From Academic Kids

This article is about a German tribe, the Hessians. For other uses of the word, see Hessian (disambiguation).

Hessians are the members of a northern German tribe settled in modern-day Hesse.

During the American Revolutionary War, the ruler of Hesse-Kassel (a principality in northern Hesse) sold thousands of his subjects as mercenaries to Britain in order to pay for his extravagant lifestyle. These men were shipped to America by the British to fight against the American revolutionaries.

One of the most famous incidents involving these mercenaries was the Battle of Trenton, where about 900 Hessians were captured out of a force of 1,400. George Washington's army crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Night of 1776 to carry out a surprise attack.

About 30,000 of these mercenaries were hired and they came to be called Hessians because 16,992 of the total 30,067 men came from Hesse-Kassel. The others came from Anhalt-Zerbst, Anspach-Bayreuth, Brunswick-Lüneburg, Hesse-Hanau, Nassau, and Waldeck and other German states.

In early 1776, George III hired units from the various houses or states of Germany. Several of these rulers, needing hard currency and being "between wars", were only too happy to oblige.

The troops were not mercenaries in the modern sense of professionals who fought for money. As in most armies of the 18th century, the men were mainly conscripts, debtors or the victims of impressment; some were also petty criminals. Pay was low - some soldiers apparently got nothing but their daily food. The officer corps were usually career officers who had served in earlier European wars. The revenues realized from their service went back to the German royalty.

Hessians composed approximately one third of the British forces in the conflict. They included jaegers, hussars, three artillery companies and four battalions of grenadiers. Most of the infantry were chasseurs (sharpshooters), musketeers and fusiliers. They were armed mainly with smoothbore muskets. Artillery used 3-pound guns.

Initially, the average regimental was made up of 500-600 men. Later in the war, the regiments had only 300-400 men.

About 18,000 Hessian troops arrived in North America in 1776, with more coming in later. They first landed at Staten Island on August 15 and their first engagement was in the Battle of Long Island. The Hessians fought in almost every battle, although after 1777 they were mainly used as garrison troops. None of them fought in the battles and campaigns in the southern states during 1778-1780, and only two regiments fought at Yorktown in 1781.

In addition to firepower, American rebels used propaganda against Hessians. They enticed Hessians to desert to join the German-American population. In April 1778, one letter promised 50 acres (0.2 km²) of land to every deserter. Benjamin Franklin wrote an article that claimed that a Hessian commander wanted more of his soldiers dead so that he could be better compensated.

After the war ended in 1783, 17,313 Hessians returned to their homelands. Of the 12,526 who did not, about 7,700 died - around 1,200 were killed in action and 6,354 died from illness or accidents. Approximately 5,000 Hessians settled in North America, both in the United States and Canada - some because their commanders refused to take them back to Germany because they were criminals or physically unfit. Most of them married and settled amongst the population of the newly formed United States. Many of them became farmers or craftsmen. The number of their direct descendants living in the U.S. and Canada today is still being debated.

Further reading

  • Johann Conrad Döhla: A Hessian diary of the American Revolution; translated, edited, and with an introduction by Bruce E. Burgoyne from the 1913 Bayreuth edition by W. Baron von Waldenfels. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990 ISBN 0-8061-2254-4 ISBN 0-806-12530-6 (pbk)
  • Edward J. Lowell: The Hessians and the other German auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Pub. Co., 2002 ISBN 0-8063-5152-7 (originally published New York: Harper, 1884).

External links

de:Soldatenhandel unter Landgraf Friedrich II. von Hessen-Kassel


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