The Hessian Mercenary in America
During the American Revolutionary War, the subjects who settled in the Thirteen Colonies of America rose up to demand an end to the abuses by the Crown. The subjects who lived in the New World where a mixture of races, nationalities, religions and often politically diverse. Yet somehow they banded together to create a militia capable of blooding the nose of one of the greatest empires in the world.
The native militia of the rebellious American forces, had to fight against the battle hardened British infantry and cavalry. The American forces also had to battle against the fierce and efficient German mercenaries hired by the loyalist factions who did not wish to severe the link to the British Crown. One of the most used types of mercenaries, were those professional soldiers from the tiny German state of Hesse.
Where did the Hessians come from?
The Hessians were soldiers from the German state of Hesse. Before 1871, Germany was a collection of many separate German states. Within many of these states, young men were encouraged to become soldiers to earn a living. These soldiers became enlisted men and they were highly drilled by their royal benefactors. These German Princes used their soldiers to gather additional revenue as mercenaries for hire.
The state of Hesse is still a German state with thick forests and many rivers. Hesse also finds itself in the middle of Germany, which meant it always needed to be militarily ready for any surprise attack. The King of Hesse wanted to keep his lands strong and kept an army which was bloated when compared to the territory it covered. Offering troops to foreign powers helped to ease the considerable burden on Hesse's exchequer. Because of Hesse's location it had to have a strong military presence, to maintain it's sovereignty and using their troops as mercenaries gave their soldiers a taste of war.
Although Hesse was a powerful German State, it was soon to be surpassed by Prussia's militaristic power by the time of modern Germany's formation.
The Hessian mercenaries were not the only Germanic troops to be used by the British in the Revolutionary War. Other Germanic states sold their men to be used by the Loyalist factions within the Thirteen Colonies, but the Hessian soldiers were the largest contingent.There are a number of reasons for the involvement of the Germans fighting in the American Revolutionary War. The King of Britain George the 3rd was of German descent and much of the Royalty of Europe was linked together in this way.
The British had also formed military alliances with many of the Protestant German states and had by treaty made use of Germanic soldiers to bolster their own ranks. Britain had used 6,000 Hessian troops to fight against the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland in 1745. A thousand Hessian troops had also been used in Ireland in 1798 to crush a rebellion, that helped secured the United Kingdoms existence.
The Hessians were not just infantry soldiers, among their ranks were specialized artillery operators and sharp shooters(Chasseurs) who were a great asset in the wooded areas of the American colonies. The Hessians also supplied musketeers,skirmishers, scouts and hunters to the British loyalist cause.
Sent to Quash the Rebellion.
At the time of the War of Independence the Hessian mercenaries were seen as bloodthirsty killers who had been shipped to the American colonies to do King George's dirty work. In truth, the Hessian mercenaries were highly trained fighters who served their employer well, and the patriots painted the Hessians in a poor light as a means of wartime propaganda. Of course there was brutal acts of aggression and sometimes discipline slipped, but in a war that happens on both sides of the line.
Many of these Germanic mercenaries intended to stay in the New World after their service was over, as they wanted a new opportunity in the freedom that America represented. America was an untamed frontier and a soldier could live well in these new lands.
Of the estimated 30,000 Hessian's who fought in the War of Independence, around 5,000 stayed in the Americas after the conflict ended. In service, they were offered large tracks of land to desert the Crown's cause. These foreign mercenaries were offered more than a regular British soldier to lay down their arms. Many Hessians decided to change sides after capture, as they were lied to by their officers. Many Hessian soldiers believed they were only in America to fight against the Native Indians not against the British colonists. The Hessians who stayed were soon absorbed into the communities of German settlers and in later years many of them helped to shape both the military, and the United States of America.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Washington Irving's book which was released in 1820 references a ghostly headless Hessian soldier haunting the local population looking for its severed head. The book was written nearly 50 years after the Hessian soldiers had battled in the foreign lands. Such was their lore and legend, that they still managed to install fear generations after they had left or had become one with the Americans they had once fought against.
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© 2012 Andrew Stewart