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Morrisette 1 Gordon Morrisette Professor Gardner The History of Counterinsurgency 8 May 2011 Counterinsurgency by the British in the Revolutionary

War Any examination of British counterinsurgency during the American Revolutionary war runs into a key conceptual problem. Counterinsurgency is an anachronistic term, which was not coined until 1962.1 This calls into question the practicality of any analysis of the idea of counterinsurgency during an era in which the principal participants lacked the ability to formulate their conceptions in its terms. While Britain's military may have lacked the diction necessary to explain their strategy in the exact terms of counterinsurgency, it is clear that the military leaders, from the ground all the way up to King George III, understood and acknowledged the need to apply its basic principles. They framed the war's objectives in terms of political goals and sought to restore the loyalty of the colonies by simultaneously defeating the Continental army and winning hearts and minds of the populace. The British objective during the Revolutionary War was political in nature. They did not seek to conquer land or pacify the population, but rather sought to return the colonies to their original loyalty.2 In 1775, King George III wrote that the purpose of any campaign was to restore British government [and] to call forth those who may have a sense of duty to their mother country.3 Thus British strategy not only aimed at defeat the Continental Army, but also
1 On the coining for the term counterinsurgency by General Samuel Wilson, see his interview at Steven Pressfield, General Sam V. Wilson, Steven Pressfield Online (blog), July 9, 2010 <>. 2 Jeremy Black, British Military Strategy, Strategy in the American War for Independence: A Global Approach (New York: Routledge, 2010) p 58. 3 Paul H. Smith, Loyalists and Redcoats (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1964) p 58.

Morrisette 2 attempted to achieve a political resolution. The British goals in the American War for Independence demonstrated that, just as Clausewitz posited, war is the continuation of politics by other mean.4 British military strategy was crafted in light of the political objective of restoring loyalty. This meant strategy included military as well as political options for accomplishing the goal. For instance, the Howe brothers were given instructions to negotiate as well as fight.5 Their meeting with Congress in 1775 and the Carlisle Peace Commission both demonstrated that British strategy did not treat war as an end unto itself, but rather a means to achieve a political end by forcing a favorable peace. By late 1775, in response to the Battle of Bunker Hill, there was a general acknowledgment amongst Britain's top military planners that they lacked the manpower necessary to control the vast territory of the colonies. In order to defeat the Whigs and restore peace and stability the British needed more men. British leaders hoped to augment their forces with European mercenaries and loyal colonists formed into provincial militias to solve their manpower shortage. King George III first turned to Catherine the Great of Russia for more troops, but she declined his request. Britain's need for manpower needs was eventually filled by German principalities, which hired out conscripts and volunteers to serve as auxiliaries. While traditional historians tended to gloss over or even ignore the Hessians' contributions to the Revolutionary War, new research indicates that they played an important role in military operations and were well respected by the British. The diary of one of the Hessian commanders in New Jersey records that Cornwallis declared one Hessian soldier was worth ten rebels and he even supplied the German auxiliaries with uniforms at his own personal expense.6
4 Massimo La Torre, Law as Institution: Normative Language Between Power and Values (London, Springer, 2007) p 217. 5 Black, p 59. 6 Gregory D. Bereiter, Campaigning in America: Captain Johann Ewald's Hessians in the American Revolution,

Morrisette 3 The use of Hessian troops, however, ended up alienating many Tory supporters of the war who believed that the disagreement with Britain was a family affair that should be settled internally.7 Lord Catham, a senior British official, recognized that foreign troops had the dangerous potential to unify the resistance when he declared, If I were an American, as I am and Englishman, while a foreign troop was in my country, I would never lay down my arms; never, never, never.8 In the colonies, Richard Henry Lee from Virginia urged resistance and independence since Britain threatened its subjects with danger and Slavery. And this, not with her single force, but with the aid of Foreigners.9 Since most of the Hessian troops were unable to understand the colonists' language, there was always the potential they would be unable to distinguish between Tory and Whig. In discussing the occupation of Staten Island, one Hessian officer wrote that while the loyal occupants claim to have nothing in common with the rebels . . . [they] are basically the same.10 Britain's reliance on nearly thirty thousand Hessian soldiers11 ended up undermining its political goal of restoring loyalty amongst the colonists. It was envisioned that British regulars and Hessians would drive the Continental army from a given territory and local leaders would then raise loyalist militias to maintain stability in the region as the regulars moved off to clear further territory. King George III outlined the principles of this campaign strategy in a letter to his ministers from October 1775: . . . leave a battalion of provincials formed from the back settlers under the

7 8 9 10 11

Illinois Wesleyan University, 2001, < article=1001&context=history_honproj>. Ibid. Michael Lee Lanning, The American Revolution 100 (Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2009) p. 135. Rodney Atwood, The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980) p. 31. Phillip Papas, That Ever Loyal Island: Staten island and the American Revolution (New York: New York University Press, 2007) p. 91. Bereiter.

Morrisette 4 command of the governor to collect such men as may be willing to serve in the British troops in America . . . Provincial corps may be left for the protection of the civil magistrates. . .12 It is clear that the highest echelons of the British military primarily saw the loyalist militias as a means of freeing up Redcoats for battle against the Continental Army. These provincial corps would strengthen local government and protect it from being undermined by the Whigs, thus allowing the regulars to perform tasks they were better suited for. Even in Canada, however, the British had difficulty turning this strategy into reality. When Guy Carleton, the governor of Canada, attempted to form a loyalist militias from the occupants of Quebec, within two months it had been reduced by desertion from eight-hundred men to thirty.13 This meant British regulars and nationals had to be kept in Canada and were unable to reinforce General Burgoyne's march south that ended in the disastrous Battle of Saratoga. Part of the reason Governor Carleton had such difficulty raising militia troops was that the Whigs had a major advantage over the Tories in the struggle for the loyalty, or at the very least acquiescence, of the general population. Although the first shots of the War for Independence were not fired until the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the struggle for the hearts and minds of the colonists began with the formation of Committees of Correspondence as early as 1772. These Committees of Correspondence went on to establish Committees of Safety in each colony that had the responsibility of enforcing boycotts against British goods. While these committees had no legal authority, they were able to compel people into following their stringent rules through a combination of social pressure and terrorist actions.
12 Smith, p 22. 13 Paul David Nelson, General Sir Guy Carleont, Lord Dorchester: Soldier-Statesman of Early British Canada (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 2000) p 119.

Morrisette 5 Each Committee of Safety was locally established giving them a great advantage over the external British since they had better intelligence regarding the true nature of the colonies. These Committees of Safety expanded and reprised their roles eventually becoming parallel governments that undermined the authority of the Royal government. Throughout the colonies, the Committees of Safety managed to scare Tories into submission through their drastic tactics. One loyalist from Massachusetts, a lady by the name Ann Hulton, wrote a friend to describe the cruelties one Committee had reportedly perpetrated in order to set an example. Hulton writes that the Committee [in Maine] had sentenced a Man to be buried alive for wishing success to the Kings Troops, & that the sentence had been executed upon him.14 Some might argue that the mention of such an event in a letter is not enough evidence to prove it actually took place. This objection is strengthened by the fact Lady that Hulton is in Massachusettes, but she is reporting an event which occurred in the Kennebec River Valley of Maine. Since Miss Hulton was separated by over three hundred miles from the event she records, the objective historian can not rely on Miss Hulton's letter as a statement of historical fact. Her letter does, however, speak to the impact the Committees of Safety had on the perception of the populace. In this situation their opinions of the facts are more important that reality itself. If Tories believed they could be buried alive for even speaking what they believed, it is doubtful a Whig would have disabused them of such a notion since such a belief could serve a valuable political end. One of the much more traditional methods of attacking Tories was to tar and feather them, then force them to ride the rail. This entailed the Loyalist being carried through the

14 Catherine S. Crary, The Price of Loyalty: Tory Writings from the Revolutionary Era (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1973) p 57.

Morrisette 6 street on a narrow, triangular rail after he was dipped in boiling tar and coated in feathers. This was incredibly painful and the riding of the rail was intended to inflict excruciating pain on the genitals since the entire weight of the body was brought to bear on that location.15 One Tory newspaper told how a loyalist was carried around his parish on a rail and that when later examined by a doctor he was found to be injured in a Manner unfit for Description in a Newspaper.16 This painful and humiliating punishment was highly effective at preventing Loyalists from speaking out. In a letter to George Washington's secretary, a citizen in New York commented on the effectiveness of the Tory rides at suppressing loyalist support: We had some Grand Toory Rides in this City this week & in particular yesterday. Several of them were handeld verry Roughly Being Carried thrugh the streets on Rails . . . There is hardly a toory face to be seen this morning. . . . The Committees of Safety were highly effective at preventing Tory support for the British army by demonstrating Britain was unable to maintain population security. The extreme tactics utilized by the Committees of Safety did lead to some blow-back amongst the local Tory population. Every Tory reacted differently to the pressure; some loyalists joined the patriots under duress, others pretended to and switched allegiance to the King at the first opportunity, while still others were turned into vindictive Tories by the treatment they received at the hands of the rebels. An excellent example of the latter, is Thomas Brown who was tarred and feathered in Augusta, Georgia in August of 1775. Brown was treated very roughly by the Whigs who accidentally burned his feet so badly he lost several toes. He took his revenge by escaping and forming the Florida Rangers, which harried the settlements in

15 John Stephen Farmer, Americanisms Old And New (London: Thomas Poulter & Sons, 1889) 448. 16 Crary, p 57.

Morrisette 7 the area. In 1780, when the Florida Rangers managed to seize Augusta, Brown treated the patriots with great cruelty.17 The British to accomplish their political goal of returning the colonists to their previous loyalty because they were unable to provide them with adequate security. The Committees of Safety were able to easily threaten and intimidate supporters of Loyalists. This led the largest segment of the population, those who just wanted peace, to tacitly support the rebels for the majority of the war since it appeared the Whigs could best provide security. Janet Shaw, a Scottish visitor to a Loyalist plantation in Wilmington, North Carolina, describes how the Committee of Safety convinced colonists to join the militia: An officer or committeeman enters a plantation with his posse. The Alternative is proposed: Agree to join us, and your persons and properties are safe; you have a schilling sterling a day; your duty is nor more than once a month appearing under Arms and Wilmingtown, which will prove only a merry-making, where you will have as much grog as you can drink. But if you refuse, we are directly to cut up your corn, shoot your pigs, burn your houses, seize your negroes and perhaps tar and feather yourself.18 It is clear that most individuals would choose the former and at least acquiesce the the committeeman's demands. If a loyalist was to stand on his principles, the Committee would turn him into a painful example and this would dissuade any other Loyalist from acting in a similar vein. Kilcullen noted, in Counterinsurgency, that the majority of the population does not care

17 Crary, p 64-65. 18 Crary, p 61.

Morrisette 8 who provides them government, but will simply support whichever group provides them with the best security. In June, 1775, The Committee of Correspondence from Easthampton, Long Island had the citizens of its town sign the Association Test,19 whereby they solemnly swore to oppose the Hostile Proceedings of the British Fleets, and Armies, against the United American Colonies to the utmost of their power and at any risk to their lives.20 It is reported by the Committee that every adult male of Easthampton signed the Association. In September, 1776, after the British had seized New York, a counter oath was administered in the town and was signed by 150 citizens, of which 117 had also signed the original pledge.21 The fact one hundred seventeen of those supporting Britain had previously pledged to oppose Britain at any risk to their lives, demonstrates the variable nature of political loyalties. The vast majority of the population simply sought stability and peace and were willing to support whichever ruler best offered them it. These moderates merely wanted the conflict to pass them by and would adjust to either victor. While the majority of the population was composed of moderates, there were those on both sides who would adamantly refuse to support the opposition. In New Hampshire, the Committee of Safety, through its local committees, offered the Association Test to 8,567 people, but seven hundred eighty-one refused to sign.22 These loyalists often fled their homes for Canada or Florida and were able to greatly influence British policy through the promise of their potential support. In September 1775, the Governor of North Carolina wrote home to Britain promising thousands of Loyalists that would rise up as soon as British control was reestablished.
19 Crary, p. 84. 20 Committee of Safety Document. New Hampshire Historical Society, May 11, 2011 <>. 21 Crary, p 84. 22 Crary, p 67.

Morrisette 9 This actually led the Colonial Secretary in King George III's cabinet to order ten thousand stand of arms and six light field pieces for the provincial corps on the hope they would be raised.23 In a fascinating letter from the colonies an anonymous author lays out his plan for restoring British power in New York and in doing so he recognizes some of the key themes of counterinsurgency. The missive was found in a trunk belonging to Earl of Bute, who was the father of Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Stuart. The Earl carried on correspondence with his son, who often included letters and even orders he had received while stationed in America. The anonymous author realizes that a true estimate of loyalist support cannot be made while an area is in the control of the rebels. He writes that the rebels' power, originating in violence and maintained by the Sword, must be subverted, or at least to a certain degree weakened, before the real sense of the country can be taken.24 The author then advocates concentrating force against that portion of the population which is most opposed to the return of Britain's authority. He states, The attempt is not to reduce a country unanimously opposed to [Royal government], but to break the force of a part of the people, who by the impressions of terror have kept the rest in awe and usurped an Arbitrary Government . . .25 The author lays out a population centric approach that is intended to target those moderates and convince them to support Great Britain. In the basic outline of the system he proposes, he breaks the Colonists into four distinct groups. The first of these are the Loyalists, or the avowed friends of the Government, which the British must provide with support and encouragement. The second are the moderates, or the timid and irresolute. The third and
23 Ricardo A. Herrera, The King's Friends: Loyalists in British Strategy (New York: Routledge, 2010) p. 102. 24 Charles Stuart, New Records of the American Revolution (Rutgers University Library) p 64. 25 Ibid.

Morrisette 10 fourth groups are both members of the rebels, but the author draws a distinction between them based on their reasons for supporting the opposition. One group may have joined [the opposition] with a view of obtaining some present benefit or averting present danger. This group must be detached by demonstrating it is against its interests to remain part of the Revolution. The last group is composed of those who truly believe in the principles of the American War for Independence and the author suggests they should be convinced of the error of their ways by emphasizing their closeness with Britain and the advantages of reconciliation over an unnatural alliance with France.26 The anonymous author then points out the advantage of moving into Albany and into closer contact with the population. He recognizes that, Mr. Washington has had great advantage in being in the country and compelling the services of the people under sever penal laws, both to join his Army and to supply it with provisions.27 Since the British were not in close contact with the country it was difficult for them to resupply and levy troops. Lack of a firm British presence also led many loyalist men to enter Washington's army in order to escape danger and prevent the ruin of their families.28 The Whigs attempted to prevent one loyalist from New York, Sir John Johnson, from acting upon his principles by capturing his wife and holding her as a hostage to Albany. A Judge from the area wrote that Sir Johnson's wife was also given to understand that if Sir john appeared in arms against the Americans, retaliation should be made and she should be the object, and her life depended on her husband's action.29 As long as it was the Americans who commanded the countryside, and not the British, it would

26 27 28 29

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Crary, p. 79.

Morrisette 11 be extremely difficult to protect those in the populace who were attached to the Royal Cause.30 General Burgoyne, during his march down the Hudson River valley, began to form provincial corps under him. It is clear from his letter on July 11, 1777, to Lord George Germain, that British strategy had not considered the formation of Tory militias during a campaign and only viewed them as a peace keeping force after its conclusion. Burgoyne writes, Though I am without instructions upon this subject, I have not hesitate to receive [the loyalists] . . .31 He was confident that he would fill up these provincial battalions as the army advanced towards Albany and even commented that while the battalions are now in embryo . . . they have fought, and with spirit.32 Though Burgoyne was still eighty miles from Albany at the time of this letter, he wrote that some hundreds of men, a third part of them with arms, have joined me since I have penetrated this place, professing themselves loyalists, and wishing to serve, some to the end of the war, some for the campaign.33 It seems that Burgoyne was initially in good hopes and planned to use the militias as detachments for keeping the country in awe, and procuring cattle.34 He believed that the true advantage of a loyalist militia, however, lay in its political appeal to the population. Burgoyne declared that the impression of provincial corps on public opinion, when they are seen acting vigorously in the cause of the King, would be highly advantageous and would fully justify the expense.35 In 1777, before his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Saratoga, General Burgoyne appeared quite confident in both the ability and positive political ramifications of his provincial battalions.
30 Stuart, p 64. 31 James Murray Hadden, Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books: A Journal Kept in Canada and Upon Burgoyne's Campaign in 1776 and 1777 (Albany: J. Munsell's Sons, 1884) p. 72 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid.

Morrisette 12 In 1779, however, once Burgoyne was testifying in the House of Commons upon his defeat, an altogether different picture of the loyalist militia emerges. Burgoyne recalled that the Provincial Corps, of which he had two in embryo and several detached parties36 were a tax on his time and patience. The greatest difficulty was in trying to coordinate the actions of the loyalist for each member had his own interests: One man's views went to the profit which he was to enjoy when his corps should be complete; another's, to the protection of the district in which he resided; a third was wholly intent upon revenge against his personal enemies; and all of them were repugnant even to an idea of subordination.37 This made them antithetical to the idea of subordination and prevented them from being used as effective auxiliaries. Burgoyne believed that the Americans had such success since their interests and passions aligned, while those of the Loyalist break and subdivide into various pursuits, with which the cause of the King has little or nothing to do.38 During Burgoyne's march to Saratoga, the Americans managed to whittle down his strength through a form of guerrilla war that attacked and harassed foragers and sentries. Although the word guerrilla did not enter the English language till the Peninsular War of 18081814,39 both the American and the British were familiar with the tactics of the Petite Guerre or Little War. For instance, in 1775 George Washington recommended to one of his officers a field manual titled The Partisan: or the Art of Making War in Detachment by De Jeney.40 By
36 37 38 39 Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Frank Bealey and Allen G. Johnson, Guerrilla Warfare, The Blackwell Dictionary of Political Science: A User's Guide to Its Terms (Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 1999) p. 150. 40 Donald Stroke and Michael W. Jones, Colonial Military Strategy, Strategy in the American War for Independence: A Global Approach (New York: Routledge, 2010) p. 15; James Hosmer Penniman, George Washington as Commander-in-Chief (Philadelphia: J Wanamaker, 1917) p. 17.

Morrisette 13 1776, Washington had decided that his foremost military goal was to maintain an army in the field to serve as political inspiration for the rebellious colonists. This grand strategy forced him to employ the principles of partisan war and focus on harassing British supply lines since he lacked the manpower to match the British in a pitched battle.41 When Burgoyne attempted to cut the colonies in two, General Horatio Gates followed the principles of the Petite Guerre until he had a favorable opportunity to engage in battle. Contrary to popular belief, however, the British adapted their tactics relatively quickly to this new form of war. The Lieutenant James Murray Hadden, who served in Canada with General Carleton and marched south with General Burgoyne's campaign to control the Hudson river, noted in his journal that . . . the enemy, infinitely inferior to the Kings Troops in open space, and hardy combat, is well fitted by disposition and practice, for the strategems and enterprizes of little War [emphasis added] (sic).42 This recognition of partisan warfare led to a change in tactics for the British. For instance, when a general visited an outpost, his men were not to acknowledge his rank by saluting or standing at attention in case they gave him away to a rebel sniper.43 Lieutenant Hadden also stated that, when near the woods, sentries must be placed so they have the advantage of a tree or similar defense to prevent their being taken off by a single marksmen.44 Any adaptation and success on the battlefield, such as in New York and New Jersey, did not necessarily translate into success at achieving the political objectives of the campaign. As the British attempted to reestablish control over conquered territories, the Loyalist
41 Stroke, 15. 42 James Murray Hadden, Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books: A Journal Kept in Canada and Upon Burgoyne's Campaign in 1776 and 1777 (Albany: J. Munsell's Sons, 1884) p. 72 43 Ibid p. 77. 44 Ibid p. 72-73.

Morrisette 14 used British protection as an excuse to settle old scores. This caused increased violence, which prevented the effective restoration of Royal government and a return to loyalty. Frederick Smyth, the Chief Justice of New Jersey, wrote to Colonel Stuart, telling him the effect British violence had on the sympathies of the people: If Congress by the violence and extravagance of their measures has lost any degree of the attachment of the adherents, the conduct of the British Army has by no means improved the affection of American to the British name or British Government.45 British plundering and cruelty often alienated the local populace. In North Carolina, Thomas Sumter had resigned his commission in the Continental Army, but after his home was burned to the ground by a provincial corps he took up took the swamps and raised a militia to fight the British.46 Similarly, Andrew Pickens, a colonel in South Carolina's militia, had lain down his arms and accepted Cornwallis' parole. When his plantation was plundered by the British, however, he considered the terms of his parole violated and began to assemble his men to wage partisan warfare from the swamps and back-country.47 When Royal government and parallel governments established by the Committees of Safety contended for power in contested regions, they both attempted to co-opt the loyalty of the population to insure their legitimacy and material support. This means the most important battles might not be waged on the physical battleground, but might rather be fought in the hearts and minds of the populace. In successful counterinsurgencies, violence is subordinate to political goals, and is a tool used to influence the minds of the general population, affirm the loyalty of supporters and undermine the opposition. British attempts at restoring the colonies to their formal loyalty failed since they were unable to provide safety and security in vast regions
45 Stuart, 93. 46 Louis D. F. Frasche, Problems of Command: Cornwallis, Partisans and Militia, 1780, Military Review, Vol 57 April 1977, p 64. 47 Ibid. p 65.

Morrisette 15 of territory controlled by the Whigs. This meant that the Committees of Safety had free reign and were able to wield their influence uncontested. Even in the areas the British army cleared of the Continental Army, namely New Jersey, New York and the southern theater, they were unable to establish political authority since it was constantly undermined by violent provincial militias and plundering. The British strategy, of utilizing the militia as a peace keeping force to protect the royal government after the regulars moved to a different theater, failed due to the difficulty in raising militias when the population was under the control of the Committees; the violent actions of provincial corps and loyalists in general once British control of an area was reestablished; and the varied and sundry reasons for joining, which prevented many provincial battalions from operating effectively as a unit.

Morrisette 16 Works Cited Atwood, Rodney. The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980). Bealey, Frank and Allen G. Johnson. Guerrilla Warfare. The Blackwell Dictionary of Political Science: A User's Guide to Its Terms (Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 1999). Bereiter, Gregory D. Campaigning in America: Captain Johann Ewald's Hessians in the American Revolution. Illinois Wesleyan University. 2001. < article=1001&context=history_honproj>. Black, Jeremy. British Military Strategy. Strategy in the American War for Independence: A Global Approach (New York: Routledge, 2010). Crary, Catherine S. The Price of Loyalty: Tory Writings from the Revolutionary Era (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1973). Committee of Safety Document. New Hampshire Historical Society. May 11, 2011. <>. Frasche, Louis D. F. Problems of Command: Cornwallis, Partisans and Militia, 1780. Military Review. Vol 57. April 1977. Herrera, Ricardo A. The King's Friends: Loyalists in British Strategy (New York: Routledge, 2010). Lanning, Michael Lee. The American Revolution 100 (Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2009). Nelson, Paul David. General Sir Guy Carleont, Lord Dorchester: Soldier-Statesman of Early British Canada (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 2000).

Morrisette 17 Papas, Phillip. That Ever Loyal Island: Staten island and the American Revolution (New York: New York University Press, 2007). Penniman, James Hosmer. George Washington as Commander-in-Chief (Philadelphia: J Wanamaker, 1917). Pressfield, Steven. Steven Pressfield Online (blog). July 9, 2010 <>. Smith, Paul H. Loyalists and Redcoats (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1964). Stroke, Donald and Michael W. Jones. Colonial Military Strategy. Strategy in the American War for Independence: A Global Approach (New York: Routledge, 2010). Stuart, Charles. New Records of the American Revolution (Rutgers University Library).