full version Hessian (German) Soldiers (Mercenaries) In The Revolutionary War Essay

Hessian (German) Soldiers (Mercenaries) In The Revolutionary War

Category: American History

Autor: back_up 08 April 2010

Words: 2375 | Pages: 10

Whenever you ask someone about the Revolutionary War they think of one thing and one thing only... the Americans fighting off the British for their independence. And although it is true that they fought of the British for their independence, a lot of people miss the fact that there were others fighting on the British side that greatly added to their number. These men were the Hessian soldiers, or as other historians call them, “German Mercenaries”. These men were hired by the British and made up a large portion of Britain’s mobilized armies (American). So who are these Hessian soldiers and how did they impact the British in the American Revolution?
Every army has a beginning, and with the beginning comes rules to set it straight. The Hessian army originated when King Charles of Hesse-Kassel adopted the system of hiring out soldiers to foreign powers as mercenaries to help improve the national finance (Reese). The country of Hesse-Kassel was located between two parts of Prussia between some of their major military routes (Showalter). This resulted in war on many levels between the two nations. The country side was completely wasted and the only thing a lot of people had to talk about was war. So when King Charles put forth this plan, it seemed like a normal way of increasing finance. The Hessian army was already small and insignificant, and when the plan of selling out soldiers for profit came around, the army was divided into smaller cantons each responsible for maintaining a field regiment for home defense (Showalter). The selection of soldiers under the plan was plain and simple. All men between the ages of 16 and 30, and taller than 5’ 6” were listed as available for military service. But if someone owned property worth more than 250 thalers, they had the option of paying the army in money instead of blood. Also, craftsmen, apprentices, slave workers in military related industry, and men essential for their farm’s success were also exempt. In the end, Hesse-Kassel stabilized an army at a strength of 24,000 men and became the most militarized state in Europe with a 1 to 15 soldier to citizen ratio (Showalter). And although Hesse-Kassel allowed foreigners to enlist in their ever-growing army, it overwhelmingly consisted of native sons. Surprisingly enough, the soldiers consisted mostly of the landless, jobless, and drifters. Military inspectors came from around Europe to frequently remark upon the size and fitness level of the Hessian regulars. These critics credited their fitness to their austere upbringing and ongoing participation in war (Showalter). People sometimes thought how the Hessians felt about being sold into war, and the truth is they had an unusual acceptance of military life. And once you were brought into the military, the only way out was to die, become a fugitive, or commit 24 years of your life to military service (Showalter). The motivation that fueled Hessians into war were stories told to them as children by their parents and grand-parents, about the adventures of war, while leaving out all the destruction and pain involved. However, not all Hessians wanted to fight in wars their whole life. So to prevent the case of a run away soldier before duty, parents were held responsible and jailed if their son fled from battle. They would then be kept in jail until their son reported for duty (Showalter). The Hessian army may have had some strict rules and regulations but it all played out to their actions in battle which is what ultimately gained their reputation as a fighting force.
Before the Hessians were hired to fight alongside British in the Revolutionary War, they were busy being hired to fight alongside other countries in other wars for money. Before their mercenary age, Hesse-Kassel was not popular for their military or for anything else (Showalter). They were very slow at recovering their army from warring and it was difficult for them to sustain a force to protect their borders and political peace. In 1676 their army totaled a measly amount of 23 companies. And when the selling of soldiers began, they lent all of their companies to Denmark for 3,200 thalers (Showalter). Being successful there, they then rented out 1,00 men to Venice for 50 thalers a piece (Showalter). And coming back successful there as well, their renting of soldiers suddenly caught the eye of the Estates of Holland. In 1658, 3,400 soldiers were sent to the Estates of Holland to fight under Sir William of Orange. And after the campaign, the Dutch wished to have more of the Hessian soldiers for longer periods of time (Showalter). The Hessians moved in to fight in wars such as the League of Harissburg (1688-97), and the Spanish Succession (1701-14), establishing great reputations as soldiers in these wars (Showalter). Britains Duke of Marlborough praised their valor for, “discipline in the field, steadiness under fire and willingness to endure the high casualties characteristic of flint lock–and–saber–battles” (Showalter). Prince Eugene of Austria, upon hearing about the many praises of Hessian soldiers, decided to take 10,000 immediately into Italy in 1706 and led the contingent against the Turks in Hungary (Showalter). And although many people viewed the Hessians as money-seeking mercenaries, the Hessians themselves looked at it as a way of maintaining sovereignty in Hesse-Kassel, and not as a source of profit. Even 5 of the king’s sons served as soldiers in battle, and 2 of them were killed in action (Showalter). As their conquest in the military raged on, they made sure to stay to their native Calvinist beliefs and refused to do any business with Protestant employers. France, a Protestant state, made many generous offers to Hesse-Kassel for soldiers but were denied each time because of Hesse-Kassel’s commitment to their religion (Showalter). Then in 1715 when the Scottish rebellion broke out in Britain, they sought 12,000 Hessian soldiers to help quell the struggle. After, the rebellion was put down, the British paid Hesse-Kassel an annual fund of 125,000 pounds to have the first call on the Hessian army in future wars. 5 years later, however, with no war on the horizon, the Hessians settled with the British by accepting a flat payment of 240,000 pounds to keep 12,000 soldiers ready for British service (Showalter). While reserving these 12,000 troops for the British, Hesse-Kassel continued to rent out the remaining soldiers to other countries but to no good results. They actually ended up being put on both sides of the War of the Austrian Succession (Showalter). But when the Seven-Years War occurred, Hessians took 24,000 men into the battlefield, which was 2,000 more than the British took, and made a big statement in the war. As the American Revolution came near, Hessians were proving once again to be among Europe’s finest soldiers and were referred by the British as, “His Britannic Majesty’s Army in Germany” (Showalter). And when the American Revolution was on the horizon, the Hessians prepared to put on their most memorable show.
In the Declaration of Independence the Americans acknowledge the Hessians by stating they are, “foreign mercenaries” used to finish Britain’s work of, “death, desolation, and tyranny” (Showalter). Before the Revolution even began, Britain had made negotiations with Hesse-Kassel and paid 20,000,000 thalers into Hesse-Kassel’s treasury. They also paid the troops sent over at British standards of pay and guaranteed to not place the troops outside of North America. And to sweeten the deal even further, they promised to aid Hesse-Kassel if it were ever attacked by a foreign nation (Showalter). Once the Revolution broke out, Hesse-Kassel sent an initial fleet of 17,000 troops to aid the British in America (McCullough). Throughout the course of the war they sent a total of approximately 30,000 soldiers and about 17,000 never returned both because of death and remaining in America (Reese). By the time the Hessians arrived in America, they were known throughout the world to be brutal, and to bayonet captured soldiers to trees. The first battle that the Hessian soldiers would experience in America took place on Christmas in 1776. Having been used to partying on Christmas, the Hessians drank much beer, and were very sleepy in the morning. Crossing the river during the night, Gen. Washington decided to launch a surprise attack on the hung-over Hessians. Being aware of the attack but too hung-over to put up much of a fight, the Hessians became jittery and the Commander of the Army was still sleeping as the Americans arrived. He was woken up and threw on his clothes at the last minute with the news that Washington had crossed the river. When he walked outside it was reported that the Americans had surrounded the city and captured the picket guard, and the Hessian artillery. Not knowing what to do, the Hessians launched a bayonet charge because their flints were wet from the night before and therefore they could not fire their muskets. But the American troops had managed to keep their flints dry and mowed down the Hessians in their futile attempt to Bayonet the Americans. The commander was quickly forced to surrender his arms. At the end of the battle the Patriots suffered only 6 casualties in Trenton. 2 of them froze on the march over, and 2 officers and 2 men were killed during the battle (Reese). After this huge disaster, the Hessians managed to fight back the way they were used to fighting for so many years. In the Battle of Fort Washington, the Hessians once again proved their strength and skill in combat. They managed to perform the feat of climbing a mountainous terrain while being fired down upon by the Americans and ambush them (McCullough). The British standing at the side of the mountain thought it to be a suicide task that only a mentally insane person would attempt. General Grant praised the Hessian troops in the battle saying that they, “surmounted every difficulty and after gaining the heights kept on at a trot… and if General Knyphausen (commander of the Hessian force) had not stopped Colonel Rall, I am convinced he would have been in the fort in 5 minutes” (McCullough). Then in the Battle of Kips Bay, the Hessians were transported through American forces on ships. Although they were unusually afraid of being on a ship because of the fear of being fired upon form land, they regained their courage once they landed. After the boats landed, the Hessians headed inland towards Washington’s command post and the Americans fled everywhere before they even showed up. And those who stayed and surrendered were bayoneted or shot (McCullough). Another example of Hessian bravery was in the Battle of White Plains, where Washington had his men on a hill awaiting the British approach. The British and Hessians had been approaching very slowly towards the hill because they believed that if it went right, it would be a decisive victory in the war. On the arrival in the White Plains, 13,000 British and Hessian troops began approaching the hill head on. But the suddenly, half of the troops broke off and rushed to a hill higher than the one Washington was on and decimated them with musket fire. Artillery was also moving in towards the hill and shooting as well. The Hessian soldiers then launched a daring uphill charge which broke through the militia and reinforcements and forcing Washington off the hill and to retreat (McCullough). But the Hessians also experienced the superior bravery of the Americans first hand in the Battle of Saratoga. After being captured and brought into the American camp, the Hessian soldiers became extremely intimidated by the American troops. There was not one uniformed American regiment, but they wore the same clothes in battle as they did in church and in bars. They stood like soldiers, in good order, and with striking appearances. “The [Americans] stood so still [the Hessians] were filled with astonishment. Not one [American] made a motion to speak with his neighbor. War had made all the [Americans] standing in the ranks so slender, so handsome, so sinewy, that it was a pleasure to look at them, and we all wondered at the sight of so well-made people. In truth, English America surpasses most parts of Europe in size and beauty of its men” (Hessians). For the rest of the war the Hessians didn’t make much of an impression on the American army and once the war was over, many of the Hessians actually decided to settle in Pennsylvania and west New Jersey and start a new family in the new world (McCullough). And from that point on, the Hessians slowly turned into a more normal nation, turning its main revenue from mercenaries into more industrial businesses and looking more like a nation than a barbaric wasteland.
So who were the Hessians and how did they impact the British in the American Revolution? They were a people who fueled some of the worlds’ greatest wars in the 17th and 18th century by selling their troops to help the opposing nations. They were people who had strict standards in their army and were a uniform team that stood together under constant fire and made daring rushes considered to be suicide. And they were people who engaged themselves with the British in the American Revolution to fight against the legendary General Washington only to come up short but making huge sacrifices along the way for the ones who had paid them. And although the only thing they will probably ever be remembered for is their being slaughtered in the Battle of Trenton, they were a nation that was the supply of the most effective and dedicated mercenary soldiers that the world has ever seen.