The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution
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The Hessians are infamous in American history for their role as part of the British forces sent to crush the colonists' rebellion in 1776. Yet these German auxiliaries, or mercenaries were only one instance of a frequent military practice, approved by international jurists of the time and used by the British in all their eighteenth-century wars. This study (dealing with one of the six contingents known inaccurately as the Hessians) is the first to make extensive use of manuscript sources in Germany, Britain and America to put the Hessians in their historical context and to examine a number of the myths about them. The encounter of the Americans with the Hessian troops from a disciplined paternalistic society organized for war, with special thoroughness, was not merely the meeting of two military systems, but also of two ways of life, and is thus worthy of study in an age of conflict.
continue his march without delay.147 The Americans continued to harass the withdrawing columns, and at length Howe himself was obliged to take two regiments and several guns from Cornwallis's column to engage the attackers. Only after a fire-fight of two hours, a loss on the British side of thirty killed and wounded, and severe blasts of grapeshot from his guns, was Howe able successfully to disengage and continue the withdrawal. Immediately thereafter Munchhausen was detached again to order
and reached Portsmouth roads on 22 August.152 From there he wrote to Germain and Suffolk expressing his undying devotion to the King's 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 Egerton MS. 2135, fol. 10. Munchhausen, fasc. 2, fol. 32. Ibid., fol. 35. Munchhausen, fasc. 2, fol. 36. Ibid., fol. 39. StaMarburg 4h.41O. nr. 1, fols. 589-94, 14 July 1777. ADM51/637, Log of HMS Niger (Capt. George Talbot); StaMarburg 4h.413. nr. 4, fol. 80, Kutzleben to (the Erbprinz?), 30 Aug. 1777. He took with him an atlas of
him Rentmeister at Melsungen. Stevens, Facsimiles, xix, nr. 1756, Lowry to Mr St Pierre (Dr Bancroft), 5 Dec. 1777. Beaumarchais in Paris exaggerated this report to Vergennes: 'a Hessian officer has arrived in London, commissioned to make the most bitter complaints of the manner in which the Hessians are sacrificed on every occasion, and to threaten their leaving the English service in a body . . .' A good index on the reliability of second- and third-hand information on the Hessians. Ibid, XX,
the regiments;86 and when Lieutenant Rau of Ewald's company had his foot shattered in a fight with Hand's Pennsylvanians, four of his men carried him to safety under fire.87 The Jdger corps, incorporating those of Ansbach-Bayreuth under Captain von Cramon after spring, 1777, reached a total strength of over a thousand in 1781.88 Usually fighting in detachments, they were involved in all the raids and expeditions of the latter part of the war, and held an important post at Kingsbridge which
troops were before Parliament in 1776, the opposition predicted a speedy German defection from British ranks. Pointing to the vast German emigration to America, James Luttrell said that the mercenaries' former countrymen, settled in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and along the Mohawk river, would invite them to desert, offering lands and protection. The transports of mercenaries would people America with Germans just as surely as the Palatine ships had done.10 Throughout 1776 opponents of the Ministry