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The Coercion used in Continental Army - Essay Example

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The Revolutionary War did not go easy on the common soldier. Combat could be ugly-a far cry from the splendid and neat uniforms f caricature-and everyday life harsh and miserable. Why did Americans, Continentals and militia, continue to serve Did they believe in the higher cause Did they fight, like modern soldiers, for their buddies Did they hope for reward, in the form f bounty money or land Or were they, at times, just too scared to quit Harry M…
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The Coercion used in Continental Army
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The Coercion used in Continental Army

Very little scholarly work had been done on military discipline and enforcement in the American army during the Revolutionary War. The neglect is not for lack f source material. Thousands f orderly books, manuals f instruction, court martial transcripts, and other primary sources exist in private collections and in local and national repositories, including the National Archives and the Library f Congress. Most f this material is readily available to researchers, and some f it, most notably in George Washington's papers, has appeared in print. Ward is the first historian to examine the primary sources in depth, however, and he has written a pioneering study f a very important element in the military history f the Revolutionary War.
Washington was no touchy-feely general. As Ward explains, he developed his understanding f military discipline from study and observation f British practices during the French and Indian War. Discipline during that war followed standard eighteenth-century practice. Penalties were cruel--from whipping and riding the wooden horse to public hanging--and intended to terrify rather than to correct. Washington was as enthusiastic as any other officer in applying this discipline, often more so. And in the Revolutionary War, he made tough discipline a centerpiece f his military philosophy. The relatively democratic, easy-going methods common to the New England militia in early 1775 were not for him; and on taking command f the Continental Army later that year, he quickly instilled an authoritarian, hierarchic system that came down hard on everything from cowardice and desertion to foul language, gambling, and female camp followers.
Ward's focus is less on policy formulation than on the effect that Washington's discipline--developed in consultation with Congress and the generals--had on the common soldiers. This emphasis on the average man helps to keep the book far more fresh and exciting than any purely administrative study. At all levels, from officers' guards, pickets, and police, to provost guards, executioners, and field musicians, Ward explores what it meant to live under Continental Army discipline, making use f numerous interesting anecdotes. At times, Ward's tendency to hop from one topic to another makes for haphazard reading, but the narrative, though at times awkwardly written, never loses interest. What is missing is a coherent overall sense f how military discipline evolved during the war, and particularly f how lessons learned during the course f the conflict influenced the development f U.S. Army discipline in succeeding eras. The book lacks a concluding chapter to bring all f the loose ends together, instead ending rather abruptly with a discussion f military executions. Still, there is no question that Ward has written the definitive study f American military discipline during the Revolutionary War.
The inability to adequately equip the troops stemmed from the structure f the Commissary Department, and its adjunct, the Quartermaster Department. Military officers normally headed these departments, but ... Read More
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