Germans in the American Revolution

Germans in the American Revolution

Ethnic Germans served on both sides of the American Revolutionary War. Many supported the Loyalist cause and served as allies of Great Britain, whose King George III was also the Elector of Hanover. Other Germans came to assist the rebelling American patriots, but most of the patriot Germans were colonists.

Allies of Great Britain

During the American Revolution, there was no nation known as Germany, as there is today. Instead, there were many German states loosely unified under the Holy Roman Empire. Many of these German states were officially Protestant, making them traditional allies of other Protestant nations, such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain, whose King, George III, was also the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Prince-elector of Hanover. When rebellion broke out in the British colonies in America, King George's German allies came to his aid. The German people generally took great pride in their soldiers' service in the war. [Eelking, 263]

Americans were alarmed at the arrival of German troops on American soil, which was viewed as a betrayal by their British king. Several American congressmen declared they would be willing to declare independence if King George used German soldiers. [Ferling, 114] German soldiers provided American patriots with a propaganda tool; they were derogatorily called "mercenaries," and were referred as such in the Declaration of Independence:


The Landgrafschaft Hessen-Kassel, under Frederick II of Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel), uncle to King George III, initially provided over 12,000 soldiers to fight in the Americas. [Eelking, 23] Like their British allies, the Hessians had some difficulty acclimating to North America; the first Hessians sent suffered from widespread illness, and forced the delay of the attack on Long Island. [Ferling, 566] From 1776 on, Hessian soldiers incorporated into the British army and fought in most of the major battles, including the New York and New Jersey campaign, the Battle of Germantown, the Siege of Charleston, and the final Siege of Yorktown, where about 1,300 Germans were taken prisoner, [Ferling, 538] although various reports indicate that they Germans were in better spirits than their British counterparts. [Ferling, 536]

It has been estimated that Hesse-Kassel contributed over 16,000 troops during the course of the Revolutionary War, and lost 6,500 of these men. [Eelking, 257] Hessian officer (later General) Adam Ludwig Ochs estimated 1,800 Hessian soldiers were killed, but many in the Hessian army enlisted with the intent of staying in America, and remained after the war. [Eelking, 258] . Because the majority of German troops came from Hesse, Americans sometimes refer to all German troops generically as "Hessians". Hesse-Kassel signed a treaty with Great-Britain to supply fifteen regiments, four grenadier battalions, two Jäger companies, and artillery. [Eelking, 16] The Jägers, in particular, were carefully recruited and well paid, well clothed, and free from manual labor. [Eelking, 100-101. Jägers were offered a signing bonus of one Louis d'or coin, which increased up to 4 coins as Hesse tried to fill their companies with expert riflemen.]

German armies could not quickly replace men lost on the other side of the Atlantic, so the Hessians recruited African-Americans as servants and soldiers. There were 115 black soldiers serving with Hessian units, most of them as drummers or fifers. [ [ The Revolution's Black Soldiers] by Robert A. Selig, Ph.D.]

Perhaps the most well known officer from Hesse-Kassel is General Wilhelm von Knyphausen, who commanded his Hessian troops in several major battles of the Revolution. Other notable officers include Colonel Carl von Donop and Colonel Johann Rall, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Trenton.


Hesse-Hanau was an independent county of Hesse, governed by Protestant William I, eldest son of Catholic Frederick II from Hesse-Kassel. When William received news of the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, he unconditionally offered a regiment to King George III. [Lowell, 7] During the course of the war, Hanau provied 2,422 troops during the war, and lost 981. [Eelking, 257] Colonel Wilhelm von Gall is one well-known officer from Hesse-Hanau; he commanded a regiment of Hessians from Hanau under General John Burgoyne. [Ketchum, 93]

Braunschweig (Brunswick)

Braunschweig, or Brunswick, was a duchy divided into sub-districts - one of which was ruled by George III. Duke Karl I of Brunswick-Bevern was duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and his son and heir, Charles William Ferdinand, was married to Princess Augusta of Great Britain, the sister of George III. [Lowell, 8]

In 1775, Charles William Ferdinand, also known as Prince Carl, told King George III that Braunschweig had soldiers that would be available to help put down the rebellion in the Americas. [Ketchum, 95] Braunschweig was the first German state to sign a treaty supporting Great Britain, on 9 January 1776. It agreed to send 4,000 soldiers: four infantry regiments, one grenadier battalion, one dragoon regiment and one light infantry battalion. [Eelking, 16] The Brunswick treaty provided that all troops would be paid in German Thalers - including two months' advance pay, but required that all troops take an oath of service to King George III. [Eelking, 17]

Duke Karl I provided Great Britain with 4,000 foot soldiers and 350 heavy dragoons (dismounted [The heavy dragoons from Braunschweig did not have horses and performed as foot soldiers. They were expected to acquire horses during the campaign, which led to the Battle of Bennington.] ) under Lt-Colonel Friedrich Baum, all commanded by General Friedrich Adolf Riedesel. These soldiers were the majority of the German regulars under General John Burgoyne in the Saratoga campaign of 1777, and were generally referred to as "Brunswickers." [Ketchum, 32] The combined forces from Braunschwieg and Hesse-Hanau accounted for nearly half of Burgoyne's army, [Ketchum, 137] and the Brunswickers were known for being especially well drilled. [Ketchum, 131] Riedesel's wife, Friederike, traveled with her husband and kept a journal, which remains an important primary account of the Saratoga campaign. After Burgoyne's surrender, 2,431 Brunswickers were detained as the Convention Army until the end of the war. [Smith, 2]

Braunschweig sent 5,723 troops to North America, of which 3,015 did not return to Germany in the autumn of 1783. [Eelking, 257] [Smith, 1] Some losses were to death or desertion, but many Brunswickers became familiar with America during their stay as the Convention Army, and when the war ended, they were granted permission to stay by both Congress and their officers. [Eelking, 258] Many had taken the opportunity to desert as the Convention Army was twice marched through Pennsylvania German settlements in eastern Pennsylvania. [Smith, 3] As the Duke received compensation from the British for every one of his soldiers killed in America, it was in his best interest to report the deserters as dead, whenever possible. [Smith, 1] The Duke of Brunswick even offered six months' pay to soldiers who remained or returned to America. [Eelking, 267]


Ansbach-Bayreuth, under Margraf Charles Alexander, initially contributed 1,644 men to the war, and lost 461. [Eelking, 257] Before the end of the war, as many as 2,353 soldiers were sent from Ansbach-Bayreuth. [Lowell, 11] These troops were incorporated into Howe's army in New York, and were part of the Philadelphia campaign. [Eelking, 105] Ansbach-Bayreuth troops were also with General Cornwallis at the Siege of Yorktown, [Eelking, pgs 203, 209, 214] with a force of nearly 1,100 troops. [Lowell, 277]

The Ansbach and Beyreuth regiments are remembered for a mutiny that occurred in Ochsenfurt. The soldiers were loaded onto boats on the Main River, but could not cross the bridge, which the Bishop of Würzburg refused to open. In the morning, 8 March 1777 some Ansbach soldiers managed to get to the bank of the river, and pulled the other boats to land. The officers tried to address their concerns, but some men deserted. Chasseurs were posted to keep men from deserting, and fired warning shots; the mutineers returned fire. When the Margrave of Ansbach received word of the riot, he immediately mounted a horse and rode through the night to get to Ochsenfurt. The Margrave convinced his soldiers to reboard the boats, and sailed with them as far as Mainz, where he succeeded in getting the bridge opened, without the consent of the Elector. [Lowell, 48-50]

The Margraf of Ansbach-Bayreuth was deeply in debt when the war broke out, and received more than £100,000 for the use of his armies. [Lowell, 11] In 1791, not long after the war, he sold both Ansbach and Beyreuth to Prussia and lived the rest of his life in England on a Prussian pension. [Lowell, 12]


Waldeck had made a treaty to support Great Britain in London on 25 April 1775, before the news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord (fought just a week earlier) came to Europe. [Eelking, 16] Prince Friedrich Karl August of Waldeck kept three regiments ready for paid foreign service. The first of these regiments, 684 troops and officers, sailed out from Portsmouth in July 1776, and participated in the New York campaign. [Eelking, 47] During the campaign, the Waldeck regiment captured wine and spirits belonging to American General Lee, and were embittered towards British General Howe when he made them empty the bottles by the roadside. [Eelking, 50]

The Waldeck troops were integrated into the German auxiliaries under Hessian General Wilhelm von Knyphausen. Waldeck contributed 1,225 men to the war, and lost 720. [Eelking, 257]


Five battalions of Hanoverian troops, whose Elector was none other than British King George III, were initially sent to Gibraltar to relieve the British soldiers stationed there to fight in America. [Eelking, 16] This was not ordered by King George, but was part of a treaty authorized by Parliament with Hanover, in which Great Britain agreed to pay the wartime expenses and protect German allies. [Rosengarten, The German Soldier, 62-63] King George would later volunteer 400 of his Hanoverian chasseurs to serve under General Burgoyne. [Commager, 543]


The Duke of Anhalt-Zerbst signed a treaty to provide Great Britain with 1,160 men in 1777. The Regiment was raised in five months, and consisted of 900 new recruits. [Eelking, 238] This regiment took part in the Saratoga compaign, and became part of the Convention Army. Anhalt-Zerbst lost 176 men. [Eelking, 257]

Congressional Allies

German Americans

German immigration to the British colonies began soon after the founding of Jamestown by English colonists. In 1690, German colonials built the first paper mill in North America, and the Bible was printed in America in German before it was printed in English. By the mid-18th Century, approximately 10% of the colonial American population spoke German. [Bobrick, 41] During the French and Indian War, Great Britain utilized the large German population in North America by forming the Royal American Regiment, whose enlisted men were principally German colonists. [Rosengarten, The German Soldier, 11] The first commander of this regiment was General Henry Bouquet, a native of Switzerland. The regiment would later be commanded by General Howe.

As with other ethnic groups in the British colonies, German-speaking colonists were divided, supporting both the Patriot and Loyalist causes. German loyalists fought in their local militias, and some returned to Germany in exile following the war. [Bobrick, 482 Note: This refers to "Deutschland," literally "the land of the Germans," referring to the German states of the 18th century; there was no nation called "Germany" in the 1780s.] New York had a notably large German population during the war. Other colonies formed German regiments, or filled the ranks of local militias with German-Americans. German colonists in Charleston, South Carolina formed a fusilier company in 1775, and some Germans in Georgia enlisted under General Anthony Wayne. [Resengarten, 18]

German colonists are most remembered in Pennsylvania. This was, in part, due to friendlier naturalization terms for immigrants, [Rosengarten, The German Soldier, 10] and also because the German soldiers in Pennsylvania stand in contrast to the large, pacifist Quaker population in Pennsylvania. [Rosengarten, The German Soldier, 11] Brothers Peter and Frederick Muhlenberg, for example, were first generation Pennsylvanians. Pennsylvania Germans were recruited for the American Provost corps under Captain Bartholomew Von Heer, a Prussian officer who had immigrated to Reading, Pennsylvania prior to the war. [Ferling, 340]

On 27 June 1776, Congress authorized the "German Regiment" to be formed as part of the Continental Army. It initially comprised of eight companies, four from Maryland and four (later five) from Pennsylvania. Nicholas Haussegger, a major under General Anthony Wayne, was commissioned as the Colonel. The regiment saw service at the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton, and took part in campaigns against American Indians. The regiment was disbanded 1 January 1781. [Rosengarten, The German Soldier, 103]


European Germans also came to the United States as allied soldiers. Some Germans came to the United States under the French flag. Johann de Kalb was a Bavarian who served in the armies of France before receiving a commission as a general in the Continental Army. France had eight German-speaking regiments with over 2,500 soldiers [Rosengarten, The German Soldier, 110-111] There were also German soldiers and officers in the French Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment. [ [ The Revolution's Black Soldiers] by Robert A. Selig, Ph.D.]

Other Germans came to the United States to utilize their military training. Gustave Rosenthal, for example, was an ethnic German from Estonia who became an officer in the Continental Army. Rosenthal returned to his home country after the war, but other German soldiers, such as David Ziegler, chose to stay and become citizens in the nation they had helped found.

Perhaps the most well-known German to support the Patriot cause was Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben from Prussia, who served under George Washington as inspector general and wrote the first drill manual for the United States Army. Von Steuben came to the United States independently, through France.

Von Steuben's native Prussia joined the League of Armed Neutrality, [Commager, 994] and Frederick II of Prussia was well appreciated in the United States for his support early in the war. He expressed interest in opening trade with the United States and bypassing English ports, and allowed an American agent to buy arms in Prussia. [Rosengarten, Frederick the Great, 5] Frederick predicted American success [Rosengarten, Frederick the Great, 13] , and promised to recognize the United States and American diplomats once France did the same. [Rosengarten, Frederick the Great, 14] Prussia also interfered in the recruiting efforts of Russia and neighboring German states when they raised armies to send to the Americas, and Frederick II forbid enlistment for the American war within Prussia. [Rosengarten, The German Soldier, 22] All Prussian roads were denied to troops from Anhalt-Zerbst, [Lowell, 50] which delayed reinforcements that Howe needed to crush Washington's army during the Winter of 1777-1778. [Resengarten, Frederick the Great, 17]

However, when the War of the Bavarian Succession erupted, Frederick II became much more cautious with Prussian/British relations. U.S. ships were denied access to Prussian ports, and Frederick refused to officially recognize the United States until they had signed the Treaty of Paris. Even after the war, Frederick II predicted that the United States was too large to operate as a republic, and that it would soon rejoin the British Empire with representatives in Parliament. [Rosengarten, Frederick the Great, 19]





* ISBN 0-9457-2684-8

External links

* [ Recreated Regiment Von Riedesel] with Regiment history
* [ The Marechausee: von Heer’s Provost Corps] , corps history

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • American Revolution — the war between Great Britain and its American colonies, 1775 83, by which the colonies won their independence. * * * or United States War of Independence (1775–83) War that won political independence for 13 of Britain s North American colonies,… …   Universalium

  • Germans in the United States — • Includes all German speaking people, whether originally from Germany proper, Austria, Switzerland, or Luxemburg Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Germans in the United States     Germans in the United States …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Loyalist (American Revolution) — Britannia offers solace and a promise of compensation for her exiled American born Loyalists.(Reception of the American Loyalists by Great Britain in the Year 1783. Engraving by H. Moses after Benjamin West.) Loyalists were American colonists who …   Wikipedia

  • Opposition to the American Civil War: The Peace Movement and Draft Opposition — The American Civil War did divide the American population into a Confederacy and a Union, Contents 1 The Peace Movement 2 Draft riots 3 Draft dodgers 4 The opposition as a whole …   Wikipedia

  • Texas in the American Civil War — Confederate States in the American Civil War South Carolina Mississippi Florida Alabama …   Wikipedia

  • New York in the American Civil War — Union States in the American Civil War …   Wikipedia

  • The Slavs in America —     The Slavs in America     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► The Slavs in America     The Slavic races have sent large numbers of their people to the United States and Canada, and this immigration is coming every year in increasing numbers. The… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • The Cantos — by Ezra Pound is a long, incomplete poem in 120 sections, each of which is a canto . Most of it was written between 1915 and 1962, although much of the early work was abandoned and the early cantos, as finally published, date from 1922 onwards.… …   Wikipedia

  • The United States of America —     The United States of America     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► The United States of America     BOUNDARIES AND AREA     On the east the boundary is formed by the St. Croix River and an arbitrary line to the St. John, and on the north by the… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • American Revolutionary War — Infobox Military Conflict conflict=American Revolutionary War caption=Clockwise from top left: Battle of Bunker Hill, Death of Montgomery at Quebec, Battle of Cowpens, Moonlight Battle date=1775–1783 place=Eastern Seabord, Central Canada, Hudson… …   Wikipedia