THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
A PERSPECTIVE
(1775 to 1783 AD)

A Program 

presented by
Thomas P. Shumaker

December 15, 1996

The American Revolution was the first successful effort of a people to free themselves from an established military and political control and to govern themselves. For over a thousand years the ordinary people of the world had been taught, from their cradles, to accept their rulers without question, because their presence had been 'Divinely Inspired.

So, the decision of the American Colonies to free themselves of such a King was a novel one, and there were no guidelines, examples or previous experiences that were younger than two thousand years. What made them successful in this very dangerous venture was the high caliber of the leaders of THEIR revolution.

Their ultimate success after a hard struggle marked the beginning of similar efforts around the world and the movement continues unabated into our own time. Sometimes the rebellions were against Kings, but with the gradual disappearance of Crowns, the concentration of power has fallen to 'Presidents, 'Dictators,' 'Commissars,' and 'Party Secretaries,' which are but the names for brutal concentrations of power. What the 'Americans' taught the people of the world was that they can be freed from such tyranny by maintaining their standards of morality and justice and preparing for and then taking the opportunity to be free!!

Most of the 'Revolutions' that followed the American example were characterized by their brutality and destructiveness. Here we can recall Madame LaFarge knitting at the foot of the guillotine in Paris, watching the murder of an entire class of France's citizens. There have been even more terrible examples, where urban dwellers were driven en masse into the country and starved to death, or of millions of independent farmers shipped from their farms to their frozen deaths in a Siberian Gulag.

But the American Revolution never descended to such a level of vindictiveness and wanton disrespect for humanity as has characterized these other situations. It was from the caliber of the leaders, who would not tolerate any vestige of brutality for its own sake. The American Revolution offered thousands of examples of abuse of the 'Loyalists,' who chose to stay with their King, and had their homes and businesses confiscated or destroyed, forcing them to flee to areas under British control. But most significant, in acknowledging these facts, was that there was NO concerted plan or effort to kill all the Loyalists, to wipe them out as a class. Where 'Loyalist' sentiment was strongest, most generally in the South, there was similar activity in the opposite direction, where then the 'Rebels' received equal treatment.

The American Revolution was not neat. It was a long-drawn struggle that came terribly close to failure on many, many occasions It was being led and fought by people who were forced to work together because they knew that if they did not, then they would stand no chance of escaping the gallows. There had always been differences between the Colonies, which sometimes had them dispute over boundaries to the point of going to war. The Bay Colony folks, who had fled England to escape the Anglican Church, looked askance at the Anglican Virginians. There were these 'provincial' attitudes that had to be controlled, for them to achieve the teamwork that would win their independence.

The 'Association' they had formed, which would become the Continental Congress, was so closely watched by the 'Governors' of the Colonies that its ability to finance and to direct the wartime effort was greatly hampered. Since the entire structure was but a temporary, volunteer framework, it had only the sources of revenue that was permitted by its component Colonies. It was to struggle without ceasing to. find the funds required to fight a major war. If it had not been for its ability to persuade a foreign government to lend it money, it would very likely have collapsed quite soon after declaring its independence.

Central to the problem was the lack of taxing power by the Continental Congress. What it did do was to levy "Requisitions" upon its component Colonies (the 'States') for the funds needed for the conduct of the war. The 'States' were having their own problems and expenses, so the 'Requisitions' were invariably in arrears. In desperation, the Congress then issued paper money, ("Continentals") backed by the amount and the promise of the "Requisitions.

The accompanying financial problem then became 'inflation,' as the price of goods rose. As an example, the Congress had early placed orders for muskets with Pennsylvania gunsmiths for five dollars each. The costs of materials and labor had rapidly increased to where the guns cost twelve dollars apiece, which increase had to be added to the money to be raised.

There were then attempts to stabilize or 'control' prices and wages, and as always happens, 'black-marketing' became common. As an example of the effect of inflation, in 1774, before the war started, 100 Pounds, 100 Pounds, in paper currency would buy seventy seven pounds of iron. By 1781, the year of Yorktown, these one hundred pounds would buy but HALF' A POUND of iron.

The Continental Congress borrowed wherever they could. They turned first to domestic financiers, many of them dedicated patriots who loaned their entire personal fortunes. Then, as they convinced Europe that they might win their war, they borrowed from their Allies. By the time of the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the "United States" owed:

(of the DOMESTIC DEBT, $5,635,618 was owed to the 'Army,' as unpaid wages and allowances.)

There was also an extremely powerful and emotional prejudice against a national Army, that contributed to their difficulty of winning their revolution with military force. This detestation of and suspicion about a 'Regular' Army stemmed from generations of familiarity with professional soldiers, European and British. They and their mothers and fathers for generations vividly recalled their terrifying experiences of looting, burning, raping and murder that these armies had inflicted. Their most recent reminder was of the British redcoats, who were billeted upon them and who upheld all the worst memories of soldiery. There had been burnt into their souls a deep hatred and distrust of a professional army. They recalled these soldiers as the creatures of political power and swore that, in fighting THEIR revolution, they would not lose it to a victorious dictator that the Army would force on them!!

The leaders of the Revolution were well-convinced that a long-service force of professional citizen-soldiers could bring a much quicker end to the war. The primeval distrust of such an army meant that, for all of its shortcomings, the American Revolution would be won, predominantly, by short-term militia. Washington, who well-understood and pleaded for a dependable army, could only manage to provide a very small cadre of 'Continental' troops, whose enlistment's were for the duration of the war.

This rationale gives us the explanation of why, when some three hundred thousand, out of a population of two and a half million people, served, that the army strength rarely exceeded twenty thousand troops available to the commander[ at the point of battle. The militia would be committed to serve for terms of from three months to a year, then the pattern was for the entire unit to disappear and the be reconstituted anew, with totally new personnel. A report on the number of available troops, by year, puts an interesting perspective on the scale of the war.

          YEAR                   NUMBER OF TROOPS
           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

Since, from this strength, there had to be detachments provided to cover important areas, it can be understood that Washington had very rare opportunity ever to outnumber his opponent.

The British 'Order of Battle,' made up of Regular British Army Regiments; German, Hessian and Hanoverian mercenaries; and "Loyalist American" units, and deployed to the 'Colonies,' in Florida and in the West Indies, was:

          YEAR                  NUMBER OF TROOPS
           1775                               22,000 est.
           1776                               20,000 est.
           1777                               33,000
           1778                               28,000
           1779                               29,600
           1780                               38,600
           1781                               36,600
           1782                               29,400

From the military point of view, the American Revolutionary War was a struggle between seapower and landpower and, theoretically, should have ended in a classic stalemate, with neither side able to force a decision.

As a dominant seapower, with total mobility on water, the British could, and DID, attack and capture whatever seaport it chose! From Boston to Newport to New York; from Philadelphia to Charleston to Savannah, the British fleet came and captured. As their 'amphibious' land troops came ashore and extended the land area they controlled, they would ultimately be stretched thin, with a lengthening and increasingly vulnerable supply line. Eventually their extended force would find itself attacked by an opponent who was now of equal strength. So long as a land force army could remain in existence, and so long as there was room for it to maneuver and to retreat, then the seapower could not win. The land power felt a similar frustration when it did not have the ships with which to attack its floating rival.

Britain's basic mistake in the American War of Independence was in not concentrating, as their primary objective, on the destruction of the American Army and the execution of its leader. The British were more concerned with the occupation of land and cities. It was the persistent dream of their leaders that, at some point, their occupation of a place, a seaport, would trigger enthusiastic support for the King, so powerful as to re-assert His Majesty's authority and to provide the manpower needed to crush the rebellion.

By 1782, with the fall of Yorktown and after nearly seven years of war, King George ~ Government, headed by a new Ministry, reviewed its strategic and world-wide options. Far to the East, in the Indian Ocean, an aggressive French Admiral Pierre de Suffren collided with units of the British Navy and raised the very distinct possibility that the British would lose. control of India. These actions focused Britain's attention to that area, where the British East India Company was reporting a successful and expanding economic opportunity. The decision was made to concentrate upon India, which was to result in the addition of this entire sub-Continent to the British and to make the English Kings also be Emperors of India. With this shift in priority, there came an end to the long drawn out American War and the birth of a new, sovereign and independent NATION!!

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