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I think that his is one of the most misunderstood parts of the war. I hope to be able to contribute some interesting incidents of the effectiveness of the British Light infantry and irregular troops, when I get the time to put some thoughts together.
For now I’ll just be generalised. I must just agree with RevWar1776, there is more to the American victory than bush tactics (We can get into that in the European influence thread), and more to the British War effort than close order tactics.
The legend isn’t all false of course, no smoke without fire an all, but after Lexington & Concord and Breed’s Hill, Lord Howe, who had been a light infantry officer in the French & Indian War and had seized the heights at Quebec with his light bobs, saw that Light infantry would once more play a vital role in suppressing the “Rebellion”.
Since the defeat of France, the British had reduced its light infantry corps. Which meant Howe had to reboot it after being kicked out of Boston (One of those vital early victories we can talk about elsewhere). He retrained the existing light infantry companies attached to the regular battalions and then made “Flank” battalions out of them and the Grenadiers as a corps de elite.
In the New York and Philadelphia campaign’s these troops with the rifle armed Jaeger from the Hessian corps, fighting in open order, in special uniforms, met the Americans and not only held their own but bested them on a few occasions. In the south were insurgent warfare became almost epidemic, and on the New York Pennsylvania Frontier, British Loyalist Legions took home grown traditions of bush warfare to the Americans, with the help of their Indian allies.
Now this rant isn’t to say that the legend is wrong. Lexington & Concord, and Saratoga are classic examples of American Marksmen doing what they do best, but even there, light infantry flankers were out on the wings of the column retreating from Concord, trying to stave off the minute-men and at Saratoga too light infantry were deployed, though with even less effect.
Even so, this war was a war to be won on the battlefield, so it was actually imperative that the British find a mix between close order linear tactics and fluid open order operations.