Military records for the American Revolution come from three main sources: state veterans’ lists which date to the early 19th century, federal veterans’ pension applications dating to 1832, and the records of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Consequently it is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of American soldiers who fought during the American Revolution. Approximately 175,000 men served as soldiers, including five thousand free black men and slaves.
Colonial militias and the Continental Army constituted the two main branches of military service. Colonial militias generally required service of every male between the ages of 16 and 60. There were exceptions made for clergy and college students, among others, but the colonial militias provided the largest force of soldiers during the war. Militiamen were able to live at home most of the time during the war and were generally only called into action when there were battles in their home regions. As the war progressed, many militiamen, concerned about their families and farms were reluctant to sign on for long periods of service. Some, including General George Washington, believed that militiamen were less disciplined, hardened, and professional than soldiers should be. Despite concerns, the militias served an important role in the Revolutionary War. In June of 1775, the Continental Congress established a standing professional army, the American Continental Army. Continental soldiers enlisted for terms of service ranging from one year initially to the later duration of the war. On average, Continental soldiers were younger, under 20 years of age, and poorer than their militia counterparts. The middle and upper classes generally avoided service in the Continental Army by paying substitutes to enlist for them. Baron Von Steuben helped bring discipline and skills to the Continental Army and it became an effective fighting force. For some soldiers, even the harsh discipline and lack of resources of Army life were preferable to their lives at home. Although often delayed, soldiers of the Continental Army at least received pay. As the war progressed, many colonial governments drafted men to serve in the militia or the Continental Army.
Soldiers had to endure harsh conditions during the war. They were often not given enough clothing or food and medical care was minimal. Many soldiers died of disease. The harsh conditions and brutality of battle prompted many soldiers to desert.
What were some of the conditions faced by soldiers in the American Revolution and how did they respond to them?
Check for Understanding
Choose one of the names on the payroll list and write a letter home describing your life as a soldier in Captain Varick’s Company using information provided in the entry.