German Mercenaries

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GERMAN MERCENARIES were troops hired to fight the rebellious American colonies. Given England's shortage of trained soldiers, its slow enlistments, and the political impossibility of conscription, the ministry tapped the cooperation of six German princes for the services of 29,875 German officers and men in America. Hesse-Cassel sent 16,992; Brunswick, 5,723; Hesse-Hanau, 2,422; Anspach Bayreuth, 2,353; Waldeck, 1,225; and Anhalt-Zerbst, 1,160. For their services England paid £1,770,000 sterling to the princes alone, a small sum considering the officers' excellent training in the Seven Years' War, the troops' good discipline, and the fact that Germans constituted one-third of British land forces in North America.

German troops were organized like the British army, although the small regiments had unusually large numbers of officers, surgeons, chaplains, and musicians. They fought under three successive commanders, Leopold Philip von Heister, Baron Wilhelm von Knyphausen, and Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg—all Hessians, each with his own staff and rank equal to the British commanders, although they usually operated in conjunction with British troops under British command. North of Florida no major operation took place without German participation.

Initially feared by the Americans, they soon earned respect as soldiers. Congress issued several alluring proclamations urging them to desert. Of the 12,554 who did not return to Germany, many had either deserted or received permission to remain in America after the war.


Kipping, Ernst. The Hessian View of America, 1776–1783. Monmouth Beach, N. J. : Philip Freneau Press, 1971.

Lowell, Edward Jackson. The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britian in the Revolutionary War. New York: Harper & Bros., 1884.

B. A.Uhlendorf/c. w.

See alsoRevolution, American: Military History ; Revolution, American: Political History .