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The Age of George III

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The British Army in America

The British army that was sent to the American colonies comprised regulars fighting for money that was paid mostly in arrears. They had no cause to fight for and many of the men were the dregs of the prisons. The British army was a military machine fighting to the orders of drums; it was inflexible and had few tactics other than ranks, files and squares. Initiative was repressed. The uniforms were highly suitable for European warfare: the men wore bright red jackets with white cross-webbing. This type of uniform was suitable for European warfare but In America they made the troops extremely conspicuous.

Their weapons were becoming outdated; they were certainly inaccurate and had about a 50 yard range. They used Brown Bess muskets with a two feet long bayonet. The men relied on volley fire and finished with bayonet charges. Firing the musket was a long, tedious affair and the officers had to shout up to 60 different loading orders in the right sequence.

Some of the officers left a great deal to be desired. For example, "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne had 60 wagons of personal property including his feather bed, a china dinner service and crystal goblets. The whole of his army had only 40 wagons between them. The British army lacked a knowledge of the terrain, their maps were inaccurate and the officers had little concept of the distances involved in such a vast continent.

The British government had problems in recruiting sufficient men into the army despite the 1778 Catholic Relief Act, so resorted to hiring mercenaries from the German principalities. This was to fight what, ostensibly, was a civil war. One regiment was hired from Hesse; five came from Hanover (George III was still Elector of Hanover); others came from Brunswick and Mecklenberg-Strelitz (from whence the Queen came). There were also Scots, Irish and English regulars. Difficulties soon emerged over language, tactics, customs and co-operation. For example, Christmas was not celebrated in any special way in Britain but it was in the German states.

This army, expected to be victorious in what became the American War of Independence, was very different from the American army of George Washington.


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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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