Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783

By Gabriel, Michael P | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783


Gabriel, Michael P, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783. Mark V. Kwasny. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1996. $35.00.

Although George Washington's major campaigns in the New York City area have been recounted many times, Mark V. Kwasny offers readers an interesting reassessment. Rather than focusing on the principal British and American armies, he places the emphasis on the "swarms of small detachments consisting of militia and regular soldiers maneuvering around the massed formations and creating a swirl of activity through which the armies moved and fought" (xii). In doing so, the author draws attention to yet another aspect of Washington's generalship, that of a partisan commander. Kwasny argues that the general's employment of militia both alone and in conjunction with the Continental Army provided a model for Nathanael Greene's Southern Campaign. Even more importantly, Washington's partisan operations greatly contributed to the ultimate American victory.

Throughout the war, Washington expressed concerns about the militia's reliability and capacity to meet British regulars in open combat because of its short enlistments and limited training. At times he called upon militia to reinforce his army, but preferred to use it in more suitable roles with occasional assistance from Continentals. Militia provided local and coastal defense and raided British lines. The troops also proved to be effective forward skirmishers, shielding Washington's command while bloodying enemy foraging parties. Furthermore, patriot militia cowed loyalists, preventing them from aiding the British effectively, and supported whig governments in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. Such activities freed Continental soldiers to concentrate on the main British Army.

Kwasny partly attributes the militia's success to a flexible system which allowed Washington and other local commanders to call out troops when necessary without going through state officials. …

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