The Continental Militia The idea of some sort of national militia, or at least national control over the provincial militias, had been advanced in the several early plans for military alliance or union discussed at length, above. Especially after Braddock's defeat, and as the colonies approached armed rebellion to establish their independence, American leaders from all over emphasized the traditional role of the militia as the primary defense of the nation. Moreover, it was the one and only military institution which exemplified a virtuous citizenry. A vigorous militia proved the virtue of the sturdy American agrarian yeomen, whether rural farmer or urban tradesmen. Such a sturdy and virtuous force could carry any war against any opposition, the best standing armies included.dlxviii
During the Revolution, the United States had 395,858 men enlisted in its armed forces, of which 164,087 were militia. At no point did the British army ever have more than 42,000 troops stationed in its former colonies. The role of the national government in establishing and maintaining some sort of citizen militia or formal reservoir of trained manpower was, at this point, absolutely minimal.
Several authorities have pointed out that the primary role played by militia lay in securing land and population, denying them to the oncoming British and Tory forces. They have also noted that the Revolution, in effect, was won before it had begun because its leaders, with the assistance of the militia, had secured control of the instruments of coercion and authority. These leaders controlled the militia which acted as agents of government, to a degree as posse comitas, to maintain that vital political control throughout the entire war.dlxix
On 23 March 1775 the Continental Congress debated the use of the militia. It resolved,
That a well regulated Militia, composed of Gentlemen and Yeomen, is the natural strength and only security of a free Government; that such a militia . . . would forever render it unnecessary for the Mother Country to keep among us, for the purpose of our defence, any Standing Army of mercenary forces, always subversive of the quiet, and dangerous to the liberties of the people, and would obviate the pretext of taxing us for their support. That the establishment of such a Militia is at this time peculiarly necessary, by the state of our laws for the protection and defence of the Country . . . .dlxx The Continental Congress discussed at length the difference between the militia and a standing army. Its conclusion and observation reads as follows.
And here lies the distinction between the Militia-men and Regulars: the former, at the hazard of their lives, are to execute no unjust, unnatural, unconstitutional orders; the latter, even at the peril of their lives, must implicitly and unhesitatingly obey every order they receive from their commanding officers, even if it were to lay the whole City of London in ashes this very moment, or to rip open the bowels of every pregnant woman in the Kingdom, their own Mothers not excepted.dlxxi The twelve other colonies reacted to the confrontation between patriots and British soldiers in Massachusetts by mobilizing their own citizen-soldiers. A correspondent from South Carolina wrote to his friend in London, discussing events of the time, military preparations and American morale.
In consequence of the action of the 19th ult. (so disgraceful to the King's troops) the Provincial Congress immediately voted a standing army of 30,000 men, of which 12,800 are to be of the province of Massachusetts, the rest from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island; and have appointed General Ward Commander in Chief; Major General Putnam, of Connecticut, was ready with 6,000 troops, and it was supposed would be the second in command. Sixty thousand men were in arms at Cambridge, and the Congress sent word to all the inhabitants of the sea ports to remove immediately, or expect no protection. The town of Boston capitulated to lay down their arms, and march out on the 25th. They have accordingly laid down 2,500 stand, and no injury had been done to the inhabitants. The resolution was, to attack the town and castle on the 29th, in confidence that they should carry it. The General was removing his best effects out of the town; and when the Tories resorted to him, to know where they were to be protected, if he surrendered the town, he only d--- them a parcel of vermin, who had abused him in the representations of those people. The mode proposed to advance to the fortifications, by General Putnam, was by fascines made of hay, pressed into bundles, and pushed forward upon jacks. Three days after the engagement two of General Gage's most able engineers deserted and came over to the Congress. Lord Percy said at table, he never saw anything equal to the intrepidity of the New England minute men. Marblehead was blocked up by a man of war, and Capt. Allen (who brought us the above intelligence in 13 days) was chased out to sea when he left Salem. In short (he says) nothing could equal the spirit and firmness of the province. I am afraid before this day thousands may be slain on both sides. We do not fear all the force that can be sent against us, for we have a just cause in hand, and no doubt but we shall meet protection in a merciful God. . . . Our companies of artillery, grenadiers, light infantry, light horse, militia, and watch are daily improving themselves in the military art. We were pretty expert before, but are now almost equal to any soldiers the King has. It is talked of raising a company of Split Shirts immediately.dlxxii The Second Continental Congress on 14 June 1775 voted to raise ten rifle companies: six from Pennsylvania, two from Maryland and two from Virginia.dlxxiii These men were armed with rifled guns of their own, in various calibers and sizes. In the period of the American Revolution the musket was the military weapon. It was unrifled in the gun barrel, thus somewhat inaccurate beyond fifty yards, and suitable for mounting with a bayonet. Only the state or colony owned muskets. Unrifled arms used by civilians in their own homes were called fowling pieces, a sort of single barrel shotgun; or "smooth rifles," a translation of the German term, meaning that the gun was configured as a rifle, but with large, unrifled bore. John Adams showed the lack of knowledge of rifled arms that we might expect of a city dweller. He was amazed at the accomplishments of the frontiersmen. He wrote,
They have voted ten companies of riflemen to be sent from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, to join the army before Boston. These are an excellent species of light infantry. They use a peculiar kind of musket, called a rifle. It has a circular . . . grooves within the barrel, and carries a ball with great exactness to great distance. They are the most accurate marksmen in the world.dlxxiv Leaving no doubt as to the cause of the conflict between the colonies and the mother nation, on 6 July 1775 representatives from Massachusetts introduced to the Continental Congress a document drafted by Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson, the "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms." The document described how General Gage's troops disarmed the compliant citizen-soldiers of Boston.
The inhabitants of Boston being confined within that town by the general their governor, and having, in order to procure their dismission, entered into a treaty with him, it was stipulated that the said inhabitants having deposited their arms with their own magistrates, should have liberty depart, taking with them their other effects. They accordingly delivered up their arms, but in open violation of honour, in defiance of the obligation of treaties, which even savage nations esteemed sacred, the governor ordered the arms deposited as aforesaid, that they might be preserved for their owners, to be seized by a body of soldiers; detained the greatest part of the inhabitants of the town, and compelled the few who were permitted to retire, to leave their most valuable effects behind. By this perfidy wives are separated from their husbands, children from their parents, and the aged and sick from their relations and friends, who wish to attend and comfort them, and those who have been used to live in plenty and even elegance, are reduced to deplorable distress.dlxxv On 26 October 1775 the Continental Congress "recommended to the Several Provincial Assemblies" that they export to the West Indies and elsewhere "produce except horned Cattle, Sheep, Hogs and Poultry" so that they might exchange or sell these items to obtain arms and ammunition wherewith to arm their own militias and men of the Continental Line.dlxxvi On 28 October 1775 the Congress passed a national militia law. That law directed,
That each and every Captain in the Colonies within 10 days after the publication hereof shall make out a list of all persons residing in his District capable of bearing Arms, between the ages of 16 and 50 years, . . . to enroll themselves by signing a Muster Roll . . . . And it is further Resolved, That every person directed to be enrolled as above shall, at his place of abode, be also provided with one pound of Powder and three pounds of Bullets of proper size to his Musket or Firelock . . . [and] to furnish himself with a good Musket or Firelock, and Bayonet, Sword or Tomahawk, a steel Ramrod, Worm, Priming Wire and Brush fitted thereto, a Cartouch Box to contain 23 rounds of Cartridges . . . under the forfeiture of two Shillings for the want of a Musket or Firelock . . . .dlxxvii The Continental Congress recommended that the states recruit all free, white American citizens between the ages of sixteen and sixty years into their militia units.dlxxviii It suggested that states not enlist apprentices or indentured servants without the consent of masters. It also suggested that no man under 5'5" tall or over age 50 be recruited or drafted from the militias.dlxxix Few states used these congressional guidelines.dlxxx
On 26 December 1775 the Continental Congress sent a circular letter to the various state Councils of Safety, advising on policy on an unusual problem. It had come to the attention of members of the Congress that men had sought to avoid both militia service and draft or other induction from the militia into the Continental Line by contracting debts and then failing to pay these debts so that they were thrust into debtor's prison. Other men may have been imprisoned for debts honestly contracted and unpaid because of circumstances beyond the control of men who had no intent to deceive. It recommended that the states not imprison any militiaman or soldier for debts less than $35. It also suggested that the states check prison and court records to ascertain what men might have already escaped service in this manner and release, perhaps enlist or draft, them. "It has always been found necessary in Time of War to regulate and restrain a Practice of such pernicious Tendency." Congress thought that the practice of imprisoning men for debts was most reprehensible, whether on the part of debtors or creditors, while brave men were dying.dlxxxi
By mid-1776 the Continental Congress had seen the folly of enlisting men for short periods of time, the terms of draftees to expire in from 30 to 90 days. The militiamen had insufficient time to drill and gain even minimal battle experience before their time of enlistment had expired and they were replaced by an even more inexperienced group of recruits and conscripts from state militias. While state militias may have offered their best men in the first few drafts, the incentive, after a time, was to send out the worst of their numbers. We must recall that the state militias had great responsibilities to their own citizenry. The state militias were all that stood between the generally unarmed civilians and invasions from both English and Amerindian invasions and incursions. The state militias had to garrison various fortified positions and actual forts, protect lines of transportation and communication, guard the seacoast and maintain the seacoast watch, and protect military stores and vital manufactories which supplied arms, munitions clothing,
food and other supplies. Although most states theoretically used a lottery system to draft militiamen into the regular army, we may reason that the militia officers and local political authorities had some input into the actual selections.
In June 1776, Congress, realizing that many urban militiamen were not accustomed to the use of firearms, and were unlikely to hit a target, ordered the use of multiple balls in the arms. Specifically, Washington suggested that "they load for their first fire with one musket ball and four or eight buckshot, according to the size and strength of their pieces."dlxxxii Congress then ordered a quantity of buck-shot, then called swan shot.
In early June 1776 Congress apportioned among the states the numbers of men required to serve in the militia for defense of the nation. Congress ordered six thousand of the militia, to reinforce the army in Canada, and keep up a communication with that province. Massachusetts is requested to furnish of their militia, for that purpose, four battalions, 3,000; Connecticut, two battalions, 1,500; New Hampshire, one battalion, 750; New York, one battalion, 750. To reinforce the army at New York, there are ordered of the militia, 13,800; Massachusetts is requested to furnish thereof, 2,000; Connecticut is requested to furnish thereof, 5,500; New York is requested to furnish thereof, 3,000; New Jersey is requested to furnish thereof, 3,300dlxxxiii
Soon after, Congress ordered a flying camp to be formed, to consist of ten thousand militia, and to be furnished as follows: Pennsylvania, 6,000; Maryland, 3,400; Delaware government, 600. The Congress also empowered General Washington to employ in Canada, Indians, 2,000dlxxxiv
On 15 September 1776 Richard Henry Lee wrote to Patrick Henry, governor of Virginia, from Philadelphia, reporting on the disposition of the British army. "The enemies' force is very considerable," he wrote, "being by best accounts about 24,000 men, besides their Canada army, which is about 7000." As of the date of his letter, Lee said that the American army consisted of only 13,000 men under General Horatio Gates. Lee complained of the "large frequent desertions of the militia" which had weakened Gates' force.dlxxxv Soon after George Washington lodged a similar complaint, noting that the militia "as soon as they are fairly fixed in camp are impatient to return to their own homes." Moreover, Washington said, the militia had "an utter disregard of all discipline and restraint among themselves" and who were "too apt to infuse a like spirit in others."dlxxxvi
In September 1776 the Continental Congress voted to raise 86 battalions of the Continental Line, with 726 men in each battalion, bringing the total enlistment to about 63,000 men. Initially, the Congress ordered that men be enlisted for the "duration of the war," but strong pressures and political realities forced it, on 12 November 1776, to reduce the term to three years maximum service. Congress assigned quotas to the states based upon state population, based in large on militia enrollment lists. Massachusetts and Virginia were initially assigned fifteen regiments, later increased to eighteen regiments. New Jersey and New York had quotas of four regiments. Rhode Island had a quota of two, later increased to three. Connecticut and New Hampshire were assigned three regiments. Pennsylvania was to recruit a dozen; Delaware and Georgia, one; Maryland, eight; North Carolina, nine; and South Carolina, six. Voluntary enlistments were rewarded with a bounty of £20 and an additional promise of 100 acres of land upon completion of enlistment. The states were to clothe and equip their men and they were given considerable latitude in selecting the color and style of uniforms. States were expected to draft troops from their militia lists, in any way they chose, if necessary to fill their quotas.dlxxxvii Virginia was so successful that it quickly filled its quota and Governor Henry allowed John Wood, governor of Georgia, to recruit men in Virginia to fill its quota.dlxxxviii Other states had more difficulties, and by 1779, Virginia was having its problems with recruitment.
Congress and the states both came to realize the truth of General Washington's observation made to Virginia Governor Patrick Henry on 4 October 1776 that voting regiments was a materially different thing from actually raising troops. He wrote to the committees of safety on 22 December 1776, demanding reinforcements to be allocated from the state militias. Washington pointed out that "in less than ten days from this time, my army will be reduced to a few from Virginia, and one Maryland regiment, Colonel Hand's, and the regiments lately under Colonel Miles, all very thin."dlxxxix By 1779 Congress had raised the bounty for volunteers from £20 to $200.
The Continental Congress had begun to consider an instrument of government as early as 7 June 1776, and on 15 November 1777 it had prepared a draft which it sent to the states. Nine states had approved it by July 1778, although it was not approved by all the states until 1 March 1781. One provision of the Articles of Confederation dealt with the militia. It required that,
Every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutred, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage.dxc Throughout the nineteenth century European armies deployed in clear lines, usually three deep, to maximize fire-power from the increasingly valuable flint-lock musket which was best discharged in volleys. The lines remained tightly packed in order to be able to ward off cavalry charges. In North America there were far fewer cavalry units to be feared, so the densely-formed lines were not required as they had been in Europe. In dense frontier areas troops which stood shoulder to shoulder and threw unaimed volleys against invisible enemy fighting from behind rocks and trees had little impact, but offered inviting targets. The British army learned only slowly from Braddock's defeat, but the notable exception to that lethargy was Sir William Howe. An advocate of light infantry tactics, he had added a company of light infantry to every battalion. He also thought that lines engaged in colonial warfare could be placed at least arm's length from one another and lined only two deep.
At the beginning of the American Revolution opinion was divided between those, like George Washington, who preferred to create a true, professional army, and those, like Charles Lee, who preferred to retain a militia system. In general, political power in the state governments lay with those who were opposed to the creation of a standing army which, after the war, might be equally dangerous to states' rights as to individual liberties. The states generally adopted a paradoxical stance. On the one hand, they wished to have the national government be responsible for as many bills and expenses as possible. On the other hand, they did not wish to cede powers and prerogatives to the national government, and most especially, remained throughout the war adamantly opposed to granting to the national government any power to tax. They also opposed granting too many powers to the national government, and among those powers they denied to it, were especially the powers to draft state militiamen or call the state militias into national service, appoint state militia officers, establish standards for training of militia and provide for the use and disposition of the militia. Among the most significant decisions Washington made during his long and distinguished career was that which insisted on the creation of a European-style army. As one authority wrote,
[I]t is characteristic that Washington and the cautious men who shared military leadership with him placed their principal military reliance not on a mass rising but on the hope of building a professional army. . . . In the end he succeeded. His Continental Army did become a force whose best units were comparable to the British regulars. . . . For years it was Washington's maintenance of a body of Continental regulars that kept the Revolution alive.dxci While the issue was not fully decided in favor of the standing army as the mainstay of American defense until long after Washington was dead, the trained army was created during the American Revolution.
Washington had little regard for the typical recruit from militia to the army. On 20 July 1775 he wrote to his brother from Boston, "I came to this place the second instant & found a numerous army of Provincials under very little command, discipline, or order."dxcii During the French and Indian War he found that the militia conscripts were "loose, idle persons that are quite destitute of House and home."dxciii As early as 1775 Washington expressed his reservations about relying on the militia during a war with Great Britain. He complained to Joseph Reed of Pennsylvania, of "the dearth of public spirit and want of virtue . . . in this great military arrangement." So troublesome was the militia that he told Reed, "Could I have foreseen what I have, and am likely to experience, no consideration upon earth should have induced me to accept this command."dxciv
The inglorious retreat from Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and like "victories" were only minor skirmishes for the British. They served as morale boosters for the rebels, but Washington recognized that their primary value was in including recruits to enlist in the colonial forces. These victories did not produce the needed recruits and Washington lamented that without more men "the game will be pretty well up."
Further, Washington knew that these successes would not be repeated, unless the British made catastrophic mistakes. And even a series of such mistakes would inevitably lead to change of command, better leadership and more precise strategy. In the meanwhile, militia victories would lure the Continental Congress into a false sense of security and given the militias undue prestige. These things would tend to prolong the creation of a true army. As the war dragged on, Washington would have more difficulty in maintaining his forces, for the militias served ordinarily for brief periods of service of six months or so, and were notorious for deserting in whole companies when the campaign was not going well. Overall Washington thought the militia was a bad influence on his regular soldiers.
Charles Lee urged the patriot leaders to fight a wholly guerilla war. He knew that the British regular army could occupy the seaboard cities at will and there would be precious little he, Washington or anyone else could do about it. He thought that the development of a sufficient professional army able to meet the British army head on would, in the long run, become a power beyond the ability of the legislature to control and potentially destructive of civil liberties. Had the leaders chosen to withdraw to the impenetrable mountains they would been yielding not only a large amount of territory and many people to the British army, but would be granting to the British the political control of the both and also the rich agricultural fields of the east. In any event Lee's proposal was impolitic and had support from neither Congress nor Washington's staff.
General Horatio Gates was another voice among those who held the militia in high esteem and willing to publicly dispute Washington on that point. "washington would suffer greatly without their aid," Gates mused. Gates argued that the best of men wished to escape permanent military service and were willing to serve in the military only for short stretches of time and to achieve limited purposes. They loathed garrison and frontier duty. They had too much to do regarding their own businesses. Only the meanest derelicts and chronically, although sometimes temporarily, unemployed sought enlistment in an army as a means of earning money. Anyone who sincerely sought employment in a time of war could find it as there was much to be done and few to do it. Gates did wish for some additional militia discipline, but thought that militiamen merely needed direction whereas soldiers in standing armies, because of their usual idleness and lethargy, to say nothing of their inferior character, needed harsh discipline and constant supervision from dedicated officers.dxcv
Washington was quite correct in his assessment of the militia. As a system of military organization the militia had always been tied to a professional army. The medieval fyrd was necessarily related to the houscarl. The semi-trained militia, the fyrd, had been called up exclusively for short periods of time, had been allowed to return to their home in time for planting or harvesting, and enjoyed considerable freedom and independence in battle. Only rarely were they used in major and important service, and it was accepted strategy for an attacking army to ferret out of the militia lines and then to launch a major attack there in hopes, generally fulfilled, of causing an overall rout of the opposing forces. So unreliable had the militias in Europe become that, by the end of the sixteenth century, they had been wholly replaced by trained professional.
At a meeting of the Board of War, January 30, 1777, agreed to report to Congress: "That the several Councils of Safety, Governors of legislatures of the respective States take the most effectual steps to collect from the inhabitants not in the actual service, all Continental arms, and give notice of the numbers they have so collected to General Washington. That all Arms and Accoutrements belonging to the U. S. shall be stamped and marked with the words UNITED STATES on the barrels and locks and bayonets already made and those to be hereafter manufactured in these States; and all arms or accoutrements so stamped or marked shall be taken wherever found for the use of the States."
Not long after independence had been declared General George Washington embarked on a campaign that he knew entailed risking total defeat. In the summer and early fall of 1776 he lost one engagement after another. Possibly, he was gambling on being defeated on paper, while being able to escape with remnants of this tattered army. If that was indeed the case, British General William Howe played directly into Washington's hands, for he failed completely to follow up on his victories. Perhaps Washington read Howe's mind all too well. In the late fall and winter 1776-77 Washington was able to salvage a few victories, sufficient, at least, to stave off total defeatism in his army as they settled down for the winter.
This warning of probable defeat should we retain a fundamentally untrained army of citizen-soldiers fell on partially deaf ears as the Congress was quite willing, for the most part, to fight a war of attrition, hoping to grind the British down to the point that a stalemate would bring recognition of our independence. Besides, the French might intervene on our behalf, ensuring victory. A year later the prospects for the criterion of a true army were as dismal as before and Washington was managing to the satisfaction of the Congress. Washington's argument that jaegers, skilled marksmen, riflemen and even light infantry bend to, even flee from, advances of a solid regular line. If the political and military authorities wished to hold the eastern cities they had to match the British army.
Events turned more toward the colonists daily. Howe's enclave theory had resulted in the occupation of cities, such as Philadelphia, but without producing tangible results. The British knew they could continue to occupy the cities almost at will, but that they could only venture out into the countryside in brief, and wholly indecisive, forays. The wilderness campaign of "Gentlemen Johnny" Burgoyne had ended in disaster, and this with militia forces. Burgoyne complained that where there had been no discernible forces only hours before, thousands of militiamen had assembled, as if arising from the earth fully grown and equipped. Burgoyne commented, "wherever the King's forces point, militia to the amount of 3000 to 4000 assemble within twenty-four hours." A Swiss military observer wrote, "The Americans would have been less dangerous if they had a regular army."dxcvi A French officer assessed the implications of Burgoyne's defeat.
Such are the conditions upon which Burgoyne surrendered: 5500 men have therefore marched past foaming with rage and cursing their General, to whom they have said that they would sooner be reduced to two ounces of biscuit a day than surrender; and they have turned over 6000 excellent firearms, 40 pieces of cannon and the best munitions which have yet been seen on this Continent. Never will the Englishmen wipe out this shame; 5500 men of the best troops surrendered at the discretion to less than 10,000 militia.dxcvii The American rifleman continued to impress the Europeans. An officer in a Jaeger unit attached to Colonel Tarleton's American Loyalist corps observed the superior marksmanship of the American militiamen with their rifles. He wrote,
I never in my life saw better rifles (or men who shot better) than those made in America . . . . I am not going to relate anything respecting the American war, but to mention one instance, as proof of the most excellent sill of an American rifleman. If any man show me an instance of better shooting, I will stand corrected. . . . A rifleman passed over the mill dam, evidently observing the two officers, and laid himself down on his belly (for it is in such positions they always lie) to take a good shot at long distance . . . . Now observe how well this fellow shot . . . . Colonel Tarleton's horse and mine, I am certain, were not anything like two feet apart. . . . [T]he bugle-horn man behind us and directly central jumped off his horse and said, 'Sir, my horse is shot.' The horse staggered, fell down, and died. . . . I can positively assert that the distance he fired from, at us, was full 400 yards."dxcviii The London Chronicle in 1775 had noted the prowess of the American citizen-soldiers.
This Province [of Pennsylvania] has raised 100 rifle-men, the worst of whom will put a ball into a man's head at a distance of 150 or 200 yards, therefore advise your officers who shall hereafter come to America, to settle their affairs in England before their departure.dxcix A correspondent who signed as "A Democratic Federalist" entered the federal debate of 1787. His later day observations reflected much of American libertarian (or Anti-federalist) thought in 1776 or in 1787. He made these observations on the early American revolutionary citizen-army,
Had we a standing army when the British invaded our peaceful shores? Was it a standing army that gained the battles of Lexington and Bunker's Hill, and took the ill-fated Burgoyne? Is not a well regulated militia sufficient for every purpose of internal defense? And which of you, my fellow citizens, is afraid of any invasion from foreign powers, that our brave militia would not be able immediately to repel?dc Had Washington been given a regular army early on, the results might have been far less fortunate. Richard Henry Lee was delighted. A standing army, once created, would be impossible to dismiss, and, as we all knew, a standing army is the greatest danger to our liberties. We could not afford to win the war only to entrench a new tyranny. Lee wrote of the militia,
A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves, and render regular troops in a great measure unnecessary . . . . [T]he militia shall always be kept well organized, armed and disciplined , and include . . . all men capable of bearing arms, and that all regulations tending to render this general [unorganized] militia useless and defenceless, by establishing select corps of militia, or distinct bodies of military men [standing army or organized militia], not having permanent interests and attachments in the community to be avoided.dci Indeed, Lee was convinced that America could only win its war for independence by fighting what a later age would call a guerilla or partisan war. The patriots would operate out of mountain enclaves on the frontier, harassing the British forces in their enclaves in the eastern seaboard cities. He preferred decentralized political power and diffusion of command among state and local leaders. In a letter to Patrick Henry, Lee expressed his sentiments.
Mr. Howe will not be gratified with the possession of this city [Philadelphia]. And if he gained 20 such cities, still he would be short of gaining the point mediated over America. You remember, Sir, we told them from the beginning that we looked on our Cities and Sea Coasts as devoted to destruction, but that ample resources were still left for a numerous, brave and free people to be content with.dcii
Lee was supported by such libertarians as Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams. Adams wrote,
A standing army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the liberties of the people. Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a body distinct from the rest of citizens. They have their arms always in their hands. Their rules and their discipline is severe. They soon become attached to their officers and disposed to yield implicit obedience to their commands. Such a power should be watched with a jealous eye.dciii Thomas Paine had come to their philosophical support, arguing what would become the main support of the French and other liberal European revolutions: that the best warfare for independence involved the whole aroused and armed population. Nothing was more powerful than the dedicated citizenry fighting arm-in-arm with their relatives and neighbors for a heartfelt ideological clause. An army could be defeated, but never an entire nation. And Paine in "The Crisis" and elsewhere had shown the world how to arouse an entire population. George Mason argued that the nation must preserve a militia comprised of all the people and reiterated the common libertarian fear of creating a standing army which might not be easily disbanded.dciv
The militiamen proved to be effective as shock troops. They wreaked havoc in the British lines at the Battle of Bunker Hill by picking off a disproportionate number of their officers. One British Marine wrote to his brother, "Many officers have died of their wounds and others [are] very ill; 'tis astonishing what a number of officers were hit on this occasion; but the officers were particularly aimed at."dcv Another Lieutenant of the British Marines observed,
[I]it is very uncommon that such a great number of officers should be killed and wounded, more than in proportion to the number of private men: the following discovery seems to account for it. Before the entrenchments were forced, a man, whom the Americans called a marksman, or rifleman, was seen standing upon something near three feet higher than the rest of the troops . . . . This man had no sooner discharged one musket [actually probably a rifle] than another was handed to him, and continued firing in that manner for 10 or 12 minutes. And in that small space of time . . . it is supposed that he could not have killed or wounded less than 20 officers, for it was at them particularly that he directed his aim . . . .dcvi George Hanger, a well known British rifleman and himself an expert shot, on one occasion was assigned to the Loyalist regiment in the Carolinas commanded by Banastre Tarleton. He wrote several passages in his diary attesting to the prowess of the American rifleman. He expected them to hit targets with great regularity at distances of up to three hundred yards. On one occasion, in the company of Tarleton, some four hundred yards away they observed several American riflemen, possibly of Daniel Morgan's rifle company. Hanger observed,
A rifleman passed over the mill dam, evidently observing two officers, and laid himself down on his belly; for in such positions they always lie, to take a good shot at a distance. He took a deliberate and cool shot at my friend and me, and the bugle horn man . . . . A rifle ball passed between him and me; looking directly at the mill, I evidently observed the flash of the powder . . . . [T]he bugle horn man behind us, and directly central, jumped off his horse, and said, "Sir, my horse is shot."dcvii Unable to counter the riflemanship of the rural American citizen-marksmen with sufficient numbers of their skilled marksmen, the British turned to German mercenaries. The London Constitutional Gazettedcviii announced that the
Government has sent over to Germany to engage 1000 men called Jaegers, people brought up to the use of the rifle barrel guns in boar hunting. They are amazingly expert. Every petty prince who hath forests keeps a number of them, and they are allowed to take apprentices, by which means they have a numerous body of people. These men are intended to act in the next campaign in America . . . their being a complete match for the American riflemen.
The standing army of the Revolution, known as the Continental Line, in reality, differed little from the state militias which it had superseded as the major military of the thirteen states. We must recall that, in the beginning, the line was created out of activated militia companies and volunteers recruited from the militia acting as a reservoir for the line. Regiments varied enormously in size and some were never fully brought up to strength. All regiments were clearly identified with specific states, with men from one jurisdiction rarely being found in lines identified with another. As we have seen, everywhere the line was filled by drafts of some sort from state militias. Extant rosters show clearly that most early regiments of the Continental Line were simply select, or the better trained, militia companies fighting under a new name and a new banner. Since the Congress had little money, even when expenses were charged or chargeable to the national government, it was still generally the states which supplied the payroll, arms, supplies and equipment. Congress could issue appeals to state governments, but had no real power, beyond moral suasion, to compel compliance.
As with state militias, the national army had three main arenas of operation. Most troops merely served garrison duty, awaiting a British operation against the area which they were assigned to protect. When engaged in actual combat they assumed a defensive posture. Frequently, that meant strategic withdrawal. Some troops were assigned to offensive action, against the British or the Amerindians, in campaigns designed to relieve some threat to American independence. Third, guerilla operations consumed a certain amount of energy and attention. This was a final resort, chosen primarily when the forces were too weak to engage the enemy directly.
In 1790 the Secretary of War Henry Knox (1750-1806) reported that the number of soldiers in the continental line was greatest in 1777, when there were 34,820 available to General Washington. At war's end the number had dwindled to 13,892.dcix Desertions, fulfillment of terms of enlistment, injury, illness, deaths and wounds had all taken their toll.
During the first two years of the war there were only a few problems with recruitment of soldiers. By 1777 the war was taking a toll on the patriots. Men were tiring of the war. Taxes were high and the currency depreciating at a rapid rate. High inflation and high taxes placed many father-less families at the mercy of money lenders. Some taxes went unpaid. Militia fines were substantial, and providing a substitute was beyond the means of the typical household. The obligation to serve in the military fell most heavily on the segment of society which was ordinarily unable to sustain the cost. Many families had lost several successive harvest and planting seasons because the men had been called into military or militia service. Fields lay in ruin because of neglect or Amerindian or tory deprivations. Families had to borrow money to save themselves from destitution. Interest rates were high because of the ever inflating currency. Many soldiers returning home were cast into debtors' prisons because they had contracted debts which they could not service, all in support of their families during their service in the patriot cause.
Wages of the enlisted men, whether in the continental line or militia, were insufficient to support a family. The pay of soldiers in 1776 was given in paper money which exchanged freely on par with silver. In January 1777 silver brought a premium of 25% and by January 1778 silver was valued at four times the stated value of paper money. In 1780 silver was worth sixty times the face value of the depreciated currency. By May 1781 it was essentially worthless and had ceased to circulate for virtually no one, the most ardent patriots included, would accept it. The national and state governments had printed money because they had no reserves of bullion, but the men refused to accept the worthless currency.
Some men deserted the patriot cause and returned home, enlisted or were drafted a second time, often so that they could obtain the bonuses offered for enlistment. Penalties for such behavior were severe, but many men, faced with the prospects of financial ruin, were willing to chance desertion and a second enlistment, while hoping to escape the consequences of their actions.
As the war ended, many reflected on the difficulties experienced in coordinating the activities and deployment of the state militias. By 1787 each state's virtual autonomy over its militia had resulted in considerable diversity and even serious neglect. But the overwhelming sentiment of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, most state authorities and other influential persons remained fixed on the maintenance of a state militia system as the nation's guardian in peacetime.
No one expressed the general distrust of a standing army better than better than Charles Pinckney (1746-1825) of South Carolina, speaking at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when he said, "a dissimilarity in e militia of different States had produced the most serious mischiefs . . . and believed that "there must also be a real military force. The United States had been making an experiment without it, and . . . [would] see the consequence in their rapid approaches toward anarchy."dcx Governor Edmund Randolph of Virginia believed "there was not a member in the federal convention who did not feel indignation at such an institution."dcxi
We can see that the national militia meant very little during the War for Independence and that, under the American system of divided sovereignty, the militias were viewed as properly the concern and responsibility of the states. There was neither a suggestion that a national militia be formed or that those enrolled in state militias ought to take an oath of dual allegiance to the national government in addition to one's home state.
The concept of dual enlistment had to wait more than a century to come to fruition. Incidents of the militia refusing to serve outside the borders of the nation were raised in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War of 1846-1848. It was not until the enactment of the National Defense Act of 1916 that Congress established the a enlistment provision while simultaneously converting state militias into national guards.dcxii The National Defense Act Amendment of 1933 advanced the "one army" concept under which national guard units were considered to be integral parts of the United States Army.dcxiii The roots of the current national guard system may be found in the embryonic national militia of the American War for Independence.