Who were these guys?
In the days when American schools taught history with some substance, almost all students learned the word "Hessian" when the American Revolutionary War was taught. These were those big, bad foreigners hired to help crush the rebellion. Tall men who fought us with a cold-bloodedness that even discomforted some British officers and men. Most of what we learned in school of the Hessians centered around perhaps their lowest moment - the battle of Trenton in which a force of over a thousand were captured by General George Washington's rabble of a half starved army. But the Hessians were just some of the Germans King George leased to suppress the rebellion. Although they made up the largest contingent - more than half. Since there were some German settlers in parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia it was convenient to pin all the German mercenaries with the name, a name that came to send chills down the spines of Americans.
Who they were
|Landgraf Friederich-Wilhelm II|
The typical German soldier was conscripted from the lower classes of these regions: men who had no other recourse to avoid conscription such as paying a tax, leveraging social position or bribing a corrupt official. Occasionally these "dregs" included craftsmen, tradesmen, educated men and other men of substance as well as the occasional fallen cleric. But most German soldiers who came to fight in America were farm boys who came from farms that reached hard times. So in most instances, these men were forced into service by circumstances. The fortunate soldier who did not fall in battle or succumb to disease might reach the rank of corporal or sergeant. But calling the German soldiers mercenaries is a bit misleading. They were soldiers serving in the army of their prince. It was their princes who were mercenary in leasing out whole regiments and companies to the King of England. This was not an uncommon occurrence in the 18th century.
Where they served
|Hessians were present at Yorktown's surrender|
How many came
The British purchased the services of 30,000 German soldiers, the payment of which went into the royal coffers of the German princes, not the troops. The units came from the German states of Hesse Cassel, Hesse Hanau, Brunswick, Anspach, Bayreuth, Anhalt Zerbst and Waldeck.
Place Number sent Number not returned home
Hesse Cassel 16,992 6,500
Hesse Hannau 2,422 981
Brunswick 5,723 3,015
Anspach - Bayreuth 2,553 1,178
Anhalt Zerbst 1,152 168
Waldeck 1,225 720
The total sent was 30,067 from 1776 to 1782; 12,562 did not return... 7,754 dead (mostly from disease) and 4,808 remained in America... Perhaps making them perhaps the first great wave of non-English speaking immigrants to America.
How they dressed and armed
How they fought
Well, they fought well. The German regiments were disciplined, could endure great hardship, were highly trained and skilled, and most of all brave. Despite the harsh terms of their enlistment and the brutal discipline imposed, they had great elan and esprit de corps. They had pride in their profession and they did not like to lose. In fact, they always expected to win. The Germans were well armed with the best weapons of the period and fought in disciplined companies of between forty and eighty men. The companies usually formed part of a regiment, typically named for its commander or place of origin. With extremely professional officers and non-commissioned officers the Germans made a reliable force with a combat power beyond their numbers. German regiments rarely failed to have a major impact on a battle. They led the attack at the passes on Long Island and stormed Fort Washington's outer works. Their reputation was such that their presence before Washington's army helped pin the American front at Brandywine while the rebel flank was turned up stream. I could go on.
|Hessians adapted well to combat in America|
Who led them
Legend and Legacy
|Hessians were viewed as brutal oppressors|
by most Americans