The British Army of the 18th-19th Centuries

Hey, guys. Today we are going to focus on one subject: the British army, Hope you enjoy.

Before Napoleon had risen to power (or was even born, for that matter), the British empire was the largest and richest empire in the 18th century. Britain had the biggest navy in the world with an army that was feared worldwide.

The British army was at the time of the American Revolutionary War the most modern, well-equipped, well-trained, and, above all, well-disciplined. Following large military victories and the establishment of the British empire, the British army had fought against the French empire during the French and Indian War. The war had won them massive amounts of territory and also caused much of the world to fear its army even more.


At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the British army suffered a serious setback at the battle of Bunker Hill. Following the battle of Lexington, the American forces occupied the Charlestown peninsula. This presented a danger to British troops in Boston, as the Americans could bring artillery to the peninsula and bombard Boston. 2,500 line troops and some light infantry (troops trained for special tasks) under General William Howe were ordered to attack the ill-defended Breed’s Hill on the peninsula. (Through a mixup in geography, the battle was incorrectly named “Bunker Hill.”) The 1,500 Americans that were on top of Breed’s hill were sharpshooters, dug in behind a defensive line of stone walls and fences they had constructed. The British landed and soon began attacking the hill. The famous order, “Don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes,” given by American commander Israel Putnam, had deadly results. The British were slaughtered. Three times the charged up the hill, and three times they were slaughtered. 1,060 British troops were killed or wounded, but the Americans began to run out of ammunition and soon were forced to retreat. Their losses were 300 captured and 100 killed and wounded.But for most of the war, the British were to win victories.


The British attack Breed’s Hill

Now let’s examine why the British were so effective in battle. The effectiveness of the British soldier was due mainly to his sharp discipline and his training, The British generals commanding the forces were usually lords or dukes. The British soldier was not, however, as many people described “a drunken civilian beaten into a disciplined soldier,” but a civilian with great respect for his commanding officer as well as his country and king. The British system of disciplined volley fire was essential to their victories. The Americans were defeated time and time again, usually due to British strategy and discipline. The British tactic was to get close at a range of 30 to 40 yards. This was accomplished under great battle strain. The Americans would usually fire at 60 to 70 yards, and their fire was insignificant. After firing a volley, the British general or colonel would order a bayonet charge (the British bayonet was so sharp that some soldiers preferred to kill themselves rather than be stabbed), and usually the Americans would be routed. Now that we have examined their discipline, we shall talk about the so-called “massacres” the British committed.


Banastre Tarleton

Today most Americans are taught that the British army committed massacres against the Americans–pillaging, burning, and committing atrocities. This is propaganda and is not true. The British government saw its subjects in the 13 colonies as brethren and knew perfectly that killing and pillaging civilians would only stir up more anger and strife against them, prolonging the war and increasing the death toll on both sides. The one massacre that started all the stories was the battle of Waxhaws, where Banastre Tarleton commanded the British forces. Abraham Buford commanded the American Revolutionaries, and, as you probably guessed, the Americans lost. Tarleton himself rode up to a hundred American prisoners and accepted their surrender, but, all of a sudden, a shot rang out and hit Tarleton’s horse, badly injuring Tarleton In the process. His men were outraged, thinking the Americans were lying about the truce. They began shooting American prisoners, while Tarleton was trapped in under his horse and could not restore order. After the battle, Americans began using this incident as propaganda, calling Tarleton a “murderer” or–more famously–as a “butcher.”

This is all propaganda, yet it is still being taught in American schools and shown in movies and documentaries (most recently, in “The Patriot.”) The reason this is taught in schools and shown in movies is because the victor can rewrite history in his favor. America was the victor, as the British commanding general, Cornwallis, was surrounded at Yorktown and surrendered his men to General George Washington.

That wraps up the discussion, Next time we might discuss the RMS Titanic or Napoleon’s Italian campaign.


5 thoughts on “The British Army of the 18th-19th Centuries

  1. Interesting stuff. *nods*

    How do we know the American history of the British is wrong though? Wouldn’t the British accounts have reason to lie as well? (I mean, who wants to be remembered for atrocities, really… 😛 )


    • It’s fairly easy to do the research into the actual documents of the time (particularly today when you can find things on Google books that are no longer in print). There are NO documented cases of the British burning churches with people inside. The British did stable horses in at least one church to mock the Presbyterians, but that’s as bad as it got. You can read the accounts written by both sides of what happened when Tarleton’s horse was shot out from under him, and you can see he didn’t order his troops to fire upon the Continentals. Wartime propaganda is used by both sides in any war, but after everything has died down and the first-person, eye-witness accounts can be double-checked, you find that the British were committed to an honorable code of conduct. They were highly disciplined, and their commanders urged their troops not to harm “their brethren,” as they referred to the colonists. King George III said the same thing. It would make no sense for the British to abuse people they hoped to bring back under their rule. Did the colonists have genuine grievances with the British? Yes, and their fight was a just one. But the Brits didn’t use atrocities in an attempt to win at all costs. Always best to read as much as possible from both sides and look for hard evidence.


      • Huh. Well, if we’re talking about actual eyewitness accounts and not just British historical records, I guess that can’t really be contradicted.
        So there were American eyewitness accounts, not just British, that back up the point the British weren’t so awful?


      • You can do the research yourself. There are no American eyewitness accounts of British soldiers burning down churches full of civilians or targeting non-combatants. Just plenty of propaganda on both sides to make the enemy look especially evil. That’s what opposing governments do in wartime! Sadly, the Union Army did target civilians and burn down private property during the War Between the States — and there are tons of eyewitness accounts and evidence to back that up. When the evidence is there, it speaks for itself. When it’s not, we have to question the propaganda and try to figure out what the other side wants to convince us of.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s