The Grievances of the Colonists

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Student Question

Compare the strengths and weaknesses of the British and colonial armies.

Quick answer:

The key strengths of the British army were that it was professionalized, better trained, and had the full power of the British government behind it, along with the British navy. However, the British were also fighting a war across the ocean and in unfamiliar terrain. The colonists, meanwhile, had a far greater ability to use the terrain and environment to their advantage, being familiar with it. Finally, remember that the colonials did have allies and were not fighting Britain alone.

Expert Answers

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In any conventional military struggle, the British army would have had a powerful advantage over the colonials during the Revolutionary War. The British army was better trained and supplied, being a professional army with the full financial power of the British government behind it. In addition, do not discount Britain's own ability to hire and make use of mercenaries to augment their military forces.

Finally, note that the British army had the support of the British navy, the most powerful navy in the world at its time. However, with all this having been stated, you should remember that one of the American Revolution's critical turning points was the entry of France. Once the war had been transformed from a strictly colonial struggle between Britain and its colonies into a European conflict, this military calculus changed drastically.

At the same time, the colonial army had advantages as well. Probably the most important was a factor of distance. The British had to prosecute a war across the Atlantic, and its soldiers were unused to the terrain and geography found in the colonies (which was drastically different compared to that of Britain and Western Europe).

As if this was not enough, the colonials exploited these advantages through the use of unconventional military tactics (consider their employment of ambushes). Furthermore, while they lacked the training of the British army, they did have European sympathizers who were able to provide expertise and training to mitigate some of this disadvantage. One should not underestimate the contributions of European allies such as von Steuben or Lafayette in aiding the Revolution.

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