Roles of Colonial Militia and Continental Army in Winning the Revolutionary War
When the fighting at Lexington and Concord broke out in 1775, the conflict unleashed a flood of resentment that had been building over the right of the colonies to govern themselves. This conflict became a symbol of the American fight for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." As James Kirby Martin and Mark Edward Lender argue in A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789, the patriotic mythology of a united people fighting the tyrannical British oppressors for basic human rights permeated historical thought about the American Revolution until recently and obscured the inner conflicts that nearly destroyed the rebel effort (4). Martin and Lender maintain that the colonists did not develop a sense of national identity until after the Revolutionary War and that the lack of interest among the colonists in fighting for their cause prompted the use of the Continental Army to win the war. The authors also clearly regard the colonial militia with a great deal of contempt and spend a considerable amount of time discrediting them as an effective fighting force. There seems to be a fair amount of evidence, however, to indicate that some sense of nationhood existed prior to the Revolution, gaining momentum throughout the war but not firmly taking hold until after the war was over, and it was, in fact, the colonial militia that best exemplified that sense of nationalism.
When the first settlers arrived in the New World, they attempted to transplant the European societal practices to which they were accustomed, but learned quickly that the wilderness of North America did not accommodate them. What resulted was the formation of a new society which was drastically different from those in Europe. Consequently, after more than a century, the colonists held more than a little resentment for the British who had decided to govern them more closely in the aftermath of the French and Indian War. While they may not have had a sense that they were united, they knew that they were no longer Europeans and deserved the right to govern themselves. When the events such as the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, and Lexington & Concord broke out, the colonists were united in their outrage against the British, giving credence to the idea that at least some sense of nationhood existed.
For the first year, a patriotic fervor motivated the "citizen-soldiers," but after that first year there was a sharp decline in volunteer enlistment. Martin and Lender use this decrease as evidence of a lack of national spirit, but there seem to have been other factors involved and, in fact, there seems to be some indication that the sense of nationalism grew throughout the Revolution. The efforts of the militia against the Indians in the West and the efforts in the South, to name a few, enforced the public ideal of the "citizen-soldier," allowing the colonists to...