Professional Army Versus Militia

Professional Army Versus Militia Professional soldiers held notoriously low opinions of the American militiamen. As Daniel Boorstin notes, the American militia was a most unmilitary outfit by European standards. Rarely in the history of the colonies had the militias been trained by professional soldiers. The British, understandably, if unwisely, mocked the colonial militias’ ragtag assemblage. Even General George Washington thought them an undisciplined lot and frowned upon their desire to elect their own officers. Such democratic impulses apparently had no place within the Continental army. It was perhaps the French public who became the American militiamen’s most outspoken supporters. Their long-standing animosity toward the British made them the colonists’ natural allies, and their fascination with America’s frontiersman mythology translated into admiration for the minutemen. The French thought every American was an ace with a musket. Their legendary skill with weaponry was matched in the French mind only by their unbridled patriotism. French writers waxed poetic about the hardships militiamen endured no shoes, ragged clothing, harsh weather, and scarcity of food. France’s own burgeoning republicanism no doubt contributed to the glorification of the American cause and the lengths to which its citizen-soldiers would go to obtain independence. Hardened French soldiers like Lafayette, however, dismissed the militia as only armed peasants who have sometimes fought, and doubted their ability to fight effectively, much less win a war against Britain. For victory, according to Lafayette, the expertise of professional soldiers was required, and the militia would be useful only to make noise, and frighten the enemy. Still, the colonial militia emerged from the Revolution with a legendary reputation.

They had seen considerable action and contributed successfully at the Battle of Saratoga and later at Cowpens. While Army officers on all sides remained reluctant to give much credit for the American victory to the militia, the image of the minutemen, patriots driven by a deep and abiding desire for liberty, endured. The history of the colonial militia remains a complicated one, despite the appealing simplicity of this image. Carole Emberton See also: Bunker Hill, Battle of; Lexington and Concord, Battles of; Military and Diplomatic Affairs (Chronology); Military and Diplomatic Affairs (Essay); Native American-European Conflict; Revolutonary War; War. Bibliography Boorstin, Daniel J. The Americans: The Colonial Experience. New York: Random House, 1958. Murphy, Orville T. “The French Professional Soldier’s Opinion of the American Militia in the War of the Revolution.” Military Affairs 32:4 (February 1969): 191 98. Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the American Revolution. New York: W. W. Norton, 1961. Shy, John W. “A New Look at Colonial Militia.” William & Mary Quarterly 3rd ser. 20:2 (April 1963): 175 85. Whisker, James B. The American Colonial Militia: The New England Militia, 1606 1785. Vol. 2. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997.

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