Hessian (soldiers)

Hessian (soldiers)

The term Hessian refers to eighteenth century German regiments in service with the British Empire that fought against the American colonists during the American Revolutionary War.

American Revolutionary War

During the American Revolutionary War, Landgrave Frederick II of Hesse-Kassel (a principality in northern Hesse) and other German leaders hired out thousands of conscripted subjects as auxiliaries to Great Britain to fight against the American revolutionaries. About 30,000 of these soldiers were sold into service, and they came to be called "Hessians," because 16,992 of the total 30,067 men came from Hesse-Kassel. Some were direct subjects of King George III; he ruled them as the Elector of Hanover. Other soldiers were sent by Count William of Hesse-Hanau; Duke Charles I of Brunswick-Lüneburg; Prince Frederick of Waldeck; Margrave Karl Alexander of Ansbach-Bayreuth; and Prince Frederick Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst. The troops were not mercenaries in the modern sense of professionals who hire out their own services for money. As in most armies of the eighteenth century, the men were mainly conscripts, debtors, or the victims of impressment; some were also petty criminals. Pay was low; some soldiers apparently received nothing but their daily food. The officer corps usually consisted of career officers who had served in earlier European wars. The revenues realized from their service went back to the German royalty. Nevertheless, some Hessian units were respected for their discipline and excellent military skills.

Hessians comprised approximately one-quarter of the British forces in the Revolution. They included jäger, 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, while the Hessian artillery used 3-pounder cannon. Initially, the average regiment 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 the Thirteen Colonies in 1776, with more coming in later. They first landed at Staten Island on August 15 1776, 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. An assortment of Hessians fought in the battles and campaigns in the southern states during 1778–80 (including Guilford Courthouse), and two regiments fought at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781.

Hessian captives

One of the most famous incidents involving the Hessian soldiers was the Battle of Trenton, where about 900 Hessians were captured out of a force of 1,400. General George Washington's Continental Army crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, to carry out a highly successful surprise attack.

In addition to firepower, American rebels used propaganda against Hessians. They enticed Hessians to desert and join the large German-American population. One letter promised 50 acres (20 hectares) of land to every deserter. [R. Douglas Hurt (2002) "American Agriculture: A Brief History", p80 [http://books.google.com/books?id=h2wCj5DsRCAC&pg=PA80&lpg=PA80&dq=hessian+%2250+acres%22+land+deserter&source=web&ots=QHOELlsmXr&sig=Wfz-LAs7flc7NrP1OftbPww_-yA#PPA80,M1] ] A satirical letter, "The Sale of the Hessians", written in August 1777 claimed that Hessian commander wanted more of his soldiers dead so that he could be better compensated. For many years the letter was of unknown authorship, but in 1874 John Bigelow translated it to English (from French) and claimed that Benjamin Franklin wrote it. There appears to be no evidence to support this claim, however. [ [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-049X(19830616)127%3A3%3C202%3AFA%22SOT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-1 Franklin and "The Sale of the Hessians": The Growth of a Myth] , Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 127, No. 3 (Jun. 16, 1983), pp. 202-212]

Another notable event concerning captured Hessians occurred when British General John Burgoyne surrendered to American General Horatio Gates during the Saratoga campaign. This involved the surrender of around 5,800 troops negotiated in the Convention of Saratoga, and Burgoyne's remnant army became known as the Convention Army. Soldiers from Brunswick-Lüneburg under General Riedesel comprised a high percentage of the Convention Army. Ultimately, the prisoners were marched to Charlottesville, Virginia and imprisoned in the Albemarle Barracks until 1781. From there they were sent to Reading, Pennsylvania until 1783.

Conclusion of the war

17,313 Hessians returned to their homelands after the war ended in 1783. Of the 12,526 who did not return, about 7,700 had died: some 1,200 were killed in action and 6,354 died from illness or accidents ["A Brief History of Revolutions - W . Maitland"] . 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 debated.

In 1786, the British Government paid the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel a total of £471,000 in compensation for the loss of Hessian troops.

Ireland, 1798

Hessian mercenaries were rushed to Ireland in 1798 to assist in the suppression of the rebellion inspired by a revolutionary organization, the United Irishmen. They landed in the port of Cork. They were heavily involved in the battles of Vinegar Hill and Foulksmills but are more notorious in Ireland for their atrocities and brutality toward the population of Wexford in 1798.

Hessians in pop culture

In 1819, Washington Irving's book "The Sketch Book" was published which included several stories and essays written by Irving. One of these tales was "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" which contained a figure now known as the "headless horseman". This figure was described by Irving as "the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannonball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War." The figure was also referred to as "the galloping Hessian" at the tale's resolution. In the 1999 Tim Burton film "Sleepy Hollow", the headless horseman is a phantom Hessian soldier portrayed by actor Christopher Walken. The horseman is a mechanical, menacing character, but is ultimately an anti-hero redeemed.

In 1909, D. W. Griffith co-wrote and directed the film "The Hessian Renegades", a short film about the early stages of the American Revolution. The Hessians featured in the film are a band of brutish mercenaries pursuing an American soldier, who is on a mission to deliver an urgent message to George Washington.

In the 1950 animated short "Bunker Hill Bunny", Bugs Bunny faces off against Sam Von Schmamm the Hessian (played by Yosemite Sam). After Bugs' inevitable victory, the defeated Sam utters the line "I'm a Hessian without no aggression."

In the computer game "", the player plays American revolutionaries, frequently fighting against Hessians.

The term Hessian can also be used to refer to adherents of the metal subculture.

Hessians Units of the American Revolution


*Rauschenplatt's Princess of Anhalt's Regiment
*Nuppenau's Jäger Company


*1st Regiment Anspach-Bayreuth (later Regiment von Volt; 1st Anspach Battalion)
*2nd Regiment Anspach-Bayreuth (later Regiment Seybothen; 2nd Anspach Battalion)
*Anspach Jäger


*Dragoon Regiment Prinz Ludwig Ernst
*Grenadier Battalion Breymann
*Light Infantry Battalion von Barner
*Musketeer Regiment Riedesel
*Musketeer Regiment Specht
*Regiment Prinz Friedrich
*Regiment von Rhetz
*Combined Regiment von Ehrenkrook
*Combined Regiment von Barner


*Combined Regiment von Loos
*Fusilier Regiment von Ditfurth
*Fusilier Regiment Erbprinz (later Musketeer Regiment Prinz Frederick (1783))
*Fusilier Regiment von Knyphausen
*Fusilier Regiment von Lossburg
*Grenadier Regiment von Rall (later von Wolhwarth (1777); von Trümbach (1779); von d'Angelelli (1781))
**1st Battalion Grenadiers von Linsinge
**2nd Battalion Grenadiers von Block (later von Lengerke)
**3rd Battalion Grenadiers von Minnigerode (later von Löwenstein)
**4th Battalion Grenadiers von Köhler (later von Graff; von Platte)
*Garrison Regiment von Bünau
*Garrison Regiment von Huyn (later von Benning)
*Garrison Regiment von Stein (later von Seitz; von Porbeck)
*Garrison Regiment von Wissenbach (later von Knoblauch)
*Jäger Corps
*Lieb Infantry Regiment (later Musketeer Regiment Erbprinz)
*Musketeer Regiment von Donop
*Musketeer Regiment von Trümbach (later von Bose (1779))
*Musketeer Regiment von Mirbach (later Jung von Lossburg (1780))
*Musketeer Regiment Prinz Carl
*Musketeer Regiment von Wutgenau (later Landgraf (1777); Lieb Infantry Regiment(1783))


*Pausch's Artillery Company
*von Creuzbourg's Jäger Corps
*Janecke's Frei Corps
*Hesse Hanau Infantry Regiment Erbprinz


*3rd Waldeck Regiment


External links

* [http://www.americanrevolution.org/hessindex.html American Revolution.org]
* [http://www.jsha.org/ Johannes Schwalm Historical Association website]

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