September 17, 2014 at 5:45 am #8764
It seems, one of the myths of the American Revolution was that the British army, noble and standardized, would march straight into battle with thick lines of troops. One American strategy, as believed, was to spread out their forces, hiding behind rocks and trees, shooting at the British from concealed positions.
This “barbaric” and “dishonorable” fighting style of the Americans supposedly gained them a strategic advantage that helped win the war. While gaining a strategic advantage might be in part true, the belief that the British continued to march mindlessly into hostile and hidden American forces isn’t entirely true.
In both the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution, the British included Light Infantry companies within their military regiments. These specialized soldiers would serve as skirmishers and scouts, and could help address hostile forces hiding along the path the larger army would follow.
Do you have any insight or other knowledge about this to share? It’s always interesting to look into the truth of popularly accepted “myths” of the Revolution. There might be a lot more to add to the story.September 17, 2014 at 8:09 pm #8773
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.
Josh.September 19, 2014 at 7:46 am #8780
And it might be an oversimplification of matters, though I wonder if to some degree, the natural hunting lifestyle of the colonists/militia from rural areas led to more of a woodsy/hunting style of fighting. Less formal and organized (especially before the formalization of the army and drill tactics), and more what was familiar to the of shoot and be as adroit as possible at not getting shot. I could be totally off on it, though just one more thought to add to the mix, at least to hypothesis for rationalization around early war fighting styles.September 19, 2014 at 7:15 pm #8783
I think you’ve got a point there! Depending on where the recruits came from, their fighting styles would vary. It’s interesting to think that though the militia of Massachusetts fought in a sort of woodsy/hunting style, men from the Frontiers who formed the nucleus of the famed rifle units would consider them hopeless in the bush. On the whole therefore American colonists seem to have had a general instinct for non linear combat, in varying levels from expert woodsmen in hunting shirts, Indian leggings and long rifles, to the town dressed militia of the more agricultural areas. The battle of Oriskany comes to mind where militia held off an ambush of Iroqouis and Loyalists, or Kings mountain where loyalist militia were shot to pieces by an army pricipally composed of woodsmen. Both could be very adept in many situations, except they weren’t prepared for, set piece field battles for which they had no formal training until 1776 and 1778.
Now on the flip side early experience of American “Bush tactics” Burgoyne said they all fought like Indians I think. Immediately sent the British into a concerted drive to counter them, with Loyalist militias of their own, Indians and Rangers, and their own light infantry. The bonus of having professional soldiers is that you can make them adapt to any type of warfare so long as you have the time to train them. The British army already had light infantry companies so all General’s like Howe had to do was to expand the establishment and instruct them to fight in an even more loose formation.
Josh.September 20, 2014 at 9:48 pm #8787
Interesting, thinking along those lines and in this sense the American lack for formal training, and hence the only training they had, might have proved to be temporary, albeit unplanned for, advantage.
Also to consider, the kentucky long rifles (with rifling in the barrels) were considered to be slightly more accurate at longer distances than say the British Brown Bess smoothbore – another slight tactical advantage. However, the colonies did not have a standardized model long arm and most were blacksmith made, so supplies of all weapons were limited, something that could be overcome with the well-equipped and suplied British army.September 25, 2014 at 12:40 am #8797
Supplying the Continental army must have been a nightmare in the early days. Yes long rifles Pennsylavia and Kentucky, outshot brown bess and was more accurate at long range. Hessian Jaegers had rifles, I wonder what the American’s thought of them?
Josh.December 30, 2014 at 10:33 pm #8810
I bet they thought of capturing as many of them as possible 🙂 That reminded me of a post I read recently about a captured Hessian rifle, it’s looks great and has an interesting story: http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/208013-captured-from-a-hessian-mercenary-on-christmas-eve-1776/January 2, 2015 at 6:20 pm #8815
I mean you hear allot about brave Yankee sharpshooters and nowadays you get a bit more daring British Light Bobs, but the Hessian Jaeger is pretty much forgotten, yet they must have contributed greatly to annoying the “Patriots” with their short little rifles.
Josh.January 6, 2015 at 10:05 pm #8824
Absolutely. And when one looks at the size of some battles, someones only a few hundred to a few thousand on each side, a few hundred Hessian soldiers would surely have an impact on the outcome. I believe there were around 30,000 German soldiers that fought at one point or another for the British cause, and about 60,000 British, and 50,000 loyalists. The German soldiers made up a fairly large portion of troops.January 7, 2015 at 1:34 am #8829
And all reliable soldiers too!
Josh.June 4, 2015 at 5:09 am #8989
In another post a member, Mark, mentioned a good book he is planning to read, “With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775–1783” by Matthew Spring, on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Zeal-Bayonets-Only-1775%C2%961783-Commanders/dp/0806141522
It analyzes the British army at the operational and tactical levels, which would tie into the fighting styles and seemed fitting mention in this topic, so thought to share it hereJune 4, 2015 at 8:07 pm #8991
Looks pretty cool!
Josh.May 14, 2017 at 2:52 am #9140Chance HudsonParticipant
Wasn’t it custom in the British army of the time to have at least one light infantry company in every regiment? I always thought the myth of the British regular forces being this clunky heap of men not able to adapt to light infantry fighting was ridiculous.May 18, 2017 at 6:07 am #9143
From a little reading (on wikipedia, so taken not as a fully-vetted source) I came across the same, that from 1770 on generally each regiment had a light infantry company (although each company had a varying degree of training). The inspiration supposedly came from the Ticonderoga campaign of 1758 and observation of battle tactics of the American Woodland Nations. Pretty coolJune 1, 2017 at 1:46 am #9149
Dead right guys. By the 1770’s the British had light companies attatched to their regular battalions. Along with the grenadiers they were known as flank companies as the grenadiers stood on the right and the light bobs stood on the left. Great strides had been made during the French and Indian War but tactical doctrine had become stale between then and the start of the revolution. General Howe reinvigorated the system and it was the experience of officers fighting the rebels that helped the British beat Napoleon.
Of especial note is the fact that the retreat from Lexington and Concord was gallantly covered by light infantry who went at the Militia with their own tactics. General Howe’s light infantry became experts in their business to rival the best Yankee militia. Not to mention the Hessian Jägers, Allied tribesmen, and their own loyalist militia and legions,
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