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Old February 19th, 2012, 10:01 PM   #1
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Hessians in the Revolutionary War


A I found a note, in a book, that claimed the Hessians never won a battle against the Americans over the course of the Revolutionary war. This seemed incredible to me, as these soldiers apparently had performed brilliantly in Europe and several battles in the states as well. Still, I have read numerous comments from authors who do not think too highly of the performances of these soldiers. So, I feel somewhat compelled to investigate the question of whether the Hessian's were worth all the money England spent on them.

Apparently, there was some controversy in Europe over whether they should have been deployed in the first place. These soldiers were apparently largely conscripts, and some felt that 'selling' them to fight an overseas war was tantamount to slavery. I have also read that many of these were the dregs of the regiments - crimanals, elderly, infirm, etc. So much so that many were left in the states when Britain pulled out.

During the war, these Hessians made up 1/3rd of the loyalist troops deployed in the colonies. Still, the presence of mercenaries did much to stir up resentment in the colonies - so much so they (mercenaries) got a mention in the declaration of independence.

Anyway, was it in Britain's best interest to use Hessians or did they shoot themselves in the foot?
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Old February 19th, 2012, 10:07 PM   #2

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I can't say of their overall effect on the British war effort, but Hessians certainly helped rout the Americans at Long Island and also I believed the Hessians did well during the fighting on Rhode Island and Connecticut IIRC.
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Old February 19th, 2012, 10:32 PM   #3

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The Hessian mercenaries were fine professional soldiers that performed well in the field. The colonists quickly learned to fear them. Unfortunately, the colonists also quickly learned to hate them. Hessian soldiers came from a military tradition of plunder being the right of the common soldier. Pretty much a part of his expected reward for service. That did not go well.

Hessians were famously defeated at Trenton but I believe the fault lay in their lack of command preparedness.

They were also known for deserting and simply melting into the German communities in the colonies. Particularly if they were captured. I read once about some Hessian prisoners being sent to a German community as workers and to watch them. They were later listed as deserters but, quite possibly, never left the community.
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Old February 19th, 2012, 10:54 PM   #4

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Yes and no. First of all, Hessian is a rather generic term, the German mercenary units who fought during the revolution varied greatly in quality and composition. At one end of the spectrum were VonWurmb's Jager units, which were made up largely of German marksmen and hunters who fought quite respectfully as light infantry throughout the revolution and were able to hold their own against the harassing tactics of American Militia. Here the Germans made up for a weakness in the British army.

At the other end there were units, as you described, that were composed of the dregs of society; convicts, drunkards, derelicts, the elderly. There were several instances of respectful citizens whom were abducted off the streets and loaded into the cargo ships like sardines to fight the war half a world away.

The best defense against the Hessian troops was the promise of free land and liberty from what basically amounted to slavery. The Americans knew of their plight and wisely took advantage of it offering the Hessian free land if they were to desert.
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Old February 20th, 2012, 03:29 AM   #5
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I read that the British government had to pay extra for dead or wounded or missing (deserters) Hessians. After the first few years of the the cost was adding up and the Kings bean counters had the their way and the hessians were turned into to garrison troops.
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Old February 20th, 2012, 03:48 AM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Victariand View Post
Anyway, was it in Britain's best interest to use Hessians or did they shoot themselves in the foot?
Who would they replace them with?
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Old February 20th, 2012, 04:28 AM   #7

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I always found it an interesting detail that the Continental Congress offered about 50 acres
as bait for any German soldier to defect, while they offered up into the 100s of acres for
different ranks of British soldiers. I'm thinking about 5,000 German soldiers stayed behind
in North America after the war.
Jefferson even mentions the use of Hessians in the Dec. of Ind.
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Old February 20th, 2012, 05:07 AM   #8

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Hessen-Kassel sended 12,000 troops to the colonies, with replacement units 19,000. Through the war they had a average strength of 10-12,000 men. In the war they had 535 KIA, 1,300 WIA, around 3000 died of wounds, illness, accidents. 2600 were POW. 10,500 soldiers returned home in 1783, all in all 3500 stayed in the USA and 2500 in Canada as settlers. Hessen-kassel sended to the colonies
5 infantry regiments, 4 grenadier btl, 2 companies of Feldjägern and an Artillery corps.There were an additional number of 3 companies of Feldjäger on foot and on on horses.

The Hersfeld regiment "Prinz Carl" arrived in august 15th 1776 around staten island and participated at the battle of White Plains and the conquest of Newport. In august 22nd the hessians participated in the battle of Long Island.

They lost at trenton in december 1776 and at Princeton. their final defeat was october 1781 in Yorktown, were 850 hessians capitulated together with the other British forces
Battles were hessians won are e.g. Fort washington in 1776, Brandywine, the capture of Philadelphia and the battle of germantown.


BTW other german contingents for the british were from Hessen-Hanau ca. 2,400 soldiers, 980 did not return, from Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel 5700 men of which 3000 did not return. The Braunschweigians and hessians made ca. 50% of Burgoyne's army. From Ansbach-Bayreuth were 2400 men of which 460 did not return(they mainly fought under Howe and Cornwallis) and from Waldeck-Pyrmont were 1300 men of which 720 did not return.
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Old February 20th, 2012, 05:30 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beorna View Post
Hessen-Kassel sended 12,000 troops to the colonies, with replacement units 19,000. Through the war they had a average strength of 10-12,000 men. In the war they had 535 KIA, 1,300 WIA, around 3000 died of wounds, illness, accidents. 2600 were POW. 10,500 soldiers returned home in 1783, all in all 3500 stayed in the USA and 2500 in Canada as settlers. Hessen-kassel sended to the colonies
5 infantry regiments, 4 grenadier btl, 2 companies of Feldjägern and an Artillery corps.There were an additional number of 3 companies of Feldjäger on foot and on on horses.

The Hersfeld regiment "Prinz Carl" arrived in august 15th 1776 around staten island and participated at the battle of White Plains and the conquest of Newport. In august 22nd the hessians participated in the battle of Long Island.

They lost at trenton in december 1776 and at Princeton. their final defeat was october 1781 in Yorktown, were 850 hessians capitulated together with the other British forces
Battles were hessians won are e.g. Fort washington in 1776, Brandywine, the capture of Philadelphia and the battle of germantown.


BTW other german contingents for the british were from Hessen-Hanau ca. 2,400 soldiers, 980 did not return, from Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel 5700 men of which 3000 did not return. The Braunschweigians and hessians made ca. 50% of Burgoyne's army. From Ansbach-Bayreuth were 2400 men of which 460 did not return(they mainly fought under Howe and Cornwallis) and from Waldeck-Pyrmont were 1300 men of which 720 did not return.
The only correction I would make to yours is that the Landgraf sent 15 infantry regiments - virtually all the army's infantry - to America.

The cavalry and dragoon regiments remained at home (six or seven IIRC).
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Old February 20th, 2012, 05:41 AM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by pikeshot1600 View Post
The only correction I would make to yours is that the Landgraf sent 15 infantry regiments - virtually all the army's infantry - to America.

The cavalry and dragoon regiments remained at home (six or seven IIRC).
oh yes, the "1" is missing . thanks for the correction.

BTW a nice story about my fellow countrymen from brunswick. They sended the Dragoons to the US, withouttheir horses, because they thought, that there are enough horses, but weren't. So they had to fight without horses.
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