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There is a story that says that American revolutionaries fought unconventionally against the British, including targeting their officers, which was not done between European forces.

Is this true or is it a myth? If it is a myth, what factors may have lead to and sustained it?


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Hmm. Interesting question. I would think if you were going to systematically murder people (i.e. war) then murdering less is better than murdering more. Besides those plumed helmets and gold laced uniforms would rile up any commoner. – LateralFractal Oct 29 '13 at 3:03
I can't say for sure without some more research on it BUT at this time the British 95th Rifles Regiment were just beginning to develop such tactics with the Baker Rifle. – Kobunite Oct 29 '13 at 8:18
@Kobunite At the time of the Revolutionary War neither the Baker Rifle nor the 95th existed; they both come into being around 1800, at least in part because of the British Army's experiences of unconventional tactics in North America. – Nigel Harper Oct 30 '13 at 2:11
That is true, turns out the article I read to check timings with the Revolutionary War was talking about the War of 1812 as the 2nd Revolutionary War. – Kobunite Oct 30 '13 at 8:18
@LateralFractal - that's the point. Noble-led British would have frowned upon targeting the officers because "noble blood" and all. – DVK Nov 2 '13 at 12:25
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It appears that the practice was becoming more common, and was a tactic being pursued and developed by American Revolutionaries.

The following passage is from "To Be A Military Sniper" - Gregory Mast, Hans Halberstadt

Page 18

Further paragraphs from To Be A Military Sniper explains a little more about the growing role of Rifles in the American Revolutionary War, but the above passage shows the the Revolutionaries did intentionally target British Officers with rifle fire.

11th Virginia Regiment

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Granted, the excerpt comes from a book showing the training of a sniper today, but I checked several of the claims and they link up. I'll do some more research into it later to find some corroborating sources. – Kobunite Oct 30 '13 at 8:43
It's interesting to me that the passage notes that Morgan "reluctantly" ordered the targeting of Gen. Fraser. I wonder what sources they used to prove Morgan's reluctance. – terminex9 May 27 at 5:50

The Americans targeted officers at least once. A sniper at Saratoga, armed with a rifle and lodged in a tree, shot British officers and was instrumental in the American victory. The sniper is reportedly named Timothy Murphy.


This is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article:

"Morgan called on Murphy and said: "That gallant officer is General Fraser. I admire him, but it is necessary that he should die, do your duty." Murphy climbed a nearby tree, took careful aim at the extreme distance of 300 yards, and fired four times. The first shot was a close miss, the second grazed the General's horse, and with the third, Fraser tumbled from his horse, shot through the stomach. General Fraser died that night. British Senior officer Sir Francis Clerke, General Burgoyne's chief aide-de-camp, galloped onto the field with a message. Murphy's fourth shot killed him instantly."

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Is this the first recorded military use of sniping? – congusbongus Oct 29 '13 at 23:28
No, with a quick WWW search found the Sniper article on Wikipedia and several other sources. "Lord Brooke, who represented the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War (1642–1651), was the first recorded British sniper victim, killed by a Royalist soldier hiding in a bell tower in Lichfield." – please delete me Oct 30 '13 at 12:47
As for the word 'sniper', "The first recorded use of the word 'sniper' in a military context was penned by an English officer serving in india, in the year 1782" according to Early history of US Snipers - World Affairs Board – please delete me Oct 30 '13 at 12:48
King Harold is thought to have died from an arrow to the eye from a Norman "sniper" in 1066... – James Nov 1 '13 at 17:36
How is it that Fraser remained in place even though he was shot at, not once, twice but three times? – Evil Washing Machine Dec 13 '15 at 18:27

I know that the targeting of officers was not permitted in European armies. American military leaders were mostly veterans of Britain's war against the French and Natives, so they knew how European armies fought. America modeled its military after the British, French, and Spanish; dressing ranks, firing vollies, and for the most part, they didn't shoot officers specifically from what I've seen.

The veterans that fought for the British and didn't become officers joined militias. They knew the capabilities of the British and they knew that the British war methods could work against them if they didn't fight the same as them. The Militia fired from cover, fired as often as they possibly could, and in some historical cases, fired upon officers first to plunge the larger British force in disarray.

I pretty sure the Continental Army didn't intentionally kill officers. Yes they may have killed a few due to stray bullets, cannon fire, ambush, ECT. However, I'm sure the Militia targeted the officers first so that no matter how small their force was, they could beat the unlead, highly disciplined soldiers.

But this is not 100% accurate. I could be wrong. I could be VERY wrong. So don't take what I have written as fact, but at least consider it.

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Judging by your last paragraph, I think this would be better posted as a comment instead of an answer, especially since you don't provide any sources to back up your claims. – terminex9 May 27 at 5:46

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