Old Military Terms and Definitions
from the American Revolution Era
Transcribed by K. Torp
ASSOCIATIONS: When the Revolution began, groups of Americans banded together or "associated" themselves to protest British policies and acts. In some areas, especially in New England, we know these men as "Minutemen". They were ready at a moment's notice to leave their homes and resist British actions. So too, Associators in other colonies were volunteers who swore to protect their homes and liberties by any means.
BRIGADE: A large body of troops, often consisting of two or more regiments
CONTINENTAL LINE: Regular, trained soldiers of the American Continental Army, as distinguished from local or state militia in each colony. During the Revolution, men served in "armies" from their own colonies and owed allegiance to their own colony. After independence was declared in July 1776, the Continental Army was reorganized to serve until the end of the war. Men from various colonies or states served in it, owing allegiance to the central government, rather than to a separate colony. Units of this army were organized into regiments, which made up the line of battle.
DRAGOONS: Heavily-armed cavalrymen who carried heavy sabers and carbines or short muskets. Due to their extra weight of equipment and slower speed, they were used to break through lines of infantry, rather than being used as scouts or reconnaissance troops. Very few units of this type were used by the Americans; however, the British had a number of these dragoon units fighting in America. The German auxiliaries had at least one such organization here in the Revolution.
Mounted troops or dragoons, were the most colorful and dashing of soldiers. However, they were also the most expensive to outfit. Good horses were costly to buy and maintain. Fighting from horseback required specialized equipment. Although the cavalry believed that the saber was the most effective weapon, horsemen needed firing weapons. Many carried pistols in saddle holsters. Others carried a carbine, a short shoulder weapon of smaller caliber than the musket.
Early in the war, dragoons had little impact on the course of the war. They provided communication links over large areas. They sometimes encountered minor skirmishes during the patrolling of the camp perimeter. As the war continued, dragoons took on an increasingly important role in combat. The shock of a cavalry charge often proved decisive in gaining a victory.
FLYING CAMP: In early 1776, it was deemed necessary by the Americans to have a special mobile unit of soldiers able to move swiftly and in a short time. Ten thousand men were to be supplied from the colonies of Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania to make up this organization. In the New York campaign of August-November 1776 the Flying Camp suffered many losses in battle and were disbanded at the end of the year.
FUSILIERS: These were light infantry troops armed with lightweight muskets or fusils. They ere popular in all European armies of the day and used used in America by the British, French and Germans. It is not certain if such units were used by the Americans.
GRENADIERS: These were popular units in European armies of the 18th century. Strong, large-sized men were assembled into units and trained to throw grenades. Distinctive members of an elite corps whose men were chosen for their impressive size. Many grenadier units were active in America in the British, French and German armies. A very few grenadier organizations may have also been in the American army during the war.
HUSSARS: These were light cavalry troops used by many European armies of the 18th century. They usually wore bright colored uniforms and considered elite troops, often being assigned special duties. Both the British and French used hussars in America during the Revolution.
LEGION: A self-sufficient organization composed of both cavalry and infantry. These were used by the British and Loyalists during the Revolution, and also by the French. After the war, "Mad Anthony" Wayne organized Legions to strike at the Indians in the Ohio Valley in the late 18th century.
LIGHT INFANTRY: Agile men, lightly armed, were needed by all armies as scouts and skirmishers, so light infantry troops were organized. The British, Germans and Americans all made use of this type of unit, often using them for special raiding expeditions.
MILITIA: Part-time soldiers, subject to colonial (state) authority, they sometimes fought with the Continental or standing army in battles such as Camden, Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse. During the Revolution, able-bodied men were required to belong to the militia or "home guard" defense force. They were to be used only for local duty, but small numbers were called up from time to time to go elsewhere for special duty. When the Flying Camp was organized in early 1776, great numbers of the militia were ordered out. From those militia, the Flying Camp was organized and the rest of the militia sent home.
RANGERS: To guard the frontiers of the colonies against Indians and British, special scouting or "ranging" organizations were formed from the militia. Many such units were active in Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as a few in other colonies. While on scouting and spying duties against the enemy, many rangers were carefully disguised as Indians.
STATE LINE: Each colony or state had its own army of men organized into regiments for a line of battle. Such organizations were raised, equipped and paid by the individual colonies or states. These armies took their name from their respective states. Akin to the present-day National Guard....
The above terms refer to the armies, but there were also navies and marines from the individual states. Few colonies had marines, the majority being Continental troops. The navies were very often colonial or state, or they could be Continental also.
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©2007 Kim Torp, Genealogy Trails