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 was prone to promote the rich rather than the talented.
George 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 handpick talented generals, but he too believed that an officer was to be a gentleman and to be above reproach and should not associate themselves with the lower class. (At Valley Forge, he did sleep with the men, so he did not stick to that every time)
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 who 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 the deaths of officers happened, it was not standard practice. Men were supposed to act as gentlemen during the 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 Generals who fought in the Revolutionary War:
George Washington - The Father of His Country and the most respected man during his time. He is not known as a tactical genius, but his leadership skills, tenacity, resourcefulness, and ability to listen led to American freedom. At the end of the war, there was a movement for him to remain in command of the army and to become King. Washing shocked the entire world when he handed the army back to Congress and returned to private life.
Nathanael Greene - He was Washington's favorite general. He fought alongside the main army for years until he was moved to Quartermaster General. He was given a field command after the debacle at the Battle of Camden. A logistical genius, he outmaneuvered Cornwallis until he was forced to retreat to Yorktown.
Daniel Morgan - He was an innovator in the field. He came from a rough frontier background and loved the rifle. He played a key role in the victory at Saratoga but was overlooked many times for promotions. He was given his chance with Nathanael Greene during the Southern Campaign, and he took full advantage with his total defeat of the British at the Battle of Cowpens.
Horatio Gates - He saw some early success but did not have the necessary ability to sustain himself. He took much of the credit at Saratoga, which inflated his value and led to a debacle at Camden. He participated in the Conway Cabal that looked to replace Washington with Gates and was one of the generals at the end of the war pushing for a coup due to lack of payment from Congress. The war damaged his military reputation, and he never recovered from it.
Henry Knox - He was one of Washington's most trusted Generals during the Revolutionary War. He helped on artillery matters, which proved decisive in driving the British out of Boston in 1776. Knox quickly rose to become the chief artillery officer of the Continental Army. In this role, he accompanied Washington on most of his campaigns and had some involvement in many major actions of the war. He established training centers for artillerymen and manufacturing facilities for weaponry that were valuable assets to the army that won the war for independence.
Benedict Arnold - He was known by those above him as a fighting General. He made an epic march to try and take Quebec, which failed. He played a vital role at the Battle of Saratoga, for which Horatio Gates took credit, and he was continually passed over for promotion. His failings were his ambitions, which caused him to betray his country. If he had died in Saratoga, he would be remembered as a hero, but instead, he died in obscurity in England.
Richard Montgomery - He was elected to the New York Provincial Congress in May 1775. In June 1775, he was commissioned as a brigadier general in the Continental Army. He captured Fort St. Johns and then Montreal in November 1775 and then advanced to Quebec City, where he joined another force under the command of Benedict Arnold. On December 31, he led an attack on the city but was killed during the battle. The British found his body and gave him an honorable burial.
Anthony Wayne - He served in the Invasion of Quebec, the Philadelphia campaign, and the Yorktown campaign. His reputation suffered due to his defeat in the Battle of Paoli, but he won wide praise for his leadership in the 1779 Battle of Stony Point. He was promoted to Major General in 1783 but retired from the Continental Army soon after
Benjamin Lincoln - He was involved in three major surrenders during the war: his participation in the Battles of Saratoga contributed to John Burgoyne's surrender of a British army, he oversaw the largest American surrender of the war at the 1780 Siege of Charleston, and, as Washington's second in command, he formally accepted the British surrender at Yorktown
John Stark - He served as an officer in the British Army during the French and Indian War and a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He became widely known as the "Hero of Bennington" for his exemplary service at the Battle of Bennington in 1777.
Enoch Poor - He served with much distinction at the Battles of Saratoga, specifically at the Battle of Bemis Heights, when he stopped and dispersed a bayonet charge. He would participate in the winter at Valley Forge, the Battle of Monmouth, and Sullivan's Expedition. He died in 1780 by disputed causes.
Ethan Allen - He and the Green Mountain Boys seized the initiative early in the Revolutionary War and captured Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775. In September 1775, Allen led a failed attempt on Montreal, which resulted in his capture by British authorities. He was imprisoned aboard Royal Navy ships, then paroled in New York City, and finally released in a prisoner exchange in 1778.
Israel Putnam - popularly known as "Old Put," was an American army general officer who fought with distinction at the Battle of Bunker Hill. His reputation took a hit after the Battle of Long Island. When many blamed him for the loss, Washington never blamed him. He did fall out of favor with Washington at a point in the war and would serve as a recruitment officer in Connecticut for its remainder.
Marquis de Lafayette - Was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the Revolutionary War, commanding American troops in several battles, including the siege of Yorktown. After returning to France, he was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830. He has been considered a national hero in both countries.
Thomas Sumter - acquired the nickname "Carolina Gamecock" during the American Revolution for his fierce fighting tactics. After the Battle of Blackstock's Farm, British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton commented that Sumter "fought like a gamecock," and Cornwallis described the Gamecock as his "greatest plague."
Charles Lee - A controversial figure during the American Revolution. He was believed to be the ablest general in America to lead the Revolution but was not chosen and did not have a good relationship with George Washington. His actions at the Battle of Monmouth ended his military career. There are beliefs that he committed treason while captured.
William Alexander AKA Lord Stirling - He commanded a brigade at the Battle of Long Island. His rearguard action resulted in his capture but enabled General George Washington's troops to escape. Stirling was later returned by prisoner exchange and received a promotion, continuing to serve with distinction throughout the war. He was also trusted by Washington and, in 1778, exposed the Conway Cabal.
James Clinton - He helped lead the Sullivan Expedition in what is now western New York to attack British-allied Seneca and other Iroquois villages. He also took part in the Saratoga Campaign and the Siege of Yorktown. He served the entirety of the war in the Northern Department.
Louis Lebegue Duportail - was a French military leader who served as a volunteer and the Chief Engineer of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He also served as the last Secretary of State for War and first Minister of War during the beginning of the French Revolution.
Edward Hand - was an Irish soldier, physician, and politician who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of general, and later was a member of several Pennsylvania governmental bodies.
William Heath - He participated in the New York Campaign and was promoted to major general. However, Washington did not believe in his ability and stationed him where he would not see action. He was eventually censured when Washington asked him to attack Fort Independence in support of the Army's attack at Trenton and Princeton, and he botched it.
Robert Howe - He was a general from North Carolina and a descendant of a prominent family in North Carolina. Howe was one of five generals and the only major general in the Continental Army from that state. He had many conflicts within the army and was moved from the Southern Department to the Northern Department. He is most well-known for sitting over the trial of John Andre.
Johann de Kalb - Was a Franconian-born French military officer who served as a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He was mortally wounded while fighting the British Army during the Battle of Camden. He was known as one of the best field commanders and also a frequent critic of George Washington.
Lachlan McIntosh - An officer from Georgia that known for a duel more than what he accomplished on the battlefield. McIntosh dueled and killed a Georgian signer of the Declaration of Independence named Button Gwinnett. After the duel, Washington transferred him to the north, where he commanded North Carolina troops. He would return to the South later on in the war, where he served until the end.
Alexander McDougall - He participated in the New York Campaign and afterward was stationed in the Highlands of the Hudson as the commander of American forces at West Point, New York, after Benedict Arnold's defection in 1780. Throughout the war, McDougall was an outspoken advocate for the Continental Army and for better conditions for its soldiers. He would help found the American Navy in 1776.
Light Horse Harry Lee - A cavalry officer who saw much action in the war. Lee and his legion also served at the Battle of Guilford Court House, the Siege of Ninety-Six, and the Battle of Eutaw Springs. He was present at Charles Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown but left the Army shortly after, claiming fatigue and disappointment with his treatment from fellow officers. He was the father of Robert E. Lee.
Peter Muhlenberg - He was first posted to the South to defend the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. In early 1777, the Eighth Regiment was sent north to join Washington's main army. He was made a brigadier general of the Virginia Line and commanded that Brigade in Nathanael Greene's division at Valley Forge. He saw service in the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. After Monmouth, most of the Virginia Line was sent to the far south, where he would head up the defense of Virginia using mainly militia units.
John Paterson - He would see action throughout much of the northern theatre. He participated in the Siege of Boston, Invasion of Canada, Trenton, Princeton, Saratoga, and Monmouth. He would serve in New York for the rest of the war. He would be the commander to give Deborah Sampson an honorable discharge from the army.
Philip Schuyler - He planned the Invasion of Quebec, but poor health forced him to delegate command of the invasion to Richard Montgomery. He prepared the defense of the 1777 Saratoga campaign but was replaced by General Horatio Gates as the commander of Continental forces in the theater. Schuyler resigned from the Continental Army in 1779.
William Smallwood - He distinguished himself during the Philadelphia Campaign at Germantown. During the Battle of Camden, his men stood strong and earned him a promotion to major general. He was a harsh critic of Horatio Gates's behavior before and after the battle. He would eventually make it to Maryland, where he stayed for the duration of the war.
Arthur St. Clair - He rose to the rank of major general in the Continental Army but lost his command after a controversial retreat from Fort Ticonderoga. We would no longer hold a command, but Washington thought highly of him and had him serve as his aide-de-camp. He would be present at Yorktown.
Adam Stephen - He served under Washington again in the American Revolutionary War, rising to lead a division of the Continental Army. After a friendly fire incident during the Battle of Germantown, Stephen was cashiered out of the army.
Freidrich Von Steuben - a Prussian military officer who played a leading role in the American Revolutionary War by reforming the Continental Army into a disciplined and professional fighting force. His contributions marked a significant improvement in the performance of American troops, and he is subsequently regarded as one of the fathers of the United States Army.
John Sullivan - He commanded the Sullivan Expedition in 1779, a scorched earth campaign against the Iroquois towns that had taken up arms against the American revolutionaries. He participated in other campaigns throughout the war, but the Sullivan Expedition ended native support for the British.
John Thomas - An American doctor and soldier from Massachusetts who became a major general. He was a leader during the siege of Boston and briefly commanded the withdrawal from Canada after the unsuccessful invasion. He died from smallpox during the retreat.
Artemis Ward - The primary commander of the military located in Boston during the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Siege of Boston. Eventually, George Washington was given control as the colonies united. Ward took command of the Eastern Department and held that post until March 1777, when ill health forced his resignation from the army.
Joseph Warren - A charismatic leader in Boston at the beginning of the conflict. He was the main rebel leader and, had he survived, would have been one of the driving forces in America after the war. He was killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill. The British despised him so much that his body was stripped of clothing, and he was bayoneted until unrecognizable and then shoved into a shallow ditch
David Wooster - An American general who served in the French and Indian War and in the American Revolutionary War. He died of wounds sustained during the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut. He was 61 years old when he died and has been largely forgotten, but before his death, he was very influential.
George Rogers Clark - He served as leader of the militia in Kentucky (then part of Virginia) throughout much of the war. He is best known for his captures of Kaskaskia (1778) and Vincennes (1779) during the Illinois Campaign, which greatly weakened British influence in the Northwest Territory. The British ceded the entire Northwest Territory to the United States in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, and Clark has often been hailed as the "Conqueror of the Old Northwest."
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 was 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 who 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
- Francis Smith