Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783

By Mayer, Holly A. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783


Mayer, Holly A., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783. By MARK V. KWASNY. Kent, Ohio, and London: Kent State University Press, 1996. xv, 425 pp. $35.00.

THE militia forces that operated during the War for Independence have found a partisan in Mark V. Kwasny. These units, and especially those who served in them, have had many adherents over the past two hundred years to tout their achievements, but they have also had numerous detractors, especially in the last few decades, as historians have hammered away at the image of the temporary citizen-soldier and his reputed effectiveness. Kwasny's evidence and analysis in Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783 ameliorates the rather negative view of the militia that was created when revisionists set out to destroy the enduring American tradition of militiamen winning the war. Without a doubt, the Continental army and the soldiers who served day in and day out for years were essential to victory. Yet, as Kwasny proves in his study of irregular warfare in the middle states, that army would not have been as effective if it had been deprived of the services provided by the militia.

William Livingston, governor of New Jersey, wrote in 1778 that "most of the laurels that have been earned since the commencement of the war, have been gathered by the militia" (p. 194). Kwasny reveals why that was not simply a "politically correct" statement (for a politician of that era) to make. He delves into the dual perception of the militia, then as now, by analyzing both the image of the militia and its employment by civil and military leaders. The contradiction inherent in George Washington's attitude toward and use of the militia plays a great part in this analysis. Washington generally distrusted the militia and did not want to be dependent on it, yet he constantly employed it in the predatory, partisan warfare that convulsed the middle states. This flexibility marked Washington's growth and skill as a leader. It also helps explain how the militia helped define the nature of revolutionary war as well as contributed to its successful implementation in this conflict.

The United States Army today touts itself as "One Army," meaning that its leaders plan and conduct operations to take advantage of all of its facets: the regular army, army reserve, and National Guard units. …

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