1 // They were volunteers
The British Army was not allowed to force men into service by conscription or impressment. When the war began, men in the ranks had all enlisted voluntarily. For a period in 1778 and 1779 impressment was legalized in specific circumstances but this unpopular measure was soon discontinued and contributed few men to regiments in America.
2 // They were career soldiers
Soldiers in the army when the war began had enlisted as a life-long career, to be discharged when no longer fit for service. Men who enlisted after 1775 had the option of being discharged at the close of hostilities if they had served for three years; many of these men chose to remain in the army when the war ended.
3 // They enlisted as adults
Enlistment was based on fitness rather than a specific age, but most recruiting instructions called for men between 17 and 25 years old. There are cases where boys, particularly children of soldiers, began their careers as young as 12; a few men enlisted in their 40s. But the majority enlisted between the ages of 20 and 25 after having first tried their hand at some other career.
4 // They were generally experienced
Because they were career soldiers, it stands to reason that the overall level of experience in the army was high. 5 to 15 years of experience was typical in British regiments, with the average age of soldiers being in the mid-30s. Even wartime recruits usually received 6 months to 2 years of training before being sent to America.
5 // They received pensions
The army was one of few careers that provided a pension when a man could no longer serve. Usually predicated on 20 years of service or a disability, the pension provided a subsistence-level income; more than half of the soldiers who survived the American Revolution eventually received a pension. Wartime enlistees could take land grants in Canada instead.
6 // Wives and children accompanied them
The British army was structured to send career soldiers on long overseas deployments. This meant accommodating families as well. About 20% of the soldiers serving in America had wives and children with them. Women filled army jobs as nurses, washer women and sutlers, or found jobs outside the army to help support their families.
7 // Most men didn’t get lashed
Corporal punishment, particularly by lashing, was the standard method of enforcing discipline but was used only after a trial. Surviving punishment records show that between 20% and 30% of men were tried by regimental courts, and only 10% to 15% actually received lashes. Punishment was harsh only for those who required punishment.
8 // Most men could read or write
While the literacy rate is not known, over half of the surviving pension records bear signatures of their recipients showing us that these men could at least sign their names. Reading and writing were valuable skills for men being considered for promotion, and some regiments went so far as to establish schools to teach reading, writing and basic mathematics.
9 // They were tactically dominant on the battlefield
There is a misconception that British soldiers stood in the open while Americans hid behind rocks and trees. One need only look at the win-loss record in major battles to see that British forces were almost always victorious even when severely outnumbered. The professional army adapted quickly and effectively to combat conditions in America, but suffered from shortcomings of strategy, logistics and political support.
10 // They wore red coats
But you probably knew that already…