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Historical Insights Serving in the American Revolution

Initially General George Washington hoped to build a traditional army, but as leaders scrambled to train and supply the troops, his plans changed. He relied on unconventional tactics like surprise attacks and retreats, which allowed his army to defeat the British. June 17, 1775, Charlestown, Massachusetts. Credit: PhotoQuest/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Serving in the American Revolution

Those serving in the Continental Army during the American Revolution proved that true dedication to a cause was more powerful than the world’s strongest military.

“The time is now near…” wrote Commander-in-Chief George Washington, which will “…determine whether Americans are to be Freemen or Slaves.” Over the course of the Revolutionary War, as many as 400,000 men from the ages of 16 to 60 fought against the British—about 25,000 gave their lives. Basic training was short, rations inadequate, and pay was poor. Some enlisted out of patriotism, some joined for the adventure, and others were drafted. Length of service varied from a few months to the duration of the war. Leaders like Washington soon discovered that instilling discipline and keeping an army of volunteers on the battlefield and off the wheat field (many soldiers were farmers who returned home during harvests without permission) was no easy feat. Despite all the obstacles, the colonists’ sheer dedication to the revolutionary cause enabled them to defeat the world’s most powerful military in five years.