November 8, 2014 / by admin / American History / No Comments

The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution

The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution

Rodney Atwood

Language: English

Pages: 305

ISBN: 2:00352613

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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.

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military settlements in New England can have been only the tip of an iceberg of rumour and propaganda about the horrors of German mercenaries descending upon a defenceless people.10 Numerous Hessian diarists later re5 William B. Willcox, Portrait of a General, Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence (New York, 1964), pp. 80-1; Mackenzie, Diary, I, p. 92. Quoted in Willard M. Wallace, Appeal to Arms: a Military History of the American Revolution (New York, 1951), p. 42. 7 Add. MS. 21680,

enterpriser was the Thirty Years War, the arch-practitioner, of course, Wallenstein. He raised an army of 100,000 men, nominally under the emperor, but actually under the command of Wallenstein and his mercenary captains. With this horde he made war profitable, both by raising men and quartering them over areas from which he could exact Kontribution. For every Wallenstein, there were hundreds of small scale operators. Some were successful, received titles and became millionaires from their

Carl Levin remained in the service and became the Landgraf's Flugel-adjutant.^ Knyphausen was rather more fortunate, and could write to Riedesel in May 1784 that he had commanded his regiment with pride for twenty years and was now made governor of Kassel.25 Knyphausen had been successful, not merely in that he had proved a brave and skilful soldier, but he had risen by his conduct to the favoured circle around the prince. The new society in America was not merely antithetical to the Hessian

the armies; and the art of war itself was precise, mechanical, and rational. Yet the battles themselves were remarkably sanguinary, as at Zorndorf where Russian casualties were fifty per cent of total strength; and a city captured by coup de main could be put to the sack with all its attendant horrors. The armies' subsisted mainly on supplies gathered in magazines, yet widespread foraging was necessary to feed both men and horses. And levies of manpower, money, and foodstuffs were made in

allied army, when it drove the French marauders from Hesse, pillaged the country more than the Hessians or British did America;' and added he, with great indignation, 'no American town has been laid under contribution, and what is there to destroy? wooden houses deserted of their inhabitants, pigs and poultry?' Simcoe noted that Boston, Philadelphia, Newport, Charleston, and Savannah were occupied by the British and evacuated unharmed, while New York they actually saved from fire.64 Ochs, who

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