The Second Continental Congress selected George Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in June 1773, largely based on his past reputation from the French and Indian war. There are two schools of thought on Washington’s strategy. Early scholarship portrays Washington as a hero and awards high marks ‘likening his strategy to that of the renowned ancient Roman general Fabius, who defeated the invading Carthaginians, under Hannibal, by refusing battle and eventually wearing them down’.
From the 1900s however, an increasing number described Washington as making amateurish mistakes and owing his success to blunders by the British and luck. David Palmer describes the mainstream of historical literature in the latter half of the twentieth century as holding the view that American strategy in the Revolutionary War was essentially ‘one-dimensional – defensive’. Palmer cites John Alden (‘The Americans had only to keep the field until Britain should tire of the struggle’), Douglas Freeman (‘Washington’s strategy had to be patiently defensive’) and North Callahan (Americans ‘did not really win the war but Britain lost it mainly to circumstances rather than the American enemy’), among others, as evidence of mainstream opinion.
Assessments of Washington’s strategic prowess in the twenty first century have tended to praise him for holding the army together in spite of a lack of resources but have concluded that he was not a gifted general. He understood geographic factors and was careful never to let his troops become trapped without prospect of retreat. A popular strategy was to direct ‘hit and run’ attacks against British outposts and supply depots. In later years of the war for independence, Washington kept his forces mobile as he believed this would make them less vulnerable than stationing in one location.
Overall, the strategies utilised by Americans were those appropriate to a weaker power facing a formidable British foe with a powerful navy. The Americans could not match the British in terms of tactics or discipline, lacking battle experience and numerous professional soldiers. So they avoided meeting equal size British armies on the battlefield and simply tried to target smaller contingents and wear out British political will.
The question is whether the Americans could have won the war without assistance from the French, while simultaneously employing a decentralised financing system under the Articles. Of this there is some doubt in the literature, with Russel Weigley believing that only an active minority of the population supported the revolutionary cause and that the Continental Army was not equipped for a prolonged conflict without foreign aid. Nevertheless there are some who believe that given majority political support among the population a smaller, weaker force could defeat a superior power through waging war unconventionally via guerilla tactics and making it economically unviable for the superior power to continue fighting. There is no settled answer in the studies to date on this question.
 Dave Palmer, George Washington’s Military Genius (Regnery Publishing, 2012) xii.
 Ibid xiii.
 See, e.g., David McCullough, 1776 (Simon & Schuster, 2005) 293 (acknowledges Washington held the Continental army together ‘in the most desperate of times’ but says he ‘was not a brilliant strategist or tactician’).
 Russell Weigley, The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (Indiana University Press, 1973) 5.
 Jörg Guido Hülsmann in Hans-Hermann Hoppe (ed), The Myth of National Defense (Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2003) 411: ‘Thus, it might be that the Southern United States lost the War of Secession because it relied on conventional warfare, whereas it would have been better advised to choose a guerilla strategy’.