Special Operations in the American Revolution

Robert L Tonsetic

When the American Revolution began, the colonial troops had little hope of matching His Majesty's highly trained, experienced British and German legions in confrontational battle. In this book, renowned author, and former U.S. Army Colonel, Robert Tonsetic describes and analyzes numerous examples of special operations conducted during the Revolutio
Date Published :
August 2020
Publisher :
Illustration :
16pp. illustrations
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781612008936
Pages : 288
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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When the American Revolution began, the colonial troops had little hope of matching His Majesty’s highly trained, experienced British and German legions in confrontational battle. Indeed, Washington’s army suffered defeat after defeat in the first few years of the war, fighting bravely but mainly trading space for time. However, the Americans did have a trump, in a reservoir of tough, self-reliant frontier fighters, who were brave beyond compare, and entirely willing to contest the King’s men with unconventional tactics.

In this book, renowned author, and former U.S. Army Colonel, Robert Tonsetic describes and analyzes numerous examples of special operations conducted during the Revolutionary War. While the British might seize the coastlines, the interior still belonged to the Americans should the Empire venture inward. Most of the operations were conducted by American irregulars and volunteers, carefully selected, with specialized skills, and led by leaders with native intelligence.

While General Washington endeavored to confront the Empire on conventional terms—for pure pride’s sake at the founding of the Republic--he meantime relied on his small units to keep the enemy off balance. The fledgling Continental Navy and Marines soon adopted a similar strategy. Realizing that the small American fleet was no match for the powerful British navy in major sea battles, the new Navy and its Marines focused on disrupting British commercial shipping in the Atlantic and Caribbean, and launching raids against British on-shore installations first in the Bahamas and then on the British coastline itself.

As the war continued, Washington increasingly relied on special operations forces in the northeast as well as in the Carolinas, and ad hoc frontiersmen to defy British sovereignty inland. When the British and their Indian allies began to wage war on American settlements west of the Appalachians, Washington had to again rely on partisan and militias to conduct long-range strikes and raids targeting enemy forts and outposts.

Throughout the war, what we today call SpecOps were an integral part of American strategy, and many of the lessons learned and tactics used at the time are still studied by modern day Special Operations forces. As this book establishes, the improvisation inherent in the American spirit proved itself well during the Revolution, continuing to stand as an example for our future martial endeavors.

About The Author

Robert Tonsetic was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in English Literature in 1964. Upon graduation, he entered the US Army as an infantry second lieutenant. After completing Special Forces training in 1966, he served a tour in Thailand with the 46th Special Forces Company. He was subsequently assigned to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam, serving as a rifle company commander during the Tet and May Offensives of 1968. In 1970, he returned to Vietnam as a senior advisor to South Vietnamese Ranger and Airborne battalions. His decorations for his wartime service include the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, and the Bronze Star for Valor. He retired from the Army at the rank of Colonel in 1991, after completing a three year assignment as a faculty member at the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy. Upon his return to the US, Robert earned a Doctorate in Education, and was employed at the University of Central Florida as a staff member and adjunct professor. He died in April 2016 in Easton, MD.



1 The Capture Of Fort Ticonderoga
2 The New Providence Raid
3 Knowlton’s Rangers
4 Whitcomb’s Rangers
5 John Paul Jones’ Raids On Britain’s Coast
6 Partisan Warfare In The Northern Theater
7 The Rise Of Partisan Warfare In The Southern Theater
8 The Whaleboat Wars
9 George Rogers Clark’s March To Vincennes



"The author is a very good story teller. He brings the events to life through the stories of the participants. The book fills a void in the literature of the American Revolution. Added bonuses are the book's bibliography. It is excellent. The operational maps and photos also compliment the narrative. … It is a must addition to the library of every military historian as well as students of the American revolutionary War. Dr. Tonsetic has crafted an exciting book."

- Kepler’s Military History

“…overall a really excellent book.  It really screams out as an excellent source for wargames scenarios as well as just a good read about the extraordinary actions of ordinary men during wartime.  The book will appeal to those interested in the Revolutionary War and also to those interested in the history of Special Forces operations.  So a real winner all round!”

- Wargamer

"Tonsetic is a skilled and knowledgeable historian who provides a well crafted important study of a relatively neglected aspect of the Revolutionary War....Highly recommended"

- Choice

"...a satisfying combination of the well-known, such as the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, to the relatively obscure, such as the exploits throughout much of the war of Patriot Benjamin Whitcomb and his rangers in the area between Fort Ticonderoga and Montreal."

- The Journal of America’s Military Past

"This was an excellent book; it was well-researched, entertaining, and fun to read, and it provided a unique perspective on the methods used to win the War of Independence. The author described in great depth the events preceding the battles, and how these small special operations units were vital to the American cause. This is a great book for the neophyte historian or any casual reader."

- City Book Review

"well-written, easy to follow work that does an excellent job telling many small stories of the American Revolution."

- Military Heritage

"What is unique about this book is the perspective. To a modern-day reader, special ops conjure images of highly trained and exotically equipped soldiers leaping out of helicopters and Zodiac boats to wipe out terrorists. . . . In an era when warfare was supposed to be gentlemanly and follow certain rules, did Washington and his contemporaries embrace special operations? The answer would seem to be, ‘Yes.' Even if they didn't use the term 'special ops,' they were willing to employ elite reconnaissance units, spies and partisan bands. Washington didn't have SEAL Team 6. But he made good use of what he had.”

- The National Interest

"In Special Operations during the American Revolution, Robert Tonsetic instructively showcases militia raids and attacks against the British in the Revolutionary War and makes suggestive comparisons to present-day Special Operations. His engrossing book will appeal strongly to both undergraduates and general readers"

- Michigan War Studies Review

"Serving as a wonderful resource for both minor and major skirmishes and operations during the course of the Revolutionary War, the book includes 9 maps and 23 illustrations—with a selection of photos taken from the author’s own camera lens."

- The Colonial Review

"Many of the operations Tonsetic touches upon are often overlooked in the literature of the war."

- The NYMAS Review

The individual chapters offer very useful introductions to the various raids and operations covered, many of which are minor actions that could make ideal scenarios for small battles or large skirmish wargame. […] Recommended for wargamers already interested in the American Revolution seeking further scenarios for their miniature forces.

- Miniature Wargames

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