island 58,000 2
2
0.5
1
South Carolina 200,000 6
5
1
2
Virginia 400,000 15
15
3
1
2
8
Congress    
1

Totals

2,443,000

88

92

14

5

4

50

It was the Congress that authorised an army, which was termed the Continental Army. The new Continentals replaced a New England Army, which had been quickly pulled together in 1775 as a stop-gap measure. Because no single state controlled the Continentals, political interference was minimised and discipline could be instilled. Slowly the Colonials were able to build an effective response to catch up to the standard of Britain's army. To outdo the British, Indian techniques and frontier tactics were introduced, with individual marksmen, night attacks, camouflage, and local knowledge of the ground.

Real progress was realised with Prussian discipline and drill, combined with French professionalism and naval mobility. These latter aspects were not realised until 1778-1779 and in the short term hard reality had to be learned. Reality was greatly helped by the iron motivation gained in close cooperation and comradeship derived from a common background and cause. The British were increasingly forced to operate in a hostile environment, where even civilians were motivated against them. Unlike the Colonists, the British had German troops who spoke little English and thus a British communications problem.

ORBAT Methodology

There are over four hundred historical Revolutionary battles, plus many more 'skirmishes' in which men were killed, documented in private correspondence. There was also a tendency to record participation in a campaign, rather than specific a battle: most campaigns included many separate battles. Without primary sources, ascribing unit participation in a particular battle is often judge mental, as an independent company may have fought in a battle, remote from its parent regiment. Many battles are poorly documented and few earlier Provincial battles are well recorded. The Revolutionary units shown subsequently at this site were raised in Colonial America; but many additional Loyalist units in the New England colonies were short-lived, being driven out by war.[3]

Colonial militias were often formed on short notice, with men following elected officers for some specific purpose and disbanding when that had been achieved. Generally, the militia had a poor reputation as their discipline was wanting. Some militia units existed in name only, but even so served a potential rallying point. Many ranger corps were only company level in size and I have focused on a higher-level battalion size as being more stable. By its nature, the following data are illustrative, rather than documentary. As careful as I have been, sources disagree on who fought where and on many precise details. Some 'Canadians' also fought with their American cousins in the Revolution.[4]

I have developed some conventions to minimise the documentation recording this mass of data. I have noted the American patriot unit operational formation years as the first year in the unit name column. I have generally given precedence to the name by which units were first raised – showing subsequent name changes: however, this has not been possible as a universal rule. Since the rebellious colonies had few formed units in 1775, this date signifies the year that the first new state militia units became operational. Commanders are listed sequentially, but most dates are unknown. I have highlighted serious unit amalgamations by noting the year and term ‘Amalgamated’. Confusingly, many patriot units changed their names as they shifted: from state to continental status. (I have generally ignored an abandoned Continental numbering system.) Perhaps name changes were intended to redress casualties, or to confuse their enemy. There are as many as three different patriot regiments bearing the same name at different times and they are not necessarily directly linked. Some loyalist units co-existed with patriot regiments bearing the same, or similar names.

I have used standard military abbreviations for battalion (bn), company (coy), and regiment (regt). I have resisted the urge to place periods after abbreviations and initials. I have used commonly accepted dates for battles, but these vary wildly amongst authors. I have tried to coordinate battle identifications between ORBATS, to enable the reader to 'read across'. I have felt free to change emotive terms like 'massacre', 'battle', 'defeat', etc when I felt the evidence did not warrant the judgment. I have generally grouped footnote sources after the initial set of data, not the referenced data.

ENDNOTES

1                See The First Foot Guards, Vi P Limric, Comprehensive List of Revolutionary War Battles and Skirmishes In chronological order, http://footguards.tripod.com/08HISTORY/08_battle_list.htm.

2                For references see Robert K. Wright Jr, The Continental Army, Robin May, Wolfe’s Army, plus various regimental websites, http://www.regiments.org/regiments/na-canada/lists/cargxref.htm, John K. Robertson and Bob McDonald, http://www.theamericanrevolution.org/militia.asp, http://people.csail.mit.edu/sfelshin/saintonge/4th.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Continental_Forces_in_the_American_Revolutionary_War #Units_of_the_Continental_Army, http://www.revwar75.com/ob/books.htm, http://orbat.com/site/history/historical/usa/ independence 1776.html, National Park Service, American Unit Lineages, www.nps.gov/colo/Ythanout American%20Unit%20Lineages, http://americanrevolution.org/, http:// http://The Revolutionary War, 1775-1783, American Units, www.uswars.net/1775-1783/units-american/index.htm, The On-Line Institute for Loyalist Studies, http://www.royalprovincial.com/military/rhist/drafted.htm, http://www.scchr.org/4thSC.htm, www.angelfire.com/nc/Lockes/Lockes1.html, The Loyalist Collection, MIC-Loyalist FC LFR .M4F3P3, http://www.lib.unb.ca/collections/loyalist/seeOne.php?id=480&string, http://www.theamericanrevolution.org/battles.asp, http://www.scchr.org/roberts.htm, http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1179781, http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/RANGERS_IN_COLONIAL_AND_REVOLUTIONARY_AMERICA, http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/1998/sullivan.html, http://www.revwar75.com/ob/artillery.htm#ar-08, http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~arlene/Blackwood/d0/i0000798.htm, http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/RevWar/ContArmy/CA-03.htm, http://www.nps.gov/cowp/Timeline.htm, http://www.wnyc.org/books/6162, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/15th_Virginia_Regiment, http://members.aol.com/jacob59/more/hrtg/rev_units.html, http://www.1va.org/history-1776.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Mountain_Boys.

3                Harv Hilowitz, Revolutionary War Chronology & Almanac, 1754-1783, notes that 30,000 – 50,000 colonial ‘Loyalists’ served in militia, fencible, or irregular units during the American Revolution 1776-1781.

4                Ibid, Hilowitz also notes that 1,000 Canadians fought in American units on the Patriot side.

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