Military Manuals

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Military Manuals

MILITARY MANUALS. Scores of military manuals were used, and useful, during the Revolutionary War. Among the works popular with both armies were Humphrey Bland's Treatise of Military Discipline (8th ed., 1759), comte Lancelot Turpin de Crisse's Essay on the Art of War (1761), and Campbell Dalrymple's Military Essay (1761). The hodgepodge of American officers in particular sought direction. Hessian Captain Johann Ewald was impressed by the variety of publications found in American officers' captured knapsacks, writing in December 1777,

when we examined the haversack of the enemy, which contained only two shirts, we also found the most excellent military books translated into their language. For example, Turpin, Jenny, Grandmaison, La Croix, Tielke's Field Engineer, and the Instructions of the great Frederick to his generals I have found more than one hundred times. Moreover, several of their officers had designed excellent small handbooks and distributed them…. I have exhorted our gentlemen many times to read and emulate these people, who only two years before were hunters, lawyers, physicians, clergymen, tradesmen, innkeepers, shoemakers, and tailors. (Edwald, p. 108)

The single most important American work was Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben's standardized manual of discipline, introduced in the spring of 1778 and published in 1779. Steuben's system did not appreciably simplify the largely ornamental manual of arms, but did introduce set marching rates and uniform tactical formations, for the first time allowing Continental regiments to work as a unified battlefield force.

British forces were fortunate in beginning the conflict with a uniform set of regulations, Edward Harvey's Manual Exercise as Ordered by His Majesty in 1764, a treatise that provided a single rule book on which all crown regiments based field organization, formations, and maneuvers. Another influential work was the never-published system of light infantry drill introduced by General Sir William Howe at the Salisbury, England, training camp in late summer 1774. Howe's drill was an expansion of General George Townshend's "Rules and Orders for the Discipline of the Light Infantry Companies in His Majesty's Army in Ireland" (1772). The lessons instilled at Salisbury had a profound effect on the conduct of the American war.

SEE ALSO Steuben, Friedrich Wilhelm von.


Ewald, Johann. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Edited and translated by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979.

Houlding, J. A. Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army, 1715–1795. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.

Peterkin, Ernest W. The Exercise of Arms in the Continental Infantry. Alexandria Bay, N.Y.: Museum Restoration Service, 1989.

Rilng, Joseph R. The Art and Science of War in America: A Bibliography of American Military Imprints, 1690–1800. Bloomfield, Ontario: Museum Restoration Service, 1990.

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