The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Regular army or militia


If you look at the American Revolution as a People’s Revolutionary War, the revolutionaries had two military tools –the militia and the continental army.  Both served important political purposes.  The continental army forced the British to keep most of their forces consolidated thus limiting their mobility and ability to control ground.  They also represented a conventional military capability that won international allies. The militia controlled all the ground where the British regulars were not physically present and thus ensured revolutionary political domination of the colonies.

Which of the two roles was more important?  Could one have been successful without the other?  Was it impossible for the British to be successful politically, given the problems and limitations of 18th Century military power?

February 2, 2010 - Posted by | H300 | , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. The Continentail Army vs the Militia. Which one was most important during the American Revolutionary? Both the Army and Militia relied upon each other with equal value. Both the Army and Militia brought a unique style of fighting to the battlefield, which Washington utilized. Additionally, I believe that Washington utilized the Militia becasue he realized that Congress nor the states could support his ideal Continential Army.

    Comment by Gaussoin | February 3, 2009

  2. Washington didn’t have an option. The militia was key to keeping the British forces split. They had to address the southern rebelion.

    Comment by OBrien | February 3, 2009

  3. I think the militia had the most important role. The militia consisted of “regular” folks, the farmers, the everyday guys. They appeared to have more reasons or emotion to fight thus had a political stake in the successes of the revolution.
    Drew Maddry

    Comment by MAJ Drew Maddry | February 3, 2009

  4. The Militia was vital to the success of the American Revolutionary. The Militia brought concealment and evasion. The militia could choose when to attack, to include the time and place by ambush. The Militia was able to assist the Army in emergency situations near their homes.

    Comment by Brad Burns | February 3, 2009

  5. I think that militia had the most important role. First the militia had the most to lose/gain by being involved in the fight. They were the “normal guys”. They were face of the common individual. They also had the advantage blending into the landscape. Politically speaking, I would imagine they were the face of the revolution.
    Drew Maddry

    Comment by MAJ Drew Maddry | February 3, 2009

  6. While the militia played an extremely important role in the American Revolution; I believe that the Continental Army would have eventually been able to defeat the British. I base this assumption upon the fact that while the British was larger and better trained, they would still have been limited to their logistical points, whereas the Continental Army would have had more success at quartering with citizens thereby extending their sphere of influence.

    Comment by White | February 3, 2009

  7. Sir,
    It appears that some of the comments aren’t posting. Shawn Obrien, Brad Burns, Josh White all posted but it is not appearing.
    MAJ Drew Maddry

    Comment by MAJ Drew Maddry | February 3, 2009

  8. The militia caused the British to split their forces. They couldn’t mass their efforts on Washington. They were key to the ultimate victory.

    Comment by Obrien | February 3, 2009

  9. I believe it was the ability of the militia to challenge the British Army by confronting them with tactics they (the British) were not prepared to counter. This is not much different than environment in Iraq from 2004 to 2007 between Coalition forces and the insurgents. Insurgents used tactics that US Forces had not traditionally trained or prepared for prior to then. Training in the US Military prior to then was focused on large battles between national forces not small guerilla tactics. That is not to say that there was absolutely no experience or training done on this type of warfare just that it wasn’t as high a priority as it is in todays army.

    Comment by MAJ Richard Wolf | February 3, 2009

  10. All good comments and thanks for partipating!

    Admin Note: Right now the discussion is regulated –that means your comments don’t get posted until after I review them –usually within 24 hours. I’m inclided to remove this feature. Let me know what you think.

    New Question: Since many think the militia was the key to the success of the American Revolution, how should that influence our strategic thinking about current operations in Iraq or Afghanistan?

    Comment by dimarcola | February 3, 2009

  11. Within the strategic context of the late 18th century a strategy developed by the British would have approached the issues in the 13 Colonies using mostly the military arm of national power due to the diplomatic and economic concessions already already given to the colonials, i.e. lower taxes. Therefore a pure political approach was not a legitimate way to resolve the problem.
    Since the militia and Continental Army had a symbiotic relationship in the Americans success, I do not believe that one could have been successful without the other. However, I also believe that since there was limited coordination between the militia leaders and George Washington that these two military arms could have been disassociated with aggressive British information operations. This would have been the best way to affect the 40% of the population who were neutral and just wanted security. In order to discredit and isolate the militia it would have been more beneficial to remain in the urban areas and focus combat power when necessary on Continental Army formations. Realizing that complete occupation was difficult the British could focus their efforts in the NE rather than stretching south of Virginia and working north.
    A risk benefit analysis will tell you that British loss/draw on the battlefield would severely damage their credibility so this type of engagement should have been approached with complete destruction of the American forces as the objective. Since fiscal constraints would not allow a protracted campaign the ability for the British to exploit tactical success on the battlefield by targeting key military and political leaders in America would have also been essential to the military operation.

    Comment by Vinny Ciuccoli | February 3, 2009

  12. How can one objectively discern if the militia or the continental army was more important than the other? Although these two institutions differed with each other regarding the basic issues of political philosophy and military strategy, it seems apparent that the success of the revolutionary war was a result of the joint effort executed by both organizations.
    Obviously, the militia were well known for their tactical abilities to forage, ambush, harass, and exhaust British troops. However, from a strategic perspective, the rebel militia was a prevalent body that could enforce their authority and sphere of influence in vast areas of the American countryside where the British Army could not due to their finite number of troops that could only be employed in limited areas among all the colonies. In addition, the militia served as an inexhaustible reservoir of rebel military manpower that augmented regular forces’ operations. Lastly, didn’t the Continental Army of 1775 gain its origins from the New England Militia?
    On the other hand, it was through the tactical successes of the Continental Army, (although initially limited as they were) that the rebel colonies were able to gain a strategic advantage over the British. It was the conventional military actions of the Continental Army that caught the eye of foreign nations (namely France) and so instead of being viewed as a political liability, the colonial rebellion gained foreign aid, public support, and diplomatic legitimacy among European allies that they so desperately needed in order to achieve lawful independence.
    We often read about the strategic successes of “compound warfare” being conducted against a superior nation. I believe this case in point regarding the actions of the Continental Army working in conjunction with the Rebel Militia helps reinforce the concept that compound warfare can achieve victory even though two distinct parties may be at odds with one another.

    Comment by MAJ Lance A. Okamura | February 4, 2009

  13. I would say that Iraq and Afghanistan are totally different situations. I believe that most Iraqi’s want a successful Iraq. The majority of the insurgents there are from the outside. The stabilization in Iraq is a direct result of the Iraqi Government being able to provide for the basic needs of the citizens. In Afghanistan a lot of the fighters are foreign fighters. I don’t believe the citizenry of Afghanistan wants the Taliban there. However, they will accept whoever can provide for their basic needs. If the government of Afghanistan can extend influence over the country it could win. However, that is a huge challenge, because unlike Iraq, they lack an infrastructure. Ultimately we need to defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan.

    Comment by Obrien | February 4, 2009

  14. Excellent comment on compound warfare. See the CSI pub on this subject if you want more information. Its at:

    Click to access compound_warfare.pdf

    Is compoound warfare a tool of the insurgent or counterinsurgent? If you are the U.S. in Afghanistan how would you employ the concept of compound warfare?

    Comment by dimarcola | February 4, 2009

  15. Compound warfare is generally a tool of the insurgent, but as the U.S. found out in Iraq and is finding out in Afghanistan it can be used effectively by the counterinsurgent. The U.S. had to change tactics to turn the corner on the insurgency in Iraq by sending in more conventional U.S. forces and working in concert with the Iraqi National Guard, who provided the irregular force that could put the local face on the counterinsurgency. This is the same tactic that the U.S. is planning on trying in Afghanistan with the Afghan National Army, but as was stated before the lack of infrastructure in the country will make it more difficult than it was in Iraq.

    Comment by Damon LaCour | February 9, 2009

  16. In the past we have seen compound warfare used by insurgent forces such as the Continental Army and the militia. However, in today’s environment we have seen compound warfare become more of a tool of the counter insurgent. This is validated by our current and anticipated operation in Iraq and Afghanistan where we see compound warfare employed on a daily basis. Through close coordination with local militias we were able to capture local superiority in Iraqi regions that had become accustomed to fierce conflict. It can even be argued that our current success is directly tied to our ability to effectively utilize irregular forces.

    Comment by CW4 Rick Myers | February 11, 2009

  17. There exists a common corellary between each of roles. One is directly dependent, propotionate, or inexorably intertwined with the other. Just as one could make a valid argument that this was more of a civil war then a true “revolutionary war” congruent with the last 70 years of thought and philosphy on the ocmposisition and disposition of “revolutionary war”.
    According to Shy, John, and Thomas Collier. “Revoultionary War.” In MoMS: “refers to the seizure of political power by th use of armed force…the term has other connotations: that the seizure of power is by a popular or broad-based political movement,that the seizure entails a fairly long period of armed conflict, and that power is seized in order to carry out a well-advised political or social program. The term also implies a high degree of consciousness about goals and methods, a consciousness that {revolutionary} war is beihg fought.”
    The militias served to provide lines of communication for the regular army and at times fight the smaller skirmeshes, more importantly though, they formed the nucleaus or center of gravity (if you will) for the broad-based political movement that a revolutionary war must feed from in order to glean the true credence needed to to enable longevity. Furthermore, They provided the guerrilla aspect of warefare that is ever-present in revolutionary wars.
    During our revolution both the sides tried “seriously make and effort to keep warfare within the conventional forms and limits.” Thus, we still had the conventional wisdom of seeking the decisive operation of battle if you will; hence, the Regualr Army afforded the cahnce to fight and win in the conventional formats of the era.

    Comment by MAJ Gordon D. Harrington | February 17, 2009

  18. Sorry, accidently hit send prior to both spell checking and finishing.
    Both the Militia and the regualr Army worked in unison as a synchromesh gear in a transmission does.
    Compound warefare is normally a tool of the insurgent but why? Our doctirne is a living thing developed to always focus growth potential. Our forces will eclectically garner what works for them in the same mode over a broad base…know your enemy both stategically and tactically…lauch counter-measures. Insurgency is protracted warfare. We can aptly apply TTPs within our own ROE.

    Comment by MAJ Gordon D. Harrington | February 17, 2009

  19. To answer whether or not the British could have been successful implies the requirement to define success for them. In the end, they were unable to prevent the U.S. from declaring its independence from British rule. Although it is easy to label the outcome of the war as “unsuccessful,” history has shown how the release of the U.S. from British rule led to the development of the current sole world superpower…and Great Britain’s closest ally. In the interim, our countries have fought and won two world wars together, worked together to deter the expansion of the Soviet Union and, more recently, colluded in the effort to assist the Iraqi people with establishing “good government” for themselves.

    Of course, it would have been impossible for the British to know how the future would turn out, but I would argue that the most powerful country in the world at the time could likely have succeeded in maintaining the American colonies as a British territory if they had decided it was important enough. Based on their over-extension around the globe and continuing financial pressures, they were unable to devote the resources and manpower necessary to subdue the Americans.

    This same problem faces the U.S. currently in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Defining success also implies a determination of the level of investment we are willing to make in these countries. Despite the amazing progress we have made in Iraq, most agree the security environment there is still tenuous. The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan calls into question our level of commitment there. At the same time as we continue to prosecute operations in these two countries, our economy is sputtering and additional threats continue to develop around the globe. So the question we face in the Middle East is the same one facing the British in the 18th century. What is it worth to us?

    Comment by Maj Randy Oakland | February 18, 2009

  20. My point of view about employ the concept of compound warfare in Afghanistan by the US military forces does not apply at the current time because at this moment we are not facing a real conventional force in Afghanistan, so far this line of operation is not the priority. We should concentrate efforts in the conquest of the populace support by develop an infrastructure that provide better conditions of life (education, electricity, water services, civil security, economic development). This will take time a lot of economic support. At the same time, COIN should be used against the line of operation that leads with the guerrilla, sanctuaries have to be identify and eliminated, all external support have to be terminated. All this strategies will need a lot of resources and time and something that we cannot forget is the support of the US populace during this process, the drain of $$$$$ and blood in Afghanistan will have a social and political impact that can influence the outcome of this situation.

    Comment by MAJ Jose A. Nieves | February 19, 2009

  21. I love that when discussing the unconventional American forces of the 19th century you all (I mean the Americans amongst you) refer to the ‘militia’ however when writing about unconventional forces in Iraq and Afghanistan you all write about the ‘insurgents’. It really says a lot about your collective perspective of who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’. If you chose to reflect on that it might give you a little more insight into the mental model of our enemies abroad.

    Personally I think you are all insurgents!

    Comment by Maj S E A Cates British Army | February 14, 2010

  22. Ooops…I meant 18th century…

    Comment by Maj S E A Cates British Army | February 14, 2010

  23. I believe the militia played a more important role in the American Revolution. The British obviously knew how to fight a traditional army. The militia posed a threat that the British were unsure about how to fight. Guerilla tactics enabled the militia forces to “blend in” just as we have seen the enemy do in Iraq and Afghanistan. The continental army and the militia were mutually supporting and I do not think either could have been successful without the other. The militia forced the British to tread into areas it might otherwise not have allowing the continental army to more easily face the British.

    Comment by Jason Taylor 17B | February 21, 2010

  24. I think the militia played the most important role during the American Revolution. The militia served as a force multiplier for the continental army. They were located in every population center in the colonies and could attack, harass, and disrupt British forces anywhere they chose. The continental army and the militia could not have been successful without one another. They were able to force the British to have to combat a conventional and an irregular threat at the same time. If the Americans only had a continental army or just a militia, I think the British would have prevailed and quelled the uprising. I think it was unfeasible for the British to be successful politically because they were not able to bring all the traditionally accepted elements of national power to bear against the Americans. In order to be successful they needed to be able to effectively use diplomatic, information and economic means along with the military in order to sway the opinion of the American people to their side.

    Comment by MAJ Sharon Lyght | March 10, 2010

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