After the Battle of Bunker Hill the Conti nental Congress at Philadelphia perceiving that the war would not be confined to New England authorized the adoption of the forces already in the field as a Continental Army, owing allegi ance to the United Colonies. On 14 June 1775 authority wes voted for the raising of 10 com panies of riflemen in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia to serve oneyear. These troops formed the nucleus of the Continental Army or regular forces of the United States, as we have come to call our national troops. On 15 June 1775 George Washington was appointed com mander-in-chief, and on 3 July at Cambridge. Mass., he took command of the 17,000 militia men engaged in the investment of Boston.
From that time on a bitter conflict has con tinued between the regular and the militiaman, and the literature of our professional army has for more than a century lamented that the early history of the country gave rise to a confidence in and reliance upon, the State militia forces, which has contributed to the defeat of the hun dreds of measures proposed for the creation of an adequate regular army. General Washington unquestionably was distinctly opposed to the use of the militia in the struggle against the Brit ish armies and frequently reiterated his belief that the cause of the colonies was likely to be lost unless Congress would raise a sufficient permanent force, enlisted for a term of several years and owing allegiance to the central gov ernment only. Washington was not a soldier by profession, although he had served in the Virginia militia and had distinguished himself in the French and Indian War., He was a man of the highest personal integrity and singularly pure in character, and these qualities won for him the respect and confidence which enabled the widely diversified elements in the new union to unite upon him as an acceptable leader. He won no great military victories and he suf fered many humiliating defeats, but he held the love and faith of all parties at all times. Under his leadership the discouraged and often waver ing forces held together in sufficient numbers to keep the field, until after the lapse of years which had seemed hopeless, French fleets and armies came to help turn the tide from defeat to victory. In August 1776 Washington had on Long Island a paper strength of 27,000, but when the battle developed he could oppose only 8,000 combatants to Lord Howe's 20,000 British troops. The loss of that battle and the subse
quent reverses enabled the enemy to expel the Continental forces from both New York and New Jersey. Washington's complaint against the militia was based upon the short and vari able terms of their service. The Continentals were enlisted at first for two years and later for three years and as the armies were composed of both Continentals and militia the plans of the commander were constantly complicated by the ever approaching departure of some of the militia units. Throughout the war the Ameri can forces when operating without foreign help were singularly unsuccessful, except in minor or surprise attacks as at Ticonderoga, Stony Point, Trenton and Monmouth. The one nota ble exception was • the brilliant victory at Sara toga when on 17 Oct. 1777, the British army under Burgoyne surrendered to an overwhelm ing force .of militia rallied to the defense of Northern New York under Gates, Arnold, Mor gan and Schuyler.
The militia were frequently proved unreli able and it is equally true that the Continentals wrote fewer victories on their colors than might have been expected of trained troops recruited from a brave and ambitious people.
The burden of Washington's complaint was that the shorter service offered in the militia, usually three, six or nine months, proved much more attractive to most men and that conse quently it was difficult to get sufficient good men to enter the regular service. The history of the war proves that when the circumstances would permit a quick assembling and a short campaign the militia were as brave and efficient as ever.
On the other hand, they were totally in efficient and unreliable when called upon to submit to the long and trying periods of in active camp or garrison life.
We have indulged in this comment upon the early rivalry between the regulars and the militia because it gave rise to a situation which has persisted and has embarrassed every army administration from 1775 to the present.
In some of the darkest years of the Revolu tion there were more Continentals on the army pay roll than there were British troops in Amer ica and yet the effort has always been to put the blame for the failures of those years upon the militia.