Continental Army

The Continental Army

The Continental Army

This article on  the Continental Army provides facts and information about these British soldiers and officers:

  • What were the uniforms like?
  • How did the Continental Army evolve during the American Revolutionary War?
  • Interesting facts and fast information with pictures of the Continental Army
  • Educational resource for teachers and kids about the Continental Army who fought in the Revolutionary War of Independence
Revolutionary Battles
Causes of the American Revolutionary War
American Colonies Index

History of the Battles, Conflicts and Soldiers of the American Revolution War

The Continental Army: The American Revolutionary War, the soldiers and the famous battles of the conflict

Continental Army
This article contains fast facts and information about the Continental Army. What did the uniforms of the Continental Army look like? Definition of Continental Army: The Continental Army was the regular army of America established by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, with
George Washington as Commander-in-Chief, that was initially formed in the Boston area after fighting against the British broke out at the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord in 1775. The soldiers who made up the Continental Army came from the thirteen colonies that became the United States of America. There was no standing army at the outbreak of the Revolutionary war - each colony had relied upon the local militia who were made up of part time soldiers. The outbreak of the American Revolutionary war meant that the Continental Congress needed to organize an armed force of American soldiers as quickly as possible to fight in the conflict against the British.

The Continental Army v the British Army
The Continental Army was  established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775. The Continental Army, under the command of George Washington, was created to coordinate the military efforts of the 13 Colonies in their rebellion against British rule. The soldiers who made up the Continental Army had no formal military experience, they had no uniforms, there were no established regiments and commanders and there were limited firearms. They were faced with fighting the British who had many advantages over the American Continental Army:

  • The British had a well established standing army - the Continental Army did not
  • The British had a well established navy - the Continental Army did not
  • The British had ample quantities of powder, guns, and clothing - the Continental Army did not
  • The British army of Redcoats was well disciplined and well trained - the Continental Army was not. America had not had the time to co-ordinate their Continental Army
  • The British were well supported by German mercenaries, called Hessians, who provided an additional 30,000 troops and made up a quarter of the armed forces of Great Britain - the Continental Army had no such allies at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, they were supported by local forces of militia

Pictures of Continental Army

The Continental Army, Continental Navy and the Continental Marines
The Continental Army were the obvious underdogs and faced difficult times. However, the Continental Army did have some advantages over the British army. Their soldiers knew the terrain and could make us of this knowledge using defensive tactics. The Continental Army also had many great Leaders and Military Commanders including George Washington, Nathanael Greene, John Stark, Benedict Arnold, Daniel Morgan and Anthony Wayne. On October 13, 1775 The Second Continental Congress established the Continental Navy. On November 10, 1775 the Continental Congress established the Continental Marines. The combined American forces fought the British in the many Revolutionary Battles.  

Enlistment of Continental Army
The American soldiers of the Continental Army came from all walks of life. The Continental Congress raised the first 10 companies of Continental soldiers based on a basis of a one-year enlistment. Riflemen and Sharpshooters from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia were used as light infantry and later became the 1st Continental Regiment in 1776. The enlistment period of the soldiers in the Continental Army was later extended to three years. The troops who served in the Revolutionary Army were volunteers and although they were paid but the Americans were generally motivated by their strong sense of Patriotism.

How the Continental Army Evolved
The Continental Army evolved during the Revolutionary War.

  • The Continental Army of 1775, comprised of the initial New England Army was organized by George Washington into:
    • 3 divisions
    • 6 brigades
    • 38 regiments
  • The Continental Army of 1776, was organized into:
    • 36 regiments
    • 8 companies
  • The Continental Army of 1777 - 1780, was organized into:
    • One-battalion regiments from each of the 13 colonies, the number of soldiers in proportion to the population
    • George Washington was given authority by Congress to raise an additional 16 battalions
  • The Continental Army of 1781 - 1782 experienced difficulties replacing the troops whose 3 year enlistment period had expired but George Washington still managed to secure important strategic victories
    • 40% - 45% of American colonists supported the revolution
    • 15% - 20% of American colonists were loyalists
    • The remaining colonists took a neutral stance
  • The Continental Army of 1783 - 1784, was succeeded by the United States Army

The Uniforms worn by the Continental Army
When the Continental Army was established the soldiers had no uniforms. In 1775 the Continental Congress adopted brown as the official color for uniforms but there was a shortage of brown cloth, so some regiments used the colors of blue or gray. Congress did not adopt an official uniform until 1779 but the different regiments in Continental Army attempted to have consistency in their uniforms. The militia, including the Minutemen, had no uniform at all. Instead, they dressed in hunting shirts. Consequently the pictures and paintings of the uniforms worn in the Continental Army show a variety of colors and different styles.

Continental Army SoldiersAmerican Soldier 1776

Continental Army - The Cockades used by Commanders

The absence of uniforms caused problems for the Continental Army as the soldiers were not able to easily distinguish their commanders on the battlefield. The decision was made to introduce the use of cockades to identify the leaders and commanders of the Continental Army. A cockade was a wide, knot of ribbon or a rosette worn on the hat. The colors of the cockades indicated the rank of the commander. The first colors used as cockades were as follows:

  • Field Officers: Pink or Red
  • Captains: Buff or Yellow
  • Junior Officers: Green

The commanders and leaders then adopted the black cockade which then changed color to black and white when France became an ally. The black-and-white cockade became known as the "Union Cockade".

Union Cockade
Washington wearing a Black Cockade
Union CockadeWashington wearing Black Cockade

Weapons used by the Continental Army
The Weapons used by the Continental Army included muskets, pistols, rifles, long rifles, knives, bayonets, tomahawks, axes, swords, sabres, pole arms and cannon - refer to Weapons of the Revolutionary War. The most popular Revolutionary weapon used by the men of the Revolutionary Army was the flintlock musket, usually equipped with a bayonet, and was commonly known as the Brown Bess. The Musket, used by the Continental Army infantry, had a short range and was not very accurate. Only about twenty percent of the lead fired from one army to another hit the target. The rifle was slower to load but more accurate than the musket but had a longer range.

Victory for the Continental Army
Against all odds the Continental Army achieved victory against the British. The soldiers and Commanders of the Continental Army fought in 36 major Revolutionary Battles but the lesser battles took the number to over 100. A total of 35,000 soldiers served in the Continental Army backed by 44,500 militia.

  • 25,000 soldiers who served in the Continental Army died during the war

    • 8000 soldiers died in battle

    • 17,000 soldiers died of sickness, went missing in action or died of other causes

  • 9000 American soldiers suffered serious wounds and injuries

For additional facts and information refer to Facts about the Revolutionary War.

Continental Army

  • Facts and information about the Revolutionary Army

  • History of the Revolutionary Army

  • Fast Facts and info about the the Continental Army

  • Pictures of the uniforms - a great history resource for kids

  • Social Studies Homework help for kids on the American Army

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