American Revolutionary War Generals

American Revolutionary War Generals were selected somewhat differently than they are today.

In modern times a citizen of the United States can attend West Point and over time be given a command. His social position does not qualify or disqualify him. Instead officers in the United States are given command based on ability. Over the course of history that is how many of the officers in the United States came to be. They joined the military because they were poor and rose to become infamous names in American History. Men such as Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Tommy Franks were born into poor families with little social standing and rose to become Major Generals in the United States Army. In the 18th century that was not the case for the British nor the Americans and for much of the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress were prone to promote the rich rather than the talented.

American Officers

Continental Army UniformGeorge Washington was nominated by John Adams to be the Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. He was qualified due to serving in the British army during the French and Indian War and had shown an ability to lead. While he was not born into a particularly wealthy family by the time he was given command of the Continental Army he was the richest planter in Virginia. Washington showed an ability to hand pick talented generals, but he too believed that an officer was to be a gentleman and was to be above reproach and should not associate themselves with the lower class.

This was a common mentality in the United States and it led to certain men being put into positions due to their social standing. Horatio Gates, Charles Lee, and Benjamin Lincoln are just a few names that were put in charge of large armies due to their social standing rather than their ability. Men such as Nathanael Greene, Daniel Morgan, John Stark, and Benedict Arnold were consistently looked over in favor of these men.

During this period officers were not to lead from the back, but from the front. It was a matter of honor and if one fled from the field such as Horatio Gates did at the Battle of Camden, then he was viewed as a coward. This led to many officer deaths. Men such as Richard Montgomery and Johann de Kalb died with their men while leading charges in battle. While death’s to officers happened it was not standard practice. Men were supposed to act as gentlemen during battle and were not to target officers. This was not the case in many battles during the Revolutionary War, especially during guerrilla warfare.

Here is a list of  Major Generals that fought in the Revolutionary War:

  • George Washington
  • Nathanael Greene
  • Daniel Morgan
  • Horatio Gates
  • Henry Knox
  • Benedict Arnold
  • Richard Montgomery
  • Anthony Wayne
  • Benjamin Lincoln
  • John Stark (Became a Major General in 1786)
  • Israel Putnam
  • Marquis de Lafayette
  • Charles Lee
  • William Alexander
  • James Clinton
  • Louis Lebegue Duportail
  • Edward Hand
  • William Heath
  • Robert Howe
  • Johann de Kalb
  • Lachlan McIntosh
  • Alexander McDougall
  • Peter Muhlenberg
  • John Paterson
  • Philip Schuyler
  • William Smallwood
  • Arthur St. Clair
  • Adam Stephen
  • Freidrich Von Steuben
  • John Sullivan
  • John Thomas
  • Artemis Ward
  • Joseph Warren
  • David Wooster
  • George Rogers Clark

British Officers

The same was true for the British officers. Many American officers left the British army during peacetime since it was extremely hard to gain rank. Many British ranks were bought which meant that the officer class of Great Britain were extremely wealthy and consisted of some of the wealthiest individuals in English society. Officers were educated in military tactics and success on the battlefield usually meant political success.

During the Seven Years’ War with France, Britain became the most powerful Navy in the world. Their Navy would play an important role during the American Revolutionary War as it successfully blockaded the colonies and made it difficult for colonial merchants. The commander of the British Navy during the Revolutionary War was Admiral Richard Howe, the older brother of Sir William Howe.

The British Empire also sought the aid of the Hessians and Native Americans during the War of Independence.

The British officers that served in the Revolutionary War were as follows:

  • Thomas Gage
  • William Howe 
  • Henry Clinton
  • Guy Carleton
  • John Burgoyne
  • Charles Cornwallis
  • Richard Howe
  • Mariot Arbuthnot
  • Robert Boyd
  • John Byron
  • Archibald Campbell
  • John Campbell
  • Samuel Hood
  • Benedict Arnold (defected)
  • Joseph Brant

Recommended Resources

Revolutionary War 101 – Excellent description of military units from both American and British armies.