Part 1: Chronology of Contractors in American History–The Revolutionary War


Too few realize or willingly accept the need of US defense contractors. They have been criticized and chastised by media, politicians, military leaders, and the public for too long and its time the madness stops. Some people mistakenly believe that even our founding fathers despised the contractual force and refused to incorporate them into the overall strategic picture. These people could never be so wrong.

During the American Revolution, contractors were vital assets to the Continental Army. According to James Dunnigan who wrote Contractors Are Here to Stay, And Always Have Been, during the American Revolution, contractors comprised of 18% of the Continental Army’s fighting force.

Ever since the American Revolution, contractors served in vital capacities safeguarding our national security. Some call these warriors mercenaries, guns for hire, contractors, etc. Either way, the United States has a history of incorporating contractors into the overall national security picture. Without them, an argument can be made that the United States would not exist as we know it.

Numerous historians have written about the criticality of a contractual force immediately prior to and during the American Revolution. Charles Patrick Neimeyer, John Resch, Ronald Hoffman, and Peter J. Albert are just a small handful of historians who documented the incorporation of contractors used to gain US independence.

Interestingly, these authors did not necessarily highlight the British incorporation of a contractual force such as the use of Hessians. They capitalized in articulating the utilization of American patriots willing to fight against the British and Hessians.

These patriots I speak of comprised of Native American Indians, women, children, farmers, frontiers, etc. The Continental Army even incorporated foreign mercenaries who had combat experience in other locations throughout the world which included foreign legions—not to be confused with the French or Spanish Foreign Legions of today.

The roles of the American Revolutionary contractor ranged from cooks, medics, wagoneers, scouts, trackers, and intelligence. Some of the more combat seasoned contractors were even used to help train the Continental Army. Many of these contractors received some of the highest awards and decorations during this period for their service.

Even General George Washington knew a contractual force was necessary. In fact, America’s first “spy master,” Washington, utilized contractors to create America’s first spy ring. This ring was known as the Culper Ring. Few of the clandestine operatives within the Culper Ring were actual government employees. The majority were civilian patriots willingly risking everything to spy on the British. While they were organized and led by military officer Benjamin Tallmadge, virtually every clandestine operator within the ring was a civilian contractor.

Washington had issues with many of his military officers and some of our founding fathers took note of Washington’s concerns. According to historian Andrew McFarland Davis, John Adams was once documented as describing some of the Continental Army’s officers as, “Scrambling for rank and pay like apes for nuts.”

These concerns, while still valid today when it comes to many US military officers, pushed American leaders to sway further into the utilization of a contractual force. Our founding fathers didn’t need to win the hearts and minds of the local civilian to sacrifice everything for what would soon become the United States. The British, based off their tactics and treatment against civilians, did the work for them.

American history has been utterly twisted lacking many facts and realities. Our own military history has also been skewed neglecting some vital parts for each and every one of us to embrace and understand. The incorporation of a contractual force has been neglected from history books even though an argument can easily be made that without them, America would not be the nation as we know today.

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Amelia Brunelle

As one of these oft disdained defense contractors, I often feel that we are acting more as administrative support rather than those tasked with particular projects/tasks that fall outside the expertise of the defense branch. This is actually quite frustrating to those on the gov’t side of the relationship, as well as the contractor side. I certainly think there is a place for contractors but perhaps it’s time to readdress what that place and purpose is. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be as long term pseudo-gov’t employees but as consultants with specific skills that can help the system innovate, streamline and move forward in leaps rather than inches. Any thoughts on the roles contractors can/do/should play?

Ramona Winkelbauer

What many people find objectionable isn’t contractors, per se, but specific types of contract vehicles and outcomes. Two are outlined below:

Cost+Plus = Government is charged the exact cost/s of the project/s (successful or not) plus a specific “bonus” to the contractor. This puts the burden on the Agency and taxpayers who hopefully get value for their money……
Shoddy = Once a specific grade of material (i.e., high quality felted wool blankets reusing old clothes and manufacturing by-products), contractors to the Union Army (during the Civil War) passed off low quality goods and the recipients’ reception of the materials changed the meaning for the U. S. audience from then on.

Scott Kearby

Contractors are essential to what the military does. We cannot afford a standing military to cover all required jobs, functions, services, etc. that are needed to suport military activities. I don’t believe contractors who do a good job & provide good service & quality products are those who get criticized. However those who take advantage of the system, who provide poor service/shoddy work, low quality products while charging the full rate … those get (rightly) chastised. My experience in Iraq was that the base support contractor (who I won’t identify, but you probably know them) had at least as many folks doing bookkeeping, billing, administering, and developing new income streams by working the contract edges & gaps as they had actually doing work. One example — we (US taxpayers) were paying US drivers of dumpster pickup trucks as supervisors when all they did was drive and serve to escort the third-country national (TCN) laborer whose job was to do any work other than driving … opening/closing gates, picking up any trash that did not make it into the dumpster, etc. This was a one person job, that now required a US supervisor & a TCN laborer, both being paid by the government along with the OH&P for the contractor. That is exploiting the contract in my opinion. The Defense Contracting Agency had an overwhelmed Capt as the local COR up against lots of site managers and adminstrators, and he had multiple sites & more contracts than the base support contract to manage. Not really setup for success.