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What was the Continental Army?


To understand the Continental Army, one must understand the climate in which it was founded. In 1775, the United States was not yet established. People who lived in the area that became the United States were either natives of the land, or they were British colonists. Colonists who settled and began to govern the land wanted to be independent from the huge British Empire that had established the colonies. At that time, the British Empire was the largest in the world. This period was the cusp of the American Revolution.

The inception of the Continental Army was daring: The British Army was immense and its navy was world renowned; the colonists were untrained. However, the Continental Army did have an edge. The colonists already occupied the land they wished to conquer. At this stage, they only needed to defend it. They had the advantage of knowing the land, and they did not have to travel or traverse seas in order to arrive at battle. On an ideological level, they desired independence. They had already physically acquired the land through hard work and dedication. Now they wanted to govern it independently. They were invested wholeheartedly in their own cause and were ready to do all that it took to secure their independent futures.

At the time, there were thirteen colonies that participated in the battle against the British rule. Previous to the formation of the Continental Army, there existed individual revolutionaries. Each colony had a separate force, or provincial regiments. As tensions increased between the colonists and Great Britain, it became clear that a restructuring would be necessary. The individual regiments would need to band together to form a cohesive army, to ensure a collective defense of all the colonies against a remote controller. An enlistment process was initiated and companies were established.

George Washington was a very special personality. He was unanimously elected commander in chief of the Continental Army by the Continental Congress on July 15, 1776. Upon accepting, he requested that he not be given a salary for his efforts. He asked only to receive reimbursement for his expenses at the end of the war. He set out immediately, within 10 days of his appointment. The colonists hoped that he would create unity among the forces that were made up of progressive and conservative thinkers. Both African Americans and Europeans fought alongside each other in the Continental Army. At the end of the war, in 1783, George Washington resigned his commission and returned to private life.

The British Empire may have been powerful, and they may have boasted strong military powers, but to uproot an entire population, covering a vast continent, that was determined to defend itself and gain autonomy was no small feat. The war lasted eight-and-a-half years. There were many ups and downs during this long, grueling battle. It is a credit to George Washington that the untrained troops held out that long. Washington inspired his troops and gave them chances to regroup and retrain, instilling confidence as they moved on. Using the element of surprise, he was able to offset their disadvantages in the face of the powerful British army and accrue a string of small victories that bolstered the morale of the Continental Army. Ultimately, the Continental Army defeated the British forces and gained independence for the United States. The Continental Army was disbanded at the end of the war, in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris. The army of the United States was a new entity and was not connected directly to the Continental Army. However, it is possible that practices and strategies of the Continental Army influenced the beginning formations of the United States Army.