Revolutionary War Historical Article

All the King's Horses & All the King's Men

By Donald N. Moran

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the November 1990 Edition of the Liberty Tree Newsletter

As Americans and members of the SAR we are proud, and justly so, of our ancestors that fought and and won our freedom from England. One hundred years ago that National pride was manifested in the establishment of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

We have all been taught that the Revolution was a one sided conflict in which our victory was nothing less than miraculous. Consider the odds. The thirteen colonies, located on the very edge of civilization without any industry (mandated by British Law), no centralized government, in fact very little government of any sort, with scant military resources, no professionally trained officers (The Commander-in-Chief himself, was only a militia Colonel) and no National Treasury. And yet we defeated the greatest power of the eighteenth century.

The British aristocracy generally held the colonist in contempt. John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich and 1st Lord of the Admiralty, expressed that opinion when he said : "Americans were raw, undisciplined and cowardly (1)" At Sir John Pringle's, Benjamin Franklin overheard Major General Alured Clarke comment "that with a thousand British grenadiers he would undertake to go from one end of American to the other and geld all the males, partly by force and partly with a little coaxing (2)".
This was their first violation of the doctrine of waging war -- "NEVER UNDERESTIMATE YOUR ENEMY".

Although the British held a vast global empire, they were relatively inexperienced in conducting a major military effort three thousand miles from England. This inexperience was to greatly influence the outcome of the war. During the siege of Boston, the Admiralty dispatched thirty-five ships to resupply their besieged army. Only eight ships successfully made the crossing. During 1777, the American squadron and privateers destroyed or captured more than three hundred British merchant ships. In 1780 a combined Spanish and French fleet intercepted and captured sixty-one ships of a single convoy. Three thousand soldiers, reinforcements for their hard pressed North American army were lost (3). The situation on the land was a nightmare. Roads simply did not exist except between the major coastal cities. Most of North America was still an almost impenetrable wilderness. When Lt. General John Burgoyne invaded New York from Canada, he was forced build a road through the Adirondack Mountains. In took him 20 days to cover 22 miles. He had to bridge 40 ravines, build a 2 mile long causeway through a marshy area. This delay gave the Americans time to mass their forces and ultimately defeat him at the Battle of Saratoga (4). This was their second violation of the doctrine of waging war --"NEVER OVEREXTEND YOUR LINES OF SUPPLY".

The geography of North America, both political and topographical, was a very strong ally of the American cause. Thomas Paine stated : "How ridiculous to suppose that a continent should belong to an island! (5)." But more important was the nature of colonial America. It was a totally rural society. The loss of the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston had literally no impact on the war other than psychological. Had Britain lost at any their cities such as London, Bristol or Liverpool, they would consider themselves defeated. In order to conquer the thirteen colonies, it would be necessary to garrison every major town. In 1777 Lord Howe attempted to do so on a limited basis. George Washington immediately reacted. Washington knew he could not confront the whole British Army, but he could overwhelm the regimental size garrisons Howe was positioning in the central states. The midwinter victories at the New Jersey towns of Trenton and Princeton confirmed this and put Howe on the defensive. Howe had to withdraw all of his garrisons and retire to fortified New York. The genius of Washington was that he recognized this all important fact. To win the war, all he needed to do was to keep the Continental Army intact. This was England's third violation of the doctrine of war -- "ALWAYS HAVE CLEAR OBJECTIVES."

The British leadership could never accept the concept of the citizen soldier. Armies that would mobilize at a moment's notice, fight a necessary battle then disperse. To the contrary, up until the final defeat of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, the British anticipated massive uprisings on the part of an alleged large 'loyal' portion of the population. It never happened. This was England's fourth violation of the doctrine of war -- "KNOW YOUR ALLIES."

After the victory of the American Army over Burgoyne at Saratoga, France and Spain formally entered the war. The Revolution thusly became a global conflict, with battles being waged as far away as India. This prevented the British from concentrating all of their might against America. This was their fifth violation of the doctrine of war -- "DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE RESERVES OR FRIENDS OF YOUR ENEMY."

Lastly, it is often said that the victory attained by our Revolutionary War ancestors was because God favored the American Cause. We still accept that fact and retain "Annuit Coeptis" (i. e. The Eye of Providence) on our National Seal. However, and not surprisingly, our British friends have never embraced this explanation.


(1) Lord Sandwich's speech during the 1775 Fishery Bill debate

(2) The Writings of Benjamin Frank1in, Volume IX, page 261

(3) Histoire de la Marine Francaise pendant 1a Guarre de 1'Independence Americaine, 1877

(4) A State of the Expedition from Canada, As Laid Before the House of Commons, Lt. General John Burgoyne, 1780

(5) Thomas Paine's Common Sense.

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