Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




This dissertation traces the development of organizational forms and tactical doctrine in the Continental Army, the regular United States armed force in the War of American Independence. It investigates political, ideological, technological, economic, and strategic influences on the decisions made by the Continental Congress, George Washington, and other Army leaders. In the process it places the Continentals in a context of eighteenth century military science.;Individual colonies raised the first troops by drawing on their experiences in earlier wars, especially on the example of short-term Provincials supplementing the militia. Congress assumed national responsibility for the war on 14 June 1775 by establishing the Continental Army. During the next year the Army expanded to include units from every state (plus Canada), controlled by a network of territorial departments and subordinate commands. Administrative, logistical, and disciplinary systems and a staff were adapted from British Army usages.;Combat performance in 1776 convinced a majority in Congress that victory required a basic change of philosophy. It created a large army of infantry, artillery, and cavalry regiments raised for the duration of the war. The infantry regimental organization, first used in 1776, was a native development tailored to American conditions. In conjunction with the 1777 adoption of the excellent French military musket it emphasized the American advantage in individual marksmanship and was superior to British and German regiments in strength, efficiency, and flexibility. as a result of the Trenton campaign Washington introduced permanent tactical brigades capable of limited independent action.;The only significant argument over military policy occurred during the winter of 1777-1778. One element, more militant in its ideology, wished to revert to the ideal of a small regular force backed by the militia. Most Army leaders, including an influential contingent of foreign volunteers, proposed to retain the large army and make it more professional and sophisticated. Congress actually followed a course which came closer to Washington's views. New staff officers and specialists, particularly the Inspector General, and the adoption of a uniform drill dramatically improved the Army's fighting ability. In 1781 the Continentals, with important French aid, won a decisive victory at Yorktown. Washington sustained a high level of training to the end of the war and then disbanded the Army without undermining the political ideals of the Revolution.;The Continental Army triumphed in the War of American Independence because it judiciously blended American experience and new military concepts from Europe, particularly those advanced by French theorists, to create a sophisticated military machine tailored for combat in North America.



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