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Regulars and Irregulars

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

The ministry have boasted much of their regular, their disciplined troops, which they fancied capable of beating all the irregulars in the world. One would wonder how men of any attention to what has passed, could deceive themselves into such an opinion, when so many facts within the memory of men not very old, evince the contrary.

The following Yankee song gives us a pretty little collection of those facts, and is printed for the encouragement of our militia; for though it is not safe for men too much to despise their enemies, it is of use that they should have a good opinion of themselves, if just, when compared with those they are to fight with.

If we search for the cause of this superior bravery in the people of a country, compared with what are called regular troops, it may be found in these particulars: that the men who compose a European regular army, are generally such as have neither property nor families to fight for, and who have no principle, either of honor, religion, public spirit, regard for liberty, or love of country, to animate them. They are therefore only pressed on to fight by their officers, and had rather be anywhere else than in a battle. Discipline only gives the officers the power of actuating them; and superior discipline may make them superior to other troops of the same kind not so well disciplined. Thus discipline seems to supply, in some degree, the defect of principle. But men equally armed, and animated by principle, though without discipline, are always superior to them when only equal in numbers; and when principle and discipline are united on the same side, as in our present militia, treble the number of mere unprincipled mercenaries, such as the regular armies commonly consist of, are no match for such a militia.

Let us, however, not be presumptuously careless in our military operations, but mix caution with courage, and take every prudent measure to guard against the attempts of our enemies; it being as advantageous to defeat their designs as their forces.


Since you all will have singing, and won’t be said nay,
I cannot refuse, when you so beg and pray;
So I’ll sing you a song, –as a body may say,
‘Tis of the King’s Regulars, who ne’er ran away.
O! the old soldiers of the King, and the King’s own Regulars.

At Prestonpans we met with some rebels one day,
We marshalled ourselves all in comely array;
Our hearts were all stout, and bid our legs stay,
But our feet were wrongheaded and took us away.

At Falkirk we resolved to be braver,
And recover some credit by better behavior:
We wouldn’t acknowledge feet had done us a favor,
So feet swore they would stand, but–legs ran however.

No troops perform better than we at reviews,
We march and we wheel, and whatever you choose,
George would see how we fight, and we never refuse,
There we all fight with courage–you may see ‘t in the news.

To Monongahela, with fifes and with drums,
We marched in fine order, with cannon and bombs;
That great expedition cost infinite sums,
But a few irregulars cut us all into crumbs.

It was not fair to shoot at us from behind trees,
If they had stood open, as they ought, before our great guns, we should have beat them with ease,
They may fight with one another that way if they please,
But it is not regular to stand, and fight with such rascals as these.

At Fort George and Oswego, to our great reputation,
We show’d our vast skill in fortification;
The French fired three guns; –of the fourth they had no occasion;
For we gave up those forts, not through fear, but mere persuasion.

To Ticonderoga we went in a passion,
Swearing to be revenged on the whole French nation;
But we soon turned tail, without hesitation,
Because they fought behind trees, which is not the regular fashion.

Lord Loudon, he was a regular general, they say;
With a great regular army he went on his way,
Against Louisburg, to make it his prey,
But returned–without seeing it, –for he didn’t feel bold that day.

Grown proud at reviews, great George had no rest,
Each grandsire, he had heard, a rebellion suppressed,
He wish’d a rebellion, looked round and saw none,
So resolved a rebellion to make–of his own.

The Yankees he bravely pitched on, because he thought they wouldn’t fight,
And so he sent us over to take away their right;
But lest they should spoil our review clothes, he cried braver and louder,
For God’s sake, brother kings, don’t sell the cowards any powder.

Our general with his council of war did advise
How at Lexington we might the Yankees surprise;
We march’d–and re-march’d–all surprised–at being beat;
And so our wise general’s plan of surprise–was complete.

For fifteen miles, they follow’d and pelted us, we scarce had time to pull a trigger;
But did you ever know a retreat performed with more vigor?
For we did it in two hours, which saved us from perdition;
‘Twas not in going out, but in returning, consisted our expedition.

Says our general, “We were forced to take to our arms in our own defence,
(For arms read legs, and it will be both truth and sense,)
Lord Percy, (says he,) I must say something of him in civility,
And that is–‘ I can never enough praise him for his great–agility.'”

Of their firing from behind fences, he makes a great pother;
Every fence has two sides, they made use of one, and we only forgot to use the other;
That we turned our backs and ran away so fast; don’t let that disgrace us,
‘Twas only to make good what Sandwich said, that the Yankees–could not face us.

As they could not get before us, how could they look us in the face?
We took care they shouldn’t, by scampering away apace.
That they had not much to brag of, is a very plain case;
For if they beat us in the fight, we beat them in the race. 2


1 “And their triumph over the Irregulars; a new song, to the tune of ‘An old courtier of the Queen’s, and the Queen’s old courtier;’ which is a kind of recitation, like the chanting of the prose psalms in cathedrals.”
2 Pennsylvania Evening Post, March 30.

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