Skip to main content

German Auxiliaries

German Auxiliaries

GERMAN AUXILIARIES. More than 30,000 Germans fought in the War of American Independence, taking part in every major campaign from the Floridas to Canada; and fighting overseas in the campaigns in the Mediterranean and India. Six independent German states contributed units to the British army for service in America: Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Hanau, Anspach-Bayreuth, Braunschweig-Lünenburg (Brunswick), Anhalt-Zerbst, and Waldeck. Hanover, which was ruled by King George III of England, allowed individual recruiting for British regiments, and sent several units to Gibraltar, Minorca, and India. But German units also served in the armies of Britain's opponents—two other Waldeck regiments were part of the Dutch army, and Zweibrücken provided a number of regiments to France, including the Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment, which was part of General Jean comte de Rochambeau's 1780 to 1782 expedition to assist the Americans.

MYTHS

The common image of the "Hessians" as brutal mercenaries sold for blood money by corrupt rulers is imbedded in the Declaration of Independence and in two hundred years' worth of schoolbooks, but it is not true. It was the result of propaganda efforts initiated by the Continental Congress (with Benjamin Franklin in charge) and by liberal German intellectuals who were deeply influenced by the French Revolution and nineteenth-century nationalism. In point of fact, each of the states that furnished troops to the British did so after negotiating treaties that set forth a variety of conditions and concessions. For example, Hesse-Cassel's situation was the direct opposite of the old myth. It had a formal alliance under which the British and Hanover guaranteed to defend the country from aggressors while the bulk of the nation's army served overseas. In addition, the monies the Landgrave (territorial ruler) gained from the treaty were used to provide social services to the civilian population and to encourage industry.

A second myth is that the Germans deserted in droves whenever they had the chance, or died from combat or disease, leaving only about 60 percent to return home at the end of the war. This is a wild exaggeration, and attempts to depict all units behaving in a manner that applies to only a few. German losses in the Crown's forces were no worse, overall, than those of the British or the Loyalists. Further, the numbers given for "returning" troops disregard personnel who were sent home earlier than the latter part of 1783. They also ignore the large numbers of troops who chose to take discharges in North America and settled in either Canada or the United States.

The third myth about the Germans is that they were all well-disciplined and drilled in the tradition of Frederick the Great. In this interpretation, historians argue that, when first employed, the Hessians were respected by the British and feared by the Americans. As this theory goes, they quickly found that the traditional tactics of the Potsdam parade ground brought disaster in American conditions. It is true that by the end of the 1777 campaigns, Americans had lost their fears and the British had started to relegate German units to garrison duties or service in the second line of battle formations, but not for the reasons commonly assumed. It was not contempt, but rather the recognition that the very tables of organization of the German units limited their ability to maneuver in broken terrain, although they functioned quite well in situations where a premium was placed on frontal attack or solid defense. German formations like the jägers (riflemen) or the highly-trained chasseurs (light infantry) who had organizational flexibility and training to carry out skirmishing provided British commanders with perhaps their best light troops.

AUGMENTING BRITISH FORCES

When the British government went to war in 1775 the conflict turned out to be very unpopular. The recruits available were barely sufficient to bring existing regiments up to strength. Only one new unit (the Seventy-first Foot) could be raised, and that only by turning to Highland Scots. In this situation the Ministry quickly turned to a century-old tradition and sought to bring foreign units into their service, primarily drawn from the Protestant states in the northwestern part of Germany. Some were procured to provide trained units to the generals in North America quickly (raising new regiments in Britain would require a long period of training before they could be sent into combat). Others were obtained to relieve British regiments from garrison duty so that they could be transferred to the war zone.

Preliminary negotiations began on 2 December 1775, and the first three treaties were submitted to Parliament on 29 February 1776. Not counting Hanover, four states concluded treaties in 1776: Brunswick (9 January), Hesse-Cassel (31 January), Hesse-Hanau (5 February), and Waldeck (25 April). While the terms of each treaty varied, basically the British picked up the costs of paying the troops, providing them with food, and transporting them. The Germans retained responsibility for weapons, equipment, and uniforms, and for furnishing replacements. The treaties also called for cash payment to enable the individual states to conduct recruiting and carry out other preparations, and for each casualty—but this was the same practice used when a new unit was formed in Britain or when a unit had to recruit new troops to replace losses. In 1777 Britain made two smaller treaties with Anspach-Bayreuth (1 February) and Anhalt-Zerbst (October, although the troops did not reach Canada until late 1778 due to transportation problems). Some of the contingents increased (especially by adding more jägers) during the course of the war after supplemental treaties. Table 1 gives a summary of the size of each contingent.

Auxiliary Units
State Units Furnished Total Manpower Sent
Anspach-BayreuthTwo infantry regiments with a supporting artillery detachment
Six companies of jägers or chasseurs
2,459
Anhalt-ZerbstOne infantry regiment (two battalions) with two-gun
artillery detachment
1,260
Braunschweig-LunenburgFour infantry regiments
One dismounted dragoon regiment
One grenadier battalion
One chasseur battalion (including a jäger company)
5,723
Hesse-CasselComplete division staff
Four grenadier battalions
11 Infantry regiments
Four garrison infantry regiments (reserve formations
called to active duty)
Six companies of jägers (one mounted)
Three companies of artillery
A field hospital
18,970
Hesse-HanauOne infantry regiment
One chasseur battalion
One artillery company
2,422
WaldeckOne infantry regiment
Supporting artillery detachment (2 guns)
1,225
Total manpower32,059

SIGNIFICANCE

Three significant British defeats involved forces which were primarily composed of Germans: Trenton, Fort Mercer, and Bennington. These failures have been used to argue that the Germans were not an effective combat force, but purely British or Loyalist engagements also ended in stunning defeats. The truth is that the only way that the Ministry could have procured enough troops for the relief of Canada and the simultaneous capture of New York in 1776 was to turn to the policy of treaties. The troops from Hesse-Cassel, Braunschweig-Lünenburg, and Hesse-Hanau generally performed credibly, those of Anspach-Bayreuth and Waldeck competently, and only the small Anhalt-Zerbst contingent could be considered sub-par. When employed properly, they were extremely valuable, and once France entered into the war, no British offensive could have been undertaken without having Germans available to garrison the major bases.

German service in the American Revolution had another impact frequently overlooked by American historians—it was an important learning experience for those participants interested in professional development. The Hesse-Cassel army completely changed both its organizational structure and its tactical doctrine after reviewing the lessons of the war, producing units that were much more flexible and patterned after the Americans they had fought. This change made their forces the most effective in the opening years of the Napoleonic Wars. One Hessian, Johann Ewald, would go on to reach the rank of lieutenant general in the Danish army and become the foremost authority on light infantry tactics in that period.

SEE ALSO Ewald, Johann von.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Atwood, Rodney. The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Auerbach, Inge, Franz G. Eckhart, and Otto Frölich, eds. Hessische Truppen im amerikanischen Unabhängigkeitskrieg [HETRINA]. 5 vols. Marburg: Veröttenlichungen der Archivschule Marburg-Institut für Archivwissenschaft, 1972–1976.

Brown, Marvin L., Jr., ed. Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution: Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty 1776–1783. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1965.

Büttner, Johann Carl. Narrative of Johann Carl Buettner in the American Revolution. Translated by C. F. Heartman. New York: C. F. Heartman, 1915.

De Marce, Virginia Easley. Mercenary Troops from Anhalt-Zerbst, Germany, Who Served With the British Forces During the American Revolution. 2 vols. McNeal, Ariz.: Westland Publications, 1984.

Du Roi, August Wilhelm. Journal of Du Roi the Elder Lieutenant and Adjutant, in the Service of the Duke of Brunswick, 1776–1778. Translated by Charlotte S. J. Epping. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1911.

Eelking, Max von. German Allied Troops in the North American War. Translated by J. G. Rosengarten. Albany: Joel Munsell's Sons, 1893.

Ewald, Johann. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979.

――――――. Treatise on Partisan Warfare. Edited by Robert A. Selig and David Curtis Skaggs. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Hoffman, Elliott W. "The German Soldiers in the American Revolution." Ph.D. dissertation, University of New Hampshire, 1982.

Ingrao, Charles W. The Hessian Mercenary State: Ideas, Institutions and Reform under Frederick II, 1760–1785. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Kochan, James; and Lyon Miles. Hessian Documents of the American Revolution. [Microfiche publication of the Lidgerwood Collection, Morristown National Historical Park.] Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1991 (with Supplement, 1993).

Lowell, E. J. The Hessians and Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. New York: Harper & Bros., 1884.

Muenchhausen, Friedrich von. At General Howe's Side: The Diary of General Howe's Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated and edited by Ernst Kipping and Samuel S. Smith. Monmouth Beach, N.J.: Philip Freneau Press, 1974.

Popp, Stephen. A Hessian Soldier in the American Revolution: The Diary of Stephen Popp. Translated by Reinhart Pope, Jr. N.P.: Privately printed, 1953.

Rainsford, Charles. "Transactions as Commissary for Embarking Foreign Troops in the English Service from Germany with copies of Letters Relative to It. For the Years 1776–1777." New-York Historical Society Collections for 1879, pp. 313-543.

Riedesel, Frederick Augustus von. Memoirs, and Letters and Journals, of Major General Riedesel, During his Residence in America. Translated from the Original German of Max von Eelking. Translated by William L. Stone. 2 vols. Albany, N.Y.: J. Munsell, 1868.

Slagle, Robert Oakley. "The Von Lossberg Regiment: A Chronicle of Hessian Participation in the American Revolution." Ph.D. dissertation, American University, 1965.

Stephens, Thomas Ryan. "In Deepest Submission: The Hessian Mercenary Troops in the American Revolution." Ph.D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, 1998.

Stone, William L., trans. Letters of Brunswick and Hessian Officers During the American Revolution. Albany, N.Y.: Joel Munsell's Sons, 1891.

――――――, trans. Journal of Captain Pauch Chief of the Hanau Artillery During the Burgoyne Campaign. Albany: Joel Munsell's Sons, 1886.

Uhlendorf, Bernard A., ed. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters 1776–1784 of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1957.

――――――, ed. The Siege of Charleston with an Account of the Province of South Carolina: Diaries and Letters of Hessian Officers From the von Jungkenn Papers in the William L. Clements Library. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1938.

Waldeck, Philipp. Philipp Waldeck's Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Marion Dexter Learned. Philadelphia: Americana Germanica Press, 1907.

                            revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"German Auxiliaries." Encyclopedia of the American Revolution: Library of Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"German Auxiliaries." Encyclopedia of the American Revolution: Library of Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 17, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/german-auxiliaries

"German Auxiliaries." Encyclopedia of the American Revolution: Library of Military History. . Retrieved November 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/german-auxiliaries

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.