Although the outset of the Revolutionary War may have seemed like a military mismatch, with the much larger British army fighting against a ragtag group of American revolutionaries that were initially poorly organized, the Americans were successful at fending off the British and ultimately achieving the goal of independence. The main reasons Americans were successful is because they implemented unorthodox, guerrilla-style tactics; they took advantage of the terrain and opted not to fight British armies head-on; and they were motivated by ideologies, such as freedom and the establishment of a new, independent government, that were not shared by their British counterparts, who viewed their service more as a job.
Guerrilla style tactics refer to a type of warfare that does not rely on sheer numbers, but instead uses ambushes, harassment of supply lines, and flanking maneuvers to wear down an opponent. Traditional European armies at the time, including the British army, would not have been trained in this style of combat; instead, they were used to fighting on an open battlefield, in a rather formalized style of war where each army would line up against one another and face off. Thus, they would not have been adapted to this style of combat when it was used against them by the Americans.
The brightly-colored red uniforms of the British soldiers would have made them easily identifiable from a distance, and is a sign that the British were not anticipating this type of warfare. The American revolutionaries were therefore able to implement a unique strategy to help offset their inferior numbers and firepower. They would ambush British troops, and they were much better able to use their small numbers to send out scouting teams and groups that would harass British supply lines. Smaller groups that did not rely on large formations were also much more maneuverable, so they could easily outflank British troops (Middlekauff, 2005).
At the same time, American revolutionaries had much more knowledge of the terrain where the battles were being waged. While British troops moved in large formations, American revolutionaries were able to move much more quickly and avoid populated routes in order to escape detection. This meant that the Americans had a much better information network than the British, as orders were able to be conveyed much more quickly. British messengers attempting the same effort would be harassed, and therefore there was less flow of information. Even though the size of the American army was much smaller, which eventually came under the control of George Washington as general, they had a significant amount of advantages in relaying information and coordinating strategies (Ellis, 2004).
The third reason why the American revolutionaries were successful is because they were much more motivated to win the fight. The fight for American independence was an ideological fight: Americans were fighting against what they believed to be an oppressive government that was trying to enforce its will on local populations (Brown and Carp, 2014). Americans had been continuously exploited, such as with the Stamp Act, which they viewed as unfair taxation (McCullough, 2001). Americans therefore did not view failure as a viable option, and they were willing to adopt a whatever-it-takes mentality in winning the fight. Conversely, British troops viewed their individual roles in the Revolutionary War as doing a job for which they were being paid.
On a personal level, many of them might not have cared whether Americans were independent or not; once the war was over, they simply would have wished to have returned home to their loved ones. This was not a personal fight for many of the British rank and file troops, while it deeply affected the personal lives of the American revolutionaries. Thus, the Americans were able to fend off one of the largest militaries at the time.