Help support TMP

"The Debate - Militia or Regular Army?" Topic

22 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the American Revolution Message Board

Areas of Interest

18th Century

597 hits since 31 Jan 2019
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP31 Jan 2019 3:18 p.m. PST

Of possible interest?



42flanker Supporting Member of TMP01 Feb 2019 12:11 a.m. PST

'June 1778 the first regular battle between the Continental army and the British army took place at Monmouth Court House, ending in victory for the Americans'


Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Feb 2019 12:06 p.m. PST



Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP04 Feb 2019 6:19 a.m. PST

The following comments on the article might be helpful:

‘…If the militia system was successful in the opinion of those who claim it had led to victory in the revolution, why was there a desire to set up a regular army both during the war and after it in a society that was apprehensive of this kind of army? Also, why was it necessary to make such a far-reaching reform in the structure of the militia?'

These are excellent questions and one of the answers is that the militia did not have the term of service that the Continentals did and the other manpower resources of the states were enrolled in the state lines (or regulars) which did not operate under Continental authority. These were two main reasons why Washington could not recruit the Continental regiments up to strength. That made periodic reliance on the dubious qualities of the militia a requirement to take the field against the British and their German auxiliaries.

‘The genius of this nation is not in the least to be compared with that of the Prussians, Austrians, or French. You say to your soldier ‘Do this!' and he does it; but I am obliged to say ‘This is the reason why you ought to do that'; and then he does it.'-General Baron von Steuben.

‘Under von Steuben's guidance the Revolutionary War soldier became a first-class fighting man in the best European tradition. Contrary to popular tradition, he did not hide behind trees and stone walls to pot at enemy formations. With exceptions such as Kings Mountain and various routs, he met the British Army on its own terms in open fields and drawn up in line of battle. He learned to make savage bayonet charges, and in such famous attacks as Stony Point and the assault on the redoubts at Yorktown, he charged with an unloaded weapon, relying solely on cold steel. By the end of the war the Continental was no longer just the citizen with a gun. He was a hardened campaigner. He knew his weapons and he knew his drill. He could face the enemy under any and all circumstances. He knew how to throw up fortifications and how to obtain shelter. His independent spirit remained but he knew the military hierarchy and how to recognize it by insignia-and he knew the deference due it. He was, in short, the master of all the miscellaneous hardware and gear of military life, the basic tools of the Revolution.'-Harold Peterson

Washington believed that "to place any confidence upon militia is, assuredly, resting upon a broken staff" and he wasn't alone in that assessment.

Washington described the militia as "badly officered and under no government. They come in you cannot tell how, go, you cannot tell when, and act you cannot tell where, consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at last in a critical moment."

Nathaniel Greene, who was driven to anger in the Carolinas, described them as the "locusts of Egypt" indicating that "they wasted the countryside without performing any useful duty. In battle they usually broke and ran as soon as things got dangerous."

The Continentals themselves described the militia as ‘long faces' based on their attitude and reluctance when called up for duty.

‘The military history of the American Revolution can be divided roughly, both chronologically and regionally, into two main stages. The first period began with the aborted American attack on British strongholds in Canada at the end of 1775, and ended in October 1777 with the British general Burgoyne at Saratoga. After this the war moved to the southern colonies until the capitulation of the British forces in Yorktown in October 1781.'

This is not correct. The ‘first period' began with Lexington and Concord as well as Bunker Hill which preceded the American invasion of Canada. The battles of Saratoga were not the last of the main actions in the northern theater. Monmouth occurred in 1778 after the winter at Valley Forge. And the French alliance occurred in 1778 based on the victory at Saratoga and the American performance at Germantown which also impressed the French.

‘The defeat at Saratoga transferred the strategic focus of Britain to the colonies south of the Potomac River.'

The strategic ‘focus' of the British changed with the French alliance as well as with the loss of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga. In effect, the alliance changed the Revolution to a global war and the British were forced to send troops from North America in order to defend their possessions in the Caribbean. This depleted their overall strength against the Americans which undoubtedly forced the British to reevaluate their strategy against the Americans. The South seemed vulnerable and forces were sent from New York to invade the southern colonies.

‘In May 1780 Charleston (South Carolina) was taken, and Washington tried to send his army, which was encamped around the city of New York, southwards in an attempt to strengthen the militia forces.'

Where is the evidence that Washington ‘tried to send his army…southwards'? In point of fact a small army under Gates was sent southward to assist Charleston and when they found that Charleston had been taken were badly defeated at Camden in August 1780.

‘…Prussian Emperor…'

The Prussian monarch was not an emperor, but a king. There is a difference and the Hohenzollerns had previously been electors and at the beginning of the 18th century were ‘elevated' to the rank of ‘King in Prussia.'

‘The development of the Prussian army under the command of Frederick the Great is therefore crucial.

To whom? The Americans were more influenced by the French, especially the writings of de Saxe and Guibert, than the Prussians. Prussian ‘influence' only became noticeable with the coming of von Steuben to Valley Forge and the training of the Continental Army. And the training that was developed by von Steuben for the Continentals was a mixture of British, French, and Prussian methods, not merely Prussian.

Moreover, from the end of the seventeenth century the American colonies were involved in European conflicts, mainly between Britain and France. Thus, the colonial settlers found themselves fighting side by side with British regular forces, winning appointments as officers, and being exposed to the fighting methods of a regular army.'

The influence of a British army in North America was only evident from the French and Indian War. That was the first time that British troops were sent to defeat the French in any numbers. The British ‘policy' toward the American colonies was one of ‘benign neglect' with the Americans being responsible for their own defense against the French and Indians in the series of wars up to the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

‘The geo-strategic situation of Prussia was somewhat similar to that of the colonies in North America.'

This is at best a stretch. The comparison with Prussia is weak and is probably non-existent. In short, the analogy is incorrect.

‘Prussia soldiers were mostly native born recruits called up to join the army, often by compulsion, on a territorial basis.'

Before the assumption of Frederick the Great to being King of Prussia, the ratio of mercenaries to native born Prussians in the Prussian Army was one to two; after Frederick deliberately developed it to just the reverse. The Prussian kings had always relied on mercenaries to keep up the strength of the army, and Frederick the Great increased the numbers of foreign mercenaries in the army.

‘[Washington] did aspire to built a national army acting in accordance with the principles of warfare that were designed by Frederick the Great.'

Where is the evidence of this statement? What principles of war were ‘designed' by Frederick the Great? He inherited a first-class army that was built by his predecessors and he won only about half of his battles.
Washington's model for the Continental Army was the British army, not the Prussian or Frederick the Great.

‘The weakness of the American army was demonstrated clearly in the battle of New York in the summer of 1776. After this battle Washington refrained from direct confrontation with the British army on the battlefield.'

Washington fought the British army on the battlefield at Brandywine and Germantown, both in 1777, and at Monmouth in 1778.

‘…in June 1778 the first regular battle between the Continental army and the British army took place at Monmouth Courthouse, ending in a victory for the Americans.'

Again, both Brandywine and Germantown in 1777 were ‘regular battles.' And Monmouth was a drawn battle at best and the British both protected their large convoy and fought a successful rear guard action and got away.

‘Although the militia forces had defeated the British Army at the battle of Saratoga…'

The main battles of the Saratoga campaign, Freeman's Farm and Bemis Heights were fought mainly with Continental units, not militia. These were stand-up fights which forced Burgoyne to surrender. They were not fought by militia.

Virginia Tory04 Feb 2019 11:32 a.m. PST

"…ending in victory for the Americans"

Definitely overstating the case, given what happened.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP05 Feb 2019 3:27 a.m. PST

Overall the article isn't all that accurate and there are quite a few mistakes as noted above.

nevinsrip05 Feb 2019 6:47 a.m. PST

There's no debate.


Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP05 Feb 2019 7:36 a.m. PST

Once again, that is something of an incorrect judgment. While there were some contributions by the militia, it was the Continentals who won the war and kept it going when it looked like the Americans might lose.

The militia were generally more trouble than they were worth. Too many times they hindered rather than helped and their contributions have been magnified by myth and legend, not by their overall performance and general worth.

Bill N05 Feb 2019 6:13 p.m. PST

On the Napoleonic page mention of bricoles seems to be enough to ignite a flame war. Here the powder keg issue is the importance of the role of the militia in the American war effort. It has all been hashed out on other threads.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP06 Feb 2019 4:07 a.m. PST

It is the theme of the subject article, so it is again up for discussion, is it not?

Winston Smith12 Feb 2019 5:05 p.m. PST

I agree with almost everything Kevin said.
But.. (Game of Thrones reference here. "Everything said before the word ‘but' is just bs.")
But, there were never enough Continentals. The militia had short term enlistments because, well, they worked for a living. They were the farmers etc who kept the economy going, and the Continentals fed.
The Continentals were formed from the men who could be spared from "real work".

Look at Saratoga. The main army fighting Burgoyne were Continentals, and not as well trained as they became later. They slightly outnumbered Burgoyne's army and checked him.
When did Burgoyne surrender? Days after the second battle, when overwhelming numbers of militia showed up AFTER the crops were in. He was cut off by then. After the surrender, they went back home. Where they belonged.

Gates failed spectacularly in the South when he tried to use militia in a role they had no training for.
The war in the South was won by commanders who knew how to use the militia for what they were good at.
Yes. Greene got pissed off at them when he too tried to use them in a manner they were not fit for. But he was certainly better than Gates. Morgan was of course superb.
And let's not forget Marion. And, shudder, Sumter. They knew how to use militia.

Winston Smith12 Feb 2019 5:15 p.m. PST

To reiterate.
Yes. The Continentals were much to be preferred in battle. But there were never enough of them.
Saying that Washington preferred having regular troops in the battle line is just stating the obvious.
Wishing that the militia were regulars is not solving the problem. The militia, literally, had much more important things to do. Like grow food. Like intimidate Loyalists. Like show up when desperately needed, and then going home to tend to the crops and keep British foraging parties from cleaning out the district of food.

And never forget. There were never enough Continentals.
As Westmoreland says in Henry V:
"O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!"
Those that do work are the artisans, farmers, etc. The idle fellows are in the Army. But Henry already had enough. grin

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP13 Feb 2019 9:33 p.m. PST

Good thread John!… (smile)


nevinsrip13 Feb 2019 10:13 p.m. PST

"The militia were generally more trouble than they were worth"

Wrong, as usual.

Virginia Tory14 Feb 2019 6:10 a.m. PST

"Wrong, as usual."

Well, gee, what would Washington know? He only commanded the army.

Couldn't be counted on by its friends, nor discounted by its enemy sums it up best.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2019 9:26 a.m. PST

There were two main reasons why there were never enough Continentals.

First, the militia terms of service was short, usually ninety days.

Second, the state lines, or regulars, were paid better than the Continentals and their terms of service was shorter. They were preferable to the militia.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2019 9:29 a.m. PST

Wrong, as usual.

Your 'point of view' on this subject disagrees with Washington's and Greene's evaluation of the situation with the militia.

So, if it is wrong, then support your position with credible source material. If you cannot, then the point is moot.

In the southern campaign, the militia ran at Camden and the North Carolina militia ran en masse at Guilford Courthouse, even failing to give the three rounds per man that Greene asked for even though their line was balanced by two regular formations, one on each flank.

And those are not the only examples.

So, please support your position with more than an unsupported one-liner.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2019 9:30 a.m. PST

Wrong, as usual.

Your 'point of view' on this subject disagrees with Washington's and Greene's evaluation of the situation with the militia.

So, if it is wrong, then support your position with credible source material. If you cannot, then the point is moot.

In the southern campaign, the militia ran at Camden and the North Carolina militia ran en masse at Guilford Courthouse, even failing to give the three rounds per man that Greene asked for even though their line was balanced by two regular formations, one on each flank.

Without the Continentals, the war would have been lost and there would have been no French alliance.

Winston Smith14 Feb 2019 10:40 a.m. PST

This is our third or fourth go-around on this topic, starring the Usual Suspects. grin
The facts haven't changed, nor has the interpretation.

In my games, each unit is individually rated for various factors, and then the dice take over. I try to rate on how they behaved on the day, if possible.
It is not heresy to have excellent and crappy militia and excellent and crappy Continentals. Both have occurred in the same battles!

Winston Smith14 Feb 2019 10:42 a.m. PST

Without the Continentals, the war would have been lost and there would have been no French alliance.

Has anyone here ever argued the contrary?

nevinsrip14 Feb 2019 11:30 a.m. PST

Still wrong. Yawn.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2019 4:38 a.m. PST

Has anyone here ever argued the contrary?

Unfortunately, yes they have. One of my professors in college did a long time ago. He was against a regular army and believed religiously in the value of the militia in winning the war.

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.