On June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia passed a resolution authorizing the formation of a Continental Army. The Army was authorized for 10 companies of expert riflemen: 6 in Pennsylvania, 2 in Maryland, and 2 in Virginia.On June 15, John Adams offered another resolution. It was that Col. George Washington of the Virginia Militia be appointed General and Commander-in-Chief, a position which Washington accepted the next day.
At the same time as Washington's appointment, the Continental Congress also appointed certain other Generals. Artemas Ward, already in command of the men around Boston, was naturally chosen as the senior major-general. Next in rank was Charles Lee, a former British Army officer and a soldier-of-fortune. He would serve as a capable advisor on military matters to the Commander-in-Chief.
The other major-generals chosen were Philip Schuyler and Israel Putnam.
The brigidier-generals chosen were Seth Pomeroy, Richard Montgomery, David Wooster, William Heath, Joseph Spencer, John Thomas, John Sullivan, and Nathaniel Greene. The Adjutant General, with the rank of brigidier-general, was Horatio Gates. He was another former officer in the British Army.
Both sides faced a major problem raising and maintaining an army, so that the war could actually be fought, and they found radically different solutions to it. American troops initially belonged to the colonies or states, as there was, of course, that point no real central government.
When the Congress authorized the 20,370-man army that its commander recommended, as a result of a visit to Boston by a committee from Philadelphia, it was seeking to build up, and formalize, a regular standing army on the European model, and it proposed that these men be organized in 26 single-battalion regiments. If realized, this plan would have given Washington and Americans a small but presumably efficient force with which he could meet the British on their own terms. During the first year of the war, about 27,500 men were officially carried on the national rolls.
For 1776, Congress authorized 27 regiments, then later in the year, it upped the number to 88 regiments, and tried to enlist men for the duration of the war. Then, at the very end of the year, it voted to raise another 16 regiments, as well as cavalry and artillery formations. In fact, authorized strength was never reached, in spite of the offering of enlistments bounties either of hard money or future land grants, and there were fewer troops under arms in 1777 than the year before, and fewer still in 1778. For 1779, recognizing both reality and the diminution of activity, the figures were adjusted downward, back to 80 battalions, and for the last 2 years of the war, down again to a merely 58 regiments.
Figures compiled after the war showed that there had been some 232,000 enlistments in the Continental Army; many of these were reenlistments, so it is estimated that they represent perhaps 150,000 men.
In addition to the regulars, there existed the militia. Every able-bodied man was officially part of the militia, and subject to call-up in an emergency. They tended at times to be poorly disciplined and commanded, though some militia fought very bravely and acted accordingly. The figures for militia service are far less reliable than for the regulars, but there seem to have been about 145,000 periods of service under militia auspices.
Taking regulars and militia together, the total would be about 377,000 enlistments, of which settles down to around a range of 175,000 to 225,000 men serving in the armed forces of the Revolutionary War. This represents roughly 8-10% of the total population, a population which included women, children, and older people.
The peak strength for a year was at 89,000 in 1776, and half of those were militiamen. The highest strength of the Continental Army came in 1778, at 35,000, and Washington never commanded more than 17,000 troops (regular and militia combined) at any one time.